After a month of trudging through the vast wilderness of South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park, Robin Naidoo is starting to enjoy the fruits of his labour.
Sometimes travelling with a team of packhorses, the research scientist with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF-US) had up to five heavy cameras with him every day, fastening them to trees along game and recreation trails throughout the scenic park located northwest of Lillooet.
By the end of the trip, Naidoo had installed 29 cameras inside the park and 31 adjacent to it. The work is all part of a collaborative study by the University of British Columbia (UBC) and WWF-US, aimed at determining the impact of climate change and recreational activities on wildlife.
“There were lots of big hiking days with 30-plus kilometres, one four-day trip into the park in early June where it snowed every day, some difficult conditions at times and lots of grizzly bears,” said Naidoo, who is also an adjunct professor at UBC. “It was a fair bit of work, but some great information is rolling in now that makes all the effort worth it.”
The wildlife cameras are a part of UBC’s research on wildlife, phenology and climate change, and also form a piece of the WildCAM network (Wildlife Cameras for Adaptive Management) that includes camera surveys throughout B.C. and beyond. The network is one of nine projects being supported through the BC Parks Living Lab Program, which encourages climate change research in B.C.’s protected areas through partnerships with academic institutions and their collaborative work with the broader conservation community.
Using an infrared sensor that detects motion and heat, the cameras document the number of animals in the area, while providing an overview of local phenology. More cameras will be set up in two other B.C. provincial parks this fall — Cathedral and Golden Ears — and will also be used to track snowmelt and plant phenology.
So far, more than 40 species ranging from grizzly bears, wolves and moose, to wolverines and plenty of deer, have been captured on camera in the South Chilcotin. Cole Burton, project lead and assistant UBC professor, would like to learn how larger mammals are responding to recreational activities as well.
“It can be quite challenging to study mammals because, despite their size, they are pretty elusive. The cameras are a treat because we get these fairly intimate shots of them and see their behaviour and reaction to the camera,” said Burton, noting the general public is excited about using camera traps for wildlife studies.
Some of Burton’s projects have had cameras running for three to four years, capturing the impact that severe or mild winters have on animals and their habitat. He has also used citizens' groups to help identify species captured in photos and would like the public to service cameras that are being installed in provincial parks.
“Being able to bring people a bit closer to the wildlife in their parks without disturbing the wildlife could be really valuable in raising public support for park protection,” he added. “I am motivated by the way science can help management, but I think the public outreach part is very important as well.”
The BC Parks Living Lab Program promotes the province’s protected areas as places to learn about the impacts of climate change, how to mitigate and manage those impacts, and share information between academics and practitioners. Funding applications for 2019 research projects are currently being accepted until midnight on Nov. 2, 2018.
For more information on the Living Lab Program and the criteria for funding applications, visit: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/partnerships/living-labs/
Photos from the WildCAM network can be viewed at: wildlife.forestry.ubc.ca