Burrowing Owl Habitat and Rangeland Health Assessment

Learning how to write effective proposals is a key skill for restoration practitioners, and a main focus of one of our courses, Project Management & Policy for Ecological Restoration (ECO 622). One group of students chose to write a proposal for the Nature Trust of British Columbia. In an exciting development, showing us just how realistic our coursework can be, the proposal was approved and funded.  This allowed a group of students to implement the vegetation and habitat survey they designed over the summer of 2018.

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In early May, we completed a physical and biological grassland assessment outside of Osoyoos, B.C. We wanted to determine if this property would be suitable habitat for reintroduction of the extirpated and SARA-listed Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia hypugaea).

To do this, we divided the site into habitat polygons, using parameters such as slope, slope aspect, drainage, and plant species. We assessed these polygons using criteria specific to Burrowing Owls, such as number of available perches, presence of small burrows, and density of shrubs.

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Through our surveys, we found 78 native plant species, and evidence or sightings of seven animal species on site. We also conducted bat surveys and found six bat species on site, two of which are SARA-listed (Threatened and Endangered), and one red-listed in BC. Two invasive plant species were found within plots (Crested Wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum) and Holly (Ilex aquifolium)).

While our site surveys indicated that the grassland health was fair, no polygons on the site contained the correct combination of shorter grass, perches, low shrub density, and existing burrows that would be suitable for Burrowing Owl reintroduction. If small mammal populations on site are high, it could support Burrowing Owl reintroductions in neighbouring properties which are more suitable. A small mammal trapping survey could help identify the abundance of the small mammal population on site.

 

Other management suggestions stemming from our surveys include repairing or deactivating the dirt road that goes through the site. This would ensure that vehicles do not drive in the grasslands to avoid potholes or flooded roads. Performing controlled burns in the area could also help control invasive species and decrease the shrub density, making it more suitable habitat for Burrowing Owl reintroduction.

This project was a great opportunity to get out in the field and implement the proposal that we had designed to assess grassland health and habitat suitability. Our results will now help to inform management decisions for Burrowing Owls on this property.

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Project Spotlight: Katie Moore- Restoring a Culturally Eutrophic Shallow Lake

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In the past 50 years, eutrophication has become the most serious environmental threat to lakes worldwide. Eutrophication is a common issue in many urban lakes on Vancouver Island including Langford Lake, Elk/Beaver Lake, and Quamichan Lake with deteriorating water quality that is a concern for the ecosystem as well as human health.

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Field School 2018

 

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While the concepts and ideas we cover in the classroom are the foundation for our work in restoration, learning the nitty-gritty details of how to apply them is equally important to success. Enter field school: two intensive weeks learning the practical techniques for monitoring and data collection. These skills will let us will let us evaluate if our projects are working and adapt them to be more successful. Plus who doesn’t love going outside to muck around? It’s  a big part of the reason why most of us are here. Continue reading

Stanley Park Intertidal Sampling

On October 9, the first-year cohort went on a field trip to Stanley Park to do intertidal sampling and learn about experimental design. We assisted Dan Esler from the USGS to gather data on the distribution of Pacific blue mussels (Mytilus trossulus) in the intertidal off the northwest side of Stanley Park as part of a larger project on trophic relationships in nearshore marine ecosystems. Continue reading

Project Spotlight: Oliver Denny – Using nematodes as bioindicators

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Ponderosa Pine/Bluebunch wheatgrass Reference Site at Kenna Cartwright Park

Overview:

Ponderosa Pine/Bluebunch wheatgrass ecosystems are threatened by multiple stressors, including the spread of invasive species, and it can be difficult to prioritize sites for restoration treatments. Soil nematode communities respond to ecosystem disturbances, which allows us to use nematodes as bioindicators. My study links the observed nematode community with established indices, allowing nematode analysis to be used as a tool for assessing ecosystem health.

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Upcoming Event: ERSA Welcome Potluck

Join us Friday, September 7th at 5:30 at Guichon Creek at BCIT to  welcome new students in the program and to catch up with past and present students. There will be games, food, and an all-around good time to be had. We hope to see you there!

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We will also be bringing some lawn games, so if you have bocce, croquet, frisbees, a slackline, or other fun games please bring them! We will post a games sign up sheet, so that we know who brought what and can make sure everyone gets their games back at the end of the night 🙂

New Comment (and Compliment) Box

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A beautiful handcrafted comment box has recently been added to the ERSA common room at SFU (TASC II room 7540) and all are encouraged to submit anonymous comments, suggestions and compliments.

These can be suggestions for ERSA (how things are run, major concerns, etc.) that you wish to keep anonymous. We hope this will provide another avenue for communication, transparency and accountability with our student council. As always, you are welcome to come talk to us directly.

The box has already been put to use and received its first bit of feedback, a compliment! The Comment Box will be opened and comments addressed each ERSA meeting. So if you have any comments, compliments or ideas you would like to share, give the Comment Box a try! Also feel free to contact ERSA through email found HERE

Project Spotlight: Ashleigh Westphal – Hydroelectric development and secretive marsh birds

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My project involves working with CWS and its partners to determine how hydroelectric development in the West Kootenays may be impacting marsh bird populations. The Canadian Wildlife Service has been surveying marsh bird species in BC’s Southern Interior Mountains since 2010. These surveys focus on marsh bird species that tend to be more secretive in nature, therefore harder to observe and study. In the West Kootenay region, significant sections of the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers and their tributaries have been impounded or otherwise altered by hydroelectric projects. These projects alter the landscape and ecosystem processes in a variety of ways, altering vegetation communities, flood regimes, and nutrient cycling just to name a few. Additionally, large sections of the Creston Valley floodplain have been altered by agricultural development and diking. In 2016, surveys began in the Columbia Wetlands region of the East Kootenays. These wetlands are relatively unaltered and one of the longest intact wetland complexes in North America.

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Resources: Where to get that ever-important professional development?

Are you looking for opportunities to build skills in data management, project management, and in the field? Workshops and volunteering are a wonderful avenue to do this! The Faculty of Environment (SFU) is hosting a workshop on September 22nd to guide conservation professionals and restoration practitioners in using the Open Source process to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of collaborative efforts of conservation management. To find out more and to register for the event, click here. In addition, the SFU Research Commons offers a variety of workshops to help you build skills in data management, GIS, and scientific writing. Alternatively, check out the College of Applied Biology website for upcoming certification courses to build your repertoire of qualifications in the field. Lastly, don’t forget about all the great skill-building opportunities available through your local ecological society, such as the Stanley Park Ecological Society (SPES).