Taking science through to conservation action is a primary goal of my research program. Such actions are designed to bring evidence-based and meaningful benefits to wildlife, and the people who coexist with them. Below I highlight conservation actions that relied on evidence generated from my research program:
Roadkill, grizzly bear attraction, and conflict:
Attractants are a major threat to carnivore coexistence, and bear populations across the globe. Attractants can contribute to source-sink dynamics and intense conflicts between people and bears. Roadkill disposal sites are an overlooked carnivore attractant in British Columbia, which I discovered while capturing and tracking grizzly bears in southeast British Columbia’s Elk Valley. Roadkill was being dumped in open, uncontrolled gravel pits near the highway, which were used intensely by grizzly bears, but also wolves and coyotes. These roadkill pits created a barrier coexistence, as they were attracting bears closer to communities, which posed risks for bears and people. Two collared bears were killed within 1km of the main roadkill pit in the Elk Valley.
Our grizzly bear research elevated the urgency and profile of mitigating the roadkill pit issue. Starting in 2018, numerous news articles (Carcass pits, rural attractants contribute to Jaffray bear conflict and RDEK takes steps towards reducing carcass pit use) highlighted the role of these pits in elevating human-carnivore conflict and the risks these pits posed to human safety through their attraction of carnivores. In early 2019, a collaborative group consisting of myself, the Mayor of Fernie, BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Wildsight, and BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations, began designing evidence-based strategies for disposing of roadkill in a proper fashion (Grizzlies use B.C. roadkill dumps as feeding grounds, says researcher).
A) an elk carcass deposited in an uncontrolled roadkill carcass pit (Olson Pit) near Hosmer, BC. B) A collared grizzly bear (EVGF56) consuming the elk from A the same day. C) GPS telemetry for grizzly bears (each color is an individual) attracted to Olson Pit (bottom, pink pin). Bears would come to the pit to consume carcasses almost exclusively at night, then cross the highway and rest during the day in the forest.
In August 2019 an exclusion pit was built, which is electric fenced and electric gated (MOTI constructs enclosed carcass pits in effort to solve attractant issue). Carcasses will be deposited in this carnivore proof area and later buried. Future plans include static carcass composting methods that have been used successfully in many places including Alberta, Montana, and Virginia. The rapid approach of chronic wasting disease to British Columbia may necessitate composting or incineration methods of all roadkill in the near future. Nevertheless, I am encouraged to see that evidence from our work has led to changes in practices at the Ministry level, with direct benefits to people and carnivores as a result of reducing dangerous attractants.
Enclosure built by BC’s Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure to aid in responsible disposal of roadkill carcasses. The enclosure is ~1600m2 and is fully electric fenced and electric gated to ensure no entry of large carnivores.
Safe Passages for People and Wildlife on BC’s Highways
Collisions between vehicles and wildlife pose serious threats to the safety of humans and wildlife. Further, highways can severely impact wildlife connectivity and abundance. However, the negative impacts of highways can be mitigated by providing safe passages for wildlife under, or over, highways when paired with fencing. Indeed, following highway mitigation, wildlife mortality can be reduced by 80-100%, and re-establishing connectivity of large carnivores can even be detected genetically within 2 decades after mitigation. Reconnecting wildlife populations along Highway 3 in southeast British Columbia has long been a goal for conservationists, and detailed plans were drafted over a decade ago. We recently updated these detailed plans and through collaborative initiatives with the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, environmental groups, and Teck Coal, we have formed a Highway 3 Connectivity Working Group and are breaking ground on highway mitigation projects. To start, the Ministry of Transport has invested $6.3M for the first wildlife crossing—a bridge replacement and engineered wildlife underpass—with work starting on the additional proposed sites (transforming current bridges into wildlife underpasses and fencing) starting in 2020.
A $6.3M Highway 3 bridge replacement over Lizard Creek, near Fernie, BC, taken summer 2019. This bridge replacement includes an engineered wildlife underpass.
Proposed highway mitigation sites from Lee, Clevenger, and Lamb 2019.
Commercial Huckleberry Picking
The importance of productive wilderness areas for grizzly bear populations can not be overstated, and these areas provide demographic rescue to coexistence landscapes through dispersal of young animals. Fruiting shrubs form a critical component of grizzly bear habitat selection and demography, but commercial harvest of huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) in southeast British Columbia posed a threat to the security of this culturally and ecologically important fruit. In 2018, and expanded in 2019, the commercial picking of huckleberries was banned in sensitive areas (Commercial Huckleberry harvesting restricted to protect grizzly habitat). This important effort was supported by our predictive maps of huckleberry patches, paired with inference of the demographic importance of this species for grizzly bears.
Reducing Resource Road Density
The Province of British Columbia is now actively working to reduce road densities across the southern Kootenay region. Efforts are underway to reduce road densities in southeast BC, through road revegetation and other strategies, and these efforts are expected to expand across the southern Kootenay Region in the near future.