Bridges Over Troubled Waters

Alberta Environment and Parks is part of a team currently working on several culvert operations in an effort to recover populations of native trout and whitefish in the central and northern watersheds of the Eastern Slopes Fish Management Zone.

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A fish rescue downstream of a hanging culvert on a tributary to the Red Deer River

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Pining for recovery

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Ancient limber pine tree

When most people think about species at risk in Alberta, wildlife like bull trout, caribou, or burrowing owls probably come to mind. What people usually forget is that Alberta has many plant species at risk too – mostly in the prairies. Alberta has two endangered tree species: whitebark pine and limber pine. Both of these species grow in the Rocky Mountains and limber pine also grows in the adjacent foothills, so working with these endangered species always involves spectacular scenery, starring these gnarled spreading trees, and hiking or helicopter access. Continue reading

These Species at Risk May Flora You

Many of us are familiar with Alberta’s species at risk – from the peregrine falcon to the whooping crane, the swift fox to the woodland caribou and more. These animals are often featured in news stories, school curriculums and more.

But species at risk aren’t just animals. In Alberta, there are 10 plant species that are at risk – plants like the endangered Porsild’s byrum, seen here – in Alberta, this moss can only be found in the Rocky Mountains. This moss and other mosses like it, play a key role in our ecosystem. Continue reading

Looking Out for the Little Guy – Part 2

This is part two of this series. You can check out the first part here.

In the depths of the boreal forest, amidst century-old trembling aspen, balsam popular and white spruce trees, you can find me…at least when I’m not wintering in Mexico and Central America.

My friends and I are only about 11 cm long, but what we lack in size we make up with our natural good looks. A bright yellow face, black throat and tail, and an olive green crown, back and wings – I hate to brag, but we are quite the lookers.

No one really knows exactly how many of us are left. Habitat loss and fragmentation, both here and in my winter home, have caused me and my pals to get closer in the last few years but that’s not our only problem. Small mammals steal our eggs and cowbirds lay their eggs in our nests, resulting in us having to feed them – sometimes at the expense of our own babies.

As you can see, it’s not all fun and song for a black-throated green warbler like me.

Photo of a black-throated green warbler

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Looking Out for the Little Guy

This is part one of this series. You can check out the second part here.

They say it’s not easy being green – and that is definitely true in my case.

People who know me say I am adaptable. Not just to the cold but also to the places I call home. You can find me in the mixed grasslands of southern Alberta. I’m most at home along the edge of a pond, in a marsh, stream, or river – but like many Albertans, sometimes I like to relax on lakefront property. As long as the water is clear and clean and there are some lightly wooded areas, I am a happy camper.

Though I’m only about 10 cm long, I am considered larger than most others like me – but I’m not bothered by that at all. My size makes it possible for me to travel further away from my moist habitat in search of food – give me rain or heavy dew and I can go for miles. Continue reading

No black? Put it back! You can help the bull trout recover in Alberta

When we announced the recovery of the trumpeter swan last week, we had some not-so-great news as well: four species have been added to Alberta’s Threatened Species List. One of the species added to the list is the bull trout, Alberta’s provincial fish.

Photo of a biologist holding a bull trout.

Photo credit: Blair Reilly, ESRD.

Threats to the bull trout 

Photo of bull trout habitat in Jacques Lake, Alberta.

Changes to the bull trout’s native habitat have contributed to its decline.

Bull trout were once abundant in at least 60 of Alberta’s watersheds, including downstream of pretty much all of our mountains and foothills. Today, only seven of those watersheds have healthy populations – all of which are found in national or provincial parks. The fish is now absent from 20 watersheds where it was once found, and the total number of bull trout remaining is estimated at only 20,000 province-wide.

Over time, the bull trout’s habitat and spawning grounds have been impacted by dams and weirs and development; competition with other species has also played a role. Bull trout take a long time to mature, produce relatively few eggs, and may spawn only every second year – so recovery is a slow and delicate process. Although fishing restrictions have been in place since the 1990s, illegal harvesting may be interfering with recovery efforts. Continue reading

When is a species no longer ‘at risk’? Understanding the trumpeter swan’s recovery

It’s a good summer for birds in Alberta. Early this month, we announced that the peregrine falcon has returned to nest on the banks of the Pembina for the first time in half a century. And now, we’re happy to report that another bird species – the trumpeter swan – has been removed from Alberta’s list of Threatened species.

Photo of a group of trumpeter swans.

These two success stories aren’t accidents – they’re the result of our Species at Risk program. This program helps us take action when a species is threatened. To do that, we need two things – a warning that the species is declining, and an understanding of what’s causing the threat.

Numbers aren’t everything – how do we know when a species is at risk?

You might think that a species has to be pretty rare in order to be considered ‘at risk’ – but that’s not necessarily true. What’s most important is whether the population of the species is decreasing significantly over time. Continue reading

Coming home to roost: after 50 years, peregrines have returned to the Pembina

We’re pretty careful about the acronyms we use on this blog – but DDT needs no introduction. The pesticide (officially called dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) came into common use after the Second World War because it was great at killing the insects that ruin crops and spread disease. Unfortunately, it was bad news for more than just bugs. After it was linked to health problems for humans and many other species, its use was banned in the 1970s.

Photo of an adult peregrine falcon.

Photo credit: Gordon Court.

It’s been more than 30 years since then – but some species in Alberta are still recovering. One of these is the peregrine falcon. In the early 1970s, our initial surveys of the peregrine population showed a steady and drastic decline, mainly due to earlier DDT use. Unless something changed – and soon – we feared we would lose the species entirely in Alberta.

So we took emergency measures to prevent that from happening. First, young birds from the very last pairs of peregrines in southern Canada were brought into captivity and placed in a federal breeding facility in Camp Wainwright, Alberta. Eventually, this program produced enough falcons for us to attempt re-introducing the species in the wild. This has gone well: surveys conducted in 1995-2010 have documented pairs of peregrines returning to nest at sites on the North Saskatchewan, Peace, Slave, Red Deer, and Brazeau Rivers. Continue reading

Caribou range planning: co-existing on the land

Alberta has amazing biodiversity – and each species has different habitat needs. Our woodland caribou – which are designated as a species at risk by both the federal and Alberta governments – need a large range in order to thrive, and much of their prime habitat overlaps with areas of prime oil and gas exploration and development. Which raises an important question: how do we responsibly develop these areas while protecting the species that call them home?

Woodland caribou_stock photo

Lease rules: minimizing our footprint

Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion about the sale of energy leases in areas of Alberta where caribou live. But it’s important to understand that these leases don’t necessarily mean there will be development by industry – and they don’t grant industry unrestricted access to the land.

When a company develops a resource in a sensitive caribou range, they must follow rules to minimize their impact to the land.

  • This includes rules about what kinds of developments can happen – like requiring the use of horizontal drilling to minimize the number of wells drilled in an area.
  • It also includes rules about how that development can happen. For example, in caribou ranges, construction is only allowed at certain times of year in order to minimize disruption to caribou herds.

The goal of all these rules is to minimize the ‘footprint’ that these developments leave on the land.

Diagram of a horizontal drilling operation.

Horizontal drilling minimizes the disturbance of wildlife habitat.

The range planning process

The province is in the process of developing 15 range plans to protect our woodland caribou herds. These plans will outline how each range will be managed, in order to ensure that critical caribou habitat is protected.

Range planning for the Little Smoky and A La Peche herds is already underway. To give us time to complete these plans, we’ve put a temporary hold on new oil and gas leases in these ranges. This will help ensure that any further development that does happen will be in accordance with our range planning. Forestry companies in the Little Smoky area have also volunteered to hold off on harvesting until the plans are complete.

Once range plans for these two critical herds are complete, we’ll draft the remaining plans. If you want to know more about the work that will guide these plans, you can check out our Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan and Woodland Caribou Policy for Alberta.

Grizzly bear update: more poaching reported in 2013

One of our jobs at ESRD is to try to help humans and animals co-exist. Most of the time, public education and tools like BearSmart help us accomplish this – but sometimes, it’s a little more complicated.

Grizzly bears are a threatened species in Alberta. As part of our recovery plan, we gather information each year on how many human-caused grizzly deaths have occurred in the province. Obviously, the goal is to minimize these deaths, so that the grizzly bear population can grow.

There are several potential reasons for a human-caused grizzly death. Someone attacked by a grizzly may have to defend themselves by killing it. Bears are also struck and killed by large vehicles. But the biggest culprit is also the most problematic: poaching.

The numbers are in – and they’re not good

More human-caused grizzly deaths were reported in 2013 than any other year in the last decade. And unfortunately, the number of bears poached last year was the highest it has been in many years. You can see the numbers here.

It’s not necessarily the case that poaching has increased – it could just be that more cases were reported and investigated this year than in previous years. But these numbers are certainly troubling.

Poaching is illegal under Alberta’s Wildlife Act, and can lead to significant fines (up to $100,000), loss of hunting privileges, and jail time. Cases investigated last year led to at least one instance of the poacher in question being sent to jail.

Please help us help the grizzlies

We are committed to doing everything we can to protect grizzly bears from poaching. That’s why Fish and Wildlife Officers regularly patrol grizzly bear habitats – to deter potential poachers.

But we can’t be everywhere at once. That’s why we need your help to catch poachers and protect the animals they kill.

report-a-poacherWe know that if someone poaches, at least one other person probably knows about it. If you have information about illegal hunting or fishing, please call the 24-hour Reporter a Poacher line at 1-800-642-3800. If you live, work, or play in bear country, you can help us protect them.