Going Wild for Wildlife Week!

Its-starting-owl twitterFor almost 70 years, the week of April 10 has been the week that Canadians are encouraged to celebrate our wild species, to enjoy our country’s natural heritage and to rededicate ourselves to conservation and sustainable management. Continue reading

Alberta’s Happy Hibernators: When Hibernators Rise and Shine!

This is the final part of a six part series on hibernators. You can find the first five parts on bearsbatsamphibiansreptiles and other small mammals here.

It feels like we are about halfway through our Alberta winter, a January thaw has given us a break from cold and snow and Canada’s weather predicting mammals are conflicted as to whether we will see an early spring or not. We’ve talked about who is sleeping and where, but when will our hibernators come out again? Do they all wake up at once? What do they typically do when they wake up – besides stretch?


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Don’t go out with a bang – watch for wildlife

November is the peak month for vehicle collisions across Alberta – including those with wildlife. In 2014, there was an average of 31 wildlife vehicle collisions in our province each day!

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Spring hazards: Have fun and stay safe during seasonal adventure

Rawson Lake Slide from SE corner_DuaneF

Watch for late-season slides at Rawson Lake and many other popular Kananaskis Country trails. Photo: Duane Fizor.

It may seem counter-intuitive to have to think about bears and avalanche at the same time while exploring the outdoors, but that’s the beauty of adventuring in the Canadian Rockies in spring. Snow can linger in the mountains late into the spring and early summer, but when it’s warm and sunny out, and everything is starting to melt, it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security: summer is on its way, so we can forget about winter safety hazards, right? Unfortunately, no.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re out there before the snow goes:


Some of the most popular snowshoe and winter hiking trails in Kananaskis Country, even ones that are easily accessible from parking lots and highways, travel through or end in avalanche terrain. Our public safety staff in Kananaskis Region note that as snowshoeing becomes more popular, snowshoers are often venturing into avalanche risk without the proper gear or knowledge.

Check the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES) ratings of the area you plan to hike or snowshoe (or ski), and note that anything rated as Simple terrain still has avalanche exposure risk. “The spring snow sport season in the Rockies runs from late March to early May, and very large ‘climax’ avalanches are more common during those months,” says Kananaskis Public Safety Specialist Jeremy Mackenzie, of avalanches that slide after a slow buildup over time. “These slides often reach the valley floor, with the potential to impact Simple terrain.”   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

Don’t move a mussel! Bringing a boat into Alberta? Get inspected.

If you’re taking a boat across Alberta’s borders this summer, we’re asking for your help to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

These species – which include rock snot algae, zebra and quagga mussels, and Eurasian watermilfoil – have no natural predators. Once these organisms get into a water body, they are very hard to eradicate, and can cause serious damage to ecosystems and fish species, boats, and infrastructure – including power plants and irrigation canals.

These species have already infested certain water bodies as far west as Lake Winnipeg and the United States – so it’s important that we keep them from crossing our borders. Last year, we set up a voluntary inspection station and a hotline number – 1-855-336-2628 (BOAT) – and asked boaters to report anything suspicious.

Our efforts have paid off: a call to the hotline in May helped us stop a boat infested with quagga mussels before it crossed the border. Although this is good news, it’s also a reminder of our vulnerability.

This summer, we’ll have four inspection stations on major highways coming into Alberta. These stations are set up at commercial vehicle weigh stations outside of Coutts and Crowsnest Pass in the south and Dunmore and Vermilion along in the east. These inspections will help protect boats as well as our native ecosystems.

This map shows our 2014 boat inspection stations.

Each of our 2014 inspection stations is marked with a blue pin on this map.

Here are the steps we need all boaters to take to help us stop aquatic hitchhikers: 

  1. Taking your boat out of the province? Call the hotline number to schedule a free inspection.
  2. Know how to recognize these species – check out the gallery (above) and read more about them here.
  3. Clean, Drain, and Dry your boat every time it comes out of the water! Here are the steps you need to follow.
  4. Report it. If you find anything suspicious while cleaning your boat, call 1-855-336-2628 (BOAT).
We look forward to seeing you - and your boat - this summer!

We look forward to seeing you – and your boat – this summer!

Alberta’s Wildlife Management Units – how they affect you

One of the hardest hurdles for many new hunters to overcome is figuring out what they can hunt – and where in the province they can hunt it.

These rules are in place to prevent overhunting. This is crucial, both to protect Alberta’s biodiversity, and to protect the future of hunting. Over-hunting can endanger species or even eliminate them from the landscape – and no animals means no hunting.

To keep the hunting tradition alive, we must make sure that our native game species continued to thrive.

To keep the hunting tradition alive, we must make sure that our native game species continued to thrive.

Alberta offers many great hunting opportunities throughout the province for both big game and bird game. This is in part because the majority of the hunting community are great environmental stewards who understand the need to pay it forward. Good management helps us keep the hunting tradition going into the next generation.

Crunching the numbers

So, we need a way of deciding who gets to hunt what – and a way to make sure that it treats everyone fairly. If limiting the number of animals hunted is the goal, why not just set quotas for the entire province?

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work – because our province isn’t a single ecosystem. Instead, it’s made of many different ecosystems, each with unique wildlife populations and needs. To be responsible, rules for hunting in each area have to reflect these needs. That’s where Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) come in.

Alberta is divided into about 185 WMUs. Each WMU has its own population goals for the various game species. Based on our population counts, we calculate the number of animals that can be harvested for each species while meeting those goals. Then, we use that number to figure out the number of licences that can be made available for hunters.

This is why the number of licences available for a particular species can differ across WMUs. If there is an overabundance of a particular species, more licences may be issued. But if the goal is to keep the population stable, fewer licences would be available.

In other words, this system helps us meet our goals for wildlife population management. It also helps us spread hunting opportunities throughout the province, making things more equitable. And both of these things help keep hunting sustainable.

So, now that you know a bit more about WMUs work, how do you figure out what they mean for you?

3 simple steps to navigating WMUs:

  1. Decide where in the province you’d like to hunt. Keep in mind that you need Map of Alberta's Wildlife Management Unitspermission to hunt on privately owned land. To access agriculture or grazing leases, check the access conditions on the AEP website.
  2. Use this map to find out which WMU that area is part of. (Click on the map to visit the interactive webpage.) Find the number on the map and click on it on the left-hand side of the webpage to see the exact boundaries of your WMU.
  3. Use the Alberta Hunting Draws booklet (issued in May of each year) to find out:
  • Draw details and dates for that WMU, if you want to hunt big game.
  • Other rules and restrictions for that WMU. (We’ll be talking about some of those later on in the series.)

Learning where and when you can hunt is the first step towards a responsible and rewarding hunting experience. If you’re a first-time hunter, the next step is making sure you’re legally allowed to hunt and use a firearm in Alberta. That’s what we’ll be talking about next time. And don’t forget, you can see the full list of topics in this series here. 

Know Before you Go: Spring fishing closures kick in soon. Here’s how they impact you.

Photo of a people fishing in a fishing boat

It might be cold right now – but spring is definitely here (at least, according to the calendar). And after a long, cold winter spent huddled in ice fishing huts, we know that anglers are particularly eager to get out in the warmer weather.

But before you throw your gear in the car and head for the lake, remember: it’s your responsibility to review this year’s sportfishing regulations for the scheduled spring fishing closures.

Why these closures are needed

Spring and fall fishing closures protect fish populations during critical spawning seasons. They are lifted once those periods are over.

Most of Alberta’s fish populations are maintained by spawning in the wild – i.e., they’re not stocked by ESRD. Successful spawning periods are critical to keeping these fish populations healthy. And since more fish = better fishing, they’re good for anglers too.

Where and when are the closures in my area?

Closures can apply to any water body that serves as important fish habitat – including lakes, reservoirs, and streams. We try to keep closure dates consistent in each of the three main ecosystem zones, but there are always exceptions – check pages 33-88 of the 2014 Guide to Sportfishing Regulations for your specific destination before you hit the road.

Map of Alberta's Fish Management Zones

Parkland-Prairie Zone

  • Prairies: most lakes, reservoirs, streams, and canals are closed to fishing from April 1-May 8
  • Parkland: most lakes are closed to fishing from April 1 until the Friday of the May long weekend (this year, that’s May 16th)

Northern Boreal Zone

  • Most lakes are generally closed to fishing from April 1 until the Friday of the May long weekend (May 16th  in 2014)
  • Most streams are closed to fishing from November 1 – May 31

Eastern Slopes

  • Closure dates differ – check pages 32-50 of the Regulations Guide

Where can I fish in the meantime?

Every year, we stock about 300 lakes, reservoirs and ponds with trout; these remain open throughout the year. Click here (or check page 16 of your Regulations Guide) to find one near you.

In safer waters: the conclusion of Bow Habitat Station’s flood recovery story

This is part two of a two-part blog post by Tamara UnRuh, Bow Habitat Station’s outreach coordinator. You can read part one here.

When I arrived at the Bow Habitat Station on Saturday morning, it had been almost two days since I had left the office wondering when I would return. I couldn’t believe what I saw looking out at the Trout Pond from the roof: our pond had now merged with the Bow River.

Photo of flooded Pearce Estate Park.

Looking North from the entrance to Pearce Estate Park towards Bow Habitat Station.

Into safer waters

 It wasn’t until the following day – Sunday – that the water levels had finally receded from the park enough for staff to begin the evacuation of fish from the building. But this was easier said than done. With the electricity still out, staff had to spot the fish in the tanks using only flashlights, and had to watch their step as the carpets were soaked through and had become quite the Slip n’ Slide. Eventually, staff were able to safely move 51 fish from our aquariums.  Photo of rainboots on a flooded floor

Once the fish were evacuated, we were able to find temporary homes for them with some help from our friends. Keith and Robin Freney of Fintasia, who maintain and manage our aquarium operations, also take care of the aquariums at Bass Pro Shops. They graciously offered a temporary home for our aquarium fish. We are happy to report that they have adjusted to their new environment quite well.

But the job was far from over. Approximately 250,000 fish remained in the ponds of the Fish Hatchery. Over the next week, staff relocated all the fish to other management facilities throughout the province – including the Allison Creek and Raven Brood Stations and the Cold Lake Fish Hatchery, as well as lakes and ponds throughout the province.

Cleaning up and moving forward 

Photo of Bow Habitat Station's flooded trout pond

The view of the Trout Pond from the Bow Habitat Station roof on Saturday, June 22.

With years of experience, staff were able to minimize the impact of the flooding on the building itself – but even water a few inches deep can cause substantial damage, and we were still faced with quite a bit of cleanup. Since the flood, both Bow Habitat Station and Pearce Estate Park have remained closed to the public as we continue the remediation and recovery process.

The hard work has resulted in some great progress. I’m happy to report that the Trout Pond, which acquired a few fish from the river, is once again receiving fresh flowing water – great news for the 50 rainbow trout remaining in the pond. Paul Christensen, one of our Area Fisheries Biologists, recently led a fish rescue operation to move the river fish stranded in the pond by flooding back to their native home.

Ready to re-open

Our work isn’t finished, but the hardest part of it is now over. Beginning July 30th, Bow Habitat Station’s Discovery Centre will reopen its doors with half-price admission. It will remain open throughout the summer: Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm. At that time, the Trout Pond will also reopen for its always popular catch and release fishing.

It has been heartbreaking to see a place we all love suffer such devastation –and even harder to close our doors to the public for the last four weeks. Words cannot begin to express the gratitude we at Bow Habitat Station have for all the workers from different departments and organizations who came together through impossible conditions to save the facility and our fish. We owe so much to their continued support, and we’re excited to work alongside them to launch a full re-opening of all operations – very soon.

...and the Trout Pond the way it looked before the flooding - and how it will soon look again.

We are working to restore the Trout Pond – and other parts of Bow Habitat Station – to their pre-flooding conditions.

Rising waters: a first-hand look at Bow Habitat Station’s flood recovery

The Bow Habitat Station is still recovering from the recent flooding. They’ve had a lot of work to do – but they would have had even more had it not been for the heroic efforts of some remarkable staff members. This is a first-person post from Bow Habitat Station’s outreach coordinator, Tamara UnRuh. 

Photo of a flooded Calgary weir

On June 19th at 4:00 pm, Harvey Passage looked like this.

Rising Waters

It seemed like any other Thursday evening at Bow Habitat Station. The sun was shining, another busy day of school programming was wrapping up in the Discovery Centre, and the Fish Hatchery was all set for an evening tour. Earlier that day, we’d heard that the river was rising quickly, so at 4:00 p.m., I headed to check on the situation at the nearby Harvie Passage. Astonished to see the waters so high, I snapped a quick shot and returned to share the photo with my coworkers. None of us could imagine how much higher the Bow River would rise in the next 12 hours.

It was shortly after 6:00 p.m. when we received the notice to evacuate the facility. As the three of us on evening shift left, there were still anglers enjoying the Trout Pond. I had no idea of the situation I would return to two days later.

Throughout the evening, I received sporadic updates from the Fisheries and Operations staff who were maintaining the facility as the waters rose. Around 8:00 p.m., our fisheries technician, Ryan Lyster and hatchery manager, John Bilas, began to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

You might think that our fish wouldn’t be affected by flood waters – but that’s not the case at all. The greatest concern

Photo of a flooded water well

Wells located throughout Pearce Estate Park were flooded by the Bow’s rising waters.

was our source of water for the hatchery, which is supplied by groundwater. Wells are found throughout Pearce Estate Park and require a significant amount of machinery to ensure the water is pumped through the water treatment system and regulated with oxygen before reaching the fish.

For now, all Ryan and John could do was wait. They prepped oxygen stones for all the tanks, ensured all the pumps were running, and settled in for what they expected to be a long night.

Staying Afloat 

Around 10:00 p.m., the first alarm came. One by one, the wells which supply fresh water to the hatchery were being flooded out. Then, to make matters worse, power to the entire building was lost – and the back-up generators, which are typically cooled by water from the wells, quickly shut down.

Without electricity, water could not be pumped through the building to provide fresh water to the fish – and the groundwater which was now seeping into the lower level of the facility through the concrete foundation could not be pumped out.

Reinforcements made their way out to the hatchery – and were promptly waylaid by a flooded parking lot. Ryan used the facility’s largest truck to pick up the new arrivals and drive them back to the building – but when rising waters caused the truck to stall, the group had to pull on their waders and return to the building the old fashioned way.

Photo of a fish stocking truck submerged in flood waters

The water levels rose too high for even the biggest vehicles to access the building.

Back on dry land, the crew set to work repairing the generators; but in the end, there was only enough cooling water to operate one.  This meant rationing electricity by turning off all unnecessary appliances – even the lights. And that’s how our staff ended up working through the night…in the dark.

Calling in the Cavalry 

Their efforts were rewarded the next morning with the arrival of more reinforcements from the local Fish & Wildlife office – including more generators and food for employees who had now been working 16 straight hours. Much-needed bottled oxygen also arrived from our partners at Welco – and just in time: the Fish Hatchery was down to its last two hours of oxygen supply.

By Friday afternoon, water was being recirculated to all the fish and oxygen levels were being maintained. Things were as stable as they could be – but there was no guarantee they would stay that way. With all our wells still offline, there was no means of pumping fresh water into the system. The decision was made to evacuate the fish from the building – but to do so was easier said than done.

…to be continued.