Study analyzing wildlife’s reactions to changing landscape in Burns Lake, Houston and Smithers – Burns Lake Lakes District News

Brooklyn Maher, a former student at Lakes District Secondary School (LDSS) and now an MSc student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Okanagan, is conducting a study examining the effects of partially cleared forests on predatory species ranging from weasels to ranging from all to cougars and grizzly bears in the Burns Lake Community Forest and in the Houston and Smithers areas.

“Partial harvesting can have many different meanings in forestry, so we decided to investigate two types of partial harvesting. The first will be conducted in Burns Lake Community Forest, where curving paths will be cut from the landscape and 30-60 percent of the mature forest will remain intact. The second type is done by CANFOR, where the mature trees are harvested from the blocks but the seedlings and understory vegetation are left as much as possible,” Maher said.

“We want to see how predators use these partially harvested blocks versus old-growth forests and the more traditional form of clear-cutting.”

Most of the cameras are located in the Burns Lake Community Forest, which covers just over 92,000 acres. It also has cameras in the surrounding crown lands, as well as cameras extending west into the Houston and Smithers areas.

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The project includes Dr. Karen Hodges, Maher’s MSc supervisor at UBC Okanagan, Frank Doyle of Wildlife Dynamics Consulting, a summer field technician and two winter field technicians. Burns Lake Community Forest and CANFOR provided ideas and funds.

Burns Lake Community Forest (BLCF) contribution to this project is a donation of $23,052.51 to help offset equipment and project costs.

“We are also committed to continuing support through the use of BLCF equipment and accessories to ensure success. Once the project is complete we will tabulate the total contributions,” said Frank Varga, General Manager, BLCF. “I just want to add that we are very excited to see this field-based research project come to fruition, particularly in the Burns Lake Community Forest. Brooklyn is a local high school grad and it’s always great to see local talent come back and do research in the backyard!”

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Supporting the study is also a way for the BLCF to demonstrate its continued commitment and efforts to manage the land base through Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.

“We are pleased that this project will come to fruition as it will help develop measurable and verifiable key outcomes for forest managers to support balanced decision-making when addressing expectations of the social, economic and environmental values ​​of local communities to reconcile forest management,” Varga added.

So far, research has collected images of all expected predator species except cougars. In addition to the predators, the study also analyzes images of key prey species such as deer, elk, elk, snowshoe hare and ptarmigan to see which species are recorded in which forest cover or crop type.

“A truly unexpected visitor was a skunk! We have now picked up two over the summer, one in a cut block and one in mature wood. Another animal that we always enjoy seeing is the wolverine. We also picked up some bear rub trees which always make for very cute photos!” said Maher.

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Fieldwork for this study began in May 2022 and will continue until September 2023. 102 active camera traps are currently in use as part of the study.

“Our research is important because it collects data on how wildlife responds to us changing the landscape. In the future, we need to find solutions for more sustainable timber harvesting practices that allow people and wildlife to coexist in our forests. Partial harvesting can help support both forestry and wildlife,” Maher said.

The ultimate goal of the study is to collect enough data to answer questions for each of the study types. Upon completion of the fieldwork, Maher will write the results for an MSc thesis, publish research papers and present the work to interested parties in government and industry.

“We hope that our findings will benefit both wildlife and forestry in the future by finding ways to conserve wildlife habitat while enabling timber harvesting in our forests,” she said.

Moose photo taken with game cam.  (Submitted photo/Lakes District News)
Photo of moose calves taken with the game cam.  (Submitted photo/Lakes District News)
Photo of a bear scratching taken with a game cam.  (Submitted photo/Lakes District News)
Skunk photo taken with a game cam.  (Submitted photo/Lakes District News)
Moose photo taken with game cam.  (Submitted photo/Lakes District News)

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