Synthesis of Project TEACH learnings 

Project TEACH was a two-month long educational initiative developed in partnership between Raincoast, UBC, Coexisting with Carnivores Alliance, and UVic.

This article synthesises the information shared by the eighteen experts who contributed to Project TEACH. It has been prepared as a complement to the session recordings, which are all available for viewing on Raincoast’s website and YouTube channel. In the short-term, it is intended to be a resource to those who plan to submit a survey to contribute to the final Project TEACH findings report (feedback due by August 17, 2022). In the longer-term, it will be a resource to those interested in applying scientific knowledge to policy decisions.

Project TEACH webinar One – Connecting over Carnivores

Guests Chris Darimont, Chelsea Greer, and Gisele Martin discuss carnivore management regimes and the role carnivores play in maintaining climate stability in CDF and CWH habitats. Interactions between humans and carnivores are becoming increasingly frequent due to habitat fragmentation, which interrupts wildlife corridors. Likewise, climate change impacts are growing in frequency and severity. This webinar explores how these intersecting issues alter ecological integrity and peaceful coexistence with carnivores.

Wolf sitting in grass.
Photo by Colleen Gara.

Chris Darimont, Raincoast Chair of the ACSL at UVic, kicks off Project TEACH by describing the ACSL’s bear research on BC’s central coast. The bear research project was formed by Dairmont, alongside the Wukinuxv Nation, to passively collect grizzly bear fur samples, which provide physiological and population data. A combination of this data and  local values helps guide salmon harvesting policies within the Wukinuxv Nation bear-salmon-human system. Dairmont discusses the importance of balance and sharing resources within the ecosystem. Darimont’s research also found three distinct grizzly bear populations along the coast aligning with three distinct Indigenous language groups, offering insight to the connection between bears, humans, and the landscape over time. This collaborative  project, along with Indigenous law, aided in ending grizzly bear trophy hunting in BC.

Next, Chelsea Greer, Raincoast’s Wolf Conservation Program Coordinator, highlighted the devastating impacts of culling and trophy hunting on wolf populations in BC. The goal of Greer’s work is shifting provincial management of grey wolves from an exploitation-based model to a wildlife welfare-based model, aligning with the important role wolves play in maintaining functional ecosystems. Greer also reviews how wolves, as apex predators, maintain healthy prey populations – which in turn, has cascading effects on carbon cycling. Current hunting pressure and common wolf management methods cause harm and suffering, and often have multigenerational adverse impacts. Raincoast works to  influence policy recommendations based on ethics and peer-reviewed science, with the goal of ending predator control in BC. Greer also points to education as a powerful tool to reduce human-wolf conflict.

Finally, Gisele Maria Martin, from the House of ʔiiḥw̓asʔatḥ of ƛaʔuukʷiʔatḥ / Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island, shares the importance of Indigenous language and Traditional work in carnivore conservation. Various Indigenous groups around the world share a commonality: there is no word for wilderness, only a word describing home. Indigenous language can reconnect people to the land and animals. Conversely, the English language is riddled with hierarchy and human supremacy, and tends to ‘other’ non-human animals and ecological communities. In settler societies, it is typical to think of the colonial (i.e. extractive) worldview as the default, but Martin argues this is not the case. Animals are not here for human use and objectification, they are a part of us; they are our relatives. Indigenous language revitalization is essential to demonstrating and strengthening the relationships between people, animals, and the land. 

Project TEACH webinar two – Fungi and plant diversity: Maintaining abundance in coastal forests

This webinar episode explores the diversity of fungi and plants, and how to maintain species abundance of coastal forests in the climate-change era. Topics covered include soil science, fungal networks, and understory plant diversity. With an increased number of ecological threats impacting the South Vancouver Island and wider Georgia Depression region, this session aims to answer the question: how can ecological resilience be maintained on the landscape, and what policy options are being used to adapt to unprecedented rates of change?

Lichen hanging from a tree.
Photo by Alex Harris.

The first speaker, forest ecologist Dr. Allen Laroque, covers the connection between forest soils, fungi, and nutrient inputs from dying salmon. Salmon influence both fauna and flora in the forest environment, providing essential nutrients that make their way through the food chain.  Laroque explains that salmon nutrients contribute to soil richness through absorption by fungi. This changes plant and soil communities, and increases soil fungal diversity. Thus, Laroque’s research indicates that salmon nutrients are found within fungi, and  are increasing fungal diversity.

Next, Dr. Kranabetter, Regional Soil Scientist with the BC Ministry of Forests, presents research on the ectomycorrhizal fungi species found with tree roots common to coastal forests, and reviews the importance of symbiotic relationships between fungi and trees. A substantial number of local fungal species are endemic to the west coast, meaning they are locally adapted and have a high fitness to specific coastal ecosystems. Within current forest management regimes, diversity of endemic fungi has been decreasing. However, retention forestry can help promote ecological resilience and maintain local populations of endemic species by facilitating fungi species dispersal into maturing forest stands.

The last guest, Dr. Brian Starzomski– Professor and Director in the School of Environmental Studies at UVic – focuses on plant species within the Coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone and more specifically, heavily degraded Garry Oak associated ecosystems. There are rare endemic species, many of which are now threatened or endangered,  that can only be found in these ecosystems, which also happen to be characteristic to the most human-dominated landscape in BC. Further, many at-risk species within Canada, including Garry oak ecosystems, are found at the leading edge of their ranges. These will be the first  populations to be affected by climate change, further emphasising the need for their protection. Implementing an Endangered Species Act in BC would provide the tools and finances needed to protect at-risk species. Ways individuals can contribute include recording plant observations using community science apps like iNaturalist and  assisting environmental organisations with restoration initiatives (e.g. invasive species removal).

Project TEACH webinar three – Fostering forest resilience in the climate change era

The third webinar in the series explored topics in forest ecology and management. It sought to explain the role forests play in increasing climate resilience and maintaining local biodiversity. There has been staggering forest loss in BC’s coastal areas due to long-term forest management emphasising timber values over ecological integrity. Further, policy makers are slow to integrate best available science into forest management practices. Our expert guests explore potential leverage points for change.

Vanilla leaf in the forest.
Photo by Alex Harris.

Dr. William Hammond, Plant Ecophysiologist and Global Change Ecologist at the University of Florida, starts the conversation at a very high level by exploring how heat and drought lead to increased global tree mortality due to climatic warming.  Warming poses many threats to plant survival including amplified atmospheric drought, intensified soil drought, and the direct effects of heat stress (e.g. defoliation). Hammond warns that if Earth warms to more than 2°C over pre-industrial temperatures, a 22% increase in tree mortality will be observed worldwide. To prevent further tree mortality events, we must limit warming by curbing CO2 emissions.

Next, Dr. Lori Daniels, from the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at UBC, discusses successional theory and how it influences current coastal forest management. Management and conservation have traditionally been based on concepts of disturbance and succession, assuming forest vegetation reflects the stability of climate, physiography, and soils. This view assumes that disturbance is the primary start to a forest that should decrease overtime, and therefore post-successional disturbance is a problem that needs to be solved. Daniels hopes to change this thinking. While the traditional management paradigm aims to conserve stable forest states, more contemporary paradigms encourage maintaining natural forest processes and increasing heterogeneity on the landscape. Species, compositional, and structural diversity are all needed  to enhance forest resilience to climate-change. 

Dr. Garry Merkel, Registered Professional Forester and one half of the two member BC Old Growth Strategic Review panel, talks about tracking environmental patterns to estimate landscape vulnerability. Merkle suggests managing forests based on climate change predictions to enhance adaptability and resilience. A few ways this can be practised on the ground include planting more heat and drought tolerant tree species, increasing forest species diversity, and implementing the recommendations made in the old growth strategic review report. Merkel also discusses mitigation in silviculture, such as mimicking natural disturbances (e.g. controlled fire, simulated windthrow), maintaining overall forest cover, and maintaining connectivity by establishing  climate movement corridors. Ultimately, Merkle asserts that future management must consider broad-scale ecosystem function over long periods of time to mimic natural processes. This will require a multi-level, multi-sectoral approach to shift deeply ingrained systems, planning, and practices; a paradigm shift that starts with every individual.

Project TEACH webinar four – Connectivity conservation

The fourth webinar episode focused on connectivity conservation in local landscapes. According to a report by the Canadian Council of Ecological Areas: “Well-connected ecosystems [are] critical for maintaining important ecological and evolutionary processes (including species migration and adaptation), especially in an era of rapid climate and ecological change.” The enhancement and maintenance of connectivity between protected areas can lead to greater opportunity for migratory activity, decreased habitat fragmentation, and landscape scale conservation.

Wolf crossing a road.
Photo by Colleen Gara.

Dr. Angela Brennan, Research Associate and Conservation Scientist at UBC, defines connectivity as the degree to which the landscape facilitates movement of organisms, allowing access to resources, gene flow, and response to climate change. Nature is declining globally at unprecedented rates, driven primarily by habitat loss and fragmentation. Historically, a key strategy to combat this level of  biodiversity loss has been protected area conservation, however, oftentimes focus on individual protected areas overlooks the significance of the surrounding landscape in facilitating species movement and habitat maintenance. Brennan’s work identifies landscape “pinch points,” which are pathways for movement between protected areas. Identifying at-risk connectivity areas will better help conserve movement corridors. 

Geographer Chris Morgan’s (MSc) research focuses on the incorporation of climate change and traditional ecological knowledge in protected areas planning. Morgan uses his master’s research conducting systematic conservation planning in Tsay Keh Dene territory as a  case study, investigating areas that are most resilient to climate change, exhibit landscape-level connectivity, and have high levels of ecological and cultural conservation value. In this project, Morgan used GIS tools to quantify the level of connectivity between protected areas. This work can be applied in a variety of conservation and management area planning contexts to aid holistic decision-making.

Dr. Meade Krosby, Senior Scientist from the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group, shares efforts to protect natural systems across Cascadia despite the challenges presented by the imposition of political borders across the landscape. The main way species adapt to climate change is by shifting their ranges; in the Northern hemisphere, this shift typically occurs upwards in both latitude and elevation. As such, both wildlife and ecological processes need to move freely across landscapes, which will require large-scale, transboundary, land and wildlife management efforts, involving multiple landowners and jurisdictions. Kroby’s work demonstrates how connectivity conservation can be coordinated at the landscape scale.

Project TEACH webinar five – Recreation and conservation: the balancing act

This final  webinar episode explores the balance between conservation and recreation, and options for managing the impact of recreationists, while still providing human access to nature. As the number of outdoor enthusiasts grows, it is important to manage the impacts of recreation, while also fostering the connections with nature that results in future environmental advocates.

Man walking through an old growth forest.
Photo by Alex Harris.

Dr. Cole Burton from the Wildlife Coexistence Lab at UBC, discusses the effects of recreation on terrestrial mammals. Parks are beneficial for both wildlife (e.g. provision of habitat) and people (e.g. access to recreational opportunities). They can have economic, cultural, and health benefits, as well as provide inspiration for protecting wild spaces. However, increased visitor levels can have impacts on wildlife, causing habitat disturbance and displacement. Burton uses research completed in Golden Ears Park and the South Chilcotin Mountains, where trail cameras were used to monitor spatial and temporal displacement of wildlife, due to various human activities, to demonstrate recreation impacts on wildlife. Camera traps are valuable tools for increasing understanding of the relationship between people and wildlife. While ongoing monitoring is needed to better understand impacts of recreation on animal behaviour, recreation ecologists already know long-term, multi-park proactive management is needed to protect species wellbeing.

Dr. Sarah Elmeligi, Owner and Principal of Sarah E Consulting, explores research on interactions between grizzly bears and recreational trail users in parks and protected areas. “Grizzly bear management is usually just as much people management,” Elmeligi asserts. Elmeligi’s research combines biological and social data to influence management tactics in Rocky Mountain national parks. Her work uses remote trail camera data, GPS collar data, and trail user surveys to better understand the correlation between human trail use and  Grizzly bear behaviour. Elmeligi’s recommendations include 1) implementing trail opening times in high quality habitat, 2) closing trails when a female bear with cubs is in close proximity, and 3) educating the public on the benefits of grizzly bear aversive conditioning. To do better wildlife management, we need to understand the relationship we are in with large carnivores.

Gabe Schepens, Environmental Studies (MSc) graduate from UVic, discusses their work mapping human and wolverine hotspots as a part of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y). Recreation ecology studies the environmental impacts of recreational activity in protected natural areas, but is usually focused on site-specific, small-scale studies, which are challenging to apply to larger areas. The Y2Y initiative aims to predict recreational and wildlife use at the landscape level and identify friction points between wildlife and human users. This project provides a framework to gather data, and extrapolate both wildlife and human use patterns, to make evidence-based predictions about areas where wildlife-recreation conflict may occur. This synthesised data can also be used to create Habitat Suitability Maps by modelling wildlife preferences for certain habitat features. 

Project TEACH six – Solutions Session

The Project TEACH Solutions Session (“the session”) aimed to mobilise the science shared throughout the webinar series by providing opportunities for attendees to first hear from experts working in applied conservation science and policy and then come together to brainstorm solutions for on-the-ground change. The session was emceed by forest ecologist and Metchosin Municipal Councillor, Andy MacKinnon, and included presentations from Deborah Curran, Executive Director of the Environmental Law Centre at UVic and primary author of the Green Bylaws Toolkit; Lauren Eckert, Conservation Scientist and PhD candidate at the Applied Conservation Science Lab in the Department of Geography, UVic; and Chief Gordon Planes, Elected Chief of T’Sou-ke Nation.

Man standing at the front of an auditorium with a full crowd.
Project TEACH Solutions Session emcee, Andy MacKinnon. Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Curran opened the session noting changes between earlier versions of the Green Bylaws Toolkit, which focused on conserving ecosystem connectivity, and the new version released in 2021. Though ecosystem conservation remains a focus in this third edition, because of widespread habitat degradation and fragmentation across the province, restoration has become a more significant focus. To slow the degradation of already heavily modified ecosystems, collaborative action on broad temporal, spatial, and jurisdictional scales is needed. Importantly, according to Curran, there is a robust legislative and regulatory framework available to local governments in BC, but not a single one comes close to using all the authority they have to connect and conserve important ecological spaces. Further, the framework in place is largely siloed. A more integrated approach is needed as the environment does not respect jurisdictional boundaries. 

Woman standing at the front of an auditorium with a full crowd.
Project TEACH presenter, Deborah Curran. Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Best practice for local governments is to take a nested approach when implementing green bylaws. This means that the implementation of a green bylaw must be supported by overarching plans and policies and also must integrate processes to secure community support. Additionally, though colonial courts have found that local governments have no duty to consult with Indigenous Peoples, the ratification of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act presents a new provincial mechanism by which local bylaws should be brought into alignment with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Currently, it is up to local governments to decide what that alignment means to them in collaboration with the Nations on whose Territories they operate. 

Next, Lauren Eckert presents frameworks for thinking about policies, the upstream impacts of policy decisions, and how to address conflict when people do not agree on conservation policy decisions — something Eckert refers to as “conservation conflict.” In defining conservation conflict, Eckert is careful to remind the audience that, much like other areas of human conflict, conservation conflict is rarely soley about the visible issue at hand (e.g. a bylaw, a hunting ban, or carnivore cull). Rather, it is often the result of long histories that can influence reactions and decisions. Conservation Conflict Transformation is a social theory framework from the western sciences that can help address conservation conflict by asking those involved to look deeply at conflict not as a problem, but as an opportunity. Conflict can be seen as an invitation to assess the issue or policy decision at-hand and identify resolutions at the relationship and foundational level.

Woman standing at the front of an auditorium with a full crowd.
Project TEACH presenter, Lauren Eckert. Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Eckert provides three examples of conservation conflict relevant to the Capital Regional District and wider Salish Sea Region, and demonstrates how Conservation Conflict Transformation theory can be applied to better understand and resolve those conflicts. One such example is the conflict between so-called recreational and commercial fishers and conservationists over government imposed limits on Chinook salmon fishing, a measure meant to better protect the genetically and culturally distinct population of Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW) in the Salish Sea. While the conflict between these two groups manifests as a conflict over imposed protection measures, further study reveals that there are much deeper forces at play as illustrated in Figure One.

Figure showing an iceberg and different levels of conflict around SRKW management.
Figure 1: Conflict over SRKW protection measures. Yellow outlined text indicates the solutions for resolving the perceived conflict based on the deeper conflicts at play (as outlined in light and then darker blue). Graphic created and provided by Lauren Eckert.

Eckert finishes her presentation with an analogy, using stinging nettle to demonstrate how conservation conflict challenges can be overcome as shown in Figure 2. At the surface, or leaves, there is visible conflict, accompanied by actions and words that can cause harm. Moving down the stem, one will find unresolved history and misunderstandings that support the longevity of the conflict. But, if the conflict can be attended to at its root, addressing values, beliefs, identities, and lifeways, the opportunity to move forward and overcome the superficial challenges will arise.

Stinging nettle graphic showing conservation conflict resolution.
Figure 2: Stinging nettle as an illustration of conservation conflict resolution. Graphic created and provided by Lauren Eckert.

The presentation portion of the Solutions Session ends with Chief Gordon Planes, who opens by reflecting on the T’Souke Nation’s involvement with the federal Oceans Protection Plan and Salish Sea Initiative. Four years ago, when discussions started, the federal government did not want to include the terrestrial environment in these processes. But, the T’Souke are the salmon people. The salmon start from the terrestrial and go right back to it again. It is the cycle of life. Accordingly, the T’Souke Nation cannot be involved in projects unless their whole territory is involved, as their ancestors intended. 

Man standing at a podium.
Project TEACH presenter, Chief Gordon Planes. Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

It took much discussion for the federal government to come around to this more holistic approach. Governments have priorities and policies dictating the way they do things, but Indigneous laws and values need to be respected. T’Souke law is totally entrenched in the environment and, as such, provides a protective mechanism. Incorporating these laws into the laws of Canada makes a lot more common sense. The way things are done now,  we are hurting ourselves. To change it will be a lot of work, but this change is much needed. 

Chief Planes moves on to talk about the changing relationship with logging companies operating in T’Souke Territory; a relationship that began with his elders, who have since passed. Over the past twenty years, he has noticed a “circle effect,” that is, an empowerment of the T’Souke people to better express what they want for the enhancement of their Territories. Over the past four years Chief Planes has been part of a federally organised panel, the Indigenous Circle of Experts, focused on Tribal Parks and Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas. In this role, he has travelled across Canada visiting villages and speaking to many Elders. Upon his return, discussions began with a local logging company about how to preserve local Territories. That has resulted in a commitment to protect 40,000 hectares of first growth timber, 1,000 of which are within T’Souke Territory. Chief Planes did not think that the T’Souke Nation would be playing a role in protecting these ecosystems, because it always seemed that the profits logging companies stood to make from such places would prevent it. It is welcome news and a good start, but there is still more work to do. Visiting parts of T’Souke Territory that have been logged in the past fifty years demonstrates how little attention has been paid to maintaining biodiversity and we need to find a way to do something about it. 

We need to talk to politicians, whether it be federal, provincial, or municipal, to find creative ways to tackle the issues that no one wants to tackle, that is: it is going to cost money. We need to ask ourselves, are we going to invest in this? Is it a worthy investment? When you talk to politicians it is about the next election cycle, but we need to be looking 100 years ahead. We must consider a legacy we are going to leave for our children. It is sad that we can go into a forest and harvest it, and leave not a forest, but a plantation and plantation is not a good word. What are some of the creative solutions? Maybe ecosystem service fees for the businesses that rely on the waterways running through the Territories of local Nations. These fees could help finance widespread removal of invasive species on southern Vancouver Island or restoration of plantation forests. 

In the future we need to ask ourselves hard questions; what are we going to give up?  At the end of the day, we are not going to be here 100 years from now, the work we do now is for the people who will be.

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Raincoast’s in-house scientists, collaborating graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors make us unique among conservation groups. We work with First Nations, academic institutions, government, and other NGOs to build support and inform decisions that protect aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and the wildlife that depend on them. We conduct ethically applied, process-oriented, and hypothesis-driven research that has immediate and relevant utility for conservation deliberations and the collective body of scientific knowledge.

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.