Notes from the Field: Establishing a wildlife camera network in Heiltsuk Territory

In partnership with the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department, we established a wildlife camera network in a large region of the Territory.

There is something about loading up the lab truck, packed to the brim with food and labelled totes, and boarding the ferry, knowing that a big adventure is ahead of you. Buzzing with nervous excitement and a lot of unknowns, our team departed in the early summer and headed to Heiltsuk Territory.

In partnership with the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department (HIRMD), we established a wildlife camera network spanning a large region of the Territory, in hopes of developing a robust dataset to answer questions about how wildlife relate to their (sometimes changing) habitats.

Landscape photo of a river running through a greenspace with a forested mountain in the background.
Photo by Persia Khan.

Detection data from wildlife cameras present many opportunities for wildlife monitoring, particularly due to its non-invasive nature and through the ability to collect year-round data. I’ve been interested in these methods, and the types of questions you can answer with these data, throughout my early academic career. So naturally I was thrilled with the opportunity to help establish this project in Heiltsuk Territory.

So what does a day in the field look like?

After a foggy morning crossing to pick up local skippers and crew, our team would head out into the Territory in our research vessel, Kwahnesum, in search of our next camera site. Our proposed sites were represented as ‘cells’ (squares on our maps), which were randomly selected throughout the study area. Our job was to arrive at these cells, first by boat or helicopter, then by foot, and find the strongest wildlife trail we could within the designated cell. You can imagine that this sounds easier than it looks in practice.

Two people sit on the front of the boat, Kwahnesum.
Photo by Persia Khan.

Once in the forest the bushwhacking begins. Our team would keep their eyes peeled for any sign of wildlife activity – scat, tracks, digging, and trails would all be used as indicators of use by different species. Once a trail and target feature (such as a rub tree) were identified, we would determine the trail’s relative strength, position within our selected cell, and locate the best available tree to deploy the camera. Several considerations need to be made such as direction to avoid sun glare, height of camera, and distance from target features.

Bear prints in the mud.
Photo by Persia Khan.
A camera trap deployed on a tree in the forest.
Photo by Persia Khan.

We repeated this process of searching for sites and deploying cameras over the course of a few months, ultimately establishing a wildlife camera array across multiple watersheds. And now for the hard part…the waiting. I can hardly wait to revisit these special places in the spring to see what our cameras have captured over many months.

More than data

I’m so grateful for the generosity and kindness I’ve experienced while working on the coast. Each time I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Heiltsuk Territory I find that I learn even more about life than I do about science and research. Whether it’s cleaning my first fish or servicing an outboard motor, I always leave with more skills and friendships than I came with that extend far beyond the confines of a research project.

3 people stand in the forest kicking one leg up while holding a whiteboard.
Photo by Persia Khan.

As forestry policy continues to evolve in both British Columbia and the Territory more information about potential impacts on wildlife are needed. My hope for this project is that we can contribute to Raincoast’s long history of providing support for evidence-based policy by Indigenous governments.

You can help

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.

We investigate to understand coastal species and processes. We inform by bringing science to decision-makers and communities. We inspire action to protect wildlife and wildlife habitats.

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