Tracking Raincoast into 2018
Table of contents
Beyond holding the line
From my home on Pender Island, I am fortunate to experience the Salish Sea every day; yet the beauty above belies the impacts of industrialization below. Underwater, the Salish Sea is a patchwork of degraded marine habitats.
As sentinels of ecosystem health, Southern Resident killer whales bear the brunt of harmful levels of noise, lack of food, toxic pollutants, and growing vessel traffic. Our analysis of the population’s viability was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports. It indicates that these whales face a 25% chance of extinction within the next 100 years. But importantly, the results also show that actions to increase food supply (Chinook salmon), reduce vessel disturbance, and reduce pollution, would lead to population growth. Recovery is possible—we just need to create the public and political will to act.
With diminishing Chinook in mind, our Fraser estuary research is examining the needs of juvenile salmon within this internationally important river delta. Additionally, to confront decades of habitat loss, we have initiated a program to “restore and re-wild” salmon habitat. Our pending report—Toward a Vision for Salmon Habitat in the Lower Fraser—identifies the need and desire to repair mistakes of the past. This goal has emerged from two years of engagement with lower Fraser First Nations, conservation groups, local government, and other interests.
Through 2018, our collective group will identify habitat restoration and protection priorities while exploring new governance mechanisms for the lower Fraser that empower Indigenous leadership. Most exciting for a salmon biologist like me, we will begin an ambitious, multi-year restoration project to improve habitat connectivity in the delta of the Fraser River estuary.
This work represents a bold, ambitious, and the most systemic approach to species recovery Raincoast has ever envisioned. Now and through 2018, we will need your support for killer whales, for wild salmon, and for all the species that rely on the Salish Sea and BC’s magnificent coast.
Oil Free Coast
Defending Killer Whales
Stopping oil tanker expansion in the Salish Sea
Last October, Raincoast, represented by lawyers at Ecojustice, was once again in court to defend the remaining 76 Southern Resident killer whales (SRKWs). Despite their endangered status, the federal government approved a seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through the heart of killer whale critical habitat when it approved Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion project. Raincoast’s scientific review of the project shows that even without oil spills or ship strikes, the noise alone from this rise in tanker traffic significantly increases the risk of extinction. Even the National Energy Board (NEB) and Kinder Morgan agreed that noise from increased tanker traffic would have significant, adverse effects on the whales that could not be mitigated.
To sidestep addressing this issue, the NEB made an eleventh hour decision to arbitrarily exclude marine shipping from the review process and ignore the risk tanker traffic presents to killer whales. We argued this decision was unlawful and failed to apply the mandatory protections and procedures guaranteed to SRKWs under both Canada’s Species at Risk Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Watch for the decision in 2018.
New Raincoast Research Paper Examines the “What If” of Oil Spills
With the increasing threat of oil spills in British Columbia’s (BC’s) coastal waters, we need a detailed understanding of the risks to marine mammals to inform management and conservation decisions. As a group, marine mammals are inherently vulnerable to oil spills due to their extended time spent at the water’s surface. Not all species, however, are impacted equally. Raincoast biologists Adrianne Jarvela Rosenberger, Andrew Rosenberger, and Misty MacDuffee, along with Ocean Wise scientist Peter Ross, examined unique traits and population considerations among BC’s marine mammals to determine which species are at highest risk from a potential oil spill. The paper, published in Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, identifies 18 out of 21 BC marine mammals as highly vulnerable, with Northern and Southern Resident killer whales, Steller sea lions, and sea otters scoring highest. Importantly, these species at greatest risk from oil spill exposure are also those with high conservation concern. In October, we testified to the federal Standing Committee examining the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act (Bill C-48), that the existing risk from oils spills should not be exacerbated by allowing oil tankers in BC’s Queen Charlotte Basin; they need to be banned.
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A future for the Southern Resident killer whales?
With only 76 endangered SRKWs remaining, understanding the extent to which each primary threat (prey decline, noise and disturbance, contaminants) inhibits their recovery is essential. With this in mind, Raincoast teamed up with internationally recognized scientists to examine the relative importance of the aforementioned threats and consider future population states under varying declines or improvements in these conditions. Published in the journal Scientific Reports, we found that under the current conditions of noise, low salmon abundance, and exposure to pollutants, SRKWs are on a slow slide to extinction. If any of these conditions worsen (i.e. the Salish Sea becomes noisier or salmon abundance declines further), then the pace and likelihood of extinction increases.
Increase salmon, increase killer whales
We are motivated by the fact that the opposite is also true. The most powerful combination of recovery measures requires an increase in Chinook abundance of at least 30% above the current baseline and a reduction in noise and disturbance to 50% of existing levels. This combination of actions projected the greatest growth in the population and the greatest reduction in the risk of extinction. But the window of opportunity to change their trajectory is closing, and these measures need to be put in place now. Raincoast will push throughout 2018 for immediate actions, including efforts to ensure their recovery is a cross-border priority.
Immediate recovery measures
Closing marine Chinook fisheries in Canada and the United States that target south migrating stocks, capping international shipping through Vancouver at existing levels, reducing noise from existing vessel traffic, creating no-go zones for boats in key feeding areas, and regulating whale watching are all immediate actions Raincoast is advocating for and that need to be taken to aid recovery.
Identifying Hotspots of Marine Mammal Density
Building on the extensive data-set collected from our five years of marine surveys, a new research paper published in the journal Ecosphere, by Raincoast scientists Caroline Fox and Paul Paquet, and collaborators, has used novel mapping methods to environmental conditions with marine mammal densities, researchers were able to identify regions on the BC coast important for biodiversity. Because of the diversity and density mammals, and also because most of the marine mammals studied are listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, these ‘hotspots’ identify high value areas for conservation and provide a powerful tool for informing marine planning and protection.
We can make a difference, together.
Raincoast’s Emerging Stewards Program
Inspiring the next generation
Raincoast’s Emerging Stewards program is inspiring a new generation of conservation leaders in the Salish Sea. Following a second successful season in 2017, we are expanding into a year-round program linking youth with scientists at Raincoast’s Applied Conservation Science Lab at the University of Victoria (UVic), Raincoast staff scientists working in the Salish Sea, and Indigenous Knowledge Holders through a variety of nature-based experiential learning activities.
Our floating classroom
Field trips and class visits comprise the program’s centrepiece in which our research vessel Achiever serves as a floating classroom. We visit ancient midden sites, learn about marine mammal identification as we sail through their habitat, and teach key ecological concepts—like predator-prey dynamics—which are directly relevant to conservation issues in the Salish Sea and local communities.
In addition to engaging Indigenous youth from the _WSÁNÉC School board and the Cowichan School district, we are also supporting at-risk youth through collaboration with the Take a Hike Foundation and the Urban Native Youth Alliance. Developing these programs and inspiring the next generation of Salish Sea stewards is of critical importance in continuing our conservation efforts and building on our experience working with various coastal First Nations further north on BC’s central coast.
Wild Salmon: Protecting a Foundation of the Coast
The Fraser estuary: a salmon nursery
Now completing our second year of studying juvenile salmon in partnership with UVic’s Baum Lab, we are gaining valuable insight into how different salmon populations use the marsh, eelgrass, and sandflat habitats in the delta of the Fraser estuary. By briefly catching thousands of young salmon during the months they migrate through the estuary, we gather information that tells us where in the Fraser watershed (i.e. which population) these young salmon originated, their estuary migration preferences, their residence time, and eventually, their diets. Working with a broader consortium of research scientists, we are trying to understand why the survival of young Chinook has declined so extensively in the last two decades, so these trends can be reversed.
We are also beginning to study the effect that the Fraser delta’s numerous jetties and causeways have on the movements of juvenile salmon, and how natural flows and processes on the delta and in Georgia Strait have been impeded by these structures. Raincoast is excited to announce that we are embarking, with several partners, on an initiative to restore some of the lost habitat and connectivity on the flats of the Fraser estuary. Jetties and causeways have been the source of long standing habitat loss, in terms of restricting historic access and natural migration routes to the estuary marshes. Our long term goal is to restore aquatic conditions in the rearing grounds of some of Canada’s most important wild salmon runs and globally important wildlife.
You can support our research and help protect salmon by becoming a donor.
Re-wilding the Lower Fraser
The Fraser estuary is not only a salmon nursery but also a hub that connects the migrations of other fish, birds, and marine mammals across thousands of kilometers of Pacific Ocean.
A dramatic decline
When SRKWs arrive in the Salish Sea they are hunting for Chinook salmon, many of which are returning to spawn in rivers within the Fraser watershed. Yet over the last 100 years, both the abundance and size of these fish has declined dramatically, especially in the early runs that return in the spring. The extensive loss of salmon habitat in the lower Fraser is a contributing factor to the decline in salmon abundance.
A vision for salmon habitat
Through 2017, we continued to engage First Nations, academics, local conservation groups, streamkeepers, and NGOs to create a long-term vision for salmon habitat in the lower Fraser River. While there are many obstacles to overcome in the next century, there is enormous support for protecting and restoring the lower Fraser and its tributaries. In the long term, restoring habitat in this important river should also benefit the food supply of the Salish Sea’s hungry killer whales.
If we re-build it, they will come…
As part of a long-term vision to restore and re-wild salmon habitat in the lower Fraser, we are working with partners at the University of British Columbia (UBC) to prioritize salmon habitat conservation options. Led by conservation scientist Tara Martin, we are working with a range of partners to examine the most cost effective measures that could be taken for salmon habitat recovery. This is no small task given that most of the original wetlands that sustained juvenile salmon have been drained, converted to shorelines for industry, agriculture, or urban development, or hidden behind dikes.
With our partners, we will also explore new governance structures for managing the lower Fraser. Since the loss of the Fraser River Estuary Management Plan, which helped guide more balanced decision making, conservation and salmon habitat considerations have been a low priority. As such, extensive losses to salmon habitat have occurred in the last decade. This process will identify possible funding mechanisms to increase and sustain investment, while supporting Indigenous partners to identify governance and decision-making models that ensure local communities are positioned front and centre in conservation efforts.
An Assessment of Salmon Conservation Progress in BC
Recent research by Simon Fraser University (SFU), SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, and Raincoast biologists Andrew Rosenberger and Misty MacDuffee, shows that implementation of Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy (WSP) has neither stopped the decline in salmon abundance nor increased our knowledge about salmon populations. The WSP was originally heralded for putting the interests of salmon conservation into policy actions. The paper, published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science, found that the number of monitored spawning streams on BC’s north and central coast is at an all-time low. Of the Conservation Units with adequate data to be assessed, there has been an overall decline in the number of salmon on spawning grounds, and fishing pressure was often responsible for the declines. The WSP needs to be properly implemented to sustain wild salmon. We will continue to work with legal, conservation, and Indigenous partners to ensure this happens.
Raincoast’s Applied Conservation Science Lab
Science inspired by nature, people, and place
Raincoast’s Applied Conservation Science lab at the University of Victoria has been dedicated to community-driven, acutely applied conservation science since its inception in 2012. Leveraging both the intellectual and physical resources of UVic, Raincoast has distinguished itself among non-profit conservation organizations by conducting world-class research that empowers ‘informed advocacy’ by drawing on the best available scientific evidence to inform conservation debate. Transcending solely academic accomplishments, the lab is dedicated to supporting Raincoast’s conservation initiatives, policy processes, and youth education.
Raincoast Bear Research
As we enter our tenth year of applied, community-driven research on coastal bears, we can reflect on the past as a way to guide and empower the future. We have learned so much about grizzly, black, and Spirit bears—their preferred foods, habitats, movements, and more. Critically, we are also learning how we can conduct scholarly research that provides value to the Indigenous Nations that guide our work. We are grateful for the new knowledge and relationships that have emerged and grown in the territories of the Heiltsuk, Wuikinuxv, Kitasoo-Xai’xais, Nuxalk, and Gitga’at Nations.
We have also witnessed uplifting change. First Nations are re-asserting Indigenous law and driving many resource management decisions on the coast once again. These efforts towards renewed sovereignty not only increase human well-being but also the welfare and sustainability of animals, including bears. One obvious example is the recently announced ban on trophy hunting of grizzlies in the Great Bear Rainforest, a move that has finally aligned provincial policy with longstanding Indigenous law.
Drawing on the strength of this change, we enter 2018 with an eye to the next decade.
We envision our applied research as a vehicle to design improved policy to provide bears with adequate food supply and habitat. In this spirit, our efforts in 2018 will focus on informing emerging nation-led policies on commercial salmon fishing, with the aim to allocate sufficient salmon for bears, as well as Ecosystem-Based Forest Management, which can safeguard the habitats of bears and other sensitive species.
Bear Research in Action
Throughout the Great Bear Rainforest, Raincoast and partners from the Central Coast First Nations Bear Working Group monitor bears over an area of greater than 22,000 km2. Researchers seek to answer questions of local relevance, as well as contribute to the broader knowledge base on a massive landscape scale. To monitor bears, a non-invasive technique is used that allows researchers to obtain crucial information with little to no impact on individual bears or the population.
The research teams set up hair snag stations, comprised of a single barbed wire corral around trees with a liquid scent bait (non-reward rotted fish smell) poured on a pile of debris in the centre. The barbed wire then passively snags shedding hair from bears on their way in to investigate the smell. Remote cameras indicate that bears typically spend about three minutes at the site and, being unable to consume the scent, continue with their normal routine.
During sample collection visits, the team carefully removes hair from every barb and places it into sample envelopes. The samples are then prepared and sent for testing where they yield genetic, isotope, and hormone data. Collected over many years, the data can elucidate spatial-ecological patterns of bear populations, including the complex relationship between salmon and bears and the overall health of bear populations. This information, now and in the future, informs management and conservation initiatives aimed at fostering healthy bear populations, habitats, foods, and bear-human relationships.
The Importance of Salmon to BC Bears
In 2017, Raincoast scientists Megan Adams, Christina Service, Kyle Artelle, Paul Paquet, and Chris Darimont authored a new paper published in the journal Ecosphere that highlights the relationship between bears and salmon in British Columbia. The study revealed the amount of salmon eaten by bears over 690,000 km2 from 1995 to 2014. More than 1,400 hair samples from grizzly and black bears provided inference towards the link between salmon consumption and population health—in areas where salmon abundance is high, bear populations tend to thrive. This work also showed that salmon are being consumed as a primary food source over 1,000 km from the coast, highlighting the influence salmon can have over large expanses of BC. In addition to spatial patterns, the study also revealed differences between salmon consumption between bear species and sexes. Grizzly bears were found to consume much more salmon than black bears and males more salmon than females. This new information is helping Raincoast and First Nations inform and plan for salmon conservation and protected areas decisions.
Long-term Research Informs Conservation Planning
As we transition into a new decade of applied research on bears, Raincoast lab members are tapping into our long-term data with new science and policy tools. Using more advanced genetic methods than previously available, we are going beyond identifying individual grizzly bears (252 and counting). Our goal is to identify discrete coastal sub-populations. This information will help us see where and how the Great Bears of the Great Bear Rainforest have organized themselves genetically across the landscape. Patterns of genetic diversity could reveal how landscape barriers or access to food resources divide bears into sub-populations that might require special consideration in conservation planning.
Identifying important habitat
Another route to support evidence-based conservation planning involves some advanced spatial statistics. By detecting, and re-detecting, over 250 individual grizzly bears over almost a decade, we now have the data set to ask why we find more bears in some areas compared to others. What habitat and food resources might be important? These answers matter, especially for high-density regions outside of protected areas that are potentially subject to logging.
Ensuring salmon for bears
Fishing, if managed poorly, is another modern activity that can affect grizzlies. Similarly, coastal communities likewise depend on well-managed salmon to meet their subsistence needs. We are collaborating with the Wuikinuxv Nation in their fisheries management that aims to ensure local food security while also allowing enough salmon to spawn to support healthy bear populations. Mathematical analyses, which draw on our long-term data, will predict how various salmon harvest options could affect future salmon numbers and bears. This work has urgency because there is increasing pressure to re-open a commercial component to the sockeye fishery in the territory.
New technology yields new data
Much of our analysis depends on high-quality estimates of bear and salmon numbers. But until now, we have counted bears in the spring (via hair-snagging) while salmon counts are conducted during fall spawning. This is about to change. We are adapting cutting edge tools from forensic science to inventory bears on salmon streams in a novel way. We have piloted work that samples the tiny amount of bear DNA from saliva that remains on partially-eaten salmon carcasses. Pioneering this technology with our Indigenous partners also provides an important and efficient way to couple applied research on salmon and bears. These emerging research efforts will contribute to real-world conservation planning and management to support locally-driven land-use and fisheries planning.
The “float house” serves as our modest field station in Bella Bella, Heiltsuk Territory, in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. It is beautiful and structurally sound, being built from cedar. The rainforest, however, doles out lashing rains and biting winds. Its uninsulated walls and single pane windows make for uncomfortable nights and a voracious firewood appetite. Moss is penetrating the roof. Miraculously, water has not yet made it through, but we fear this will change this winter unless we intervene.
Fortunately, an amazing volunteer carpenter has offered to insulate the building, replace the windows, and outfit it with a rugged aluminum roof. But we are reaching out for help. We are fundraising for materials, and looking for an assistant to support some of the more involved jobs.
The time has come to re-invest in this critical Raincoast infrastructure. Our vision is that the field station can support decades more applied research and education in service of people, place, and nature in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Our floating field station—strong bones, but needing some work.
Saving the Great Bears
In 2017 we celebrated a significant conservation victory as the BC government announced an end to the trophy hunting of grizzlies in the Great Bear Rainforest. Ending the coastal trophy hunt has been part of Raincoast’s work to protect the habitat and life requisites for grizzly bears, and other large carnivores, in the Great Bear Rainforest for over two decades.
Raincoast, with the support of Coastal First Nations, has struck a deal to buy a fourth trophy hunting tenure in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. The exclusive commercial licence covers 2,350 km2 of rich habitat for large carnivores, including grizzlies, black bears, Spirit bears, wolves, cougars, and wolverine. We now need your help to raise $500,000 before our purchase agreement expires at the end of 2018.
Purchasing the remaining commercial trophy hunting rights in the Great Bear Rainforest, coupled with the province’s ban on the grizzly hunt, is a significant step towards our goal of ending all large carnivore trophy hunting on the coast.
Raincoast views this cutting edge initiative as part of a larger effort to assist in creating a conservation economy in which protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat supersedes exploitation and extraction.
You can help us take the next step and safeguard large carnivores in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Large Carnivore Conservation
Beyond science, our wildlife welfare ethic increasingly sees Raincoast working to shift public attitudes and wildlife policy toward compassionate conservation. Wildlife management in BC is marked by an outdated mindset that primarily views wild animals, particularly large carnivores, as a “resource” to be exploited by recreational hunting or as troublesome creatures who need to be killed because their very existence conflicts with human endeavours. Simply, wildlife policies, exemplified by the BC wolf cull, are focused on consumption and control, rather than actual conservation. Largely ignoring the biology and intrinsic value of all species, the current approach reinforces the narrow idea that nature is a commodity—“a resource”—owned and used by humans in pursuit of personal interests. This management perspective draws its support and sustains the view that humans exist outside of nature, and that other species are of little importance in the grand scheme.
Considering centuries of human privilege over the needs of the environment, what we need to manage is not wildlife, but ourselves. Raincoast envisions a compassionate conservation policy based on management for wildlife, as opposed to management of wildlife—a policy that takes into account the health and well-being of both individuals and populations. Furthermore, we envision substantially more consideration given to maintaining the integrity of ecological systems upon which species depend. Specifically, large carnivore management needs to emerge from the past and adopt practices in keeping with modern science and principles regarding the ethical treatment of animals.
Our dedicated research vessel Achiever continues to show her abilities as a versatile research and work vessel on the coast. Her capacity for long haul scientific charters was put to the test through 2017 as she continued to work with the Cetacean Research Program out of the Pacific Biological Station.
Raincoast’s Salish Sea Emerging Stewards Program saw its second year of operation aboard Achiever. The program focuses on engaging youth with a blend of nature based scientific education and Coast Salish Ecological Knowledge. While aboard Achiever, dozens of students have had the opportunity to learn about the environment, wildlife, and sailing, throughout the Salish Sea on their floating classroom.
Spring and fall provided unique opportunities to administer and monitor our commercial hunting tenures in the Great Bear Rainforest. Working with Coastal First Nations, Raincoast’s ongoing effort to end large carnivore hunting is assisted by Achiever. Engaging trips will continue in 2018 with opportunities to travel with conservation science educators, biologists, and community knowledge holders.
Friends of Raincoast
Kevin Smith & Maureen Gordon – Maple Leaf Adventures
While building their world-class ecotourism company, Kevin Smith and Maureen Gordon have been long-time Raincoast supporters. Most recently, Kevin, on behalf of Maple Leaf Adventures, pledged $100,000 to Raincoast over ten years to support the next generation of scientists and stewards in the Great Bear Rainforest. Maureen has volunteered as a Raincoast director for six years. Both believe that Raincoast’s research, conservation work, and partnerships with local communities, are vital for the development of sustainable tourism on the coast.
Their company has long supported our programs and even donated their ship for our Art for an Oil-Free Coast project, all the while introducing their guests to Raincoast researchers in the field. They volunteer within tourism industry associations and committees to advocate for ecotourism, wildlife, and natural places. Like the team at Raincoast, they believe in creating the change they’d like to see, whether it is respecting First Nations traditional territory, ending the grizzly trophy hunt, or creating a world-class, sustainable tourism destination.
Daniel Terry – Denman Island Chocolate
Trips into the Great Bear Rainforest can inspire many things. For Daniel Terry, owner and founder of Denman Island Chocolate—Canada’s first organic chocolate company, it inspired the Grizzly Bar. This spring Daniel stepped up to help grizzly bears by producing a dedicated chocolate bar to support our Save the Great Bears campaign. Proceeds from the sale of thousands of Grizzly Bars are supporting Raincoast’s efforts, in partnership with Coastal First Nations, to acquire all remaining commercial hunting tenures in the Great Bear Rainforest. Daniel even donated a trip for the winner of our competition, which was open to all those who donated to the campaign or shared a picture with their #GrizzlyBar.
Beyond the financial support, Daniel shared his business networks with us, as well as his enthusiasm both for chocolate and for conservation. We are very grateful.
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Tracking Raincoast Sponsors, 2018
When we publish Tracking Raincoast, we reach out to our supporters for help with the costs. Publishing Tracking Raincoast into 2018 couldn’t have happened without the generous support of these sponsors.