Photo by Katy Foster/NOAA Fisheries.
Tracking Raincoast into 2019
Table of contents
Beyond holding the line
This past summer, the world’s attention was focused on the critically endangered Southern Resident killer whale population that inhabits the Salish Sea and its outside coastal waters. Tahlequah (J35) carried her dead calf for more than two weeks in a visible display of grief. At the same time, another young female, Scarlet (J50), was the focus of unprecedented Canadian and US efforts to administer medication and food. The death of these whales came on the heels of another loss, Cruiser (L92), a whale who should have had decades of life ahead of him.
After years of legal, scientific, and public outreach efforts requesting concrete action from federal agencies, Raincoast and our partners filed a lawsuit in September 2018 to compel the government to act in accordance with the severity of the crisis. This lawsuit was filed just days after winning our court case against the Trans Mountain expansion. With its seven fold increase in oil tanker traffic, this project would increase underwater noise, as well as the risk of potential ship strikes and oil spills for the Southern Residents.
Raincoast science is contributing to a large and growing body of evidence that shows the current levels of Chinook abundance, ocean noise, vessel disturbance, and pollution, create conditions that make population recovery for the Southern Residents untenable. Consistent with this understanding, the federal government determined the Southern Residents face an imminent risk of extinction under present conditions. That said, there is hope if concrete action is taken now. Raincoast’s analysis shows that a 50% reduction in existing noise levels, combined with substantive efforts to increase Chinook abundance, could move this population toward recovery.
In 2019, we will persevere on behalf of the Southern Residents in the courts, in the media, and with a new film documentary. We will continue pushing the federal government to implement necessary threat reduction measures for these endangered killer whales, such as Chinook fishery closures, restrictions on Southern Resident whale watching, establishing refuges, and implementing noise reduction targets.
Your financial support is vital in allowing us to increase our efforts on behalf of the Southern Resident killer whales. Please consider a tax deductible gift to Raincoast today.
Join the Raincoast Team
Raincoast is a team of conservationists and scientists empowered by our research to protect the lands, waters, and wildlife of coastal British Columbia. We use rigorous, peer-reviewed science, education, and community engagement to further conservation objectives. Support our conservation efforts and give a tax-deductible donation today.
A win for the Southern Resident killer whales
When the National Energy Board (NEB) approved the Trans Mountain Expansion project in 2016, it arbitrarily excluded the marine shipping component of the project and failed to address the risk increased tanker traffic presents to the Salish Sea’s endangered Southern Resident killer whales.
After three years as intervenors in the review process, Raincoast, represented by Ecojustice, took the government to court arguing the NEB broke the law when it excluded the marine component. We argued the government used an overly narrow legal interpretation to avoid addressing the harm caused by tanker noise, ship strikes, and oil spills to the Southern Residents and their critical habitat. Further, we presented a compelling case that cabinet broke the law by adopting the NEB’s flawed report.
In August of 2018, the federal court of appeal unanimously agreed. They ruled that the Canadian government’s approval of the Trans Mountain project violated its legal obligations to protect these endangered killer whales under the Species at Risk Act. The project’s approvals were instantly rendered null and void. The NEB has now been instructed to review the project again, focusing on the marine shipping component, in a fast tracked time frame of 22 weeks. Raincoast continues to serve as an expert intervenor to ensure the Southern Residents are protected as this process continues.
In August of 2018, the federal court of appeal unanimously agreed that the Canadian government’s approval of the Trans Mountain project violated its legal obligations under the Species at Risk Act.
Wild Salmon, Pipelines, and the Trans Mountain Expansion
This past year, Raincoast published a new report highlighting the risks posed to wild salmon in the Lower Fraser River from a Trans Mountain pipeline or tanker spill.
The report details the year round presence of different salmon species, the river’s unique features, the nature of diluted bitumen, the failures of Trans Mountain’s environmental assessment, as well as the inadequacy of the NEB review process.
The Lower Fraser, with its extensive man-made shorelines of riprap, log booms, armoured riverbanks, and developments, provide many opportunities for spilled oil to strand. Salmon are susceptible to the toxic effects of spilled oil. Given our findings that embryos, juveniles, or adult salmon are present year-round, relying on the river and its estuary for migration, rearing, and spawning, there is no ‘safe’ time for an oil spill. This could be catastrophic for the one-third of wild salmon populations at risk of extinction in the Fraser River. Now is not the time to increase risk for salmon in the Lower Fraser – it is time for precaution, restoration, and recovery.
Saving an icon
If Southern Resident killer whales are to live on in the Salish Sea, decisive steps to reduce known threats need to be taken now. The impediments to their survival and recovery are a shortage of prey (primarily Chinook salmon), noise and disturbance from vessels (that interferes with hunting and communication), and exposure to toxic substances in the marine environment. Raincoast’s analysis of their future viability, published in the journal Scientific Reports, confirms that if current conditions continue these whales will slide into extinction. Our work, however, is motivated by the possibilities also evident in our analysis – that if Chinook abundance increases, and noise and disturbance decrease, the population could grow. This is the hope that buoys Raincoast’s ongoing resolute efforts to save this iconic species.
It’s an emergency
In January of 2018, Raincoast and partners petitioned federal fisheries and environment ministers requesting they use an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act to protect the Southern Resident killer whales. Subsequently, we pushed for immediate protections and provided a detailed, science-based rationale for what those measures should be, including establishing feeding refuges, ensuring adequate Chinook through fisheries restrictions, prohibiting whale watching, and instituting operational measures to reduce noise and vessel disturbance. Fast forward to September 2018, after J35 (Talequah) carried her deceased calf for 17 days in a visible act of grief, with no emergency order or protections in place, and the death of two more whales, including a young female, Raincoast launched a new lawsuit to compel the federal government to protect the Southern Residents.
In November 2018, the federal cabinet announced its refusal to issue an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act, despite two ministers’ recommendation to do so. Instead, the government has promised to take comprehensive actions by Spring 2019 to halt the decline and begin the recovery of these whales. Raincoast is committed to ensuring the government keeps its promise.
Modeling meerkats to inform killer whale conservation
Published in the journal American Naturalist, research led by Raincoast scientist Andrew Bateman examined population effects tied to the social structure of meerkats. The approach could inform our understanding of killer whales. Both highly social species, meerkats and killer whales form social groups, and living together can have a strong effect on individuals’ chances of survival and reproduction over time. While past work had theorized that aggregating in larger social groups produced greater benefit (e.g. more offspring per female), this research concluded that population growth is likely largest when individuals form groups of intermediate size. This new information may prove useful for understanding trends in killer whale populations – for example why the Northern Resident killer whales have increased in number over the last 30 years and the Southern Resident killer whales have declined. Future work will analyze patterns of Northern Resident births and deaths within the context of social groups to attempt to illuminate the difference between the two populations.
Salish Sea Emerging Stewards Program
Preparing the conservation leaders of tomorrow
The Salish Sea Emerging Stewards program has completed its third successful season of inspiring the next generation of stewards with a combination of contemporary science and traditional knowledge. With Raincoast’s research vessel, Achiever, serving as our mobile classroom, participants had a rare and immersive opportunity to learn about their coastal environment with input from Raincoast scientists, conservationists, and Indigenous knowledge holders from the Tsleil Waututh Nation and the Cowichan Nation. Youth sailed the Salish Sea experiencing the marine environment and exploring the forests of the Southern Gulf Islands, while sharing in the knowledge of stewardship and conservation from a variety of perspectives.
Evolving and expanding
Through 2018, we engaged more youth, conducted longer trips aboard Achiever, and benefitted from new learning contexts, including terrestrial field trips through old-growth forests and immersive study with Raincoast’s Applied Conservation Science Lab at the University of Victoria. We are excited for the coming year, which includes a growing network of education partners, citizen science experiments, youth-led projects, and a community event to share and celebrate this unique learning experience.
The program is offered free of charge to reduce barriers to environmental and experiential learning, working with with First Nations and marginalized youth from underserved communities. In 2018 the program engaged youth from the Red Fox Healthy Living Society and an Indigenous leadership program from the Cowichan School District, along with a host of new partners including Cowichan First Nation knowledge holders, Dr. Nancy Turner’s lab at the University of Victoria, and Ocean Networks Canada.
Join our team
Your support makes our research and advocacy programs possible.
Protecting the backbone of coastal ecosystems
Salmon conservation in the Lower Fraser
The Fraser River is one of the world’s great salmon rivers. Its vast estuary links fish, birds, and marine mammals in a food web that crosses thousands of kilometers of Pacific Ocean. Despite its ecological, cultural, and economic importance, intense development and habitat loss dominate the landscape. In addition to field research and restoration, Raincoast and our Lower Fraser River partners are now examining new ways of decision making for the region that makes the resilience of salmon a top priority.
Three years of Fraser estuary juvenile salmon research
For the past three years, Raincoast has been actively studying juvenile Chinook and other young salmon in the Fraser estuary. This year we had a new focus on our restoration goals, expanding our sampling areas to sites that we expect to restore as part of our Fraser Connectivity Project. This made our 2018 field season our most extensive to date. In total, our team spent 76 days in the field capturing more than 35,000 fish, including more than 6,400 juvenile salmon.
By briefly catching young salmon, we gather information about migration timing, habitat preference, and which part of the Fraser watershed the salmon were born. Chinook, in particular, remain in the estuary for the longest time. By knowing how the different populations use this habitat, we can make informed decisions to implement our restoration projects.
Restoring connectivity in Fraser River estuary
The Lower Fraser River and estuary is a highly modified environment with more than 70% of juvenile salmon rearing habitat lost or locked away behind dykes and armoured shorelines. As the Fraser River arms meet the Salish Sea, jetties and causeways cross the delta to control the channels and aid navigation. These structures impair the movement of young salmon and their access to prime rearing habitat. They have also changed the natural function of the estuary.
To address this, Raincoast and partners are undertaking a five-year major restoration initiative, funded by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to create openings in several of these human-made barriers that restrict juvenile salmon migration. Our collection of baseline information on existing conditions and the movement of salmon near structures before we create openings, allows us to evaluate the success of the thoroughfares once they are established. This means we can adaptively manage our restoration activities and provide new information that can guide other restoration projects.
Restoring ecological governance in the Lower Fraser River
Since 2016, Raincoast has engaged with more than 80 organizations, including the Kwantlen, Tsleil-Waututh, Sto:lo, and Tsawwassen Nations, academics, conservation groups, stream keepers, and numerous individuals active in efforts to protect Fraser salmon habitat. These discussions reveal a desire for a broad vision that captures the importance of the Lower Fraser River and estuary for its local and global significance. In partnership with the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, University of British Columbia, and West Coast Environmental Law, we are examining systemic issues driving habitat loss with the goal of restoring ecological governance to the Lower Fraser. Our guiding principles of ecological co-governance include honouring aboriginal rights and title, recognizing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, committing to sustainability that spans seven generations, and maintaining stable funding.
Prioritizing habitat restoration
To inform this process, Raincoast is establishing a scientific basis for habitat restoration initiatives in the Lower Fraser River and estuary. We are partnering with the University of British Columbia to apply spatial analysis tools to provide an objective, science-based review of salmon habitat restoration priorities. Given the severe extent of habitat loss, the potential for freshwater habitat protection and restoration is significant. This mapping work will help to lay the foundation for more detailed assessments to guide conservation planning and restoration throughout the whole Lower Fraser River and estuary.
Concerns for the salmon coast
Raincoast’s concern for salmon populations across the BC coast is increasing. This ranges from sockeye returning to the Fraser River, Chinook to feed Southern Resident killer whales, to pink and chum salmon necessary for bears and river valleys in the Great Bear Rainforest. There is a disconnect between the federal government’s status quo management of commercial and sport fisheries and the status of salmon populations struggling with climate change, overfishing (via ocean-based mixed-stock fisheries), habitat loss, hatcheries, and aquaculture impacts. Federal and provincial governments are not responding appropriately to the scale of this crisis.
Championing solutions and place-based fisheries
2018 was the worst return of Chinook to the Fraser River on record, with spring and early summer runs now collapsed. We argued in federal planning processes for fishery closures on these salmon for four years, with little change. Fisheries management is not just affecting numbers of salmon; it is changing the age and size at maturity, their run timing, and diversity, especially for Chinook. Despite these consequences, conventional fisheries management remains entrenched. As a challenge to the status quo, Raincoast and our partners at the Wild Fish Conservancy published criteria for sustainable fisheries in the journal FACETS. We call for an end to unsustainable mixed stock (predominately ocean) fisheries, and to instead replace them with place-based fisheries that occur at rivers, are selective, sustainable, and target known populations. In 2019, Raincoast will be working to get these and other escalated measures, such as moving fisheries, implemented to protect wild salmon, “the back bone of the BC coast.”
Raincoast’s Applied Conservation Science Lab
Although our research lab at the University of Victoria is best known for its work on wildlife, our team also actively investigates wildlife policy. Why? Although the best available evidence about wildlife ecology forms the basis of sound decisions, identifying ways in which policy could improve can ultimately bring lasting change.
In North America, wildlife management primarily focuses on hunting and trapping. Raincoast is not opposed to hunting as a source of sustenance. Wildlife are of immense food, social, and ceremonial importance to First Nations across the province and country. However, especially in the context of other recent human-caused changes to the environment, wildlife extractions across a continent of more than 360 million people can occur at enormous scales. For example, recent research from the Raincoast Applied Conservation Science Lab has shown that in many wildlife populations more adult animals are killed by humans than by all other predators combined. Given the scale of hunting and trapping, mistakes in wildlife management can have considerable impacts on exploited populations.
To this end, Raincoast is increasingly taking an evidence-based approach to confront assumptions in wildlife management in British Columbia and beyond, and using these insights to inform improvements moving forward. This work follows from our success with grizzly bear conservation, which combined cutting-edge empirical analyses with exposing inadequate wildlife management policies. The following papers we published in top-tier journals highlight our scholarly and outreach efforts in this area.
Hallmarks of science missing from management
Across Canada and the US, hunt management agencies claim to be “science-based.” However, what that term means is rarely specified, and the extent to which such claims are substantiated has, until recently, never been tested.
To fill this gap, we embarked on a multi-year project, recently published in Science Advances, poring over wildlife management plans for 667 hunting systems across the continent (e.g. moose hunting in Alaska, deer hunting in Manitoba, etc.). We searched for signs of four fundamental ‘Hallmarks of Science’: clear objectives, evidence, transparency, and external review.
We found surprising gaps. In most hunting systems (60%), less than half the hallmark criteria were present. Only 26% of systems had measurable objectives (e.g. maintaining or increasing population levels), fewer than 10% explained how they set hunting quotas, and fewer than 10% specified being subject to any form of review.
These results were alarming. Wildlife management practitioners often use “science-based” claims to defend their actions, including controversial policies such as the trophy hunting of large carnivores. Our results suggest such claims might be unsupported, and highlight the need for transparency in where the science begins and ends in environmental stewardship and management.
Calling out governments on ‘political populations’
While defending the trophy hunt in 2015, BC’s premier at the time asserted that “We have a record number of grizzly bears…a huge and growing population.” This authoritative statement not only lacked evidence, but also contradicted Raincoast’s research that revealed the enormous uncertainty in population sizes across the province. Contradictions like this, which are common, inspired a Raincoast-led investigation. We explored whether there might be a broader-scale pattern of misrepresenting population dynamics for political reasons, namely to support (or defend) preferred wildlife policy. Reporting in Conservation Biology, we reviewed the cases where scientists scrutinized government reporting of population sizes, trends, and other data used to defend associated wildlife policies.
Studies from around the world revealed patterns of politically preferred policies by exaggerating – without empirical justification – the size or resilience of wildlife populations. Such a process creates what we called, ‘political populations’: those with attributes constructed to serve political interests.
Towards wildlife management reform
Although the grizzly hunt is now banned, exploitation of other animals, especially carnivores, continues across our province. Following our model of informed advocacy, we are empowered by our research to inform broader improvements to wildlife governance in British Columbia and across the continent. Science could play an important role. As researchers, we have unprecedented responsibility and opportunity to examine government wildlife policies and data.
But science alone is never enough. We also have a responsibility to speak directly to the public about potential government malfeasance. This includes ensuring that management actions are ethically grounded and supported by the public, who ultimately pays for wildlife management. Collectively, our efforts can help shape transparent, adaptive, and trustworthy policy.
Safeguarding Coastal Carnivores
For over twenty years Raincoast has been working to protect the large carnivores of coastal BC. We have spent those two decades conducting field research to monitor bear populations, analyzing data to publish in scientific journals, publishing reports on the economics of trophy hunting, authoring opinion pieces on the ethics of killing large carnivores, and – most directly – purchasing commercial hunting tenures to stop the killing.
Raincoast currently owns the commercial hunting rights to over 30,000 km2 in the Great Bear Rainforest, where we have permanently extinguished the guided hunting of all large carnivores.
In 2017, we celebrated a conservation victory – the BC government announced an end to the hunting of grizzly bears in the Great Bear Rainforest and throughout the province. Now we need to take the next step. Political agendas change, and as we have seen in the past, bans can be easily overturned with a change in the political landscape. When we purchase a hunting tenure, we protect not only grizzly bears, but black bears, wolves, cougars, and wolverines; we protect them forever, regardless of which political party is in power.
In partnership with Coastal First Nations, we are now poised to purchase our fourth trophy hunting tenure in the Great Bear Rainforest. The Nadeea tenure covers 2,350 km2 of rich habitat with some of this vast coastal region’s most spectacular watersheds. By December 2018, Raincoast supporters raised over $470,000 towards the purchase price of this tenure. We are poised to complete the acquisition, and are planning our next tenure purchase for 2019. To invest in this initiative, contact Raincoast’s Guide Outfitter Coordinator Brian Falconer: .
One Shot for Coastal Carnivores
Raincoast has long recognized the value of photography to inspire and has been fortunate to have many talented photographers as supporters throughout the years. In the fall of 2018, we launched a unique photographic exhibit – One Shot for Coastal Carnivores – featuring inspiring wildlife photographs donated by a roster of amazing photographers: April Bencze, Tavish Campbell, Karen Cooper, Colleen Gara, Bertie Gregory, Melissa Groo, Brad Hill, John Marriott, Cristina Mittermeier, Neil Ever Osborne, Eric Sambol, and Andrew Wright.
The collection was exhibited through the generosity of the Karen Cooper Gallery in Vancouver, the Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria, and the Audain Art Museum in Whistler. Each piece was auctioned online, with prints available for purchase and all proceeds supporting our purchase of the Nadeea trophy hunting tenure.
A Snapshot of 20 Years Saving the Great Bears
At the core of Raincoast lies one of our most important assets – our dedicated research vessel, Achiever. A 66 foot, steel hulled sloop, Achiever is thoroughly outfitted for the rigors of field work in coastal BC.
Over the last twelve years she has performed countless trips as a research and education platform for Raincoast and many others across thousands of kilometers of coastline. With Achiever, Raincoast also has the capacity to access our commercial hunting tenures, and monitor areas otherwise out of reach.
Our 2018 season focused on informing and inspiring, with youth trips being a major highlight of the operating season. Over 120 students have travelled aboard Achiever during the past three years. Her ability to act as floating classroom throughout the central coast and Salish Sea is inspiring the next generation of conservation leaders. Theoretical curriculum comes to life as outdoor education encourages youth to utilize practical skills throughout the marine environment and beyond.
The vessel’s self sufficiency was put to the test with a lengthy film contract this past summer. Achiever housed filmmakers from the Japanese broadcasting corporation NHK for over six weeks. NHK was documenting the unique behaviour of coastal wolves on the central coast’s rugged and exposed island archipelagos. Her ability to access remote islands and house large amounts of camera gear and crew was on display.
Achiever continued to support our work to safeguard coastal carnivores throughout the Great Bear Rainforest. She housed groups exploring hunting tenures that Raincoast has already acquired with Coastal First Nations partners, along with visiting future commercial hunting tenures we plan to purchase.
Friends of Raincoast
Profiles of individuals and businesses who deserve special recognition for their dedication and generosity in helping protect the lands, waters, and wildlife of coastal British Columbia
In 2016, Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics joined the coalition of organizations fighting to protect grizzly bears. They launched an in-store campaign across Canada calling on BC to ban the trophy hunting of grizzlies. Lush produced a 30 minute documentary titled Trophy that encouraged viewers to take action; it featured the work of Raincoast, Coastal First Nations, and other organizations opposing the grizzly hunt. Lush sold a limited edition Great Bear Bath Bomb with 100% of the purchase price donated to groups protecting grizzlies in Canada and the United States. Through this support from Lush and its customers, Raincoast received $100,000 toward our purchase of the Nadeea trophy hunting tenure. Lush continues their support of grassroots conservation organizations through the company’s Charity Pot program. Raincoast is honoured to be among those to call Lush a friend and we thank them for their support and inspiration.
Tracking Sponsors 2019
When we publish Tracking Raincoast, we reach out to our supporters for help with the costs. Publishing Tracking Raincoast into 2019 couldn’t have happened without the generous support of these sponsors.
- Bluewater Adventures
- Knight Inlet Lodge
- Maple Leaf Adventures
- Mothership Adventures
- Nimmo Bay Resort
- Ocean Light II Adventures
- Outer shores Expeditions
Join the Raincoast Team
YES! I would like to support Raincoast’s conservation efforts.