Current Projects and Activities
Carnivores and Communities in the Waterton Biosphere Reserve
|Photo by Parks Canada|
Carnivores and Communities Program - Background
The Carnivores and Communities program was initiated by Waterton Biosphere Reserve (WBR) in 2009 in response to increasing conflicts between large carnivores and people in the agricultural lands of southwestern Alberta. Large carnivores like bears, wolves, and cougars are exciting to see and are an important part of biodiversity. However, they also pose risks and financial hardships to people who live and work around them.
Examples of the direct impacts of large carnivores include depredation on livestock, stress to livestock, consumption and spoilage of grain, silage and field crops, and damage to grain bins and farm buildling. Conflicts between large carnivores and people living in southwestern Alberta impact both the livelihood of farmers and ranchers and the personal safety of all residents.
Carnivore-human conflicts may result in the death or relocation of the carnivore and therefore can impact biodiversity conservation as well. For example, grizzly bear management is of particular concern in southwestern Alberta. The area south of Highway 3 (Bear Management Area 6) has the highest rate of human-grizzly bear conflict and the highest rate of relocations and mortalities in the province. This is of concern not only for the local bear population, but also for the larger interconnected grizzly populations in Montana and southwestern British Columbia. Because of the levels of conflict and resulting mortalities, some consider these agricultural-interface lands as an ecological sink for the connected populations across provincial and international boundaries.
Stewarding land for large carnivores is a complex undertaking. The Carnivores and Communities program brings together landowners, land managers, and other local partners to help reduce human-carnivore conflicts in southwestern Alberta. Overall the aim of the program is to decrease conflicts with carnivores, enhance public safety, reduce the economic impact to agricultural producers resulting from sharing their land with large carnivores, work toward improving tolerance towards large carnivores, and ultimately achieve a balance between large carnivore conservation and agriculture in southwestern Alberta.
The Carnivores and Communities program includes or supports a number of collaborative initiatives that are described below.
Landowner Perceptions and Attitudes Towards Large Carnivores
In 2009, the Miistakis Institute was commissioned by the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association (WBRA) to develop and implement a landowner survey to better understand landowner perceptions and attitudes toward carnivores such as wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, cougars and coyotes in southwestern Alberta. The purpose of the survey was to:
- identify the issues of most importance to study area residents pertaining to large carnivores and their management
- explore attitudes and values towards large carnivores and their management,
- identify perceptions of carnivore population trends in the study area,
- collect information on the incidence and location of carnivore interactions with people and livestock in the study area
The survey was completed early in 2010. The results were presented to the community and land managers in June 2010 and the final survey report was completed in April 2011.
Waterton Biosphere Reserve Carnivore Working Group (CWG)
WBR received a $223K grant in the fall of 2011 from Alberta Sustainable Resources Development (ASRD) to support community-based, landowner driven project initiatives to reduce human-carnivore conflict issues in southwestern Alberta, with a specific focus on grizzly bears, black bears and wolves. The WBR Carnivore Working Group (CWG) was established to guide the project through March 2014. The CWG terms of reference outlines an ambitious project including implementation of on-the-ground attractant management projects, development of community-shared goals for reducing human-carnivore conflict, and establishment of a long-term vision including cost-effective program policy or legislative recommendations.
The WBR CWG is administered and coordinated by the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association (WBRA). It is composed primarily of producers who represent the community and also includes representation from ASRD. The CWG links with and enhances collaborative work already taking place in the region by landowners and groups including Drywood Yarrow Conservation Partnership (DYCP), Chief Mountain Landowners Information Network (CMLIN), Southwestern Alberta Conservation Partnership (SACP), the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), and Cardston County (CC).
Reduction of Large Carnivore Attractants
In order to decrease conflicts with large carnivores, WBR provides support to activities designed to remove or reduce carnivore attractants from private lands. Current attractant management projects include removing dead livestock from the landscape, making grain and feed storage facilities more secure, and installing electric fencing to keep carnivores away from other attractants.
|Photo by Nora Manners/WBR|
Deadstock Pickup Program:
The practice of on-farm disposal for livestock that die on ranches, particularly during the spring calving season, can create an attractant to large carnivores. Bears, wolves, and cougars that are drawn to ranches because of carcass dumps or “bone-yards” may be tempted to kill live animals or find other food sources like grain or silage.
The deadstock pickup program is designed to remove the livestock carcasses from the landscape so they will not be found by foraging carnivores. With support of Alberta Fish and Wildlife, a number of predator-proof “deadstock bins” or calf carcass collection bins were fabricated and installed in 2009 and 2010. Ranchers bring their dead calves to the centrally located bins and the bins are then regularly emptied by a rendering company. Deadstock collection began with two bins managed by the DYCP and expanded to include seven additional bins, five managed by the CMLIN and CC, and two in the Waterton Park Front, managed by the NCC.
WBRA has provided funding to local landowner groups including DYCP and CMLIN, as well as NCC, to support the operation of deadstock collection bins. Funding has also been provided for on-farm pick-up of larger carcasses (cows and horses).
Deadstock Composting Facility:
WBR is partnering with Cardston County to seek funding to build a deadstock composting facility. The facilty is modelled after a successful carcass composting facility managed by the Blackfoot Challenge in Montana as part of their carnivore attractant reduction program. Rather than paying a rendering company to remove deadstock, the carcasses would be transported to the county facility for composting. While there would be ongoing operating costs, they would be significantly less than continuing to pay a rendering company for carcass pickup. If this project is a success, the technology could be expanded to adjacent areas in the Municipal District of Pincher Creek where WBR is also facilitating removal of deadstock from the landscape.
Feed storage security:
|Photo by Nora Manners/WBR|
Bears like to eat grain, silage, and other livestock feed. Once they learn where they can obtain these food items, bears will rip apart silage bags and old wooden buildings, dig through wooden bin floors, or rip the doors off of steel bins. The DYCP, with funding from Alberta BearSmart and assistance from the SACP, has helped producers to complete several grain bin retrofits including bear-proof doors, steel bin floors, and installation of hopper bottoms. They have also completed electric fencing of grain bins and feed yards. WBRA has partnered with NCC and ASRD on other grain bin replacement, bee-yard fencing, and grain bin fencing projects. Several additional initiatives are currently underway as part of the WBR CWG project.
Revised Carnivore Compensation Program
During the 2009 landowner survey, compensation for livestock losses to large carnivores was an issue highlighted by landowners. At that time a review of compensation programs was completed by the Miistakis Institute. Currently the WBR CWG is working with a graduate student to expand on this work and develop a proposal for a revised carnivore compensation program for southwestern Alberta.
Cowboys and Carnivores: Landowner Carnivore Monitoring Pilot
DYCP has been working with the Miistakis Institute to develop a carnivore monitoring program so that landowners within the pilot area are able to report their observations and conflicts with carnivores. Landowners in the Drywood-Yarrow watershed are also participating in the Southwest Alberta Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project (see below). WBRA provided some support for the development of the Cowboys and Carnivores website and mapping tool and also for the part-time coordinator. If this monitoring program proves successful in the pilot area, WBR CWG will work with Miistakis and DYCP to expand the program to other areas of southwestern Alberta.
Community Oriented Wolf Strategy (COWS)
The Municipal District of Ranchlands is currently completing a 3 year Community Oriented Wolf Strategy (COWS) project funded under a $235K Rural Community Adaptation Program grant. The project seeks to “complete a science based and community driven pilot of frontline methods and strategies to sustainably manage wolf-cattle interactions in the Municipal District.” COWS employs a project biologist and other staff who work to reduce wolf-livestock interaction and conflict. Initiatives include increased messaging on deadstock removal (which is funded by the MD of Ranchlands), range riders, trail cameras, and tracking/locating of wolf packs.
Southwest Alberta Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project
In 2011, in conjunction with Parks Canada, Alberta Parks, and the University of Alberta, ASRD prototyped a non-invasive grizzly bear monitoring program in southwest Alberta using rub objects. Non-invasive methods provide significant cost savings over traditional monitoring methods (i.e. radiocollaring), are safe for personnel and wildlife, and provide a cost-effective long-term monitoring solution. This monitoring effort is capable of measuring bear population regionally, as well as variations in bear density and space use at finer scales.
During 2012, WBRA CWG will work with landowners and the Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project (GBMP) Coordinator at ASRD to expand this highly successful prototype onto private lands throughout the remainder of Bear Management Area 6 (south of Highway 3). Engaging local landowners in the collection of bear hair from rub objects on their land will improve the data collected and increase local confidence in the study results. The Miistakis Institute and DYCP are also supporting the collection of carnivore hair samples in the Drywood-Yarrow watershed.
Non-invasive Monitoring of Wolves in Southwest Alberta
Alberta Fish and Wildlife is collaborating with the University of Montana through Montana's Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit (MCWRU) to develop a cost-effective monitoring approach for wolves throughout southwestern Alberta. The MCWRU has conducted similar work on gray wolves in Montana and Idaho with good results. The goal of this monitoring project is to enhance knowledge of where wolves occur on the landscape (distribution), understand how many packs use southwestern Alberta on an annual / seasonal basis, and provide a framework to annually estimate overall wolf population size within the study area.
Field crews will be surveying for wolves throughout southwestern Alberta during the summers of 2012-2014 from primarily the Highwood River south to the Montana Border (may extend to Hwy 1). Surveys will be conducted on public Forest Reserve and grazing lease lands in predicted suitable habitat for wolves. WBR CWG will be promoting participation of landowner/leaseholders in this project.
Summary of Carnivore Conflicts in Southwestern Alberta
In an effort to begin to understand the spatial and temporal patterns of carnivore conflicts in southwestern Alberta, the past 13 years of enforcement occurrence reports for grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, and cougars were analyzed and summarized. This work was a collaborative effort between the Fish and Wildlife Division of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (ASRD), including Enforcement Field Services (now with Solicitor General), and the WBR CWG. Carnivore Conflicts in Southwestern Alberta summarizes the number and types of reported conflicts for each species, maps all conflicts to identify areas on the landscape with the greatest number of conflicts historically, and maps conflicts by species/year to understand how conflict distribution has changed over time.
This report will provide a baseline framework against which the efficacy of any new mitigation programs can be measured. It is also hoped that by understanding the factors influencing conflicts and the spatial and temporal patterning of those conflicts, we will be better able to implement efforts to reduce conflicts and allocate resources where they will have the most impact.
Contact the Carnivore Working Group
If you would like more information about any of these initiatives, please follow the links provided or contact us at info (at) watertonbiosphere.com.
South West Alberta Cooperative Weed Management Area
by David Musto, Waterton Lakes National Park
Non-native invasive plants (NNIP) are impacting natural ecosystems and economies worldwide. Time and again, it has been demonstrated that NNIPs are a transboundary problem that require cooperative solutions. The need for a cooperative approach has led to the establishment of Cooperative Weed Management Areas or CWMAs.
What is a CWMA?
A Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA) is a partnership of local agencies, individuals, and interest groups that work together in many ways to manage noxious weeds or invasive plants in a defined area. CWMAs are growing in popularity because they:
- Improve relationships at the grass roots level between state, local, and federal agencies, members of the public and private groups.
- Provide a way for groups with the common goal of controlling weeds to help each other get their jobs done in a more effective and coordinated manner.
- Allow local weed management issues to be brought to the state and federal levels.
- Increase local and statewide awareness of weed related issues across a broad cross section of the public.
A Cooperative Weed Management Area in South West Alberta
In 2009, a group of neighbours in the heart of Chinook Country met while their common adversaries slept under a white winter landscape. Their common weedy foes - knapweed, leafy spurge, blueweed and a host of others ... pose a threat to the lands under the care of the cooperative members … lands which all persons in southern Alberta enjoy and benefit from. These are our agricultural lands, rangelands, parks, and for many - ancestral lands.
Since then, members have continued to work towards formalizing the South West Alberta Cooperative Weed Management Area (SWACWMA). Signatories to the cooperative are the agricultural fieldmen from Cardston County and the Municipal District of Pincher Creek, environmental protection staff from Blood Tribe Land Management, Waterton Lakes National Park resource conservation staff, Nature Conservancy of Canada biologists, and the park ecologist of the south management area of Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation. Support for the initiative has also come from the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association, Glacier National Park, Castle Crown Wilderness Coalition and local ranchers and other landowners.
It isn’t a new idea – this coming together to share knowledge and resources related to improving the health of the land - but this initiative is attracting some new faces as well as strengthening existing relationships and affirming a commitment to make a positive difference. All partners understand that the group will be adaptable and evolve as need and resources allow. Within this cooperative the neighbours will continue to share knowledge, resources and occasionally manpower, thereby being better prepared to deal with their weed control.
Numerous cooperative weed pulls have occurred over the past few years - there is strength in numbers. As all in the business know it is a daunting task and much can be learned through working together. The SWACWMA members encourage cooperative relationships and active participation by other organizations and individuals. Building and strengthening local partnerships with neighbours is a vital step to achieving our common goals.
In 2008, Environment Canada provided funding to help support Canada’s biosphere reserves. The Waterton Biosphere Reserve received a portion of this funding through June 2012 to manage the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Coordination Project. The association used these funds to advance biodiversity conservation, encourage sustainable development, and improve the capacity of local and regional communities to make sound decisions for conservation and sustainable resource use in the WBR area. The coordination project included the development of a cooperation plan which will guide the reserve’s future work and direction, and map out activities which partners in the region consider to be a priority.
The Waterton Biosphere Reserve supports a variety of local initiatives. Some recent examples include:
- Waterton Watershed Group: support for start up and a range health field day
- Cardston County: support for weed management
- Chief Mountain Cumulative Effects Study: support for report production
Banner image credit - Elk - Parks Canada • Bear - Parks Canada