In 2020, the Rocky Mountain Trench ER program (RMTERP) has been able to draw a few long term projects to a conclusion. In this last year Thompson Rivers University has been able to compile 20 years of data from 11 intensive monitoring plots into a report. This monitoring data is critical to the Ecosystem Restoration program; as a new discipline it has to check its projects to make sure the goals of an improved healthier ecosystem are met. Monitoring also gives the program a chance to fine tune and improve its operations.
RMTERP has been establishing and measuring Ecosystem Restoration projects since our first project in 1998 at Miller Road. A key element to a successful monitoring program is gathering the right data consistently. The RMTERP monitoring protocols are based on draft plans from the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program (Mowatt et al 1998) and this strategy was standardised specifically for the Rocky Mountain Trench ER program in 2002 (Machmer et al 2002). The Machmer report set up two classes of monitoring intensive and routine plot types and listed 13 high priority features that could be measured by either plot type. In 2006 the Rocky Mountain Trench Ecosystem Restoration Steering Committee (RMTSC 2006) winnowed these 13 factors into 4 that would be measured, as per the Blueprint for Action 2006 document:
“In 2002 the Steering Committee commissioned an effectiveness monitoring plan that identified 13 restoration objectives with associated response variables which should be used to track and measure results. The committee distilled these to eight objectives. The following four are considered high priority for monitoring restoration program results:
1) Stand structure and overstory vegetation: crown closure, tree density, diameter, species and decay class.
2) Understory structure and composition: grass, herb and shrub percent cover by species, species richness and composition.
3) Forage production: kilograms per hectare by species, grazed and ungrazed.
4) Status of invasive plant species: percent cover by species, number of species.
Wildlife species response, coarse woody debris, soil conditions and forest health objectives were not included at that time; they were considered to be of lower priority due to high costs of monitoring for them. Reduction in fuel hazard and risk of catastrophic wildfire are not currently monitored.”
Plots established before 2006 generally included this data but after 2006 new or existing intensive monitoring plots in the RMTER program were measured based on this direction. Eventually, by 2019, 23 intensive monitoring plots groups were established up and down the Trench by Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife program, the Trench Society, Tembec, National Parks Canada, BC Parks and the Research Branch of the Ministry of Forests and Range. It also took 14 years to gather all the data from all partners for all plot installations. During the gathering this data inconsistencies were noted, and more definitive protocols were established in 2015 (Greene and Harris 2015; Harris and Greene 2015) under the guidance and approval of local experts in a RMTERP Science Committee. The necessary analysis of this data was not done until 2020 and funding was provided by the Canada Nature Fund as available from Environment Canada and Climate Change; special thanks to Julie Couse from ʔaq̓am Land and Resource office for administering this project. This plot data was forwarded to Thompson Rivers University in 2020.
Map 1 showing all Ecosystem Restoration Intensive monitoring plots in the Rocky Mountain Trench
The aggregated data was forwarded to Dr. Lauchlan Fraser PhD, Dr Morodoluwa Akin-Fajiye PhD and Jillian Caissie BSc at the Natural Resource Science Department at Thompson Rivers University. The data was cleaned, ordered and analysed and in November 2020 their report was forwarded to the RMTERP. The report had several important conclusions:
1. Only 11 of 23 plot data sets could be used; the data gathered was inconsistent (see the long complex history of standardising the methods of measurements), or treatments were not carried out or treatment had been completed but the plots have not been remeasured yet.
2. There is a linear relationship between tree removal and improved grass and forage growth. This sounds obvious but anecdotally it appeared that leaving a light forest cover (say 100 stems per hectare) on site produced better growth than bare open range. But the study shows grass growth is better with less than 100 trees per hectare.
3. Without more untreated controls in the plots, it is hard to be very specific on the effects of treatment. Measuring untreated controls at the same time as treated areas takes out the effect of weather (i.e. drought, good growing years etc.) on plant growth.
4. Overall high value grass growth in the Trench is decreasing but the loss is less marked in treated areas; treatment appears to maintain the high value grass on site better than no treatment.
5. Thinning alone does not maintain grass as well as burning.
6. Invasive plants increased over time. There are indications thinning only or thinning and burning can increase invasive plants. Note that thinning refers to using logging equipment to reduce stocking on site; there were few examples of this treatment in the study most study areas were hand space only.
7. Overall Burning and thinning can maintain or improve richness and cover of native grasses compared to control, but exotic species may also increase. Any management actions applied should therefore consider the trade-offs in the increase of both grasses and exotic species.
8. Logically grass and forbs subjected to grazing should produce less forage volume than an area protected from grazing. But for some reason putting out cages to keep animals from grazing a site led to less grass growth inside the cage. It is a paradox but it may be due to:
a. Increased shade in the cage.
b. Grazing stimulating grass growth or reducing invasive plant cover.
c. More light and less dried thatch grass outside the cage
Example of grazing cage exclosure.
The report can be reviewed online at the Susan Bond Memorial library, found under Susan Bond Memorial Library/ ER Monitoring Reports/ compilations
Special thanks to all our monitoring funders. The Canada Nature Fund from Environment Canada and Climate Change provided funding for this compilation; special thanks to Julie Couse at the ʔaq̓am Land and Resource office for administering this project. But there have been multiple monitoring funders over the past twenty years; the Fish Wildlife Compensation Program (Columbia Basin), the Rocky Mountain Trench Natural Resources Society, National Parks Canada, BC Parks, Habitat Conservation Trust Fund and seven different funds operated by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
For further information please visit our website Rocky Mountain Trench Ecosystem Restoration Program | Home (trench-er.com) especially visit the Susan Bond Memorial library where you will find the reports cited in this blog.
Akin-Fajiye, M., Caissie, J and Fraser L.H., 2020Vegetation responses to thinning and prescribed fire restoration treatments in the Southern Interior Rocky Mountain Trench. Prepared by: Department of Natural Resource Science, Thompson Rivers University. Kamloops BC 36pp. (found under Susan Bond Memorial Library/ ER Monitoring Reports/ compilations)
Greene, G.A., Harris, B.J.R. 2015. ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION PROGRAM - Intensive Monitoring Protocols. Submitted to Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations. 27pp (found under Susan Bond Memorial Library/ ER Monitoring Reports/ Current ER protocols)
Harris, B.J.R. , Greene, G.A. 2015. Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations, ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION PROGRAM, Routine Monitoring Protocols. Submitted to Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations. 54pp ((found under Susan Bond Memorial Library/ ER Monitoring Reports/ Current ER protocols)
Machmer, M ., H .N. Page and C. Steeger. 2002. East Kootenay Trench restoration effectiveness monitoring plan. Submitted to Habitat Branch, Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection. Forest Renewal British Columbia Terrestrial Ecosystem Restoration Program. Pandion Ecological Research. Nelson, B C. 50p. (found under Susan Bond Memorial Library/ ER Monitoring Reports/ protocols)
Mowat, G., Poole, K. G., Boulanger, J. , and Hurlburt, K. M. 1998 CBFWCP-HABITAT ENHANCEMENT MONITORING STRATEGY Final Report Submitted to: Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program 103-333 Victoria St. Nelson, B.C. V1L 39pp (found under Susan Bond Memorial Library/ ER Monitoring Reports/ protocols)
Newman, R., and Hamilton, E. 2018 Burning Questions: Effects of restoration burning on selected PP and IDF zone ecosystems in the Southern Interior Rocky Mountain Trench Prepared for the Forest Enhancement Society of British Columbia (FESBC) and the Rocky Mountain Trench Natural Resources Society Kimberly, BC 60pp (found under Susan Bond Memorial Library/ ER Monitoring Reports/ compilations)
Rocky Mountain Trench Ecosystem Restoration Steering Committee 2006, Fire-maintained Ecosystem Restoration in BC’s Rocky Mountain Trench Blueprint for Action 2006 (found under Susan Bond Memorial Library/ East Kootenay plans-ER/ Blueprint for Action)