It may not be obvious to outside eyes, but the Rocky Mountain Trench Ecosystem Restoration program (RMTERP) has been restoring a 1750 hectare unit of badger (Taxidea taxus) habitat just south of Tata Creek. In fall 2021 The Columbia Basin Trust Environmental Grant Program gave a grant of $30,000 to the Rocky Mountain Trench Natural Resource Society to complete this project that has been twenty years in the making.
Note the three aerial photos listed below, all show four units, outlined in red, that the Rocky Mountain Trench Ecosystem Restoration program has been working on since 1998. The 1951 photo shows a very open grassy ecosystem likely maintained by frequent low intensity wildfires or by First Nations traditional use of fire. The site was very heavily ingrown by 2005. In 1998 two small 40 hectare units were harvested in the Lost Springs and Miller Road units and long term monitoring plots were established in both units (Ross 2013), plots still being remeasured.
In 2007 the site was revisited and most of airport was harvested by Tembec under a Non Renewable Forest License directed by the RMTERP to meet Ecosystem Restoration Goals. Three small reserve units in Airport were spaced using funding from the BC Forest Service in 2008; the intent was to reduce fuels so the tree cover could sustain any of the inevitable wildfires or prescribed burns on site. In 2010 a similar Non Renewable Forest license held by Canfor was used to harvest most of the small sawlogs and hog fuel in Lost Springs, Miller Road and China North Units. Prescribed burns were carried out on Airport unit in two portions in 2012 and 2013, but the weather was too cool and the fuel too wet for the burns to have much effect.
Airport pasture in 1951
Airport pasture in 2005
Airport pasture in 2017
After these prescribed burns the site was revaluated and more spacing of all four units conducted in 2017 and 2018 using funds from the Columbia Basin Trust, the Habitat Stewardship program the Fish Wildlife Compensation Program and Land Based Investment Fund. The idea was to kill off undersized trees that were shooting up to 2 metres tall and use the dried, dead trees to carry a more successful prescribed burn. As a result, the 2020 fall burn (carried out by the BC Wildfire Management Services) at the Airport pasture was much more successful in meeting its objectives; it had better coverage and better kill of understory trees. The funding received from Columbia Basin Trust will allow the Trench Society to compete fire guards and some final spacing in Lost Springs. This will set all four units up for future prescribed burns to reduce the slashing and harvest fuels on site, rejuvenate the shrubs and grasses and destroy regenerating Douglas fir seedlings. RMTERP expect to maintain the area by spacing or prescribed burns on an ongoing 10 to 20 year cycle.
Now why spend all this effort and funds on these units? There are three very good reasons.
1. Beyond the very good response to grass that we are getting on site (Ross 2013) the soil and topography on site make these units very high value American badger habitat (Newhouse, Kinley 2001) and especially as badger natal areas (Kinley 2009). Restoring these areas to better grass producing ecosystems will produce more ground squirrels and in return badgers. American Badgers (Taxidea taxus) are a red listed species at risk in British Columbia.
2. There are two rather large Old Growth Management Areas in Lost Springs and airport Units (check the black outlines in the 2017 airphoto) There are some large old trees in this unit and old growth stands are very rare in the valley bottoms of the Rocky Mountain Trench. Thinning and prescribed burns in these units will allow the large old trees to be more resilient to future wildfires or prescribed burns.
3. All four units create a very large fuel break in an area up wind (with regards to prevailing southerly and westerly winds) for the towns of Wasa and Tata Creek.
Special thanks to all our funders for this highway over the past twenty years; The Habitat Stewardship Program from Environment Canada and Climate Change, The Columbia Basin Trust and the Land Based Investment Fund of Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and the Fish Wildlife Compensation Program (Columbia Basin)
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.
Kinley, T.A. 2009 REPORT #25 Effectiveness Monitoring of Badger Wildlife Habitat Areas: Summary of Current Areas and Recommendations for Developing and Applying Protocols Prepared for Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program, Nelson, BC (found under Susan Bond Memorial Library/ Badgers)
Newhouse, N. Kinley, T.A. 2001 Ecology of Badgers Near a Range Limit in British Columbia March, 2001 Prepared for: Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program, Nelson, BC and Parks Canada, Radium Hot Springs, BC (found under Susan Bond Memorial Library/ Badgers)
Ross, T.J., 2013 EAST KOOTENAY TRENCH RESTORATION PROGRAM Plant Community Response Following Dry Forest Ecosystem Restoration prepared for: The Rocky Mountain Trench Natural Resources Society (found under Susan Bond Memorial Library/ ER Monitoring Reports/ Miller Road)