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The Wild Coast Project

by Lisa Fletcher, Tofino


Predator species such as cougars and wolves are valued and connected to the people of the west coast through spiritual and cultural identity. They also play an essential top-down ecological role in checking the growth of herbivore populations and as a result, entire ecosystems can be altered by an increase or decrease in carnivore numbers.

Carnivores and people have co-existed on the west coast for many years with minimal conflict, but with the growing number of visitors to the Pacific Rim National Park and carnivore species migrating to new areas, interactions between the two have increased. There has been an increase in cougar, wolf and bear sightings throughout the park, even some close to town. Between 1977 and 1996 there was only one documented aggressive interaction between wolves and humans, but between 1997 and 2004, there were 28 documented cases of aggressive interaction.

These interactions can pose a threat to both people and the animals. Predators may lose their fear of humans over time and in the case of wolves, they may also become food-habituated due to direct or indirect feeding (e.g. garbage and unsecured food).

Unfortunately, habituation usually ends badly for the animal. In many cases the 'problem' animal is destroyed. To help reduce the risk for both people and predators, Pacific Rim National Park along with community partners, initiated the Wildcoast Project.

The Wildcoast Project was designed to bring awareness and understanding to people about carnivores in the Pacific Rim National Park. Bob Hansen, the wildlife human conflict specialist for the park, designed the project and has since had Danielle Thompson, a University of Victoria graduate student, join him in shaping it. The Wildcoast Project sets out to learn more about cougar and wolf ecology by determining territories, numbers, gender, feeding habits, and how the animals are affected by an increase of people to the area. By answering research questions such as these, solutions can be made to help people and predators live together.

To learn more about the ecology of carnivores in the central west coast region, non-invasive research methods such as track pads, cameras, and rub pads are used to catch trace of predator activity. Survey transect routes have been defined throughout the Pacific Rim National Park, using old trails and logging roads. Sand covered areas act as great track pads that give clear footprints of the animal. The trip cameras are activated by motion or heat when an animal is near, and give an actual photo of the animal in action. There are 40-rub pad stations set up within the various transects. Each rub pad is scented with a special cougar lure that entices the cougars to rub against them and leave hair samples. These hair samples can be sent off for dna analysis to determine sex and identification of the animal. The project's field technician, Jessica Currie, and the help of community volunteers regularly monitor the designated survey routes.

The Pacific Rim National Park has partnered with the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust (cbt) to develop a regional web atlas for the Wildcoast Project. The web atlas is an online mapping tool that can be used by anyone to enter data regarding carnivore sightings. It is a long-term database that will be used to monitor animal populations over time. The site is easily accessible through the cbt website at www.clayoquotbiosphere.org, and prompts users to give a detailed description about the sighting.

Volunteers from Katimavik have also lent a hand in helping with the project. Katimavik is a Canadian youth program that travels across the country to volunteer in community involvement.

The success of the project largely depends on community support. Volunteers are needed to walk transects and collect data, put field kits together, enter data, and call in any sightings of carnivores.

The Wildcoast Project is a collaborative effort of researchers, managers, and community members to ensure that the predators of the west coast and the people of the west coast live together respectfully.

For more information on volunteering, please contact Lisa Fletcher at 726-6205. To report sightings call the Pacific Rim National Park at 726-7165 or enter your wildlife sightings online at www.clayoquotbiosphere.org

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