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Wildlife cameras in closed B.C. parks capture animals roaming freely

COVID-19 shutdown of parks throws UBC study for a loop
COVID-19 shutdown of parks throws UBC study for a loop

A project started last year to capture wildlife in some of B.C.’s parks has taken an exciting turn with the closure of those parks to humans during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In one case, researchers spotted a very rare skunk species not often seen around Vancouver.

“The spotted skunk is restricted to sort of this this area in southwestern B.C. and in Washington state,” Cole Burton, assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in Terrestrial Mammal Conservation at the University of British Columbia and the Faculty of Forestry told Global News.

“And we don’t really have good information on it. We think it might be a threatened species, but there’s there’s very little information on it.”

“So to get pictures of that species on our cameras was very exciting.”

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B.C. closed its provincial parks on April 8 amid growing concern about the pandemic.

The aim of placing the cameras around the parks, including Golden Ears Park and Cathedral Provincial Park, is to try and understand how recreational activities, environmental change and land use changes were affecting wildlife.

“Remote cameras are running in the parks, sampling the animals,” Burton said.

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The cameras are capturing animals using the trails that would normally be used by people.

Burton said they started this project last year and cameras have been running last summer, over the winter and now they are bringing in new data now for the spring.

“By far and away in many of the trails, particularly the ones near the park entrance or near the campground areas where a lot of people go, far and away the most common things we’re detecting are people,” he explained, based on what activity was like before the park closure.

“And then in some of the areas further away from people, we’re seeing more animal use in those areas. So one of the hypotheses we might have is that with the reduction in human use of those trails we might see animals using them more frequently and maybe at other times, such as during the daytime as they take advantage, so to speak, of the lack of people.”

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It is unclear at this time if the lack of humans in the parks is contributing to more wildlife, Burton said, but it is clear the wildlife are using the areas.

“So here with these cameras, we get a chance to see them in a more, I guess, relaxed state where they’re not being bothered by by hikers or anything,” he added.

The project is scheduled to run for at least two years.

The goal is to use the information collected to understand how animals use the parks and how to keep the parks healthy for the wildlife.

“What motivates us in this project is the recognition that we have these incredible parks in B.C., we have these treasures of these beautiful wildlife species that have been lost from other parts of their range,” Burton said.

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“And so we’re excited about the chance to work with parks to understand how we can we can coexist effectively with them.”

The province plans to reopen parks for day use on May 15.