Jul 1, 2011 | Marmot, Summer 2011

Unidentified Lying Objects?

You may be aware of some odd-looking objects that landed on the slopes of Mount Washington this spring. But those strange PVC pipe concoctions that look like instruments left behind by the Blue Man Group are actually marmot feeders. Really? Yes, really.

The Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Foundation is testing to see if supplemental feeding of Vancouver Island marmots during years of extreme weather conditions, like this year, will improve breeding results.

The marmot colony at Mount Washington is currently 30-40 marmots strong and 3-4 litters of marmot pups were expected to be born there this year. But spring weather conditions have generally been so poor with close to record snow levels and lingering cold temperatures, it will likely negatively impact breeding.

“It’s shaping up to be a repeat of last year when we had zero breeding at the Mount Washington colony,” said Don Doyle, Chair of the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Team.

Scientific literature has shown a correlation between good food conditions and reproductive success. So a decision was made to provide supplemental food for the marmots, where possible, because the late snow pack was limiting their natural forage.

Plastic piping filled with high fiber leaf biscuits were set up on Mount Washington and Green Mountain, two wild colony sites still accessible to Foundation crew in spite of the current snow conditions. And the marmots are taking to them like hot cakes!

“The biscuit tubes may look crude but a lot of thought was put into them. They had to move with the melting snow and still provide continual access to the marmots and keep the food dry,” said Doyle.

Generally marmot habitat is remote and steep, and unstable snow conditions contribute to periodic avalanches that keep the meadows clear of encroaching saplings and brush. This maintains the habitat but makes access to the colony sites too dangerous for crew while there is heavy snow on the ground. So even if the feeding results are positive, it may be technically impossible or impractical to set up feeding stations at other colony sites.

“Mount Washington provides a unique opportunity”, said Don. “Not only is access maintained by the ski resort, predation is also deterred by the continuous human presence there. So we didn’t have to worry much about the feeders attracting predators.”

“We’d love to test more sites but the terrain is just too challenging. Even if we said damn the costs and lowered feeders to the sites by helicopter they would either slide or be blown right off the mountain. Not to mention the marmot colony bowls are often too dangerous to even fly into at this time of year”.

The Vancouver Island marmot is one of Canada’s most endangered species. Thanks to a robust captive breeding and release program the population is steadily regaining strength after near extinction in the wild in 2003.

If you would like to help the Vancouver Island marmot be restored to their habitat in the wild on Vancouver Island please adopt a marmot at www.marmots.org

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