Pine beetle forest devastation impacting Okanagan weasel population | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Pine beetle forest devastation impacting Okanagan weasel population

A short-tailed weasel
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Thomas Sullivan

An Okanagan initiative researching weasels is encouraging loggers to leave their post-harvest behind to help the small mammals maintain their habitat.

“We’re been looking at ways of restoring forests after either clear-cutting or mountain pine beetle or fires,” said Thomas Sullivan, principal investigator with the Applied Mammal Research Institute and retired UBC professor.

After a logging company has cut down trees in a cut block, post-harvest debris is left behind and typically burned in the following year to reduce the fire hazard, but Sullivan said martens and two species of weasel, the short-tailed and long-tailed, will use these piles in summer and winter. The piles then become incorporated into the forest over time, he said.

READ MORE: How officials plan to manage Thompson-Okanagan forests after wildfires

“We really don’t need to burn all of it and needless to say the burning also contributes to greenhouse gases,” he said. "We only preach this in the backcountry, a long way away from where people live.”

The weasel family hasn’t been studied much so the initiative hopes to shed some light on the shy mammals.

They’re difficult to study because they’re quite secretive and they don’t like open areas so this was a way to create favourable habitat for them by giving them cover as they’re also a prey species for hawks, owls and larger carnivores, Sullivan said.

Large mammals tend to dominate studies and there’s good reason for that, but there are other species that can be showcased, he said.

READ MORE: Cougars and mule deer have a tight relationship, UBC Okanagan researcher says

There are several places in B.C. where forest managers are leaving debris as habitat and he’s confident it will be helpful. The mammal initiative is based in the Okanagan and also conducts research in Golden.

“Anywhere that some of these practices are implemented, it’s likely beneficial for wildlife,” he said.

Recently, the mammal initiative received a funding grant from the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. to help restore forests quickly on pine beetle-damaged areas and improve habitats for weasels and martens.

“It very likely has been impacting them, particularly where the timber has been salvaged,” Sullivan said. “It’s likely depleted populations of sub-species.”

The project, which received $31,500 in funding, will conduct an array of forest management techniques to restore understory cover and accelerate forest regeneration in stands affected by mountain pine beetle infestation.

“As fur bearers and important predator species in forest ecosystems, they have long been a priority for conservation efforts in B.C. Marten and weasel species occupy a mosaic of forest landscapes including 80-year-old conifer stands, and although some level of habitat disturbance is a natural and healthy occurrence in B.C.’s forests, we are increasingly seeing large scale disturbance events like those created by infestations species such as mountain pine beetle,” reads a press release from the forest enhancement society.

“After such events, forest regeneration and eventual restoration can take many decades and even centuries. This project seeks to investigate what forest management techniques might increase the speed and effectiveness of forest recovery in order to improve habitat for mustelid and other small mammal species.”

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