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Chelsea Coady: Different approaches to helping species that use wildlife trees

First, a trivia question: what do “dead top,” “tall stub,” and “window treatment” all have in common? Stumped? You’ll know the answer by the end of this column.
cottonwood-treatment-todd-manning-photo
Performing mechanical treatments on a cottonwood tree in the Tsay Keh Dene area.

coady

First, a trivia question: what do “dead top,” “tall stub,” and “window treatment” all have in common? Stumped? You’ll know the answer by the end of this column.

The Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program (FWCP) funds projects that conserve and enhance fish and wildlife in watersheds impacted by existing BC Hydro dams. We fund projects that are based on good science and have a high likelihood of success. Sometimes, we’ll fund projects that take very different approaches to reach the same, or similar, goals.

Such is the case this year. One project we’re funding this year, led by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy is helping foresters conserve habitat for fishers. Another, led by Strategic Resource Solutions, is applying specific treatments to trees to create future wildlife trees for many species, including fishers.

Wildlife trees are any standing dead or live trees that provide habitat for wildlife that require cavities for nests, roosts and dens, perching sites, and foraging sites for insectivorous birds. More than 70 wildlife species in B.C. depend on them.

Fishers are an important species for the FWCP; they are provincially blue-listed (vulnerable), culturally significant to First Nations, and valuable to trappers. Reservoir creation, and ongoing forestry operations, which tend to remove standing dead or decaying trees, have reduced Fisher habitat, so it’s important that action is taken now to conserve and create it.

Provincial government biologist Rich Weir, who, in partnership with Tsay Keh Dene Nation and Chu Cho Environmental, is delivering a program to foresters to help influence decision-making during the various forest-harvesting phases to conserve trees that provide fisher habitat.

This program has been implemented at two levels: to forest planners who make broad-scale decisions on where to place cut-blocks; and to on-the-ground forestry workers who make decisions about which trees to cut and which to leave behind. This year, the focus is working with three major forest licensees to determine if the guidance provided is producing the desired “on-the-ground” results in retaining fisher habitat, and also to identify any impacts such as reduced fibre to the mills, or increase in costs. Six trial harvest cutblocks have been selected to see how well the program is performing, by comparing pre- and post-harvest habitat evaluations.

Todd Manning, professional biologist and professional forester, and his team with Strategic Resource Solutions are taking a different angle to help cavity-dependent wildlife. With FWCP funding to support their project, they select individual trees and treat them so they will become long-lasting, high-value wildlife trees. The treatment typically includes inoculating the tree with a native fungus that causes internal decay and then making additional chainsaw cuts.

First, appropriate species of natural heart-rot fungi are cultured on wooden dowels in a laboratory, and then placed into drilled holes in the tree to speed up the internal decay process. Once decay progresses, primary cavity excavators, such as the pileated woodpecker and northern flicker, can further increase cavity size, so that secondary cavity-users, such as fishers, small owls, and martens, can use them.

Additional mechanical treatments are also applied with a chainsaw to augment the fungal inoculation techniques. Treatments may include “dead-topping,” lopping the live top off; “window treatment,” pruning a two-to-three metre portion in the mid-to-upper section and then cutting partial girdles top and bottom that does not kill the tree but helps accelerate the decay there; or “tall-stubbing,” full-girdling the tree below the lowest live limbs, which kills the tree, leaving a moderate height snag.

Other cuts simulate frost cracks, lightning strikes, or bark-slabbing, providing potential bat-roosting habitat.

Just last month, in the Tsay Keh Dene area, Todd treated 60 trees—all cottonwood, spruce, or trembling aspen—for future wildlife tree creation.

If you have questions about this work, or other projects we’re funding, call me at 250-561-4884, email chelsea.coady@bchydro.com, or visit fwcp.ca.

Chelsea Coady is the Peace Region manager for the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program. Have a question? Email her at chelsea.coady@bchydro.com.