Interview: British Columbia Marmot specialist Andrew Bryant

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Photos are of Marmots from all over the world thanks to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marmot

A while back I wrote a summary of what’s wrong with the Marmot recovery effort in British Columbia and I listed 8 specific issues. Recently Marmot Biologist Andrew Bryant contacted me and replied to each and every issue I raised (see below). In addition Andrew also promptly responded to 6 interview questions:

1) Question: 50 years from now what’s the optimistic reality for Marmots?

Answer: My newborn grandchildren WILL get to see marmots in the wild (if they choose to look).  I wouldn’t have spent 22 years on this if I didn’t believe in the project.

2) Question: 50 years from now what’s the most likely reality for Marmots?

Answer: Small (<1000), fragmented population, genetically healthy, but requiring ongoing management and monitoring

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3) Question: Do you do other work to study / protect endangered ecosystem, such as Ancient Native Forests?

Answer: Yes.  Old-growth forest songbirds, burrowing owls, grizzlies, bats, spider monkeys, Rarotongan flycatchers. Curiously I agree with Ingmar about most forestry issues…I just disagree with misconceptions about marmots.

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4) Question: What makes SARA ineffective in the  conservation of displaced, threatened, at risk, and endangered species?

Answer:
Unlike the US system, there is no funding automatically associated with designation. Note that the Vancouver Island marmot was the FIRST species listed as endangered in Canada. In 1978.  Nothing much happened until MacMillan Bloedel offered a million bucks in 1997. Call it “guilt money” if you will, but I frankly don’t care (I actually think they made a very sound business decision). In any event, that contribution kick-started the real on-the-ground recovery effort, and without it we would only be talking about marmots in the past tense.

5) Question: Have you involve yourself in the reform of SARA?

Answer: Yes and my involvement is ongoing. In particular, the whole notion of “critical habitat” was ill-conceived (by bureaucrats) and is scientifically indefensible and impossible for any practicing scientist to calculate. That’s why it’s omitted from most recovery strategies. Even for a species such as the Vancouver Island marmot, for which such voluminous geographic distribution data are available. The public just does not “get this” and assumes some perverse government conspiracy. My word! How would one even go about defining “critical habitat” for polar bears or orcas? In my humble opinion, the EARTH is the “critical habitat”.

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6) Question: You claim zero destruction of natural Marmot habitat,…

Answer: Yes. Logging did not destroy natural marmot habitat. At no time and no place.  However, and this is a big however, logging has profoundly altered many other things of great importance to marmot populations. Predators. Deer. Marmot density. Marmot dispersal. Forest regeneration in clearcuts formerly occupied by marmots. It’s complicated. Again I encourage you to read the published science and would be more than happy to talk. There is too much published nonsense about marmots, so I applaud you for wanting to get the facts straight.

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Hi Deane,

My thoughts on your various points. Let me know if you want copies of any of the cited science… I would be happy to provide any of these as PDF files (free).

1) Preventing species extinction is only possible if it’s “affordable.”

Response: That statement is a no-brainer.  If one has no money, practical recovery work on the ground is impossible. Budget restrictions this year are apparently really hindering field monitoring efforts, as Crystal correctly reported in her interview.

2) Deforestation / causation of habitat destruction is not explained.

Response: The progressive pattern of logging/deforestation has been described here:
http://rparticle.web-p.cisti.nrc.ca/rparticle/AbstractTemplateServlet?calyLang=eng&journal=cjz&volume=74&year=1996&issue=4&msno=z96-075 There has been zero destruction of natural marmot habitat (precisely because marmots do not live in forests), as is explained here: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/recoveryplans/rcvry1.htm

3) Humans tracking technology is the only way to assure recovery?

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Response:
No it isn’t. But radio-telemetry and systematic monitoring is the only way to find out if recovery efforts are working, or if not, WHY they’re not working.  What would be the point of breeding and releasing marmots if you don’t know what happens to them? See:http://rparticle.web-p.cisti.nrc.ca/rparticle/AbstractTemplateServlet?calyLang=eng&journal=cjz&volume=83&year=2005&issue=5&msno=z05-055

4) Long-term Inbreeding from a small remnant population is less valid than the first ever year of “successful” breeding in the wild Vancouver Island marmots are not highly inbred.

Response: DNA evidence shows very high maintenance of existing variability. See here: http://www.springerlink.com/content/309l3888u1303n44/?p=ca087dfb883040088e6bb2359e7e8fd2&pi=24 By the way, 2008 was not the first year of successful breeding in the wild…it was the first year that offspring of captive-born-and-released marmots themselves reproduced in the wild.  In short, the original captive-born animals became grandparents (Aaltonen et al., Biological Conservation, in press).

5) Outrage related to Eagle / other predator control slaughters is not  worthy of mention. I was outraged as well by the eagle kills as these were undertaken independently by the BC government without discussion.

Response:
That was wrong (although the BC government does have legal authority over such things). However, there have been no further or broader “predator control slaughters”.  This despite growing evidence that the primary cause of mortality is predation by golden eagles, cougars and wolves.  See here: http://rparticle.web-p.cisti.nrc.ca/rparticle/AbstractTemplateServlet?calyLang=eng&journal=cjz&volume=83&year=2005&issue=5&msno=z05-055

6) Motivation of funders of the program is not explained as a corrupted / flawed mitigation for Marmot habitat destruction

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Response: Please help me out here:  What habitat destruction again?  Where?  When?  By what mechanism?  As to the motivation of funders, I like to think that the scientific evidence made for a compelling case for landowners to exercise some stewardship, for governments to govern, and for individual conservationists to put their money where there mouths were.

7) Signing a petition and making an almost extinguished species a Olympic Mascot will bring accountability / resolution to the problem.

Response: Going from ~70 animals in the wild in 1997 to over ~150 in the wild today makes them “almost extinguished”?  I’ll be very surprised if we don’t break 200 in 2009.  But, yes, I don’t expect any conservation miracles to emerge from the Olympic/Mukmuk exercise.

8) Zero-accountability for what happens if the captive-breeding program fails because the destroyers now have an option to make excuses for not paying. I mean it doesn t really have to matter to them anymore because they already got the habitat destruction they wanted, right?  Your thoughts on this?

Response: What failing captive-breeding program are you referring to? The annual population growth rate (lambda = 1.31) is highly positive. See here: http://rparticle.web-p.cisti.nrc.ca/rparticle/AbstractTemplateServlet?calyLang=eng&journal=cjz&volume=83&year=2005&issue=5&msno=z05-056

Overall response:
Referring to your point #1, if we hadn’t had any money, I believe Vancouver Island marmots would already be extinct. You can ascribe motivations all you want.  However it is fact that MacMillan Bloedel Limited was the first “big player” to step up to the plate, and without that initial contribution it is likely that Marmota vancouverensis would now be extinct.

Andrew
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Read about all forest issues in British Columbia: http://forestpolicyresearch.com/category/north-american-tree-news/british-columbia/

Posted via email from Deane’s posterous

Comments (6)

ChristinaMay 4th, 2009 at 12:32 pm

It is nice to hear of others working with a Sp at risk. I work with the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative. Our biggest stumbling block right now is trying to get funds for a permanent aquaculture facility. Thank you for your viewpoints on “Critical Habitat”( our Technical Working group just provided input on this last year), funding from Corporations (Rio-Tinto Alcan has funded several projects or matched funds), genetic variability (captive breeding) and population size (estimated less then 600).

JanetAugust 2nd, 2009 at 7:30 pm

Wow!!! We have some here in Alberta, and are they cute! I see them every week when I go to the city. I go very slow when I pass them, but unfortunately one was hit…..so sad. At first I thought they were some sort of gopher until my husband found out from a fellow employee.So exciting to think they still exist.

AlpheausSeptember 7th, 2009 at 7:07 am

Wow!!! We have some here in Alberta, and are they cute! I see them every week when I go to the city. I go very slow when I pass them, but unfortunately one was hit…..so sad. At first I thought they were some sort of gopher until my husband found out from a fellow employee.So exciting to think they still exist….

Mary Katherine and JimmyNovember 9th, 2009 at 1:57 pm

We’d like permission to use one of these terrific marmot photos on a poster at the Colorado Association of Libraries conference next week. Is that possible?

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