Great Canadian Parks / British Columbia

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The Parks / British Columbia / Glacier National Park






Park staff conduct aerial surveys of the wildlife populations to determine fluctuations from year to year. Most of the wildlife in Glacier is found in the remote backcountry: mountain goats on the rocky ledges, a few caribou in the sub-alpine forest, and grizzlies on the avalanche slide paths in spring.

 

When the park was first protected in 1886, caribou were common in Glacier. The area between the park and the North Columbia Mountains is home to one of the major populations of the mountain caribou, a distinct eco-type of the woodland caribou. The numbers have declined, whether due to human intrusion on their habitat or natural cycles, but today there are fewer than 400 out of a total population of 2400 mountain caribou in and around the park. According to biologists Bruce McLellan and John Flaa, part of the problem may be food supply. The caribou rely on the boreal lichens, which grow almost exclusively on old trees, and those are the trees sought after by the forestry industry.

 

Smaller animals also play an important role in the ecosystem. Park researchers have been trapping wolverines to attach radio collars, which will allow them to track their movements through the park area and beyond. They know the smaller mammals are also subject to dwindling food supplies. Wolverines are mainly carion eaters, feeding on the carcasses of caribou, deer and elk, although they have been known to do some hunting.

 

Life in the steep, snow-covered mountains is difficult for large ungulates, but bears do very well here. Avalanches clear slide paths, which produce excellent feeding grounds for black bears and grizzlies. The bears den through the winter months, emerging in late March or April in time for early shoots of spring flowers, and by late summer are feasting on the abundant mountain berry supply. The bears here are primarily vegetarian, although that shouldn’t lull anyone into complacency about the dangers of travelling in bear country.

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