Marmots at Mount Washington

Marmots at Mount Washington 
by Lu Wuthrich, 13
 August 2016.

On a sunny Saturday eleven of the Naturalists went up to Mount Washington for a second Marmot tour, led by Andrew Bryant.

We were on the chair lift early in the morning and had a sunny, clear day to view the wonderful vistas around the top of Mount Washington.   Andrew chose several areas to stop and give the group a comprehensive history of Marmots, their habitat and behaviors.  He also discussed the local ecosystems, clear cut logging and the history of the Marmot Breeding Program and building on Mount Washington.  We had one sighting of a large Marmot in a beautiful meadow; the alpine meadows were in their full glory.

The group left with a good understanding of Marmot ecology, predation and current issues.

Thanks to Andrew and the members that made this trip such a pleasant experience.


Marmots on Mount Washington

Marmots on Mount Washington
by Andrew Bryant, 19 July 2012.

Sixteen of us made the first Queen of Burnaby sailing at 8:10 AM.  The day began with clear skies, calm water and great promise…

From Little River we car-pooled up the winding road to Mount Washington Alpine Resort, where we ascended to the summit via the ski chair-lift.  Not only was this method much easier on the knees, it offered spectacular and scenic views of the Comox glacier and surrounding mountains.  The discounted lift tickets generously provided by the Resort were a nice gesture (thanks to Peter Gibson…much appreciated!)

From the summit we meandered slowly 2-3 km down the steep, rocky maintenance road towards the main parking lot.  Occasionally our fearless leader (me) would pause, raise binoculars, and say, knowingly, things like “naah.  That’s just a marmot-shaped shadow/rock/shadow-of-a-rock…sorry…let’s keep looking”  Meanwhile we did take advantage of the opportunity to study alpine flora and the frisky Grey jays who obviously suspected we might be carrying food…

It was only about halfway down before we saw our first (and as it turned out the first of only two) wild marmots seen that day.  It was enough, as anyone who has had the great good fortune to meet one in person will attest, a thrilling, funny, cerebral moment.

Further down the road we stopped at the marmot breeding facility, which is a poorly-guarded secret located in plain sight, but kept strictly off-limits to the general public.   There we saw scads of marmots, met several field-researchers, and learned a lot more about the ecology and history of what used to be North America’s most critically endangered mammal.   All in all a fine day.

P.S:  On 15 September I repeated the trip with a member who had been unable to attend the July trip.

I did a little better the 2nd time, photographically-speaking.  I could even identify a particular marmot as male #327 (left ear) and #326 (right ear).  If my records are reliable then his name is “Troy“, he was wild-born at “P” Mountain in 2006 and transplanted to Mount Washington in early 2008.  How cool is that?

Andrew Bryant – “Recovery of Vancouver Island marmots”

Andrew Bryant – “Recovery of Vancouver Island marmots”
by Andrew Bryant, 19 Jan 2012.

I had the great good fortune to spend over twenty years working with what used to be the most critically endangered mammal in North America, the Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis).

Mine was a detective story, for that is what science is.  How do we know what we think we know?  The story of Vancouver Island marmots is one of blind alleys, mistakes, and plain bad luck.   The world population declined during  the 1990s to a few score remaining in the wild by 2003  (the estimate was ~30).   At the last hour, a recovery program based on captive-breeding and reintroduction began in 1997.

Slowly at first, but with growing momentum, a team of dedicated researchers, loggers, naturalists, veterinarians, housewives, architects, financial planners and schoolchildren began to raise the resources necessary to solve the problem.  The captive program was successful and reintroductions began in 2003.  A decade later the wild population has rebounded to over 300 individuals.

Although not out of the woods yet, the Vancouver Island marmot story is no longer one of impending doom.  Instead, these lovely animals offer a wonderful story of forensic science, and a compelling tale of hope.