Marmots on Mt Washington

Marmots on Mt Washington
by Pat Karis 20 July

On Saturday ten of  us caught the early ferry to Comox in search of Vancouver Island marmots (Marmota vancouverensis) on Mount Washington.

We rode the chair lift to the top of the mountain, where club members were treated to an informative talk on the marmot by Dr. Andrew Bryant, who wrote the first, 2nd and 3rd recovery plans for this endangered species while simultaneously spending two decades asking – and answering – scientific questions.  Starting with “where do they live and how many of them are there?

While Dr. Bryant spoke, the group was surrounded by assertive and inquisitive whiskeyjacks looking for a handout…
Later on, we traversed part way down the mountain, where we all enjoyed the spectacular scenery while having our lunch .. after our rest, Dr. Bryant, resumed his chats and discussions along the way, stopping periodically to look and listen for the elusive marmot…

Unfortunately, and much to our disappointment, no wild marmots were spotted, although there was evidence along the way, that there had been activity around their burrows.  It was a noisy day on the side of the mountain, with a lot of heavy machinery making its way up and down the mountain that day, probably spooking the marmots into a safer and quieter retreat.

A quick walk-by of the captive-breeding facility (which is not open to the public) eventually yielded a few marmots…but…according to Andrew: “these captive marmots are being well-managed…but if you ask me…nobody should see their first Vancouver Island marmot in a cage…and you’re standing way too close”.

By the time we reached the parking lot (it’s a 5 km walk and a 780 m descent), everyone agreed that they were much better informed of the plight of the Vancouver Island marmot, our information session today bringing new awareness to our already delicate ecosystem and what we need to do to bring it into balance.

Thank-you very much to Dr. Bryant for all of his insights and dedication over the years – a truly informative and enlightening outing.

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.


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.