Research

Rising from 1200 meters above sea level up to the tree line at nearly 2000 meters, Wells-Barkerville Community Forest is BC’s high elevation research forest.

Among our research priorities are studies of high elevation climate change and studies of three of the five at-risk large mammals in British Columbia: Mountain Caribou, Grizzly Bear and Wolverine.

One significant and ongoing research program even predates the creation of the community forest: the Mount Tom adaptive management trial. This program began in 1999 on Mount Tom and Hardscrabble Mountain just north-west of Wells; part of that area is now within the community forest. The program was designed to explore options for maintaining caribou habitat while allowing for some limited timber harvesting.

Small patches of timber were logged and replanted, and studies of the forest dynamics as they have evolved since then are continuing. Among these is a study of caribou, moose and predators.

Other research planned or underway in the community forest includes the identification of plant and animal inventories and converting the data into compatible digital maps that can be accessed individually or in various combinations for better planning and management, the identification of community values for inclusion in the same mapping system, and the gathering of meteorological and hydrological data to monitor and analyze the changing climate.

Mt Tom Adaptive Management Trial

The Mount Tom adaptive management trial was initiated in 1999 to assess whether modified logging and silviculture practices could maintain attributes of mountain caribou winter habitat in high-elevation Engelmann spruce – subalpine fir (ESSF) forest.

The 4,067 hectare study area straddling Mount Tom and Hardscrabble Mountain is within the range of the Barkerville Caribou Herd, consisting of about 50 animals. More than half the study area was left unlogged; 30 per cent of the remaining area was logged with logged patches limited to just 1.0 hectare. The blocks were replanted with high quality subalpine fir and spruce seedlings.

A key component of maintaining caribou habitat is regenerating the coniferous forest, but this regeneration of high elevation ESSF forest is hampered by a short growing season, low soil temperatures, frost, and heavy snowfall.

Ten years after replanting the seedlings were measured and it was found subalpine fir survival was poorer in the larger cutblocks than in the smaller ones, and that spruce survival showed a similar but less pronounced trend.

An abundance of arboreal lichen is particularly important for mountain caribou; lichen is the mainstay of their winter diet. The Mount Tom trial compared the abundance of lichen in the areas where 30 per cent of the timber was logged to the abundance in the area that was left unlogged. After 2.5 years there was less lichen in the logged area but after 5.5 years the difference became insignificant.

Lichen abundance, conifer survival and growth, and wildlife use of the area are the subjects of ongoing research.

The Mount Tom adaptive management trial is led by Michaela Waterhouse, Silviculture Research Forester with the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

Caribou, Moose and Predators

A current research project by Jake Bradshaw, a University of Northern BC (UNBC) graduate student and researcher, is examining how logging influences the risk to Mountain Caribou from predators such as wolves, wolverines and bears. He’s quantifying the distribution of caribou, other large prey (moose and deer), and their predators in areas where there has been no logging, areas with large clearcuts, and areas with the small logged patches of the Mount Tom adaptive management trial.

Working under the direction of UNBC wildlife biologist Dr Chris Johnson, Jake began his field work in the Wells area in the summer of 2019 by deploying 57 remote cameras and by completing 129 plant surveys. He continued the research in 2020, increasing the number of cameras to 65, the number of vegetation plots to 184, and studied 192 browse / pellet plots to measure wildlife use.

Mapping

Research by University of Northern BC (UNBC) graduate student and researcher Christopher Morgan and UNBC professor of environmental science Dr Pamela Wright identified key biodiversity and community values in and near the community forest to assist with forest planning and management.

Caribou, grizzly, old growth forests and other biodiversity indicators were identified using data obtained from a variety of sources.

This research was supplemented with information obtained from participatory mapping interviews at a community open house in October, 2019 and in one-on-one interviews with community members who identified key economic, recreation, socio-cultural and environmental values.

All data was transferred to compatible digital maps that may be used individually or digitally overlaid in various combinations to identify forest management concerns and requirements, and for detailed forest planning.

The mapping identified a desirable forest ecosystem and recreation network in the community forest and connectivity with important ecosystem and recreation features in the surrounding area.

The project also used climate adaptation data to map the potential for the movement of plant and species as the climate warms, and potential initiatives to promote climate change resiliency.

This project was mostly completed by Spring, 2020, and the results were published by UNBC’s Natural Resources and Environmental Studies Institute report Wells-Barkerville Community Forest Mapping Project. The final component, a community presentation and demonstration of the mapping and how to use it, was postponed by the COVID 19 pandemic and will be scheduled when the pandemic risk is reduced.

Hydrometeorological station

As part of our effort to monitor and adapt to climate change we are hoping to establish a hydrometeorological station in the community forest. This station would constantly monitor and record atmospheric conditions, including rainfall, temperature, wind direction, wind speed, atmospheric pressure and relative humidity. It would also measure and record snow conditions and soil moisture.