Major questions raised at Revelstoke predator-prey conference

Columbia Mountains Institute conference at Revelstoke Mountain Resort featured three days of talks and some spirited debate.

Presenters sit down for a panel discussion at the end of the conference on predator-prey dynamics in Revelstoke last week.

A conference on predator-prey dynamics at Revelstoke Mountain Resort last week is being considered a success.

“It’s the best conference I’ve been to in a while,” said Sarah Boyle, a conservation biologist at Parks Canada. “I had no idea it would have the international allure that it did, which is great. It was great to see that breadth of perspective.”

The conference was hosted by the Columbia Mountain Institute for Applied Ecology and brought 130 researchers, policy makers and other interested people to Revelstoke from Apr. 5–7. There were 27 presentations over the three days and a field trip to the caribou maternity pen north of town.

“I think it exceeded my expectations and from the comments we got it seemed to have been a consistent message,” said organizer Rob Serrouya.

The first two days of the conference were largely academic, with researchers from around western Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere presenting their work.

The keynote speech was by Liana Zanette, who spoke about the effect of fear of predators on prey.

“Liana was really trying to make the case there’s real demographic effects of fear, meaning birth, death and that kind of thing, just from the notion of being vigilant from predators,” said Serrouya.  “That was a very controversial topic because some people just don’t believe it.”

On Thursday, the conference was augmented with presentations from government policy makers, local hunting outfitter Brian Glaicar, who spoke about his own experiences in the field; and a pointed talk by Jesse Zeman, a director with the BC Wildlife Federation. He argued for an approach that looked at entire landscapes, rather than just tackling specific issues.

“It’s not a mature conversation,” he said.

One of the more significant talks on Thursday was by Dave Hervier, a Government of Alberta scientist who manages the wolf cull designed to help the recovery of a caribou herd in the Rocky Mountains. He said they try to kill all the wolves from the area in a season, but they migrate back in quickly.

“We have to deal with habitat,” he said. “In the absence of habitat, predator management doesn’t have a long chance.”

The work is significant for B.C., which is undertaking its own controversial wolf cull in the West Kootenay and South Peace regions.

The conference concluded with a panel discussion about what to do next. There was concern that researchers were always behind on issues — that it would take them a few years to know there was a problem, and few more years to study it. “We’re not that successful right now,” said one man.

One person argued that we know what to do to stabilize or recover species at risk, it’s just a matter of doing it. “What we don’t know is how far you can take that in our economic and social world,” he said.

One issue that was brought up was introducing a tax on outdoor goods like hunting rifles, fishing rods, mountain bikes, snowmobiles and more that would fund conservation efforts. It was a notion supported by the Revelstoke Rod & Gun Club.

“Let’s get everybody that enjoys the outdoors help pay for the viability of wildlife,” said director Kim Doebert afterwards. “If you’re out there picking mushrooms or cutting boxwood or riding your mountain bike through the alpine, or ski-doing — have them help pay for the studies going on.”

Serrouya said there’s already been talk of hosting a follow-up conference in two years.

“I learned there’s big interest in this topic and people want CMI to put it on again,” he said.

 

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