Region 7A - Omineca

Mike Johnston - Vanderhoof Fish & Game Club

At 68, Mike Johnston is long retired, has many years of hunting and fishing under his belt, and was even president of the Vanderhoof Fish & Game Club (VFGC) for 4 years.  Despite all this, he shows no signs of slowing down.  Mike is part of a process his colleague Wayne jokingly calls “going from grey to green”, where retirees contribute their time to conservation efforts.  In addition to being a coordinator for Wilderness Watch, he is an active member in multiple conservation projects.

Probably the most recent project he was involved in was the bird nest box project, which won the coveted British Columbia Wildlife Federation (BCWF) Roderick Haig-Brown award for the VFGC.  This project was sponsored by the HCTF (Habitat Conservation Trust Fund) and Integris Credit Union locally.  This was the third Roderick Haig-Brown award received by the club for conservation projects within the last twelve years. In response to the Pine Beetle kills and many resulting forest fires, the club partnered with the local high school industrial arts teacher to create bird boxes for cavity nesters.  As a project, a class for persons with disabilities used a state of the art computer program to jigsaw the parts for the boxes which they then assembled to the finished product.

Over several weeks, Mike and his volunteer colleagues, under the direction of Wayne Salewski (Project chair and BCWF Region 7A President) installed 250 duck, 40 raptor and 250 blue bird nest boxes.  The Duck boxes were installed using jet boats and regular watercraft along the shores of the Nechako and Stewart Rivers, Finger Lake, Tatuk Lake, Tachick Lake, Nulki Lake and other smaller lakes and various wetland areas. All the nestboxes were recorded by GPS and mapped accordingly for ongoing research.

They also partnered with UNBC (University of Northern British Columbia) professor Dr. Russ Dawson in rural areas (agricultural side roads, ranches, and farms) by integrating the boxes into his studies on Bluebird populations. “Having an additional study area in Vanderhoof will give [our] research more depth”, said Prof. Dawson.  Furthermore, his students have integrated the bird boxes into their course by tagging Bluebirds, carrying out DNA studies, and studying the impact of climate change on their populations.

Since their installation, their boxes have been a success.  It has been reported that American Widgeon, Bufflehead and Common Merganser inhabit the duck boxes: Northern Saw-Whet owl, Kestrels, Flickers and Pileated Woodpeckers inhabit the raptor boxes; And Bluebirds and Tree Sparrows inhabit the bird nest boxes.

A similar project by Mike and VFGC was the construction (pictured right) and installation of 25 bat box “condos” around the Vanderhoof area.  These boxes, which can house a bat colony numbering in the hundreds, serve multiple purposes.  Not only do they aid mosquito control, but they also help divert bats from living in attics.  Furthermore, they help raise public awareness beneficial to the bats, which unfortunately lack much of the charisma that many of their mammal companions possess.

The boxes took a few years to take hold, with only 25% being used the first year (primarily by Little Brown Bats).  After 3 years, approximately 65% of them are in use.  Mike and VFGC plan to relocate some of the lesser used boxes to increase those numbers.

Mike has also done his fair share of work with ungulates.  Due to transplanted Elk populations, many local farmers were having their crops eaten by Elk.  Unfortunately, many farmers in other areas of BC took the most direct route to protecting their livelihood and would shoot the Elk.  The VFGC saw this as a poor solution and instead opted to provide the elk with alternative habitat elsewhere.  By teaming up with a Ministry of Environment Wildlife Biologist, Doug Heard (Prince George) and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, VFGC were able to capture (pictured below)and radio collar 6 Cow Elk.  DNA and blood samples were taken before they were released and it was determined that all the cows were pregnant.  The animal movements were tracked by fixed wing planes and helicopters at regular intervals for a period of 20 months. The radio collars were remotely detached and recovered, a suitable habitat location site was chosen in the Stewart River corridor.  Over the years VFGC in conjunction with the Minister of Forests has conducted two safe prescribed burns in the area and have created a successful habitat.  Unfortunately, some Elk still make the trip to farmers land during the winter months so talks are in the process on how to deal with the situation in a way that would best benefit both farmer and elk.

“Hunting and angling opportunities should always be preserved as part of our heritage but must be ruled by science and common sense.”

Mike and his VFGC volunteers have also been participating in a Mule Deer inventory project in conjunction with the Ministry of Environment biologists to determine the health and buck doe ratios of their local herds.  This was the inspiration of VFGC past president Olin Albertson (Wildlife Biologist) as it was noted by membership that there was a lack of mature Mule Deer bucks and predominately late birthing of fawns which significantly affects the winter mortality rate amongst deer. Twice a year (May and November) two person teams hit designated transects of various lengths around and near the agricultural areas.  The teams count, classify and GPS locations of animals they observe.  Each route is covered in 3-4 days at the same time each day for maximum accuracy. All data and map locations are then compiled for an annual report. The results of these studies and reports could have an impact on future changes to hunting regulations and conservation measures.

“I’ve hunted and fished in BC all my life and want to give back and see that future generations have access to our precious resource.” said Mike. With all the fantastic work Mike and other club members are doing for the future health of our environment, we hope that others follow the “grey to green” movement.

-Written by Jason Jobin