Recovery Strategy for the Ermine, haidarum subspecies (Mustela erminea haidarum), in Canada

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Recovery Strategy for the Ermine, haidarumsubspecies (Mustela erminea haidarum), in Canada [Final]

Photo of Haida Ermine

Recovery Strategy for the Ermine, haidarumsubspecies (Mustela erminea haidarum), in Canada [Proposed]

Ermine, haidarum subspecies
2011

Recommended citation:

Parks Canada Agency. 2011. Recovery Strategy for the Ermine, haidarum subspecies (Mustela erminea haidarum), in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Parks Canada Agency. Ottawa iv + 3 pp + Appendices.

For copies of the recovery strategy, or for additional information on species at risk, including COSEWIC Status Reports, residence descriptions, action plans, and other related recovery documents, please visit the Species at Risk Public Registry (www.sararegistry.gc.ca).

Cover illustration: Janet Gifford-Brown

Également disponible en français sous le titre
« Programme de rétablissement de l'hermine de la sous espèce haidarum (Mustela ermine haidarum) au Canada
» © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of the Environment, 2011. All rights reserved.
ISBN ISBN 978-1-100-19042-6
Catalogue no. En3-4/114-2011E-PDF

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.

Recommendation and Approval Statement

The Parks Canada Agency led the development of this federal recovery strategy, working together with the other competent minister(s) for this species under the Species at Risk Act. The Chief Executive Officer, upon recommendation of the Field Unit Superintendent, hereby approves this document indicating that Species at Risk Act requirements related to recovery strategy development (sections 37-42) have been fulfilled in accordance with the Act.

Recommended by:

Ernie Gladstone
Field Unit Superintendent, Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve

Approved by:

Alan Latourette
Chief Executive Officer, Parks Canada

All competent ministers have approved posting of this recovery strategy on the Species at Risk Public Registry.

RECOVERY STRATEGY FOR THE ERMINE, HAIDARUM SUBSPECIES (Mustela erminea haidarum), IN CANADA

2011

The federal, provincial, and territorial government signatories under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk (1996) agreed to establish complementary legislation and programs that provide for effective protection of species at risk throughout Canada.

In the spirit of cooperation of the Accord, the Government of British Columbia has provided the "Recovery Strategy for the Ermine, haidarum subspecies (Mustela erminea haidarum), in British Columbia" to the Government of Canada. The federal Minister of the Environment as the competent minister under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) adopts or incorporates, in whole or in part, this recovery strategy pursuant to section 44 of the Act, with any exceptions or modifications as detailed within the body of this document.

The finalized recovery strategy, once included in the Species at Risk Public Registry, will be the SARA recovery strategy for this species.

The federal Minister of the Environment’s recovery strategy for the Ermine haidarum subspecies consists of two parts:

  1. The "Recovery Strategy for the Ermine, haidarum subspecies (Mustela erminea haidarum), in British Columbia" being adopted/ incorporated, developed by the Ermine, haidarum subspecies, Recovery Team for the Province of British Columbia (Appendix 2).
  2. The federal text which completes the existing recovery strategy in terms of meeting the requirements of SARA section 41.  This text includes additions, exceptions or modifications to the document being adopted or incorporated, in whole or in part.

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PREFACE

The federal, provincial, and territorial government signatories under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk (1996) agreed to establish complementary legislation and programs that provide for effective protection of species at risk throughout Canada. Under the Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c.29) (SARA) the federal competent ministers are responsible for the preparation of recovery strategies for listed Extirpated, Endangered, and Threatened species and are required to report on progress within five years.

The Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency and the Minister of Environment are the competent ministers for the recovery of the Ermine, haidarum subspecies, and have prepared this strategy, as required by section 37 of SARA. It has been prepared in cooperation with the Province of British Columbia, the Haida Nation, environmental non-governmental organizations and local industrial groups, as per section 39(1) of SARA.

Success in the recovery of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this strategy and will not be achieved by Environment Canada, the Parks Canada Agency, or any other jurisdiction alone. All Canadians are invited to join in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the Ermine, haidarum subspecies, and Canadian society as a whole.

This recovery strategy will be followed by one or more action plans that will provide information on recovery measures to be taken by Environment Canada and the Parks Canada Agency and other jurisdictions and/or organizations involved in the conservation of the species. Implementation of this strategy is subject to appropriations, priorities, and budgetary constraints of the participating jurisdictions and organizations.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The federal supplementary material to the Province of British Columbia’s Recovery Strategy for the Ermine, haidarum subspecies (Mustela erminea haidarum), in British Columbia was completed by Ross Vennesland, with assistance from Carita Bergman, Diane Casimir, Richard Pither, Pippa Shepherd, Kara Vlasman, and Berry Wijdeven.

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This federal Recovery Strategy for the Ermine, haidarum subspecies (Mustela ermine haidarum), in Canada has been produced based upon the Province of British Columbia’s Recovery Strategy for Ermine haidarum subspecies (Mustela ermine haidarum) in British Columbia. The federal text includes information to bring the Province of British Columbia’s recovery strategy into compliance with policies surrounding the Species at Risk Act. These changes include clarifications on the recovery goal and objectives, critical habitat and socio-economic considerations.

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ADDITIONS AND MODIFICATIONS TO THE ADOPTED DOCUMENT

RECOVERY GOAL AND OBJECTIVES

This section modifies information in the Recovery Strategy for Ermine haidarum subspecies (Mustela ermine haidarum), in British Columbia (Appendix 2).

The long term goal of the Province of British Columbia’s recovery strategy (to maintain or restore a self-sustaining, wild population of Ermine haidarum across its historical range) is considered as the population and distribution objective of this federal recovery strategy (to be met by 2036). Each recovery objective should be addressed by 2016.

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CRITICAL HABITAT

This section addresses specific requirements of SARA that are not addressed in the Recovery Strategy for Ermine haidarum subspecies (Mustela ermine haidarum), in British Columbia (Appendix 2).

As required by SARA (section 41(1)), a recovery strategy must include an identification of the species’ critical habitat, to the extent possible, based on the best available information. Examples of activities that are likely to result in its destruction must also be included. Critical habitat cannot be identified at this time due to a lack of information on life history, population ecology, distribution, and habitat requirements, mostly due to an inability to successfully capture individuals of the species during scientific studies supporting ermine recovery.

Biologists working to support ermine recovery from 1992 to 1997 conducted more than 6,700 trap nights of effort and only caught two ermine (Reid et al. 2000). Extensive snow tracking and track plate work in 1997 and 1998 failed to return any sign of ermine (Reid et al. 2000).  Efforts from 2004 to 2010 have also met with an almost complete lack of success (Burles et al. 2008, Wijdeven, unpubl. data). Consequently, there is not enough information to identify critical habitat for the species on Haida Gwaii. Because of this general lack of success in capturing the species during scientific studies, knowledge of its habitat requirements is limited to the following parameters. Ermine appear to be rare on the landscape and are habitat generalists using forested habitat of any age on the east side of the archipelago that is near water sources and has good ground cover. No research is available or has been initiated to complete a critical habitat identification based on this information. A very broad identification of critical habitat could be completed based on this information (e.g., using areas near watercourses within the Coastal Western Hemlock, Submontane Wet Hypermaritime biogeoclimatic subzone; CWHwh1), but is not justified for the following reasons. The identification would cover a large geographic area (most of the east side of the archipelago) and would contain significant amounts of unoccupied habitat and/or habitat not important to recovery.

From the period 1922 to 1997, Reid et al. (2000) compiled 121 captures, sightings or track observations. However, for several reasons these data are not suitable for use in identifying critical habitat. This species is a habitat generalist with large home ranges, so the immediate area around a sighting or capture will be a very small proportion of the range of that individual. Many of these observations are old and we thus have little confidence the habitat that was once present is still present or that the site is still occupied. The vast majority of the locations were not reported using modern mapping techniques and almost all have been found to be inaccurate and/or not compatible with current mapping information (e.g., current mapping shows them far from water when they were reported to be near to water). Many of the observations have been made by people who are not experts in the field, so could represent misidentifications. And finally, most observations have been along roads and thus may not represent habitat that is critical or even appropriate for the species.

In cases such as this where available information is inadequate to identify critical habitat, SARA requires that a schedule of studies be included in the recovery strategy. A schedule of studies has been developed in the Recovery Strategy for Ermine haidarum subspecies (Mustela ermine haidarum) in British Columbia (see page 16, Schedule of studies needed to identify critical habitat; Appendix 2), consisting of one activity – to continue efforts to find a reliable inventory method for scientific studies. This federal recovery strategy expands on the schedule of studies with the following table.

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Table 1. Schedule of studies to identify critical habitat for Ermine, haidarum subspecies, in Canada.
Description of activityOutcomeTimeline
Continue to develop survey methods to inventory the species and develop habitat associations (e.g., using motion detection devises or scat sniffing dogs)Ability to capture the species and gain objective information on habitat use2012
If a survey method can be developed to inventory the species:
Apply inventory method across the landscape to determine habitat use in different habitatsObjective habitat data can be used to identify critical habitatPending
Map critical habitats for formal identificationFormal critical habitat identificationPending


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SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONSIDERATIONS

The section in the Recovery Strategy for Ermine haidarum subspecies (Mustela ermine haidarum) in British Columbia (Appendix 2) entitled Socioeconomic Considerations is not considered part of the federal Minister of Environment's recovery strategy for this species.

The Province of British Columbia’s Recovery Strategy for Ermine haidarum subspecies (Mustela ermine haidarum) in British Columbia includes a section entitled, “Socio-economic Considerations.” Although the strategy indicates that socio-economic impacts are not expected to be extensive, a formal evaluation of the socio-economic costs and benefits of recovery implementation has not yet been conducted, but will be included in one or more action plan(s) as required by SARA (section 49(e)). For this reason, and because a socio-economic analysis is not required in a recovery strategy under Section 41(1) of SARA, the “Socio-economic Considerations” section of this adopted recovery strategy is not considered part of the federal Minister of Environment's recovery strategy for this species.

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REFERENCES

Burles, D.W., J. Stuart-Smith, B. Wijdeven, D.W. Nagorsen and T. Husband 2008. Summary of research activities related to the recovery of Haida ermine, Mustela erminea haidarum, on Haida Gwaii. Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site Technical Report. 55pp.

Reid, D.G., L. Waterhouse, P.E.F Buck, A.E. Derocher, R. Bettner and C.D. French. 2000. Inventory of the Queen Charlotte Islands ermine. Pp. 393-406 in L.M.Darling, editor. Proceedings of a conference on the biology and management of species and habitats at risk. B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands & Parks, Victoria, BC and University College of the Cariboo, Kamloops, BC.

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APPENDIX 1: EFFECTS ON THE ENVIRONMENT AND OTHER SPECIES

A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery planning documents, in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision-making.

Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts upon non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the strategy itself, but are also summarized below in this statement.

This recovery strategy will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of the Ermine, haidarum subspecies (Mustela ermine haidarum), through addressing knowledge gaps associated with species density, distribution, population size, and critical habitat.  As well, trials to restore / create habitat form part of the recovery strategy, as does outreach and education. Finally, the need for population augmentation will be assessed.

The SEA concluded that this recovery strategy would have several positive effects and not cause any important negative effects. Further project-specific environmental assessments of actions identified as a result of research conducted in this recovery strategy, may be required.

The potential for important negative effects from this recovery strategy on other species or ecological processes is negligible.

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APPENDIX 2: RECOVERY STRATEGY FOR THE ERMINE, HAIDARUM SUBSPECIES (MUSTELA ERMINE HAIDARUM), IN BRITISH COLUMBIA

As provided by the Government of BRITISH COLUMBIA

Ermine, haidarum subspecies, Recovery Team. 2009. Recovery Strategy for the Ermine, haidarum subspecies (Mustela erminea haidarum), in British Columbia. Prepared for the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Victoria, BC. 23 pp.

Recovery Strategy for the Ermine, haidarum subspecies (Mustela ermine haidarum) in British Columbia

Photo of Haida Ermine

Prepared by the Ermine, haidarum subspecies Recovery Team

Logo for Province of British Columbia - The Best Place on Earth - Ministry of Environment

December 2009

About the British Columbia Recovery Strategy Series

This series presents the recovery strategies that are prepared as advice to the province of British Columbia on the general strategic approach required to recover species at risk. The Province prepares recovery strategies to meet its commitments to recover species at risk under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk in Canada, and the Canada – British Columbia Agreement on Species at Risk.

What is recovery?

Species at risk recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species is arrested or reversed, and threats are removed or reduced to improve the likelihood of a species’ persistence in the wild.

What is a recovery strategy?

A recovery strategy represents the best available scientific knowledge on what is required to achieve recovery of a species or ecosystem. A recovery strategy outlines what is and what is not known about a species or ecosystem; it also identifies threats to the species or ecosystem, and what should be done to mitigate those threats. Recovery strategies set recovery goals and objectives, and recommend approaches to recover the species or ecosystem.     

Recovery strategies are usually prepared by a recovery team with members from agencies responsible for the management of the species or ecosystem, experts from other agencies, universities, conservation groups, aboriginal groups, and stakeholder groups as appropriate.

What’s next?

In most cases, one or more action plan(s) will be developed to define and guide implementation of the recovery strategy. Action plans include more detailed information about what needs to be done to meet the objectives of the recovery strategy. However, the recovery strategy provides valuable information on threats to the species and their recovery needs that may be used by individuals, communities, land users, and conservationists interested in species at risk recovery.   

For more Information

To learn more about species at risk recovery in British Columbia, please visit the Ministry of Environment Recovery Planning webpage at:

http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/recoveryplans/rcvry1.htm

Recommended citation

Ermine, haidarum subspecies Recovery Team. 2009. Recovery Strategy for the Ermine, haidarum subspecies (Mustela erminea haidarum) in British Columbia. Prepared for the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Victoria, BC. 23 pp.

Cover illustration/photograph

Recovering Ermine, haidarum subspecies at Sewall, Graham Island, 1981. Photo by Janet Gifford-Brown.

Additional copies

Additional copies can be downloaded from the B.C. Ministry of Environment Recovery Planning webpage at:

http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/recoveryplans/rcvry1.htm

Publication information

ISBN: 978-0-7726-6235-4
Date December 4, 2009
British Columbia Ministry of Environment
Recovery Strategy for the Ermine, haidarum subspecies (Mustela erminea haidarum) in British Columbia [electronic resource]

Content (excluding illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.

Disclaimer

This recovery strategy has been prepared by the Ermine, haidarum subspecies Recovery Team, as advice to the responsible jurisdictions and organizations that may be involved in recovering the species. The British Columbia Ministry of Environment has received this advice as part of fulfilling its commitments under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk in Canada, and the Canada - British Columbia Agreement on Species at Risk.

This document identifies the recovery strategies that are deemed necessary, based on the best available scientific and traditional information, to recover the Ermine, haidarum subspecies population in British Columbia. Recovery actions to achieve the goals and objectives identified herein are subject to the priorities and budgetary constraints of participatory agencies and organizations. These goals, objectives, and recovery approaches may be modified in the future to accommodate new objectives and findings.

The responsible jurisdictions and all members of the recovery team have had an opportunity to review this document. However, this document does not necessarily represent the official positions of the agencies or the personal views of all individuals on the recovery team.

Success in the recovery of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that may be involved in implementing the directions set out in this strategy. The Ministry of Environment encourages all British Columbians to participate in the recovery of the Ermine, haidarum subspecies.

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RECOVERY TEAM MEMBERS

Recovery team members
Doug Burles, Parks Canada
Lana Wilhelm, Council of Haida Nation Forest Guardians
Terry Husband, Trapper
Charlie Mack, Laskeek Bay Conservation Society
David Trim, Western Forest Products Ltd.
Louise Waterhouse, B.C. Ministry of Forests and Range
Berry Wijdeven (Chair), B.C. Ministry of Environment

Past recovery team members
Mike Badry, B.C. Ministry of Environment
Alvin Cober, B.C. Ministry of Environment
Kiku Dhanwant, Council of Haida Nation Forest Guardians
Pippa Shepherd, Park Canada
Louise Blight, Parks Canada
Greg Martin, Laskeek Bay Conservation Society

Associated specialists
Ian Adams, Corvus Communications
John Broadhead, Gowgaia Institute
Al Edie, A. Edie & Associates
Guujaaw, President, Council of the Haida Nation
Tony Hamilton, B.C. Ministry of Environment
Eric Lofroth, B.C. Ministry of Environment
Greg Wiggins, B.C. Ministry of Forests and Range

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AUTHORS

Berry Wijdeven, Ian Adams and Doug Burles.

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RESPONSIBLE JURISDICTIONS

The British Columbia Ministry of Environment is responsible for producing a recovery strategy for Ermine, haidarum subspecies under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk in Canada. Parks Canada Agency and Environment Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service participated in the preparation of this recovery strategy.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Special thanks to Ian Adams for writing the first draft of this recovery strategy and to Louise Blight for editing a later draft. Further thanks to Eric Lofroth and David Nagorsen for providing comments on the final draft.

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Ermine, haidarum subspecies is endemic to Haida Gwaii, a group of islands located 80 km off the coast of British Columbia. Genetic work indicates Ermine haidarum belong to a lineage of short-tailed weasel which has been subjected to long-term isolation.

While Ermine haidarum are thought to occur in low numbers, there is evidence that numbers today are lower than they were historically. In spite of considerable survey effort to detect the presence of Ermine haidarum, proof of continued presence is limited largely to occasional sightings and by-catch from trapping for American Marten (Martes americana). 

While Ermine haidarum are classified as habitat generalists, local sightings indicate a preference for low elevation forested landscapes, often within 100 meters of a body of water. Coarse woody debris is thought to be beneficial, both for protection from predators and location of prey. While ermine are predominantly vole specialists, the absence of voles on Haida Gwaii increases the importance of other, less desired dietary items and might make the species more vulnerable to disturbance.

Identified threats and limiting factors include habitat changes brought about by introduced species, small range and low population density, predation by native predators, competition for food, trapping, and forest harvesting. Habitat changes brought about by Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus) specifically have been identified as having a major impact upon Ermine haidarum habitat by wholesale removal of understory cover which affects protection from predators, prey availability, and competition for what is already a limited prey selection.

The long-term goal for recovery of the Ermine haidarum is to maintain or restore a self-sustaining, wild population of ermine across its historical range. The recovery objectives include: (1) Continue efforts, and investigate new approaches, to determine population size, population density, and distribution; (2) Initiation and evaluation of habitat restoration trials and control of introduced species, particularly in areas which have greater records of Ermine haidarum; (3) Development and implementation of a communications plan to engage the public in activities to determine Ermine haidarum presence and promote Ermine haidarum recovery; and (4) Determination of the necessity and feasibility of population augmentation.

The Ermine, haidarum subspecies Recovery Team concluded that recovery of the Ermine haidarum would be technically and biologically feasible, but that such a recovery would need to be part of a larger plan to reduce the impact of introduced species to reverse their pressure on the landscape.

Even so, continued sightings of this rare subspecies provide the confidence and inspiration needed to continue work on recovery. An action plan that identifies actions needed to implement the recovery strategy is in preparation and is expected to be completed by 2014.

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BACKGROUND

Species Assessment Information from COSEWIC

Common name: Ermine, haidarum subspecies
Scientific name: Mustela erminea haidarum
Status: Threatened
Reason for Designation: A distinct subspecies that appears to have greatly declined
in density and whose habitat has been severely affected by introduced mammals. A comparison of results of a recent, intensive sampling program with historic trapping records suggests a decline in numbers.
Last Examination and Change: May 2001
Canadian Occurrence: British Columbia
Status History: Designated Special Concern in April 1984. Status re-examined and designated Threatened in May 2001. Last assessment based on an update status report.

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Description of the Species

The Ermine, haidarum subspecies (Mustela erminea haidarum) has been described as “the most morphologically distinct” of all ermine (Reimchen and Byun 2005; Eger 1990; Cowan 1989; Foster 1965). Originally classified as a distinct species (Preble 1868 in Edie 2001), it is now recognized as a subspecies of the Ermine (also known as holarctic short-tailed weasel; Hall 1951 in Edie 2001).

Genetic work has shown Ermine haidarum belong to a unique lineage of short-tailed weasel that has been isolated from continental and Beringial lineages since prior to the latest glaciation (Fleming and Cook 2002; Byun 1998). The haidarum subspecies is closely related to two sub-species found on Alaskan islands across Dixon Entrance from Haida Gwaii (also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands): M. e. celenda, found on Prince of Wales Island and M. e. seclusa on Suemez and Heceta Islands (Fleming and Cook 2002). Genetic evidence suggests that these three subspecies are likely glacial relics which persisted through the Wisconsin glaciation, possibly in a coastal refugium (Fleming and Cook 2002; Byun 1998; Heusser 1989).

Ermine or Short-tailed Weasels are members of the family Mustelidae, which also includes American Mink (Neovison vison), American Marten (Martes americana), Northern River Otter (Lontra canadensis), Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris), and Wolverine (Gulo gulo). Ermine are a small mustelid with males measuring 251 to 315 mm, weighing 67 to 106 g and females measuring 2/3 that weight and length. Ermine, haidarum show much less sexual dimorphism than other ermine (Eger 1990; Foster 1965). Ermine have long, slender bodies, a small face, furred tail, short oval ears, and scent glands which produce a strong musky odour. In summer, pelage is reddish-brown above and creamy white below. The tail-tip remains black throughout the year. Ermine on Haida Gwaii moult to a white coat during winter, which may not be advantageous since snow cover at low elevations is infrequent.

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Populations and Distribution

Ermine haidarum is globally ranked as G5T2, meaning that while the species is globally secure, the haidarum subspecies is globally imperilled (NatureServe 2008). Nationally, Ermine haidarum is N2 (nationally imperilled) and has been reassessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as Threatened. COSEWIC up-listed Ermine haidarum status from its earlier status of Special Concern based on small population size and continued decline (COSEWIC 2001). In British Columbia (B.C.) Ermine haidarum is ranked S2 and is on the provincial Red list, indicating it is considered a candidate for provincial listing as endangered or threatened (Conservation Data Centre 2003). The B.C. Ministry of Environment has assigned Ermine haidarum as priority 2 under Goal 1 of the B.C. Conservation Framework (see http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/conservationframework/ for details).

Ermine haidarum is endemic to Haida Gwaii. The Haida Gwaii archipelago is approximately 300 km long and lies some 80 km west of the B.C. mainland (Figure 1). The range extent ofErmine haidarum is approximately 9,276 km2, the total area of the islands from which haidarum is known.

Haida Gwaii / Queen Charlotte Islands

Figure 1. Location of Haida Gwaii.

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Ermine haidarum are thought to have occurred at naturally low numbers since at least the most recent glaciation (Foster 1965; Cowan 1989). Current abundance of Ermine haidarum is unknown, but based on sightings, trapping records, and live-trapping efforts for inventory purposes, it continues to be very rare (Reid et al. 2000).

Detailed historic and present population data to definitively describe population trends are not available and indirect evidence of any population trend is difficult to discern. However, there is evidence that Ermine haidarum numbers are lower today than in historic times based on a substantial but unsuccessful effort to inventory the population during the 1990s. Although ermine are not shy or secretive animals, only two individuals were captured in over 6,700 trap nights from 1992 through 1997. Almost 23 km of snow tracking and 2,692 track-plate station-nights in 1997 and 1998 failed to return any signs of ermine (Reid et al. 2000). More recent surveys have met with a similar lack of success; extensive use of live traps, hair snares, den boxes, and automatic camera stations have only yielded two possible ermine scats (see Table 1).

Table 1. Methods used and efforts expended to detect Ermine haidarum presence*
ActivityYearsSurvey effortResults
Live traps1992-976700+ days/nights2 Ermine haidarum
Track plates1997-982692 days/nightsno Ermine haidarum tracks
Snow tracking1997-9823 km surveyedno Ermine haidarum tracks
Trap type test2004-05100+  days/nights2 American Marten, 1 rat, numerous mice
Hair snares2004-05871 days/nights11 samples: 8 American Marten, 3 unknown
Den boxes2004-063460 days/nights3 scats (thought to be 2 Ermine haidarum and 1 American Marten, currently being analyzed)
Marten carcasses2003-06Carcasses collected
from trappers for
stomach analysis
57 American Marten carcasses examined.
No ermine found in their diet.
Cameras (film)2004-0799 photosAmerican Marten, American Robin (Turdus migratorius), mouse, Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis laingi) , and Black Bear (Ursus americanus)
Cameras (digital)2005-07598 photosAmerican Marten, Black Bear, deer, Northern Goshawk, mouse, Ravens (Corvus corax), Raccoons (Procyon lotor), Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), rats (Rattus  spp., dogs (Canis familiaris), and cat(Felis catus)
*Data sources: Burles et al. 2008, Wijdeven, unpublished data, Reid et al. 2000.

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Ermine haidarum were trapped by settlers throughout the 1900s, but never in great quantities (Buck 1998) and most occurred as by-catch in leg-hold traps set for American Marten. Of the 19 active trappers interviewed in 1997/98 only four reported ever catching an ermine (Buck 1998). Local ermine never fetched high prices on fur markets, as Haida Gwaii winters are too short and mild for high quality furs to develop. With the introduction of body-gripping traps and the move to tree-sets, ermine by-catch has been greatly reduced. All contemporary trappers, however, have observed ermine tracks in the snow. Many reported sightings and some reported bait removed by ermine (Buck 1998).

Interviews with trappers and others further indicate that Ermine haidarum numbers appear to have decreased (Buck 1998; Reid et al. 2000; Edie 2001). Edie (2001) concluded that early collection data suggested ermine were more common in the early 1900s.

On a more positive note, Ermine haidarum sightings continue to be reported: three in 2003, seven in 2004, two in 2005, six in 2006, eight in 2007, and three in 2008 (B. Wijdeven unpub. data). While the accuracy of all of these sighting could not be confirmed, observers include conservation officers, wildlife technicians, and others with established observation skills. Due to the lack of a formal reporting structure, the number of yearly sightings is likely greater than what has been communicated.

Ermine haidarum have been recorded on only four of the major Haida Gwaii islands: Graham, Moresby, Louise, and Burnaby (Figure 2). The majority of records originate from eastern parts of Graham Island and the north-east corner of Moresby Island, though this may be a reflection of human use rather than distribution of Ermine haidarum within the archipelago (Burles et al. 2004). Most of the sightings (93%; Reid et al. 2000) have occurred within the wet, hypermaritime coastal western hemlock subzone (CWHwh1) (Meidinger and Pojar 1991).

Distribution of historic Haida Ermine records on Haida Gwaii

Figure 2. Distribution of historic Ermine haidarum records (observed, trapped or tracks) on Haida Gwaii (Source: Burles et al. 2004).

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The proximate factors which affect the spatial distribution of Ermine haidarum across the multitude of islands which make up Haida Gwaii are undetermined. There is no known estimate of how wide a body of water ermine are able to swim. However, islands on which Ermine haidarum have not been detected are separated by a minimum of 100 meters of water from the nearest inhabited island (Burles et al. 2004).

Ermine haidarum distribution on smaller islands is not well documented. A longhouse on SGaang Gwaii island was named for a hole in the ground frequented by an ermine (Guujaaw, pers. comm. 2003), indicating that ermine were present at least historically.

The Haida, who have lived on these islands for some 10,000 years, have been well aware of the presence of ermine. This is reflected in the number of clans which chose the ermine as a crest component. The Ninstints people of the Raven Clan, Stawaas xaad iagaii (Witch People), Naay yu aans xaada gaay (People of the Big House), Na saga xaada gaay (People of the Rotten House) and Qaay llnagaay (People of the Sea-lion town) of the Eagle Clan all incorporated ermine as a crest figure. Ermine, or “Tllga” in Haida, also occasionally found their way into Haida lore as in the SGaang Gwaii story mentioned above (Burles et al. 2004).

In spite of this rich history, there is sparse contemporary knowledge regarding the Haida relationship to Ermine haidarum (Collison 2004). It is therefore not known whether the Haida trapped ermine. During the sea otter fur-trading period, ermine pelts were a popular commodity brought to the islands as a trade item (Howay 1932). Though the head regalia of Haida Chiefs include decorations with ornamental ermine, it is impossible to determine without physical analysis whether these pelts were sourced locally or obtained as trade goods (Figure 3).

Ermine Head Regalia

Figure 3. Ermine Head Regalia. American Museum of Natural History Collection, New York.

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Needs of the Ermine, haidarum subspecies

Habitat and biological needs

Current habitat associations and features for Ermine haidarum are not well documented. Inferences can be made from empirical data gathered elsewhere in North America and from occurrence data collected on Haida Gwaii.

Ermine are usually classified as habitat generalists (King 1989; Fagerstone 1987; King 1983). In Washington’s Olympic Peninsula (habitat similar to that on Haida Gwaii), ermine were captured most often in thinned second-growth Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) stands with dense understory (Wilson and Carey 1996). Ermine in southwest Yukon were found mostly in open areas, consistent with the habitat of their main vole (Microtus spp.) prey (O’Donoghue et al. 2001). In Ontario boreal forests, ermine showed no preferences for stand age or cut vs. uncut areas (Thompson et al. 1989).

At a coarse level, some inferences can be made from the occurrence database gathered by Reid et al. (2000). Virtually all sightings of Ermine haidarum (93%, n=121) were from the Coastal Western Hemlock, Submontane Wet Hypermaritime biogeoclimatic subzone (CWHwh1), which comprises most of the eastern side of the Haida Gwaii archipelago below approximately 350 m (Figure 4). Eighty seven percent of sightings occurred within forested landscapes with 69 % from coniferous forests. Eighty eight percent of sightings were below 50 m in elevation, and 77% of sightings were within 100 m of water, usually the ocean, a creek or river (Reid et al. 2000). These results should be interpreted with caution. Most human activity occurs in areas within the CWHwh1 variant. Consequently, occurrence data may reflect human habitat use more than that of Ermine haidarum. The paucity of ermine sightings on the west coast of the archipelago may reflect low human use rather than lack of ermine. However, Mowat et al. (2000), working in northwestern Vancouver Island habitats very similar to those on Haida Gwaii, also detected few ermine (M. e. anguinae) overall and only in open, shrubby habitats in the relatively drier, eastern sections of their study area. They found no sign of ermine in the wetter and higher western sections.

Biogeoclimatic zones on Haida Gwaii

Figure 4. Biogeoclimatic subzone variants on Haida Gwaii.

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Despite the biased distribution of observers in Haida Gwaii, Reid et al. (2000) conclude that the clumping of Ermine haidarum sightings is likely a fairly accurate reflection of ermine distribution. Even along major roads, sightings tended to be clumped at water courses and river mouths. Despite an extensive network of logging roads, there were virtually no records of ermine from upland sites, with only 12% of sightings located above 50 m in elevation.

Ermine habitat associations from elsewhere support these coarse level findings. Higher use in riparian areas than upland sites has been documented in the Olympic Peninsula (Wilson and Carey 1996), northern Vancouver Island (Mowat et al. 2000), and B.C.’s Okanagan Valley (Gyug 1994). Using sooted track plates and cameras in coastal western hemlock forests of northwestern Vancouver Island, Mowat et al. (2000) detected ermine in edge habitats associated with forest openings and riparian habitats. They suggest that ermine in CWH forests of northwestern Vancouver Island are “likely to be found in areas where the forest has been removed or opened naturally, in river estuaries for example” (Mowat et al. 2000). Others also note that ermine are more common in early successional stands (Simms 1979a; Simms 1979b) with low densities of regenerating trees (Sullivan et al. 2001).

Coarse woody debris has been identified as beneficial to ermine although this may be more important in areas where their main prey are voles which heavily utilize debris piles (Lisgo et al. 2002; Gyug 1994). On Haida Gwaii, potential Ermine haidarum prey appear to be more associated with herbaceous ground cover (Doyle 1990), though specifics remain unknown. Coarse woody debris imparts a degree of protection to ermine and their prey from predation by larger animals (Reid et al. 2000; Samson and Raymond 1998; Doyle 1990). Retaining and recruiting large woody debris in second-growth stands is an important aspect to forest management for ermine and other ground-dwelling wildlife species (Lofroth 1998; Stevens 1997).

The distribution of Ermine haidarum is likely best explained by a combination of prey availability and protection from predators (Burles et al. 2004) as well as specific habitat features.  Based on local distribution data and ermine studies elsewhere, the following qualitative habitat features may be key to the survival and recovery of Ermine haidarum on Haida Gwaii:

  • well-structured understory
  • extensive ground cover
  • large coarse woody debris
  • low-elevation, riparian forests

The two species assumed to comprise the majority of Ermine haidarum prey, Dusky Shrew (Sorex monticolus) and Northwestern Deermouse (also known as Keen’s Mouse) (Peromyscus keeni) are associated with a diversity of habitats. Shrews may be more prevalent in moist or riparian habitats with dense undergrowth, while avoiding open fields, wet meadows, and grassland (Burles et al. 2004). The Northwestern Deermouse is found in virtually all terrestrial sites, from sea shore to alpine. Their abundance is more related to food supply than physical features of habitat (Hanley and Barnard 1999).

Food

Ermine are predominantly arvicolid rodent (vole) specialists (Fagerstone 1987). There are no voles, however, on Haida Gwaii. Native mammalian prey species are limited to Northwestern Deermouse and Dusky Shrew. Mice and shrews are less preferred by ermine where arvicolid prey are available (Fagerstone 1987; Nams 1981). Stomach, intestine and scat analyses of Ermine haidarum, though limited (n=9), have found remnants of Northwestern Deermouse (Peromyscus keeni), a small fish (gunnel or prickle back), Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), Dusky Shrew (Sorex monticolus), and a large unidentified bird (probably gull) (D. Nagorsen unpubl. data).

Though primarily vole specialists, ermine readily prey on a wide variety of food. The list of dietary items includes insects, rats, birds, fruit and berries, earthworms, and eggs (King 1983). It appears Ermine haidarum will utilise ground- and shrub-nesting bird species and their eggs as prey. However, these birds have been affected by wide-spread removal of ground cover and understory by introduced Sitka Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus; deCalesta 1994; Vila et al. 2001). This has increased their vulnerability to nest predation not only by ermine but also by other introduced species such as red squirrels, rats, and raccoons with a subsequent reduction in the availability of birds as prey.

Ermine are not aquatic. However, they may feed on marine invertebrates in intertidal zones and scavenge post-spawning salmon, especially those moved inland by Black Bears (Reimchen 2000).

There is some indication Ermine haidarum occasionally hunt introduced Roof Rats (Rattus rattus) and Red Squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) as alternative food sources (Reid et al. 2000). However, ermine studies elsewhere suggest that the Ermine haidarum's relatively small size may limit its effectiveness as a predator of squirrels and rats (Lisgo 1999).

The abundance of Northwestern Deermouse, and to a lesser extent, Dusky Shrew, fluctuate widely from year to year on Haida Gwaii (Burles et al. 2004). Further, high marten numbers and other introduced mammals are believed to increase competition for an already limited food source (Reid et al. 2000).

Reproduction

Ermine can reproduce in their first year and in most populations females are pregnant annually (Fagerstone 1987). Litter sizes of ermine in North America range from four to thirteen, averaging about six (Hamilton 1933 in Fagerstone 1987). Given the lack of voles and low diversity of alternate prey, mean litter sizes for Ermine haidarum may be in the lower part of the range (Edie 2001). The only data on litter size in Ermine haidarum comes from a necropsy performed on a cat-killed pregnant female. Three foetuses were present in the uterus, but it was not possible to determine foetus sex or records of previous implantation (H. Schwantje unpubl. data).

Ermine are polygamous – males breed with several females and the home range of males can contain several exclusive female home ranges (Erlinge 1977). Like most mustelids, ermine exhibit delayed implantation (King 1983). Mating may occur in the spring shortly after the young are born but implantation is delayed for nine to ten months (Fagerstone 1987). Suspected low population densities may provide limited mating opportunities, leading to demographic effects that can negatively affect population viability (Shaffer 1981). Whether reproduction is a factor limiting Ermine haidarum recovery remains uncertain. Ermine rely on high reproductive output to maintain population size since turnover of populations is generally high (King 1983). Annual survival rate elsewhere is estimated at 40% and average life expectancy is about 1 to 1.5 years (Fagerstone 1987). 

Reproduction in weasels is closely tied to prey availability. Least weasels (Mustela nivalis) require minimum spring prey densities before breeding will take place (Erlinge 1974) and ermine reproduction is depressed with increased competition for food resources (Erlinge 1983). When food is limited, implantation may not proceed even if breeding occurs.

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Ecological Role

Ermine are a mid-level predator. Their abundance is closely tied to both their prey species and potential predators (Fagerstone 1987). Endemic terrestrial mammalian predators on Haida Gwaii are limited to Ermine, haidarum, American Marten, and Black Bear (Cowan 1989). Elsewhere, ermine populations play an important role in controlling prey populations (Korpimäki et al. 1991; Fagerstone 1987). On Haida Gwaii, Ermine haidarum may historically have contributed to regulation of Northwestern Deermouse populations.

The apparent association of ermine with low elevation and riparian areas in Haida Gwaii (Reid et al. 2000) suggests that there may be an association between Ermine haidarum and aquatic habitats. Ermine may partially fill the ecological niche of a water-land interface predator left vacant by the absence of American Mink in Haida Gwaii (Eagle and Whiteman 1987).

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Threats and Limiting Factors

Threat classification

Table 2. Classification of threats and limiting factors to Ermine haidarum.
ThreatThreat Level
Habitat changes brought about by introduced speciesHigh
Small range and low abundanceHigh
Predation by native predatorsMedium
Competition for foodMedium
TrappingMedium
Forest harvestingLow

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Description of the threats and limiting factors

Habitat changes brought about by introduced species

Extended isolation from other subspecies and lineages has allowed Ermine haidarum to become a unique subspecies. This isolation may also have contributed to it having become at risk. Island taxa typically have higher risk of extinction (Purvis et al. 2000; MacArthur and Wilson 1967) and introduced species can increase this risk (Diamond 1989).

Exotic species are often cited as threats to species at risk (Lawler et al. 2002). Non-native mammal species introduced to Haida Gwaii over the past 120 years (see Table 3) represent a significant ecological threat to the endemic island taxa (Engelstoft and Bland 2002; Golumbia 2000). For Ermine haidarum, introduced species likely exacerbate other threats, particularly competition for food and increased predation.

Table 3. Mammal species introduced to Haida Gwaii and possible effects on Ermine haidarum.
SpeciesIntroducedPossible effects on Haida ermine
Sitka Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)1880 – 19251
  • Habitat alteration – removal of understory and ground cover leading to increased predation risk and lower habitat quality for prey.
  • As carrion, possible food source to ermine, but more available to marten.
Wapiti
(Cervus elaphus)
19292
  • Impacts may be similar to deer, but much less pronounced because of a limited distribution.
Common Muskrat
(Ondatra zibethicus)
unknown
  • Very limited food source as carrion
  • Likely insignificant impact
Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)19473
  • Possible prey
  • Likely major food source for marten leading to increased competition and predation risk from increased marten populations.
American Beaver (Castor canadensis)19473
  • Limited food source as carrion
  • Habitat alteration
House Mouse
(Mus musculus)
unknown
  • Prey source
Roof (Black) Rat (Rattus rattus)late 1700s ?1
  • Prey source
Brown (Norway) Rat
(Rattus norvegicus)
more recent than late 1700s1
  • Prey source
Raccoon
(Procyon lotor)
1940s1
  • Competitor for food
  • Likely preys opportunistically on ermine
Domestic Cat
(Felis catus)
unknown
  • Competitor for food
  • Preys opportunistically on ermine
Domestic Dog (Canis familiaris)unknown
  • Could prey opportunistically on ermine
1 after Golumbia (2000); 2 after Engelstoft and Bland (2002); 3 after Cowan (1989).

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Sitka Black-tailed Deer, introduced between 1880 and 1925, have had some of the greatest impacts on forest ecosystems in Haida Gwaii and have affected most native species directly or indirectly. The removal of understory cover by Sitka Black-tailed Deer in Haida Gwaii (Daufresne and Martin 1997) may have particular consequences for Ermine haidarum and its prey. In coastal cedar hemlock forests ermine are typically more common in sites with substantial understory (Mowat et al. 2000; Wilson and Carey 1996). Deer carrion may provide an additional food source to ermine, but can also benefit competing species such as American Marten (Nagorsen 2006; Burles et al. 2004).

Introduced species such as Red Squirrel, Roof Rat, Brown Rat, and Common Muskrat provide additional food sources for Ermine haidarum; Reid et al. (2000) recorded observations of ermine chasing rats and scavenging a dead muskrat. These species, however, tend to be on the upper end of the scale of accessible food sizes (Burles et al. 2004; Lisgo 1999) as Ermine haidarum are significantly smaller than other ermine subspecies (Byun 1998; Eger 1990; Foster 1965).  Introduced species have more notably facilitated an increase in American Marten populations, with probable resulting negative effects on ermine populations through increased competition (Nagorsen 2006; Reid et al. 2000).

Ermine haidarum may be naturally limited by prey availability and several researchers have argued that this factor, rather than predation, is what drives ermine population levels (summarised in Nagorsen 2006). The presence of introduced species competing with ermine for food thus may be an important threat.

Introduced predators also pose a threat to Ermine haidarum. Domestic Cats are known to depredate the subspecies (H. Schwantje unpubl. data; Reid et al. 2000) and anecdotal evidence suggests that Ermine haidarum were less frequently sighted at Masset Inlet (Graham Island) after Raccoons were introduced to the archipelago (J. Gifford-Brown pers. comm. 2006), though this may be caused by increased competition for limited prey rather than by predation.

Small range and low abundance

Small populations are inherently more at risk of extinction than large ones due to their vulnerability to stochastic events and other factors such as inbreeding. Ermine haidarum are therefore at increased risk of extinction as a result of their geographically limited range and low abundance (Purvis et al. 2000; Simberloff 1998).

Predation by native predators

Predation by native predators may also affect erminenumbers. Craighead and Craighead (1956 in Powell 1973) found that raptors predated approximately 70% of the post-reproduction spring ermine population in southern Michigan. This number is probably not as high in Haida Gwaii where forest birds of prey such as northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis laingi), sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus), and northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus brooksi) are not as numerous (F. Doyle pers. comm. 2006).

Reduced cover as a result of increased deer browse likely increases risk of predation by native and non-native predators. Ermine generally prefer habitats with dense understory and ground cover (Mowat et al. 2000; Wilson and Carey 1996; Fagerstone 1987; Simms 1979a). Understory provides both habitat structure for prey species as well as visual protection and escape cover for ermine from predators, especially avian ones.

American Marten have been implicated as a factor in the presumed decline of ermine on Haida Gwaii. While fur returns specific to Haida Gwaii are not available prior to 1985 (G. Schultze pers. comm. 2003), registered trappers generally agree that marten populations have increased five- to ten-fold since the 1940s (Edie 2001; Reid et al. 2000). Due to low fur market values, few trappers are currently actively trapping marten, so local populations remain high. 

Marten will prey on ermine (Jędrzejewski et al. 1995; Thompson and Colgan 1990; Weckworth and Hawley 1962), however this predation is likely opportunistic, with ermine representing a very minor prey item. Nagorsen (2006) reviewed 26 diet studies on American Marten and found that ermine remains were reported in only four studies, with a frequency of occurrence from 0.5% to 1.6% (Nagorsen 2006). Nagorsen et al. (1991) reported no ermine remains in 97 Haida Gwaii marten examined for diet analysis, and Nagorsen (2006) compared the contents of 55 marten stomachs with a re-examination of those from the 1991 study and found no evidence of ermine. Weckwerth and Hawley (1962) found no more than 0.1% of 1,758 marten scats in Montana to contain ermine remains. Edie (2001) argues that because ermine numbers are very low, even a very low level of marten predation could have a significant impact on ermine populations. However, given the current state of knowledge (Nagorsen 2006), marten predation of ermine should be considered at most a moderate threat.

Predation on Ermine haidarum during winter months on Haida Gwaii may be higher than in other populations. Snow at lower elevations across the archipelago is rare and ephemeral but Ermine haidarum still turn white, likely making them more visible to predators. Decreased vegetation cover may exacerbate this threat.

Competition for food

American Marten are likely competitors for food. Higher marten numbers on Haida Gwaii and significant diet overlap between marten and ermine likely result in less food being available to Ermine haidarum. Whether this is due to a reduction in prey numbers or to competitive exclusion is currently unknown.

Trapping

Trapping has been closed to ermine on Haida Gwaii since 1985 but Ermine haidarum are still occasionally captured in traps set for marten. Since it is likely not all incidents are reported, rates of annual bycatch rate are unknown. Based on conversations with trappers, rates were thought to be minimal (G. Husband and J. LaRose pers. comm. 2004). However, the introduction in 2007 of certified marten traps which comply with the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards coincided with the by-catch kills of five Ermine haidarum. While it is too early to determine whether the new traps are responsible for this sudden increase in reported Ermine haidarum by-catch, trapping continues to present a threat.

Forest harvesting

Approximately 25% of CWHwh1 forests on Haida Gwaii have been logged or are included in existing logging plans (A. Cober pers. comm. 2003). However, given the broad habitat associations of ermine and the possibility of increased abundance of mice, shrews, and songbirds in early successional forest stands, logging is not thought to be a major threat to Ermine haidarum.

Forest harvesting may indirectly negatively affect Ermine haidarum. Deer browse limits regeneration of forest stands and reduces ground cover. If deer browse increases in recent cutblocks, this may leave ermine at greater predation risk due to loss of protective cover.

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Actions Already Completed or Underway

The following recovery and management actions for Ermine haidarum have occurred or have been initiated to date:

  • Habitat receives protection in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, Naikoon Provincial Park, Vladimir Krajina Ecological Reserve as well as in 11 new Conservancies and other existing protected areas which, in total, provide habitat protection on 50% of the land base of Haida Gwaii.
  • Existing and new detection methodologies continue to be field tested in hopes that populations can be inventoried and habitat associations established.
  • Site surveys have been, and will continue to be initiated whenever an Ermine haidarum sighting occurs.
  • Ermine haidarum are currently protected from trapping on Haida Gwaii.

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Knowledge Gaps

Effective recovery of the Ermine haidarum will be hampered by a substantial lack of information regarding the species. Population dynamics, habitat requirements, prey selection, and threats are inferred rather than observed. Substantially more information is required to enable effective recovery efforts.

RECOVERY

Recovery Feasibility

The recovery team determined that Ermine haidarum were biologically and technically feasible to recover in B.C. based on criteria outlined Section 4.0 of Environment Canada’s DRAFT policy on the feasibility of recovery (Environment Canada 2005).

  1. Are individuals capable of reproduction currently available to improve the population growth rate or population abundance? YES.

    While current abundance of Ermine haidarum is thought to be low, sporadic though persistent sightings indicate that the ermine population persists. A necropsy performed on a female ermine, killed by a cat in 2003, determined that the ermine was pregnant, providing evidence that individuals capable of reproduction are available.
  2. Is sufficient suitable habitat available to support the species or could it be made available through habitat management or restoration? YES.

    It is thought that the primary reason for decline of the Ermine haidarum population is not habitat loss, but habitat alteration and interactions with introduced species. Sufficient habitat is or can therefore be made available to support the species.
  3. Can significant threats to the species or its habitat be avoided or mitigated through recovery actions? YES.

    The habitat alterations brought about by introduced species are thought to be largely reversible.
  4. Do the necessary recovery techniques exist and are they demonstrated to be effective? YES.

    Direct or cumulative effects of invasive non-native species are the most important potential threat. Techniques exist to control or eliminate non-native mammals and to restore habitat degraded by browsing.

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Recovery Goal

The long-term recovery goal is to maintain or restore a self-sustaining, wild population of Ermine haidarum across its historical range.

“Self-sustaining” is defined as being of sufficient size and distribution such that continuing threats do not limit overall population viability, in particular susceptibility to stochastic events.

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Rationale for the Recovery Goal

The recovery goal is broad at this time because the recovery team lacks information on historic and current population sizes of Ermine haidarum. The recovery team has outlined a number of activities and associated timelines which will give the team the opportunity to learn more about population size and dynamics. Once more information has been obtained, the recovery goal and objectives will be refined and updated.

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Recovery Objectives

The recovery goal will be achieved by focusing on the following objectives:

  1. Continue efforts, and investigate new approaches, to determine population size, population density, and distribution.
  2. Initiate and evaluate habitat restoration trials and control of introduced species, particularly in areas which have greater records of Ermine haidarum.
  3. Develop and implement a communications plan to engage the public in activities to determine Ermine haidarum presence and promote Ermine haidarum recovery.
  4. Determine necessity and feasibility of population augmentation.

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Approaches Recommended to Meet Recovery Objectives

Recovery planning table

Table 4. Broad strategies to address threats and limiting factors facing Ermine haidarum recovery.
PriorityBroad StrategyRecommended approaches to meet recovery objectivesDeliverableThreat or concern addressedTimeline (initiation - completion)
Objective 1: Continue efforts, and investigate new approaches, to determine population size, population density, and distribution.
HighResearchDetermine population size, density, and distributionField test existing and new detection methodologies.Knowledge gaps; Small range and low abundance2001-2012
HighResearchDetermine population size, density, and distributionDevelop population, density, and distribution models.Knowledge gaps; Small range and low abundance2009-2014
Objective 2: Initiate and evaluate habitat restoration trials and control of introduced species, particularly in areas which have greater records of Ermine haidarum.
HighResearch; Stewardship
 
Assess impact of habitat restoration and control of introduced species on landscapeCreate pilot projects in controlled locations (such as exclosures) to allow habitat to be restored and monitored.Knowledge gaps: habitat changes brought about by introduced species; Predation by native predators; Competition for food2009-2014
Objective 3: Develop and implement a communications plan to engage the public in activities to determine Ermine haidarum presence and promote Ermine haidarum recovery.
MediumStewardship; OutreachBroaden general interest and sighting reports by involving public.Engage public and trappers through outreach and education strategies.All2009-2014
Objective 4: Determine necessity and feasibility of population augmentation.
MediumResearchDetermine necessity of augmenting ermine population.Develop population, density and distribution models.Small range and low abundance2009-2014
MediumResearchDetermine feasibility of augmenting ermine population.More accurately determine genetic linkages with Alaska ermine. Determine availability/suitability of transplant stock.Small range and low abundance2009-2014


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Performance Measures

Performance measures to evaluate success include the following:

Objective 1: Successful approach to determine population size, population density, and distribution estimates has been determined or all possible detection methods have been exhausted by 2014.

Objective 2: Habitat restoration trials and control of introduced species have been initiated and evaluated by 2014.

Objective 3: Communications plan has been developed and is being implemented by 2010.

Objective 4: Necessity and feasibility of population augmentation has been determined by 2014.

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Critical Habitat

No critical habitat as defined under the federal Species at Risk Act (S.2) is proposed for identification at this time. In order for critical habitat to be defined, information is needed regarding the species’ life history, population ecology, distribution, and habitat requirements. Given our current state of knowledge regarding the species, identification of critical habitat is not feasible.

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Recommended schedule of studies to identify critical habitat

Identification of critical habitat for the Ermine haidarum is currently not possible due to the difficulty of locating individuals. Until a successful method has been found to inventory populations and establish habitat associations, there is little point in speculating about further steps to define critical habitat. Possible inventory methodologies such a large scale motion detection camera studies or scat sniffing dog research are currently being investigated; these efforts will continue until 2014.

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Existing and Recommended Approaches to Habitat Protection

Approximately 50% of the landbase of Haida Gwaii currently enjoys some form of habitat protection. Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site is protected under the Canada National Parks Act while Naikoon Provincial Park, Vladimir Krajina Ecological Reserve and eleven new Conservancies are protected through provincial designations. Since ermine haidarum are classified as habitat generalists substantial portions of these areas should be considered ermine habitat. On the remaining landbase, the Haida Gwaii Strategic Land Use Agreement (SLUA), currently being finalized, commits to implement Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) logging practices and protect riparian zones, Haida cultural areas and wildlife areas set aside for murrelets, goshawks and saw-whet owls, providing further protected habitat suitable for Ermine haidarum.

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Effects on Other Species

Competition, predation, and habitat alteration by invasive species affects a suite of native species on Haida Gwaii. Habitat alteration by deer specifically has drastically changed the landscape, impacting plants, invertebrates, and mammals (Allombert et al. 2005; Stockton et al. 2000; Vila et al. 2001). Reduction of the impact of deer will not only counter this threat to ermine but will benefit other species at risk on Haida Gwaii that are impacted by the changes to their habitat.

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Socioeconomic Considerations

Since Ermine haidarum are habitat generalists, are thought to be widely distributed and not significantly impacted by logging activities, the economic impact of ermine recovery is likely to be small or non-existent. Reduction of impacts of introduced species on Ermine haidarum, specifically of Sitka Black-tailed Deer could create a socioeconomic impact. Since the introduction to the islands, deer hunting has become a much appreciated food gathering activity. The significant reductions of deer populations needed to reverse habitat impact will need to be weighed against these considerations. This impact reduction, however, would not be specific to Ermine haidarum recovery but would be part of a multi-species recovery effort. Benefits associated with Ermine haidarum recovery include the importance to Haida culture, a continuing ecological role as part of a limited mammalian presence on Haida Gwaii, and maintenance of what has been called the most unique subspecies of Mustela erminea (Eger 1990; Cowan 1989; Foster 1965). 

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Recommended Approach for Recovery Implementation

While determining Ermine haidarum population size and dynamics is of primary importance, confronting the habitat changes brought on by introduced species, particularly Sitka Black-tailed Deer will be key in restoring habitat to conditions more favorable to locally threatened species, including Emine haidarum. A multispecies approach would be the favoured approach which would include implementation of an introduced species control program, as well as stewardship initiatives and educational programs.

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Statement of Action Plans

Work on an action plan has been initiated. A draft is expected to be completed (accepted by the team and submitted for review) by 2014.

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REFERENCES

Allombert. S., S. Stockton and J.L. Martin. 2005. A natural experiment on the impact of overabundant deer on forest invertebrates. Conservation Biology 19:1917-1929

Buck, P.E.F. 1998. Occurrence report on the Queen Charlotte Ermine (Mustela erminea haidarum). Technical report to B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks. Smithers, BC.

Burles, D., A. Edie and P.M. Bartier. 2004. Native land mammals and amphibian of Haida Gwaii with Management Implications for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. Parks Canada Technical Reports in Ecosystem Science Report # 40. 119pp.

Burles, D.W., J. Stuart-Smith, B. Wijdeven, D.W. Nagorsen and T. Husband 2008. Summary of research activities related to the recovery of Haida ermine, Mustela erminea haidarum, on Haida Gwaii. Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site Technical Report. 55pp.

Byun, S.A. 1998. Quaternary biogeography of western North America: insights from mtDNA phylogeography of endemic vertebrates from Haida Gwaii. PhD Dissertation. University of Victoria. Victoria, BC.

Cannings, S.G., L.R. Ramsay, D.F. Fraser, and M.A. Fraker. 1999. Rare amphibians, reptiles, and mammals of British Columbia. B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Victoria, BC.

Collison, V. 2004. Haida Ermine – Traditional Knowledge. Unpublished report. Masset, BC. 3pp.

Conservation Data Centre. 2009. B.C. Ministry of Environment. Website: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/cdc

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Personal Communications

The following people were contacted regarding the recovery of Ermine haidarum. Not all are cited in the text above.

  • Doyle, Frank. Wildlife Biologist, Wildlife Dynamics Consulting. Telkwa, BC
  • Fraser, Dave. Endangered Species Specialist. B.C. Ministry of Environment, Victoria, BC
  • Guujaaw. President, Council of the Haida Nation. Skidegate, BC
  • Hatler, Dave. Wildlife Biologist. Wildeor Wildlife Research and Consulting. Enderby, BC
  • Husband, George. Trapper. Skidegate Landing, BC
  • Gifford-Brown, Janet. Local bird watcher and former Sewall resident.
  • LaRose, Jim. Trapper. Queen Charlotte, BC
  • Mowat, Garth. Wildlife Biologist. Aurora Wildlife Research. South Slocan, BC.
  • Nagorsen, David. Mammalia Biological Consulting. Victoria. BC
  • Reid, Don. Associate Conservation Zoologist.Wildlife Conservation Society Canada. Yukon
  • Schultze, George. Wildlife Technician, B.C. Ministry of Environment. Smithers, BC
  • Schwantje, Helen. Wildlife Veterinarian, B.C. Ministry of Environment. Victoria, BC

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