Maple Ridge area parks closures during COVID offers unique wildlife study

Animals caught in camera traps in Golden Ears Provincial Park and UBC Research Forest during the study. (Special to The News)Animals caught in camera traps in Golden Ears Provincial Park and UBC Research Forest during the study. (Special to The News)
Animals caught in camera traps in Golden Ears Provincial Park and UBC Research Forest during the study. (Special to The News)Animals caught in camera traps in Golden Ears Provincial Park and UBC Research Forest during the study. (Special to The News)
Animals caught in camera traps in Golden Ears Provincial Park and UBC Research Forest during the study. (Special to The News)Animals caught in camera traps in Golden Ears Provincial Park and UBC Research Forest during the study. (Special to The News)
Animals caught in camera traps in Golden Ears Provincial Park and UBC Research Forest during the study. (Special to The News)Animals caught in camera traps in Golden Ears Provincial Park and UBC Research Forest during the study. (Special to The News)
Animals caught in camera traps in Golden Ears Provincial Park and UBC Research Forest during the study. (Special to The News)Animals caught in camera traps in Golden Ears Provincial Park and UBC Research Forest during the study. (Special to The News)

A research team got a rare opportunity to study the effects human activity has on wildlife, thanks to COVID-19 shutdowns in parks around Maple Ridge.

The researchers from UBC and the World Wildlife Fund used camera traps to monitor both human activity and terrestrial mammals in Golden Ears Provincial Park and the adjacent Malcolm Knapp Research Forest. Their objective was to discern the effects of recreation on various wildlife species, explained Michael Procko, who was then at UBC.

The public closures of the study areas offered an unprecedented period of human exclusion, to compare with times when people are present in these parks. The closure was about five weeks in Golden Ears Park, and nine weeks in the research forest.

There were 58 camera traps along trails, roads, and game trails, and they collected more than a million images.

Among its findings, the study saw that cougars were more active in the study area when it was closed to humans.

“We saw a ton of mountain lions, a ton of cougars, running through this area that was highly human-used before the closure,” Procko noted.

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Once it re-opened, they saw fewer cougars, but more black-tailed deer. This may indicate the deer use areas of high human presence as a type of shield from large carnivores, the study suggested.

Another impact was that motorized vehicles had a negative effect on weekly black bear habitat use, while hikers scared off bobcats.

Different species are impacted by human activities in different ways, noted Procko. The study focus was on six animals, also including coyotes and snow-shoe hares.

Procko said the research may be useful for the management of protected areas that simultaneously promote both public recreation and biodiversity.

It also showed the value of camera traps in studying wildlife, as technology improves, and he predicted this type of study will become more common.

The study was co-authored by Dr. Robin Naidoo of the World Wildlife Fund and Valerie LeMay and Cole Burton of UBC.

The images of humans taken during the study were blurred using facial redaction software to ensure privacy.

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