VI marmot

A decline in the number of Vancouver Island marmots during the 1990s led to the creation of the Marmot Recovery Foundation. Photo credit: Marmot Recovery Foundation

Public demand places increasing pressure on government to demonstrate appropriate steps are being taken to protect endangered species. PFLA spends considerable effort improving awareness, at both the federal and provincial levels, of the contributions landowners make to wildlife habitat in British Columbia.

PFLA executive director, Rod Bealing, explains, “A lot of the work we do is as much about telling the story of what’s already happening on private land as it is about coming up with an idea about how to fix a problem.”

The story of the Vancouver Island marmot is one such example of the voluntary active involvement, financial support, land contributions and continued commitment, over 15 years, by private forest companies to help ensure the recovery of an endangered species.

TimberWest biologist, Dave Lindsay, explains, “During the 1990s the numbers of Vancouver Island marmots began to seriously decline. Increased predation and possibly disease outbreaks resulted in this species plummeting to a low of 37 individuals in 2003. Most of these remaining individuals were in colonies on private managed forestland.”

In 1999, the Marmot Recovery Foundation was formed with a recovery goal to establish a self-sustaining wild population of Vancouver Island marmots—400 to 600 marmots living in three meta-populations. The population goal is based on the idea that sufficient natural habitat exists on Vancouver Island to support three meta-populations of 150-200 animals each.

The Landowners Partner Fund provides core funding to the Marmot Recovery Foundation and helps ensure the implementation of annual Recovery Strategy work plans from year to year. Since it’s inception, Island Timberlands and TimberWest have contributed over 3 million dollars to the Marmot Recovery Foundation.

A national captive breeding program—including partnerships across the country with the Calgary and Toronto zoos, Mountain View Conservation Centre, and the Tony Barrett Mt Washington Marmot Recovery Centre—led to captive bred marmots being released back into the wild.

A range of predator management programs were also initiated, survival increased and the successful relocation and release of many more marmots onto a wider range of Vancouver Island mountains resulted in a remarkable comeback.

There are currently 24 successful colonies established in three regions on Vancouver Island.

How to recognize a Vancouver Island marmot?

The Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) is a member of the squirrel family. Weighing in at about 4.5-5.5 kilos (females) and 7.5 kilos (males) the Vancouver Island marmot is roughly the size of a large house cat.

Among other fury creatures, the Vancouver Island marmot is recognizable by its rich chocolate brown fur with contrasting white patches on the nose, chin, forehead and chest. Marmots also have large beaver-like teeth, sharp claws and powerful shoulder and leg muscles for digging.

Did you know Vancouver Island marmots live in colonies?

Photo credit: Marmot Recovery Foundation

There are currently 24 successful colonies of Vancouver Island marmots established in three regions on Vancouver Island. Photo credit: Marmot Recovery Foundation

Vancouver Island marmots live in family groups called colonies. Colonies are relatively small and often made up of family members. To avoid the effects constant inbreeding would have on the species, marmots leave their natal colony to find a mate at a colony nearby. This movement of marmots between colonies is called dispersal.

Thanks to the recovery efforts of the Marmot Recovery Foundation, there are currently 24 successful colonies established in three regions on Vancouver Island— Nanaimo Lakes region, the Mount Washington-Forbidden Plateau region, and the western Strathcona Park-Schoen Lake Park region.

Where do Vancouver Island marmots live?

Vancouver Island marmots live in small patches of south and west-facing sub-alpine and alpine meadows (usually above 1000 meters). Marmots hibernate, with their family groups, in underground burrows from mid-September until late April or early May.

During the active summer months, the Vancouver Island marmot enjoys a fairly relaxed lifestyle. A few hours a day is spent looking for food, eating and interacting with other marmots, and the rest of the time you can find marmots lounging on rocks watching for predators like wolves, cougars and eagles.

Learn lots more about the Vancouver Island marmot

Please visit the Marmot Recovery Foundation website for lots more information about the characteristics, behavior and habitat of the Marmota vancouverensis (along with some pretty cute pictures).

You’ll also find details about the history, partnerships and community efforts that contribute to the continued success of the Vancouver Island marmot recovery strategy, along with information about how you can help.

Follow the link to the complete recovery strategy document prepared by the Vancouver Island Recovery Team.