Bring back the birds is project’s aim

  • Jun. 6, 2011 7:00 p.m.

Will getting rid of the rats bring seabirds back to historic colonies on islands in Gwaii Haanas? That’s the goal of a four year restoration project, known as SGin Xaana Sdiihltl’lxa or Night Birds Returning. Introduced Norway and black rats are known to live on at least 18 islands throughout the archipelago and these are devastating populations of nesting seabirds, forest songbirds and native small mammals. Laurie Wein, acting resource conservation manager at Gwaii Haanas, says a crew will head out to the Bischof and Arichika Islands, south of Lyell Island, in August to set bait traps, keep them filled and remove carcasses. The crew of six local hires along with staff from Gwaii Haanas and partner organization Island Conservation will rotate in and out of the camp until mid-October. Bait will be set in small shoe-box like traps that allow the rat in and then with the help of baffling to send it out the other side. The traps were specifically designed to keep out other species such as eagles, ravens and river otters. Black rats first invaded Haida Gwaii in the 1770s when European trading ships arrived. The influx of Norway rats came later, during logging and resource extraction days. Ms Wein said there were some issues with ravens and eagles accessing the poison bait during a rat eradication project on Langara Island in the 1990s and they hope this system and constant clearing of carcasses will avoid that issue. Due to the slow acting poison, most rats will die underground in their burrows, she said. That said, rats were successfully eradicated from the 3,000 hectare island thanks to this Canadian Wildlife Service project and have not been known to return, so that is a huge success, according to Ms Wein. Ms Wein said creating a rat-free buffer around Ramsay Island south of Lyell Island is a key goal of this summer’s pilot project. If all goes well, nearby Murchison and Faraday Islands will be targeted in coming summers. Ms Wein said studies from the mid-1970s show that 1,600 pairs of ancient murrelets (a species at risk) and 700 pairs of Cassin’s auklets were nesting on several islands in Gwaii Haanas. By the mid 1980s these numbers had declined to 20 pairs of ancient murrelets and 50 pairs of Cassin’s auklets. Today the numbers are further reduced. The work is being funded under Parks Canada’s Action on the Ground, a national initiative to support ecological restoration. Gwaii Haanas’s partner in the project, Island Conservation, has worked to remove rats from islands in Alaska, the Carribean and the Galapagos. Rats are extremely prolific breeders with one pair capable of producing thousands of descendants in just a year. Every rat must be eliminated from the islands to prevent the population from building up again.

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