TWENTY-SEVENTH ANNUAL REPORT
TO FRIENDS OF THE
TAIGA BIOLOGICAL STATION

March, 2001

Material presented herein is for information only
and is not to be cited or considered as publication.

The following links are Photo Mosaics of activities
which were included in this report
and a Memorial to William (Bill) John Conley, Jr.

They are JPEG images larger than 100 kilobytes each.
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2000 TBS Activity Photo Mosaic

William (Bill) John Conley, Jr. Memorial Photo Mosaic

 

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GENERAL

The first thing that now strikes the eye when arriving at TBS is the new 4-strand electric fence that encloses the Lab/Kitchen, Bunkhouse and Workshop. It is powered by a solar panel and the bank of batteries in the Bunkhouse. David and Monica worked hard at this construction. It is a bit awkward to remember to use the gate but, so far, we have seen no sign of "big, black fuzzies" around.

TBS was plunged into a new era with the sudden death of Bill Conley on 19 April 2000. Bill always had a horror of becoming incapacitated and rotting away in a hospital or old folks' home in the city. His death was sudden, in front of his workshop, at his long-time residence and looking over his beloved Wallace Lake. We should all be so lucky.

EULOGY

Given at the funeral of Bill Conley in Winnipeg on 25 April 2000.

I first met Bill Conley in 1970 or 1971. Dick Stardom, my graduate student studying Woodland Caribou on the East Side of Lake Winnipeg, sang the praises of the "Blind River Islands," a series of Precambrian granite and greenstone ridges rising from a sea of peat north of Wallace Lake. In preparation for a trip there Dick introduced me to Bill Conley. For the next 30 years Bill was a vital part of the family of students, instructors and volunteers at Taiga Biological Station. He also donated many items of equipment and sometimes hauled people and supplies when our kicker or skidoo would not start. He willed to the Station his trapping cabin at Cabin Lake.

I formerly took my class in Mammalogy to Taiga Biological Station on a winter field trip at December end and my Boreal Ecology class in mid-February. An important event on each field trip was a ski excursion to visit Bill. In his shop he would demonstrate how to set Conibear traps and how to skin and prepare a beaver pelt, all the time giving a running lecture on what to do, what to watch out for and recounting some experience in the bush.

These visits included an overland trip to see one of Bill's trapping sites. Here, the students cut holes in the metre-thick ice, learned how to set the quick-kill Conibear traps under water. In almost every class there would be one or more students who would object, before the trip, to being forced to participate in what they perceived to be a meeting with a cruel, inhumane person - a trapper. One even complained to the University ombudsman. But, after the exposure to a real trapper and bushman, I never had any student continue their mistaken ideas.

Aaron Zuccolin spent 1997-1999 at TBS studying ecology of chipmunks. This morning I received this e-mail from Aaron:

"I am no different than any of the other TBS students. There were many things about bush life that I was unaware of when I moved to Wallace Lake. Bill always made sure the "green-horns" knew enough to keep themselves out of danger. All of the TBS kids have spent many hours in Bill's shop, trying to fix motors and equipment or trying to find spare parts. Of course, most of the time I spent in Bill's shop with him we were staring at something one of us had broken and neither of us had a clue how to fix. Many times we were forced to stop working and contemplate what we were doing wrong. In the summer, we contemplated our problems while sitting in lawn chairs enjoying a cool beer. In the winter we opted for a stiff drink of rum by the stove. Even though Bill was fifty years my senior I never thought of him in a different way than any of my other friends. To be fair, Bill did not act like a man in his seventies.

"Even though I only knew Bill a few short years I count him as one of my closest and dearest friends. What I will miss most is sitting together and sharing stories. I will also miss his sense of humour.

"I am sad that I could not be at the service today because I think that the best way to remember Bill is for those gathered together to share some of the funny stories about their time with Bill and laugh. That is how he spent much of his time and I think he would enjoy it.

"I will share one story with you. Bill asked me to come over and help him remove some trees that were leaning over his house. He gave me a large extension ladder and told me to climb up and tie the rope to the tree. Up I went, to the top of the ladder. Bill said, "Can you climb to the top rung of the ladder?" I got up on the top rung and I was swaying back and forth while hugging the tree. I am not afraid of heights but I am afraid of ladders perched up against trees that are swaying back and forth in the wind. I think Bill could tell I was concerned. He yelled up at me, "If you fall, fall away from the ATV; it cost me a lot of money and I don't need you messing it up." When I had tied the rope and climbed down the ladder I had a chance to see how high I had placed the rope. "Did it need to be that high?" I asked. Bill smiled and said, "No, I just thought you could use some excitement in your life." Bill gave me excitement and a lifetime of memories and I will miss him dearly."

Ed Hill did a 2-year study of wolf ecology. He began green as grass but developed into a good bushman, thanks to Bill Conley. He is now Chief Ecologist for B.C. Hydro.

Dick Stardom did a landmark study of Woodland Caribou and recently retired from the position of Big Game Biologist for Manitoba.

Cheryl Penny, who did a wonderful study of the effects of carbon dioxide on small mammals under the snow cover, learned a great deal of practical bush information from Bill. She is now Superintendent of Riding Mountain National Park.

Richard Leonard did a 2-year study of Fisher. He is now Director of Wildlife Management for Prairie and Arctic regions of Parks Canada.

Michael Raine did a 2-year study comparing the ecology of Marten and Fisher. Michael especially benefitted from association with Bill. He went on to hold a record for live-capturing and radio-collaring more Grizzly Bears than anyone else.

Michelle Wheatley spent 5 years at TBS, receiving both Master of Science and Doctorate degrees for her studies of Beaver ecology. She was especially close to Bill, acting as his Registered Trapline Assistant and being on Bill's curling team in Bissett. Michelle is now Director of Wildlife Management for the new Territory of Nunavut.

Richard Puttenham studied Mink at TBS. He and Bill were great friends. I have a wonderful photograph of Richard and Mitch Campbell re-roofing Bill's house.

Danette Sahulka continued the Beaver research with an important study of the comparative nutritional content of Beaver foods. Monica Reid-Wong continued the close relationship between TBS students and Bill Conley.

I can recall having skied into an isolated beaver pond with a class. Temperature was about -20C and with a wind. We built a fire in half a steel barrel. The students took turns cutting a hole in the ice. In between chopping bouts they huddled around the fire. Bill, bare-handed, carefully showed them how to set a Conibear 330 and how to hitch up his invention - an electronic device to detect, without having to re-chop the hole, if the trap had been sprung.

A summer Honours student, Heidi Wiebe, showed up at Bill's house early one morning - "Bill, how do I skin a bear?" The bear had tried to get into the Lab and Heidi had loaded the .300 Savage and dropped it with one shot. All her previous shots had been at a target.

There were many evenings we would ski to Bill's house where he and several students had cooperated in making a feast. We would have a bit of my Teacher's or Bill's Glenfiddich, play Boggle or Cribbage and laugh and talk until very late. Then we would make our way back across the lake and up the Blind River to TBS, skis creaking on the snow, marvelling at the brilliant moonlight.

The mammal class would return to Winnipeg about noon on New Year's Eve. The student assistant and Erna and I would collapse and relax after the week-long responsibility for safety of the students. Bill would come over for our annual New Year's party. About 8 or 9 o'clock one or more of us would start to nod. In all the 30 years we never stayed awake until midnight. I think 10:30 was the latest we ever managed.

I could prattle on, telling stories about Bill Conley and TBS. Bill was a notable influence on the development and maturation of several generations of students at TBS. As you can tell from where TBS students have gone after receiving their degrees, Bill Conley's influence has spread from Ontario to British Columbia to the High Arctic. He also shared his diaries with us with very valuable records of animal populations, weather, etc. Bill taught us to share and the necessity of helping each other, to retain sanity in winter in the bush.

Bill was also a scholar. He was a walking encyclopaedia of British history. He was also a skilled geologist. Perhaps even more important, he was a damned good cook, turning out luscious roasts, pies and cakes on the wood range.

We will surely miss him.

William O. Pruitt, Jr.


 

Research

Once again we participated in the National Nocturnal Owl Count and the National Frog Call Survey.

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Monica Reid-Wong continued her study of the changes in vegetation and small mammals since the 1980 fire.

Progress Report

Post -fire rehabilitation of Wildlife Habitat:
The impact of Fire on Small Mammals and their Communities
in the Taiga of Southeastern Manitoba

By Monica Reid-Wong

During my second field season which began in late April 2000 until the end of October, I was able to complete my vegetation surveys and small mammal sampling of the six long-term study plots. A new feature was introduced into the small mammal protocol - the substitution of 25 "new Museum Specials" for 25 "old Museum specials." The new model has a large yellow plastic treadle which can be set with varying degrees of sensitivity and appears to be particularly attractive to the inquisitive incisors of many small creatures. Eventually as the older traps become irreparable they will need replacement, and this low level integration will hopefully not be too disruptive to sampling.

In this field season I also added 36 invertebrate pitfall traps (six per plot) to examine possible insect variables that may be attractive to small mammals. Over the winter months I have been classifying the specimens to order and family and have noticed that the Alder-Tamarack Bog and Ecotone plots have many tiny land snails and slugs that may be food for Sorex spp.

During the month of June TBS experienced much rainfall with the above two plots being submerged (a 10-15m wide belt) along either side of the Aikens Trail until approximately mid-July. My concern this year was that they would not dry out in time for trapping in August; however, things worked out when a stretch of warm weather allowed the quadrats to dry out. As well, in June dog Sasha and I enjoyed the forest tent caterpillar invasion of the Aspen Upland. The plot was a writhing mass of caterpillars (with accompanying sound effects of chewing and defecating) for several weeks, then abruptly they disappeared within days. Much of the upper canopy of Populus tremuloides was consumed. I made notes on plant species the caterpillars preferred and avoided.

My preliminary data analysis has shown some interesting correlations between animal-animal interactions and animal-plant associations. Clethrionomys and Sorex cinereus are more often captured at the same trap markers than a combination of either one with Peromyscus. I have chosen to concentrate on these three species because they are the most common across the six plots allowing for comparisons. The Aspen Upland is very heterogeneous in microhabitat compared with the Black Spruce Bog or Jackpine Ridge. I have noticed that over the 23- year sampling period the Aspen Upland exhibits the largest percentage of traps with mixed captures whereas the Black Spruce Bog and Jackpine Ridge are selective for individual species. Perhaps this is partly a reflection of the homogeneity and frugality of vegetation types which could be very restrictive or desirable to a certain species. The Black Spruce Bog is a challenging plot because several of the trap sites are particular "hot spots" in terms of numbers captured over the years, yet, adjacent trap sites only 6 or so metres away never captured anything. Since the fire of 1980 approximately 93 percent of the burned standing upper canopy in the Black Spruce Bog has fallen over by this year, 2000, with none of the 7 percent Picea mariana upper canopy that managed to survive two years following the fire (data from Pat Martin's thesis) alive today. The fire-killed trees on this plot are now bare and silver-grey but are still incredibly hard and intact and will take many decades to decompose.

I have also been looking at the data from the other three plots and am busy processing numbers these days. I would like to thank my volunteer visitor/helpers this past season for all their assistance especially when weather and insects were challenging.

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Holly Simpson, a Fourth-Year Honours biology student of Jim Schaefer's at Trent University spent the summer at TBS gathering data on the Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) for her Honours Thesis. The abstract follows:

Habitat Relationships of Sciurids
in the Continental Taiga.

Literature on the habitat preferences of Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus), Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) and Least Chipmunk (Tamias minimus) is inconsistent. The present study was conducted in the continental taiga of southeastern Manitoba. The landscape matrix included bog and upland plant communities which were disturbed by an extensive fire in 1980. The purpose of the study was to elucidate some relationships between these three species and the ever-changing environment of the boreal taiga, and to see if these relationships were consistent at different spatial scales. Squirrels were live-trapped during May and June of 1999 (1136 trap sessions) and habitat variables were measured within sites representing old and young bog, and upland plant communities. Density of overstory species and snags by diameter at breast height (dbh) classes were quantified to represent species composition of habitats, while percent cover of coarse woody debris (CWD) and percent cover of vegetation at four strata were estimated within nested microsites of 4m radius around each trap. Patterns of structural and compositional features of the habitat in association with each species were viewed on two scales by combining the data from the microsites into larger units. Results of Canonical Correspondence Analysis (CCA) showed that Glaucomys sabrinus was highly associated with the canopy, mature birch trees (dbh>10cm) at both scales, while habitat relationships for the other two species of Sciuridae are scale-dependent. Tamiasciurus hudsonicus exhibited strong association with mature jack pine (dbh>10cm) at the small scale, and a weaker association with young aspen (dbh<10cm) at the level of the site. Habitat relationships for Tamias minimus were not as apparent, but seem to suggest a preference for disturbed areas. Logistic regression models, based on Principal Components Analysis of the environmental variables, showed significant predictive ability for the occurrence of the two squirrels, but were unreliable for the chipmunk.

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Aaron Zuccolin developed health problems which incapacitated him and prevented completion of his MSc thesis. He is now on medical leave. We wish him speedy recovery to good health.

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Dr. Karen Johnson again brought to TBS a crew of researchers and volunteers from the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature. Her progress report follows:

2000 RESEARCH ACTIVITIES

OF THE MANITOBA MUSEUM OF MAN AND NATURE

AT THE TAIGA BIOLOGICAL STATION,

WALLACE LAKE AND OBUKOWIN LAKE

Dates: 18 through 14 August 2000

Participants:

Dr. Karen L. Johnson, Curator of Botany, MMMN

Janis Klapecki, Collections Manager, MMMN

Michelle Strutt, Museum Technician

David Wright, MMMN Volunteer

Debbie Willems, Museum Volunteer

Monica Reid-Wong, TBS Researcher

This first year of the new millennium and last year of the Museum's fire succession project was a busy one. Karen managed to obtain a small research grant for this project from the Manitoba Museum Foundation Fund. It paid for a Garmin-12 GPS unit, some new field equipment such as life jacket and paddles, and a return float plane trip into Obukowin Lake to check on 1976 fire succession plots there. The Obukowin Lake plots were established by Charles Pruitt in 1976. We have been able to sample them only six times since. Although Obukowin Lake is only some 15 km from TBS, as the crow flies, it is a full day by canoe with three long and difficult portages. The full Museum crew travelled to and arrived at TBS on Friday, 18 August. The next day Karen, David and Janice flew into Obukowin from Bissett with the Museum canoe and supplies for three days. We had an excellent look at the Station and Little Caribou and Cabin lakes on the way in. Landed and took off from a floating dock at a fish camp on an island in the north-central part of the lake. After establishing camp on a point north of the outlet to the Gammon River, we sampled the two sets of plots on the west side of the lake and then did the two control plots and remaining set on the east side of the lake in light rain the next day. We found, sampled, photographed and took GPS readings on all except one plot in the eastern set. Even David Wright couldn't find that last plot, but finding 13 out of 14 was excellent as most of them had not been visited or marked since 1989. The missing plot is in a now-dense stand of 25-year-old jack pine on a steep slope. The plots on Obukowin follow the general pattern of succession of those in the 1976 fire at Cabin Lake. Canopy cover has steadily increased, diversity of understory vascular plant species has decreased and diversity and cover of non-vascular ground cover species has increased in both areas.

After a windy, rainy night, we flew out of Obukowin and back to Bissett the next (Sunday) morning. Spent the day drying out, identifying plants for Monica, and preparing for the trip into Cabin Lake. David, Janis and Debbie did the trip to Cabin Lake and sampled, photographed and took GPS readings on the 1976 double and triple burn sites the next day while Karen and Michelle sampled and photographed the Black Spruce Bog and Jack Pine Ridge plots. Cabin Lake crew hit a small storm on the way back and some beaver flooding just beyond Darby's Bridge. They used the canoe at Little Caribou to bypass one of the Leatherleaf bogs and found Bill's cabin in good shape. One window was open and the door no longer had nails keeping it shut. They saw one Sandhill Crane, 2 Spruce Grouse, a Garter Snake, lots of Moose dung and a few Wolf scats along the trail.

Wednesday was spent obtaining GPS readings for the Black Spruce Bog, Jack Pine Ridge and Jack Pine Sand Plain plots. With proper GPS documentation of all plots, especially the remote ones, now completed, it should be possible to locate them fairly easily in the future (although reaching them may be a different story.)

This is the final year of the 25-year fire succession study on which Dr. Pruitt started Karen after the 1976 fire. It has been an interesting and exhausting project but the time has come to write up the results, not to continue gathering data. Karen hopes to do this over the next 1 to 5 years after her retirement from the Museum in June 2001. She also hopes to complete a vascular plant species list for the Taiga Biological Station area as a part of these publications. The partnership between the Museum and TBS has been a fruitful one and we hope it will be continued in the future with different people and projects.

 


 

VISITORS

Calvin Patrick, an Undergraduate student in Zoology, spent some time with us. We introduced him to a variety of field jobs and techniques.

Our old friends, Outward Bound, again sent a crew to visit. We gave them "hands-on" information about the vegetation and mammals of the region. Monica gave them a field lecture about her research on vegetation and mammal recovery from the 1980 fire on the study plots. A wind storm in the spring had toppled one of the big spruces below the Cubby. David Wright had limbed the carcass and cut the trunk into several lengths suitable for salvage as pitkospuut logs. Outward Bounders muscled the big, drying branches down into the bog and stamped them into the peat, where they are not a fire hazard.


 

DONATIONS

D Kurt continued electronic magic with the TBS Home Page. This fall and winter there has been about one request for information each week or 10 days from school kids all over North America who have been assigned a project about the Taiga. To simplify handling these requests D Kurt has added to the site a section on "Frequently Answered Questions" which has increased the site's usefulness. We invite everyone to visit the expanded TBS Home Page at www.wilds.mb.ca/taiga

Oakwood Roofing in Winnipeg (Harry Bosma and Pete Ploegman) donated interlocking strips of steel roofing which will cover the Workshop and "Mitch's Cathedral." Helen Steinkkopf, Holly Simpson, Boreal Wilderness Guides, Inc., Michelle Wheatley and Chim Wong made donations. Bill Hlatky donated fire hose. To all of these Friends we say "Thank You."

The following people made donations to the Taiga Biological Station Research Trust in memory of Alice Chambers: Tom, Shirley & Michael Boyle, Allan Currie, Heinz & Marjorie Ehlers, Peter Miller & Carolyn Garlich, Peter & Herta Gudauskas, John & Gladys Guthrie, Mr. & Mrs. William Hancox, Kay Harvey, Bernice & John Hawton, Helios Hernandez, Hugh & Phyllis Hornbeck, Brant & Bobbie Howard, Jack & Norma Howard, Trent Hreno & Carrie Solmundson, Ken & Raeleta Kingdon, Ian & Carolyn Kirk, D Kurt, Friends from the FWI c/o Donna Laroque, Bill & Shirley Loewen, David & Lynn Loewen, George & Arlene Loewen, Jim & Myrna Loewen, John & Tarja Loewen, Myrna & Jim Loewen, Mildred MacAulay, Beatrice Mathers, Des & Alma McCormac, Manitoba Model Forest, Ross, Viv & Family, Jim, June & Family, Harvey, Joanne & Family, Ken, Sharon & Family, Uncle Fred & Family, Bonnie, Reg Morrow & Family, Charles & Pearl Murphy, Carol & Gunter Nuernberger, Pinawa Players, Erwin & Gail Schatzlein, Dr. Jennifer Shay, Bob & Betty Shewfelt, Trevor & Doris Shewfelt, David & Margaret Smith, Dan & Eileen Soprovich, Michael & Helen Tomlinson, Janice Westlund, A. E. Wilson, Melanie Wood. A special "Thank You" to these new Friends.

To Wolf Heck who made the photo plates and to Erna Pruitt, who kept us all sane, thank you.


 

PUBLICATION

Simpson, Holly. 2000. Habitat Relationships of Sciurids in the Continental Taiga. Fourth-Year Honours Thesis, Department of Biology, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario. 44 pp.

 


 

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