Winging it with old-growth trees

In this week’s newsletter, reporter Sarah Cox takes us to B.C.’s inland template rainforest, where biologists are getting creative with fake old-growth trees to save an endangered animal

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Bat biologist Cori Lausen and Narwhal reporter Sarah Cox walk through a rare old-growth cedar grove near Beaton, B.C.

“Are they still here?” biologist Cori Lausen wondered out loud in a clearing where old-growth trees once stood in B.C.’s inland temperate rainforest.

She wasn’t thinking about caribou herds — which are on the verge of local extinction in the globally rare ecosystem. Lausen was talking about the endangered northern myotis bat, as she showed B.C. reporter Sarah Cox the work her team is doing to save the tiny mammal — attaching plastic bark to dead trees to replicate old growth. 

That’s right: fake old-growth trees.

Decades of industrial logging have eliminated 95 per cent of the inland temperate rainforest; most ancient trees are gone. The bats provide billions of dollars of ecosystem services, for free! They need those trees for roosting as their population dwindles and a deadly fungal disease, which has killed millions of North American bats, creeps ever closer.

“The writing is on the wall,” Sarah told me. “B.C. is running out of wood. Mills are closing. We can either clear cut what’s left of our unprotected old-growth forests or safeguard them for wildlife, biodiversity and carbon storage — helping to address both the climate and biodiversity crises at the same time.”
Bat biologist Cori Lausen examines a tree with fake old-growth bark on the banks of the Arrow Lakes reservoir

While visiting B.C.’s inland temperate rainforest last summer Sarah didn’t spot any bats — the nocturnal creatures are rarely seen in daylight — but she became enamoured by the little fluffy mammals.

“I didn’t know bats played such an important role in the environment,” she said. “They eat buckets of mosquitoes and agricultural and forest pests. Bats have been on the planet for much longer than humans have — are we comfortable being the architects of their extinction? I suspect most people would say no.”

Lausen said it’s too early to tell if the fake old-growth trees are helping northern myotis bats. But, she told Sarah, it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. The “number one solution,” Lausen said, is “don’t cut the trees down in the first place.” 

Take care and go to bat for wildlife,

Karan Saxena
Audience engagement editor
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P.S. Since I mentioned caribou, I wanted to tell you we’ve got a pretty in-depth read on when epic ski vacations and conservation collide. It’s coming on Monday, so stay tuned for it! The investigation has been several months in the making — but more on that later.
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The lobbyists are at it again

The Narwhal’s climate investigations reporter, Carl Meyer, has once again dug up some stunning documents about a fossil fuel giant urging the Trudeau government to give two major facets of oil and gas development a pass on new climate rules — rules meant to crack down on heat-trapping pollution.

Go check out his investigation on recent oil and gas lobbying efforts over here!

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This week in The Narwhal

Seal River: Three photos of the area and communities that will make up the Seal River Indigenous protected area, including images of a teepee and polar bear
‘We’re writing our own story’: four Manitoba First Nations sign historic conservation agreement
By Julia-Simone Rutgers
The pristine 50,000-square-kilometre Seal River Watershed region would be the province’s first federally recognized Indigenous protected area.

Deteriorating oil and gas infrastructure in Alberta in a clearing of green grass surrounded by low trees and smoky skies
There’s new data on Alberta’s massive oil and gas cleanup problem. Here’s what you need to know
By Drew Anderson
Coastal GasLink river crossing on Wet'suwet'en territory flooded in icy winter conditions
‘No excuse’: feds withheld key information when a Coastal GasLink site flooded
By Matt Simmons
Restoring Ontario’s lost grasslands is as important as planting trees
By Emma McIntosh
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What we’re reading

Brendan Borrell writes about the Pacific coast’s only native oyster in Hakai Magazine, which is making a comeback — and how we can give it some love.

For The Globe and Mail, Matthew McClearn dives into the lure of the tides in the Bay of Fundy — and why companies seeking to harness them in Nova Scotia have a sea of engineering, financial and regulatory challenges to master.
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Reporters at The Narwhal are always on the lookout for signals of wildlife stressors — and those who are seeking solutions for the natural world. Wanna see more Narwhals fly into action? Light our Nar-Signal and tell your friends to sign up for our weekly newsletter!
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