The term ‘dirty job’ doesn’t quite do this one justice.
The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is hoping to transform some of the West Coast’s least squeamish locals into ‘poop fairies’ to help monitor wolves on the West Coast.
Each valiant ‘poop fairy’ will be taught tracking techniques as well as to identify wolf scat and differentiate it from other predators’ feces as part of the uniquely hands-on citizen science project, according to Todd Windle, a resource management officer with the Park Reserve.
“It’s a great way to get outside and learn more about natural history while contributing to coexistence with wolves and a larger understanding collectively,” Windle told the Westerly News. “It’s a pretty cool way to get involved in conservation in your area.”
The Poop Fairy Program is part of the Park Reserve’s ongoing multi-year Wild About Wolves project designed to increase coexistence and decrease conflicts between humans and wolves both inside and outside the Park Reserve’s borders.
“We’re working across boundaries just like the wolves do,” he said.
Interested ‘poop fairies’ must be able to commit to at least one poo hunt per month for one year and they cautioned volunteers not to expect goldmines each time they search.
“We’d probably be lucky for the average volunteer to pick up one or two in a month realistically,” he said. “Once you kind of start looking and get a little bit more of a trained eye you can detect them a little bit more obviously, but it’s not something that’s going to be a huge volume that’s for sure.”
He added that anyone familiar with walking a dog, will be pleasantly surprised by what they pick up.
“Wild carnivore scat is actually less smelly and less disgusting than processed dog food for sure,” he said.
Windle said people who sign up will be assigned to areas they already enjoy visiting.
“Obviously there are lots of people that are out and about enjoying the outdoors here whether its on beaches or trails or old logging roads. So, we’re just asking for a little bit of help from people while they’re out there,” he said.
“It would be wonderful to get a nice little group of local volunteers and, I think, for the people that are going to be interested in it, they’re going to be really interested in it, as weird as that sounds. And then, for other people it’s clearly going to just not be their cup of tea.”
He said the wolf poop collected will be sent to a lab where it will be mined for a myriad of valuable information like diet, kinship and health.
“You can actually get a lot of information from scat,” he said.
He said poop fairies will be trained to use GPS devices to map out where wolf feces are being found and DNA will be compared to find out how wolves within packs are related to each other as well as neighbouring packs.
Learning individual diets will also help researchers understand whether different packs are focusing on different prey species while also gaining a better understanding of what wolves are hunting for at different times of year.
That could help the Park Reserve focus its management on areas where wolves are likely to be finding those prey species to better help humans avoid them.
Poo collectors will also be asked to leave some remains of the feces behind, because wolves are communicating with scent marking.
“We don’t want to completely remove the whole sample because it’s also how they’re communicating with each other.”
Wolves were biologically extricated from Vancouver Island in the 1960’s with occasional sightings being reported once every few years through the 1970’s and 1980’s.
“Basically 21 years ago now, they kind of showed up and started establishing packs and territories again,” Windle explained. “As that’s happened, so has an increase in conflicts between people and wolves.”
He said improving the West Coast’s ability to coexist with its wolf population is vital because wolves are a keystone species that heavily impact their environment and added that the Park Reserve is mandated to protect the area’s ecological integrity and biodiversity.
“They’re also a really important species spiritually and culturally to the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations that we share the land with,” he said.
Anyone interested in becoming a poop fairy is encouraged to contact Windle at 250-726-7165 ext. 227 or Todd.Windle@canada.ca.
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