Foundation keeping close tabs on wildfire near Nanaimo due to marmots


As helicopters continue to drop water on a wildfire southwest of Nanaimo, a group dedicated to protecting an endangered species is keeping a close eye on the blaze.

For the third day in a row, firefighters, including four helicopters, have been battling a wildfire on Green Mountain. Although the fire is 16 hectares in size and 40 per cent contained, officials say slow but good progress is being made.

“We’re making good progress on that fire,” said Dorthe Jakobson, a fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre. “We’ve got 45 firefighters and four helicopters all working to suppress that fire today.”

MORE: Crews continue to battle wildfire on mountain near Nanaimo

While the closest homes are kilometres away from the blaze, the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Foundation has been paying close attention to the fire.

That’s because the Green Mountain area is home to Vancouver Island Marmots, a critically endangered mammal that is unique to Canada.

“If it’s a low-intensity fire these marmots do spend huge chunks of time, they hibernate underground over winter, so we’re hopeful these burrows would have enough insulation and enough protection to that a low-intensity fire might not impact them directly,” said Cheyney Jackson, the foundation’s field coordinator.

Thanks to the foundation’s captive breeding program, the marmots have been brought from near extinction to having populations on more than 20 different mountains on Vancouver Island.

However, they are still endangered and since 2003 the foundation has released 15 captive-bred marmots on Green Mountain.

Fortunately, Jackson says it appears the fire is still some distance from the marmots. She also says the fire could actually help create a more open habitat – key for marmots detecting and avoiding predators.

“Usually, this open habitat is maintained by snow movement but wildfires can also play a role in that so there’s a chance that this fire over the longer term can actually be helpful for marmots and that colony on Green Mountain,” said Jackson.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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