biodiversity carnivores cougars

Cougars are “nature’s brokers” for 485+ species

Cougar photo by Ulises Flores
Cougars interact with over 485 species across vast ecosystems. (Photo by Ulises Flores)

A study by Panthera, published 18 January 2022, found cougars are a major broker of ecosystem energy and nutrients, with relationships spanning more than 485 species. 

Panthera, a global research and advocacy organization for wild cats, conducted a literature review of peer-reviewed journals across the Americas to inform their report. 


A new Panthera study found #cougars are major energy brokers in ecosystems, impacting 485+ species! #wildlife

♬ Queen – Perfume Genius

Cougars have 100+ common names, including puma and mountain lion, and span 28 countries across their range, from Chile to Alaska, USA. 

They have been extirpated from much of eastern North America, due to hunting, human conflict and land use change.

Graphic courtesy of Panthera

How cougars nurture ecosystems

“These findings crystallize how pumas keep ecosystems healthy and resilient, playing an invisible but essential role in linking an awesome number of plants and animals via energy and nutrient pathways,” says Panthera Puma Program Director and senior author, Dr. Mark Elbroch.

When a cougar takes down a deer, for example, the kill will feed a broad range of species, including scavenging beetles, bobcats, foxes, skunks, crows, ravens, eagles, plants and fish. 

In the nutrient-scarce winter months in the Pacific Northwest, for example, these cougar kills can have life-sustaining impacts for many creatures. 

“This work also underscores how human communities in the Americas benefit from living in ecosystems with pumas,” adds Elbroch.

“Because these big cats support ecosystem health, they, in turn, support the human communities tied to these ecosystems.” 

Graphic courtesy of Panthera

Latin America massively underrepresented in cougar research

The study found a dramatic regional skew in research towards Canada and the USA, with underrepresentation from Latin America. 

Given the rich biodiversity of tropical forests, and the lack of data from Latin American ecosystems, cougar interactions may be much broader than current data availability suggests. 

“These biomes are among the most diverse ecosystems in the world,” says Elbroch.

“Just a single study from these regions might double the number of relations we have recorded for pumas.” 

ceremony FAIRY CREEK old growth

PHOTOS: Two-spirit-led prayer walk honours fallen old growth at Fairy Creek

Up-coming Hereditary Chief Victor Peter of the Pacheedaht First Nation (left) and two-spirit land defenders Sage (back) and Songbird (right) hold a funeral ceremony march in Ada’itsx (Fairy Creek) on 5 June 2021. (Photo by Trent Maynard)

On Saturday 5 June 2021, a two-spirit-led funeral ceremony honoured fallen ancient trees in Pacheedaht territory at Ada’itsx (Fairy Creek watershed, near Port Renfrew, BC), the centre of ongoing old growth logging blockades on Vancouver Island.

Forest defenders, lead by Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones, have been blocking access to the watershed since August 2020, in hopes of halting forestry company Teal-Jones from logging in one the last remaining undeveloped valleys in the region.

The sacred prayer walk for fallen elder trees was held by up-coming Pacheedaht Hereditary Chief Victor Peter and two-spirit land defenders Songbird and Sage.

Queer and BIPOC allies from the crowd were invited to participate in the ceremony.

Hundreds of people followed in the funeral procession which passed through the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) check point and continued onwards through extensive clear-cuts to Waterfall Camp.

RCMP reportedly moved their checkpoint several kilometres further down the road toward Port Renfrew (Bo:ʔapiʔis) recently, blocking vehicle access to the public and increasing the journey to Waterfall Camp by foot by several hours.

Around one hundred people completed the 20km+ roundtrip vigil by foot from the newly formed Hayaka Camp to Waterfall Camp.

Tears filled the eyes of some Waterfall Camp forest defenders as the funeral ceremony arrived.

Heavy police enforcement and dozens of arrests have occurred at this and other camps blocking old growth logging in recent weeks.

A coalition of Canadian media outlets and press freedom groups is suing the RCMP over their use of exclusion zones at Fairy Creek and alleged limits on press freedom in covering enforcements.

Land defenders continue to occupy Waterfall Camp as a strategic junction to block logging road-building into the so-far undeveloped Fairy Creek watershed.

RCMP announced two more arrests on Saturday 5 June, bringing the total number of arrests to 172.

The funeral ceremony passes through expansive old-growth clearcuts in Pacheedaht territory on the way to Waterfall Camp, a critical access point for the Fairy Creek watershed. (Photo by Trent Maynard)

Pacheedaht, Dididaht and Huu-ay-aht announce joint declaration to defer old growth logging

On Monday 7 June, a press release was issued by hereditary chiefs of the Pacheedaht, Dididaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations announcing a joint declaration. The three nations are asking for deferrals of old growth logging in Fairy Creek and the Central Walbran Valley for two years while management plans are finalized to manage old growth according to traditional values.

“We have made a commitment to our people to manage the resources on our ḥahahuułi (traditional territories) the way our ancestors did – guided by our sacred principles of ʔiisaak (utmost respect), ʔuuʔałuk (taking care of), and Hišuk ma c̕awak (everything is one),” said a statement by uu-ay-aht Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin (Head Hereditary Chief Derek Peters), Ditidaht Chabut Satiixub (Hereditary Chief Paul Tate), and Pacheedaht’s Hereditary Chief Frank Queesto Jones.


Mount Elphinstone wild rhododendron colony gets genetic backup at Sunshine Coast Botanical Garden

The original colony of Pacific rhododendrons on Mount Elphinstone is thought to be the northern-most occurrence of the species in North America and was found to be a unique genetic strain. (Photo by Trent Maynard, 2021)

xwesam (Roberts Creek, Sunshine Coast, BC) – Twelve years ago in late summer, Harry Hill harvested seed pods from the wild Pacific rhododendron colony in shíshálh Nation territory on the lower slopes of Mount Elphinstone.

The pods were full of dust-like seeds that resembled tiny green moss after germination. 

Hill, the Native Plants Coordinator at the Sunshine Coast Botanical Garden in West Sechelt, grew approx. twenty shrubs to blooming size from those tiny seedlings. 

“They are incredibly slow-growing,” he said. “Not the easiest thing to keep going from that tiny, tiny size to blooming size.”

A reported study by geneticist Dr. Ben Hall in 2006 found the Mount Elphinstone colony was a unique genetic strain that prefers to live near salt water.

“We think of the rhododendrons here as sort of a satellite population,” says Hill, of the waist-high shrubs he propagated.

“If anything was to happen to those original plants, this genotype of the rhododendron could continue from propagating these rhododendrons that we have down here in the Botanical Garden.”

The original colony was discovered by foresters logging the surrounding forest in previous decades. 

Botanists were brought in and identified the pink-flowering shrubs as Pacific Rhododendron.

The Mount Elphinstone colony is thought to be the most northern documented occurrence of the species. 

Pacific rhododendron is found in only a few other places in British Columbia, including Manning Park and Vancouver Island.

“How did they get up there?” pondered Hill. “Did some seeds travel up on the wings of a bird?” 

A small buffer of forest was left around the colony as logging resumed.

The patch still grows there today, surrounded by logging roads and clearcut plantations which are slowly regrowing.

Invasive species spreading along adjacent roads and clearcuts, include Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry, could pose a long-term challenge for the colony without intervention. 

Other plants spotted in the small grove of red cedar, Douglas fir, and hemlock, include salal, Oregon grape and the delightful flowering parasitic plant, pinesap (monotropa hypopitys).

Pinesap takes its nutrients by tapping into surrounding mycelium networks, instead of through photosynthesis.

Mount Elphinstone wild Pacific rhododendrons (Photo by Trent Maynard, 2021)

food fungi

SHORT: Chicken of the woods: this tender wild mushroom makes amazing fried chicken

Harvest chicken of the woods when the fresh fruits have tender texture and bright colours. Aging mushrooms should be avoided. (Photo by Trent Maynard)

When the wild blueberries and black huckleberries ripen in the summery subalpine, it’s time to go hunting for chicken of the woods.

The fruiting bodies of this delicious polypore (also known as chicken of the forest, sulphur polypore and sulphur shelf mushrooms) are bright orange and yellow when fresh.

In Coastal BC and the Pacific Northwest, August and September are a good bet to find a local subspecies that grows on dead or dying conifers (Laetiporus conifericola).

Chicken of the woods is a hearty and versatile mushroom, high in protein content and with firm, satisfying texture.

It is the ultimate secret ingredient to making the best vegan fried chicken. The texture and firm plumpness will transform your view of mushrooms forever.

Chicken of the woods should be very well cooked before consuming. Mushrooms can be pre-cooked (boiled or baked) before deep-frying without losing the firm texture.

They freeze well (raw or pre-cooked), making them a delicious, convenient, and forgiving mushroom, as joyous as their bright colours.

Fresh chicken of the woods sizzles in a pot of frying oil (Photo by Trent Maynard)

CAUTION: Ask an expert for help before eating foraged mushrooms.

Learn more about the Dakota Bear Sanctuary

Fried chicken of the woods is a remarkably satisfying meat-free meal. Use this hearty, high-protein mushroom as a substitute in traditional fried chicken recipes. (Photo by Trent Maynard)

black bears Forest science Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw

SHORT FILM: Ancient Wonders of the Dakota Bear Sanctuary

Explore an ancient mountaintop forest in Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) territories on the Sunshine Coast, British Columbia, Canada.

This undisturbed forest in the Dakota Community Watershed boasts thousand-year-old cedars and 77 registered Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw archaeological sites where yellow cedars were stripped for their fine inner bark, and continued on living.

Xwechtáal (Dennis Joseph) shares stories and knowledge of the area from the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw, who have lived in the watersheds surrounding Mount Elphinstone for thousands of years.

Registered professional bear biologist Wayne McCrory notes its unusual density of active black bear dens. Coastal black bears rely on old growth trees for winter denning, and McCrory speculates that loss of suitable denning habitat in the surrounding Mount Elphinstone area is leading to unusual accumulations of den sites in higher elevations.

Meanwhile, culturally modified trees from hundreds of years ago are slowly succumbing to heart rot, and creating the next generation of den sites for black bears of the future.

The Dakota Bear Sanctuary was twice proposed for logging by BC government agency BC Timber Sales. It received a one-year deferral by the NDP government in October 2020, days before the provincial election.

Ross Muirhead and Hans Penner of Elphinstone Logging Focus campaigned for years against the Dakota blocks. In summer 2020, they teamed up with The Living Forest Institute to host tours and events in the forest. The Only Animal also organized artists to explore the ancient forest in various artistic mediums.

Gibsons resident Robyn Jacques created a petition that reached 50k signatures at the time of publishing, which she sent to Sunshine Coast-Powell River MLA Nicholas Simons, a cabinet member in the John Horgan NDP government.

UPDATE from the Squamish Nation:

March 1 2021

“The Squamish Nation is pleased to announce that it has entered into an agreement with the Province of British Columbia that protects the Dakota Bowl area on the Sunshine Coast from timber harvesting (logging), now and in the future.

The Nation and the Province are working together on options for land use that recognize the significance of this area, which has been used and occupied by Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw since time immemorial. This could include, for example, making Dakota Bowl an Old Growth Management Area, a Wildlife Habitat Area or a Squamish Nation Area of Interest.”

Jens Wieting of Sierra Club BC poses with a giant yellow cedar
Jens Wieting of Sierra Club BC photographs a giant yellow cedar (Photo by Trent Maynard)

dendrochronology Forest science

How to core a tree: Simple steps to hack a biological database

Dr. Nina Hewitt cores a 1m-diameter yellow cedar in Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) territory on the Sunshine Coast, BC, Canada, aged at approximately 210 years old. (Photo by Trent Maynard)

View Dr. Hewitt’s digital tour of the Dakota Bear Sanctuary

How to unlock the mysteries of a biological database

An increment borer – basically a corkscrew for trees – is the tool of choice to age living trees without having to cut them down.

Coring a tree removes a tiny strip of the tree’s cross section to reveal annual growth rings hidden inside the trunk.

“It’s about the equivalent for the tree of losing a small branch,” says Dr. Nina Hewitt of UBC Vancouver Department of Geography. 

“The tree will immediately put some sap in there,” she says, healing over the point of entry.

Watch below as Dr. Nina Hewitt explains the principles of dendrochronology, the science of dating trees according to annual rings, in an ancient yellow cedar forest, known as the Dakota Bear Sanctuary in Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) territory on Mount Elphinstone (Sunshine Coast, BC, Canada).

View Dr. Hewitt’s digital tour of the Dakota Bear Sanctuary

Ancient tree core data has vast applications in science, history and law

A tree’s cross section reveals more than just the tree’s age. It provides information about past climate conditions, including droughts and unseasonable rains, pest epidemics, and even the historical health of salmon runs.

Data stretches back as far as the tree has lived. For the most ancient trees, this biological database can cover a thousands years or more. 

If a trees was harvested in the past by indigenous people – for bark strips, pitch pots, or wooden slabs – that tree would continue to live on and heal, and record that harvest in its heartwood database.

A cross section can confirm the date of that harvest, and provide important proof of occupation that has been used to help assert indigenous rights and title over traditional territories.

Cross dating neighbouring trees can improve accuracy and reveal missing or double rings, which can happen in years of extreme seasons or drought.

How to core a tree: Step-by-step instructions from Dr. Nina Hewitt

1) Choose your tree and assemble your tree corer/increment borer. (Shown in the figure is a Haglof increment borer.)
2) Apply bees wax at the tip and along the length of the bit of your tree corer to lubricate it. (The last thing you want, is to get it stuck in the tree!)
3) Choose a good spot close to the base that is easy to access. This can be at chest height, the same height you would measure a tree’s diameter, for easy extraction; or, if capturing the earliest ring, lower down, nearer to ground level.
4) Remove a small bit of the bark if necessary to get a good entry point.
5) Aim for the centre of the tree to improve your chances of a full set of rings. Apply pressure until the corer bites the wood.
6) Holding the ends of the handle firmly, turn in a clockwise direction until you reach the centre. You may wish to use your extractor spoon to gauge your progress towards the centre of the tree. 
7) When you think you’ve reached the centre, insert the spoon all the way.
8) Turn the corer back one half-turn in a counter-clockwise direction (see video).
9) Carefully withdraw the spoon to remove the core sample. Place the sample in a specialized straw for safe transport.
9) Remove the coring instrument from the tree as soon as possible, as the tree will tend to exert more pressure over time.
10) Once back in the lab, allow the core to air dry, then mount and sand the sample for inspection. To examine tree rings, dendrochronologists employ measuring stages and microscopes, or more recently, digital imagery and software to identify rings and measure their width. The result is a ring-series that shows the patterns of growth over the tree’s life.
11) Cross-date the tree with some of its neighbours to reveal missing or false rings, which can be caused by atypical climate conditions, like droughts, unseasonably hot/cold temperatures or extreme rainfall. Most tree-ring research involves cross-dating of individual tree cores with regional chronologies.
12) Perform radioisotopic analyses of tree rings to indicate chemical composition and assist in dating.


Dr. Nina Hewitt’s Coastal Forest Virtual Field Trip

This lab explores a large remnant of Coastal forest in Pacific Spirit Park, Point Grey, Vancouver, to examine its species composition, structure and dynamics, particularly in relation to human and natural disturbance processes. A set of 360° photos and videos (one in 360°) will be used to demonstrate the local species and landscapes. At the end of the lab, students should have an appreciation for the main species present and the sorts of processes that affect coastal forest dynamics, both natural and human-caused.”