woman and mounted bald eagle in display room

At Wild Cortes: ‘Climate Crisis – the Cascade effect’

‘Climate Crisis: The Cascade Effect’ opens at Wild Cortes, in the Linnaea Education Centre, 1 PM on Sunday May 29, 2022.  

Co-curator Donna Collins explained that this exhibit illustrates what the climate crisis is doing to our natural habitat, especially species like deer, owls and the island’s apex predators.   

Deer ticks are already a problem, but they will take a greater toll as temperatures rise. 

“The yearlings are usually the ones that suffer. They can’t get enough nutrition, then the ticks take over and the deer doesn’t make it,” she said. 

There have been two possible cases of Adenovirus Hemorrhagic Disease (AHD) on Cortes Island. This is a fatal blood disease that has been spreading throughout Vancouver Island’s deer populations. 

“This disease also transfers to humans,” warned Collins. “The only thing that we’re being told at the moment is to just leave the deer, don’t touch it. I guess the animals will decide whether they want to eat or not.” 

Cortes Island’s deer (below) ae smaller than their Vancouver Island kin because they have less food – Photo by Roy L Hales

“The cougars are the ones that are going to be hit first and the hardest because they have to make fresh kills about every three or four days if they’re taking care of kittens. If not, then they can go on a kill a week, two weeks, something like that.” 

She described Cortes Island’s cougars as a transient population, which swim between islands. 

So do bears, that’s how the grizzly arrived on Quadra Island last year. 

Collins said last year’s heat wave burned a lot of the shrubs and berries that bears normally eat. 

“Bears will probably start looking for apples and things like that.  They’re trying very hard to eat as much as they can so that they can make it through the winter.”

Collins mentioned the problem Cortes Island had with the Whaletown and Squirrel Cove Bears two years ago.

People will have to be careful. Don’t leave compost or garbage out and definitely do not feed wild animals 

“You don’t want animals getting accustomed to equating humans with food. And that’s where you start getting problems between humans and predators, even the prey,” she said. “If the deer are all around and you keep feeding them, then next thing you know, the wolves are thinking, ‘Hmm. A lot of deer over here, let’s see what’s for lunch.’”

Bear and cougar pelts are among those displayed – Photo by Roy L Hales

Cortes Island’s wolves may be especially hungry this year. Between 75% and 85% of their food normally comes from the ocean.

“The heat dome baked a whole bunch of shellfish and other things that the wolves normally would have been eating.  So now the deer will probably be more impacted by the wolf pack,” said Collins. 

She explained that everything is out of balance because of the rise of global temperatures.

New species of insects and animals are entering our area. 

Barred Owls, for example, were originally found on the east coast

“The owls that normally inhabit our island have absolutely no defences against this rather large owl.  The Barred Owls are predating on the smaller owls like the Saw-whet and the Pygmy Owls,” said Collins.

Mounted Barred Owl – Photo by Donna Collins

One of the birds displayed in the exhibit is a Great Blue Heron. The claw marks left by the eagle that killed it are still visible, if you look closely. 

Collins was also concerned about the clearcutting that Mosaic Forest Management intends to do on Cortes Island, especially in the Basil Creek watershed. This is an important creek for spawning salmon. 

“If we don’t have enough tree cover, the streams will be heated too much and it will be too hot for the salmon to spawn.  Also with clear cutting,  there is a large amount of erosion. So now. creeks and streams will get clogged with sand and soil and things from the forest,” she said. “When we have the atmospheric rivers where there’s just pelting rain for days and days. The soil has to go somewhere and there’s nothing holding it anymore. There’s no brush; there’s nothing.” 

This exhibit was named after the cascade effect: “one thing affecting the next, which affects the next  – all the way down. And sometimes it’s all the way up, starting from the bugs and going up.”

Collins says there will be a surprise interactive feature, “We haven’t been able to do interactive things for quite a while now because of the COVID situation. But this year there is going to be a major component that is interactive. And I’m sorry, but it’s not up right now. It’s a bit of a surprise. It’s a cross between trivial pursuit and Jenga.”

In addition to these new exhibits, there will also be an extensive list of Cortes Island Flora and Fauna and findings from the Forage Fish Project, led by local biologist Sabina Leader-Mense.

The opening for ‘Climate Crisis: The Cascade Effect’ will be on Sunday, between 1 and 3 PM. 

Mounted Juvenile Bald Eagle – Photo by Roy L Hales

Cortes Wild is normally open from noon until four, Fridays and Saturdays.

Cortes Wild is a partnership of Cortes Museum & Archives, Linnaea Education Centre, Forest Trust for the Children of Cortes Island, and the Discovery Island Ecosystem Mapping (DIEM) Project.

“We have three local scientists that are partners, Sabina Leader Mense, Christian Gronau, and Rex Weyler,” explained Collins

She added, “I’m a volunteer at the museum. I’m on the board and each board member takes an area that they’re interested in. Laurel Bohart is another board member. She’s the curator and the taxidermist here. I work with her to complete exhibit changes and just do everything else that’s needed.” 

They recently received funding to hire someone at Wild Cortes and in the Ecolab. They will begin interviewing applicants soon.

Top image credit: Donna Collins beside a mounted Bald Eagle – photo by Roy L Hales

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