Skip to main content

First Nations canoes arrive to watch the raising of the Gwaii Haanas legacy totem pole on Lyell Island in Haida Gwaii on Thursday August 15, 2013. Gwaii Haanas comprises the southernmost part of Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands).

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Parks Canada staff are waging war against an army of rats on two remote northern islands in Gwaii Haanas national park, in the Haida Gwaii archipelago, with an aerial drop of poison pellets they hope will eradicate the rodents and restore ecological balance.

The aerial drop is the second phase of project Night Birds Returning, a five-year, $2.5-million plan that experts hope will eradicate the rats first introduced more than century ago by visiting ships and that now number possibly in the hundreds of thousands on Murchison and Faraday islands.

"It's a veritable buffet for them," Laurie Wein, the project manager for Parks Canada, said Tuesday.

Story continues below advertisement

"They consume seabird eggs, they will consume the chicks, they will consume even the adult birds and because the birds nest on the ground, they are essentially defenceless."

Once-thriving, healthy seabird colonies of worldwide significance have been decimated, she said.

One of the two islands in particular was home to the largest colony of ancient murrelet in the world at one time, with more than 200,000 breeding pairs. There are now just 14,000 breeding pairs.

The aim is to eradicate every rat, in the hope that the ancient murrelet and other species – Cassin's auklet, fork-tailed storm petrel, Leach's storm petrel, marbled murrelet, black oyster-catcher – will rebound.

"You cannot leave even a single rat behind because that rat could be pregnant, she could have offspring, and because rats are such prolific breeders, they can quickly re-establish populations within a year or two," Wein said.

While there are rats on main islands of Haida Gwaii, they aren't overrun with rodents like the unpopulated islands.

Rats are an invasive species that have had an impact all over the world, said Chris Gill, of the group Coastal Conservation, a partner with Parks Canada in the project, along with the Haida Nation and California-based Island Conservation.

Story continues below advertisement

"Right now, over half of all recorded extinctions are caused by introduced invasive species, and the biggest threat, the biggest contributor to the loss of species, are rats," he said.

The first aerial drop took place 10 days ago, and another will go ahead later this month. Volunteers are now combing the island to remove rat carcasses and reduce the likelihood other animals scavenge the poisoned remains.

It doesn't take long for recovery to begin, Gill said.

"It's amazing. Some of these islands where rats are removed you get species showing up within four months, changes on the island within four months," he said.

The rat poison is contained in compressed grain pellets dyed a green that is unattractive to other species, in an effort to minimize the possibility of poisoning other animals.

The amount it takes to kill a small rat would also have little impact on a large carnivores like bears, Wein said, and the poison is also being distributed later in the year, after many species have fledged their young and left for winter grounds.

Story continues below advertisement

In any event, the benefit to other species outweighs the immediate risk, both Wein and Gill agreed.

"There is always a risk of impact on individual animals," Gill said. But "it's a short-term impact for a long-term benefit."

Ancient murrelets are known as "night birds," and project Night Bird Returning began in 2009 with the aim of restoring the natural habitat on four of the Gwaii Haanas islands.

Two years ago, Parks Canada distributed poison pellets on two smaller islands in UNESCO world heritage site. This time, the terrain and large area of the two islands required the aerial distribution. While it's the first time it's been used in Canada, the method has been successful in New Zealand, the United States and Mexico.

If it works here, the eradication program may expand to other islands in the park.

Report an error
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter