[Photo by Cate Watrous]
Roxanne Grzela, a technician at the lab in RMNP examines the lymph node from a white-tailed deer shot east of Onanole earlier in the day. Grzela is part of a team of researchers who work at the lab to monitor wildlife health in deer and elk populations living in and around the park.
From November to January, staff at Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP) receive up to 50 samples of white-tailed deer and elk daily from hunters participating in the wildlife health monitoring program. For the general public, this may be the only work that the lab at the Maintenance Compound does that they are familiar with, but this facility is involved in many other research projects as well.
RMNP with its varied ecosystems is an ideal location for scientists to examine species within their natural habitats. The lab serves as a hub for Parks Canada Agency (PCA) initiated studies about the Riding Mountain area, as well as for visiting researchers who use it as a remote base for processing samples collected in the park.
Since an expansion to the lab in 2002, this facility has played a role in studying a variety of wildlife species: wolf, deer, elk, coyote, beaver, fish, songbirds, waterfowl, and insects. Also coordinated through the lab are research projects on plant species. In these plant studies, field sampling plots are monitored for signs of environmental change as well as for the effects of fire.
Clear Lake Project – This past summer, as it has for several years now, monitoring Clear Lake has been an important part of the work done by RMNP staff. In their water sampling program, they are looking at water chemistry, total phosphorus and nitrogen content, as well as checking for pathogens and water clarity. It is hoped that this data will provide a snapshot of the health of this very special lake, and help RMNP, along with its First Nations partners and community stakeholders, to develop strategies to keep the “clear” in Clear Lake now and into the future.
Wildlife Health – From November to January, the lab processes deer and elk samples brought in from Game Hunting Areas (GHA) 23 and 23A. It also acts as a depot for the many check stations that surround RMNP, including McCreary, Dauphin, Grandview, Russell, Roblin, and Rossburn where hunters in those areas can drop off their samples. RMNP technicians examine these samples for signs of disease. They also coordinate elk population surveys, blood test programs, and elk movement studies as part of a larger strategy to manage wildlife health in the Riding Mountain Area.
The management of RMNP is an important responsibility involving consultations with partners and discussions with stakeholders. Planning for the protection of the ecological integrity of the park is enhanced by the monitoring and research being done by RMNP’s Resource Conservation staff. The science-based information that they gather helps to make sound decisions about how best to preserve and present the natural and cultural heritage for present and future generations of Canadians.