A changing landscape: High elevation fieldwork at Talus Lodge
The summer of 2023 is unfolding as predicted with dire drought conditions worsening across most of British Columbia. The early, rapid snowmelt combined with a hot, dry May set the stage for what’s already declared the worst wildfire year on record in B.C. and across Canada.
According to the provincial government’s zero to five drought level rating system, 82% of B.C. watersheds are sitting at drought level 4 or 5, meaning negative impacts on communities and ecosystems “likely” or “almost certain”. Evidence of drought is seen in increasing water restrictions, low flows in rivers and streams, stranded fish, extreme fire danger, and severe wildfires.
How are alpine headwaters impacted and what does this mean for human communities and ecosystems? Living Lakes Canada’s High Elevation (HE) Monitoring Program aims to help answer these questions. After a successful pilot year in 2022, the program is expanding throughout the East and West Kootenays in 2023, with six stream and nine lake monitoring sites.
Select lodges with the Backcountry Lodges of British Columbia Association (BLBCA) are working with the program to collect valuable alpine data by hosting climate stations, sharing snowpack data, and supporting lake monitoring efforts. On a recent fieldwork trip to Talus Lodge, a participating BLBCA lodge, the HE team witnessed the impacts of climate change.
Situated on the Continental Great Divide, Talus Lodge stands at an altitude of 2,300 metres amongst a scattering of small alpine lakes. This year, the ice melted off the lakes three weeks earlier than usual, making it the earliest ice-off recording of the last six years. Anecdotally, the lodge’s staff spoke about enjoying early summer ski turns last July, whereas this July the slopes are bare. An archival photo from 1916 shared with the HE team shows a glaciated basin behind Talus Lodge. Today, there are little remnants of this glacier.
Left: Photo provided by Mountain Legacy Project. Right: Although this photo was taken at a lower vantage point, you can see that the glacier has all but disappeared at the back of the basin. LLC Photo.
During this field trip, the HE team installed monitoring equipment at both the north and south Talus Lakes. This included level and barometric loggers near the shore to measure changes in water level. To measure changes in light and water temperature, pendants were suspended between an anchor at the deepest part of the lake and a buoy floating at the surface. The data collected will inform watershed management and support climate adaptation strategies. All the data is housed on the Columbia Basin Water Hub database.
The HE Monitoring Program has also launched a citizen science project with the Alpine Club of Canada. Anyone can help by joining the High Elevation Monitoring Program – Living Lakes Canada project on iNaturalist and uploading pictures of flora and fauna they spot within the program’s monitoring locations. These include Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, Fletcher Lakes, Fishermaiden Lake, Macbeth Icefields, Ben Hur Lake and Shannon Lake in the West Kootenays and Talus Lakes in the East Kootenays. This project is creating a valuable inventory of plant and animal species to better understand climate impacts on alpine biodiversity.
Living Lakes Canada is a national non-profit organization based in the B.C. Columbia Basin working towards the long-term protection of Canada’s freshwater.