Ulkatcho Climate Change Effects on Traditional Species Project


On the western edge of what is now known as British Columbia, Ulkatchot’en have long lived at the crossroads between the Great Bear Rainforest and the Chilcotin Plateau. The word “crossroads” is used deliberately here as this was not only the junction between two very different biomes but also a place where, in the shadow of Anahim Peak, a vast network of foot trails, locally known as Grease trails, converge to connect coastal and interior tribes through trade. This is the heart of Ulkatcho First Nation Territory and like the ooligan grease, buckskin, and obsidian that moved along these trails, Ulkatchot’en have travelled these lands hunting, gathering, and amassing an extensive bank of traditional knowledge that has helped them survive and prosper for millennia on this high plateau. In present times, with climate change bearing down, this traditional knowledge along with western science is once again being used to guide the way forward for our community.

Ulkatcho First Nation (UFN) Territory is already experiencing extensive landscape level environmental changes due to climate change. These changes have led to increasing episodes of mountain pine beetle outbreaks and wildfire which has dramatically altered the ecosystem, the availability and distribution of resources, and the social, cultural, and economic systems that have thrived here for generations. The Ulkatcho Climate Effects on Traditional Species Project was established in 2018-2019 to better understand these landscape-wide changes and to inform decisions on future adaptive strategies or environmental mitigation being considered by UFN.

Project Goals

  1. Building capacity within UFN, through education and training, to allow self-monitoring of environmental changes caused by climate change.
  2. Combining traditional knowledge and western science to give direction on future decision making.
  3. To monitor the effects of climate change on traditionally important plants species used by UFN for food and medicine.

Community Involvement

Building capacity in the Nation has been a key goal and a driving force for this project since its establishment in 2018. Efforts have been made to include community members, especially youth, in all aspects of the project. The focus of this has been centered on skills building such as training in sampling concepts, plant identification, scientific data collection, and the use of scientific monitoring equipment. This has steadily increased capacity within the Nation, and in 2022, allowed the UFN Natural Resource Department to take over the monitoring and reporting components of the project.

How Do We Measure Change?

This study is a multi-year, long-term research project, established in collaboration with Keefer Ecological Services and now managed by the Ulkatcho Natural Resource Department. It is focused on the effects of climate change on traditional food and medicine plants important to UFN. Community members and Elders were consulted in the selection of four cultural keystone food and medicine crops – Whitebark Pine (P. albicaulis), Labrador Tea (R. groenlandicum), Soopolallie (S. canadensis), and Sub-alpine Fir (A. lasiocarpa) – used as study subjects for this project.

Community members were essential in choosing and establishing 20 sample sites (5 for each species) all within an hour drive from Anahim Lake, British Columbia. For the two shrub species (Labrador Tea and Soopolallie), this included the installation of ten 20m X 20m macro plots used to determine site elevation, slope, soil properties and Biogeoclimatic Ecosystem Classification (BEC). Inside each of these macro plots, four 5m X 5m sub-plots where randomly selected (Figure 1) and are used to measure various metrics including abundance, vigour, phenological changes, cover and health. For the two tree species (Whitebark Pine and Sub-Alpine Fir) belt transects (50m x 10m) were established and health metrics and distribution data (based on the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation blister rust surveying protocol) are collected annually. In addition to collecting data on these four species, environmental information (temperature and humidity) is also collected at all sites using iButtons and Thermodata Software.

To date, we have completed 4 of 5 years of baseline data collection. All collected data is managed in Excel and a yearly report summarizing project findings is produced for community leadership. After this initial baseline data collection period, sampling will continue at 10-year intervals into the future. It is hoped that from these efforts, data gaps can be filled which will allow for improved climate models. These models can then be used to make informed decisions on a multitude of subjects ranging from natural resource development and conservation to community planning and food security.

Diagram of Macro-Plot and Sub-Plot Layout

Figure 1. Schematic of macro-plot and sub-plot layout. All plots are oriented in cardinal directions. Sub-plots are randomly selected by standing at plot centre and tossing a pen over the shoulder (sourced from: Ulkatcho Climate Change Effects on Traditional Species Project Report, 2022, p.22).


Equipment List

UFN has invested in the following equipment to carry out its monitoring activities:

  • GPS unit (UTM, NAD83)
  • Wind-up transect tape (50 m)
  • iButtons
  • Thermodata Software
  • Metal measuring tape
  • Binoculars
  • Monument stakes (rebar at least 50 cm in length)
  • Hammer
  • Diameter at Breast Height (DBH) measuring tape
  • Compass (adjusted for correct declination)
  • iPad (useful for taking photos, consulting maps, and navigating to plots)
  • Clip board
  • Data sheets
  • Flagging tape
  • Permanent markers and pencils
  • Plant identification field guides

Challenges and Lessons Learned

One of the main challenges faced by the project is the abundance of wildfire on the territory. Ideally, sample sites would stay in place for the duration of the study, which for this project would be several decades. This unfortunately, due to increasingly active fire seasons, has become more difficult as permanent sites are more likely to be destroyed. In 2021, the Hotnarko Fire alone destroyed 6 sites. All of which needed to be relocated and re-established for monitoring to continue. This illustrates the importance a detailed sample-site relocation protocol as moving sites can affect data quality and must be done in a standardized way. It also points to the importance of having a long and robust baseline data collection period. The baseline data is the foundation of the study. Disruptions, relocations, and short-term weather variability can all complicate data analysis. Having a longer baseline period gives a better picture of present conditions which can then be compared to those in the future. Working in these dynamic landscapes can present some obstacles but with proper support and planning, favorable results can be achieved.


Ulkatcho First Nation Territory Map

Ulkatcho Food and Medicine Plants, Hebda et al, 1996 (Note: This is a large file and may take a few minutes to load)