Day 2: Concurrent Session 2

Finding Refugia

Session Moderator: Adam Linnard

Session recordings coming soon

Presenter: Gabe Schepens – Contractor


Wolverines are a wide-ranging and at-risk species in North America. Recent reports of low population densities both within and outside protected areas highlight the importance of effective conservation planning across large landscapes. To assess cross-boundary habitat needs, we synthesized available wolverine habitat models in the Columbia and Rocky Mountains (63 000 km2). We used coefficients from four existing habitat models to create spatial predictions over environmental datasets including snow, landcover, and roads. We averaged the four predictions using distance-weighted mean of equal-area percentile habitat values, and validated the output by comparison to independent data. Because persistent spring snow is important for wolverines, we assessed 2080 spring snow cover forecasts (under RCP 8.5 high emissions scenario) to identify potential habitat refugia. High quality habitat was predicted along mountain ranges, notably in the Purcell Mountains and the Columbia Icefield in the Rocky Mountains. Mean habitat value was 0.71 inside protected areas and 0.55 outside protected areas. The study area is forecasted to lose 44% of persistent spring snow cover by 2080, with declines identified inside many protected areas. Synthesis of existing habitat research and climate forecasts provides information important to management and planning, including recreation access and the establishment of protected areas.


  • Karine Pigeon, BC Ministry of Lands, Water, and Resource Stewardship
  • Annie Loosen, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative
  • Anne Forshner, Parks Canada
  • Aerin L. Jacob, Nature Conservancy of Canada


Funding for this work was provided by Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. We are grateful for the use of data from published work, Alberta Environment and Parks, and Parks Canada. The study area for this research includes the territories of Aseniwuche Winewak (Rocky Mountain), Îyârhe/Iyethka Stoney Nakoda (Wesley, Chiniki, and Bearspaw), Ktunaxa, Lheidli T’enneh, Michif Piyii (Métis), Mountain Métis, Niitsítpiis-stahkoii ᖹᐟᒧᐧᐨᑯᐧᓴᐦᖾᐟ (Blackfoot: Siksika, Piikani, and Kainai), Secwepemcúl’ecw (Secwépemc), Sngaytskstx (Sinixt), Syilx tmixʷ (Okanagan), and Tsuu T’ina. It also includes Métis region 3 and Treaty 7 in Alberta.

Presenter: Christine Kuntzman – Canadian Forest Service / University of Alberta 


Increases in fire activity due to climate change and past management are predicted to become detrimental to healthy forests, potentially expediting large-scale vegetation transitions particularly in the west. Fire refugia are areas within fires which escape burning and are important to post-fire recovery processes as they can reseed nearby disturbed areas, potentially helping to stave off such transitions by promoting forest resilience. In this study, we investigated the role of hydrological, ecological, and topographic heterogeneity, as well as climate patterns, on the presence of fire refugia in forested ecosystems within BC’s Thompson Okanagan region over a 34-year (1985-2019) period. We used machine learning techniques to model the probability of fire refugia in forested stands as a function of both biotic (e.g., vegetation) and abiotic (e.g., topography, climate) controls in six of the region’s unique fire regime zones. We further developed predictive maps of fire refugia probability for a range of seasonal fuel moisture states and inter-annual climate conditions. The results of this research can assist park management by indicating areas predicted to persist through fire, thereby helping determine fireresilient locations suitable for conservation efforts or those where fuel management practices could be avoided due to their fire refugia-producing properties.


  • Diana Stralberg, Canadian Forest Service
  • Doug Lewis, Government of BC
  • Ellen Whitman, Canadian Forest Service
  • Scott Nielsen, University of Alberta


Government of British Columbia

Presenter: Jessica Stolar –  Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta


As climate change impacts biodiversity, identifying conservation actions that are resilient to climate-induced ecological shifts is increasingly imperative. Changes in climatic suitability threaten the long-term persistence of British Columbia’s ecosystems and biodiversity values, increasing the need to identify strategic, climate-informed conservation actions. Climate-change refugia (i.e., areas with high potential for species to persist in a changing climate) can serve as the cornerstone of a resilient planning framework. For species with limited in-situ refugia options, connectivity between locations of current and future habitat facilitates pathways for migration in response to shifting climate niches. Here we developed a suite of new spatial datasets to represent refugia and corridor metrics for British Columbia, including ecological niche models for 863 rare species under current and future climate scenarios. We then used systematic conservation planning software (Zonation) to identify climate-informed spatial priorities for conservation at provincial and eco-provincial scales under a range of land-use and climate-change scenarios. Prioritization was based on macro-refugia potential (climate velocity and species distributions), microrefugia potential, persistence of old growth forest, and climate and landscape connectivity. From a standpoint of climate-change adaptation, priorities for habitat protection and adaptive management were defined as regions of high refugia potential and high climate connectivity with low and high anthropogenic pressures, respectively. We discuss the spectrum of management actions that will be required to ensure the long-term persistence of British Columbia’s biodiversity, including partnerships with Indigenous governments through the Province’s Modernized Land Use Planning process.


  • Diana Stralberg, Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada
  • Ilona Naujokaitis-Lewis, Environment and Climate Change Canada
  • Scott Nielsen, Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta
  • Jennifer Grant, BC Parks/BC Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship
  • Gregory Kehm, Gregory Kehm Associates
  • Kaitlin Klimosko, BC Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship
  • Doug Lewis, BC Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship
  • Zaid Jumean, BC Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship
  • Kelly Sims, BC Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship
  • Christine Kuntzemann, Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta
  • Don Morgan, BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy


We thank our partners from Esk’etemc Nation, shíshálh Nation, ’Namgis First Nation, Nisga’a Lisims Government, Tahltan Nation, and Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw for their invaluable contributions to this project.

The project team also acknowledges that we live, work, and play in diverse places across Turtle Island on both unceded territories and treaty lands. We pay our respects to the First Nations and Métis ancestors of these places and reaffirm our relationships with one another and with these lands and waters.

We also thank the following sources of funding and in-kind support:

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada
  • BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (Together for Wildlife Strategy)
  • Wilburforce Foundation
  • BC Parks (Living Lab)
  • BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy

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