Are animals that live in areas where avalanches happen equipped to deal with that?

Are animals that live in areas where avalanches happen equipped to deal with that?

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Humans take courses to learn how to assess the risk of avalanches and how to deal with it. Additionally, they often use special gear to survive avalanches if they got caught in the middle of one.

What about animals that live in these areas like mountains with snow where avalanches occur (maybe wolves, deer, etc.)? Are they somehow aware of the risk? Do they handle it in any way (e.g. avoid especially steep regions) or able to manage getting out of it?

Most animals are not well adapted to deal with avalanches. For example, more mountain goats are killed by rock slides than by predators.

Meanwhile, a mountain at risk of snow avalanche must be deep in snow, right? At that point, there is very little food to be found; it's all buried. So there won't be many animals on the surface. Most of them would leave for more hospitable locations, or hibernate.

Are animals that live in areas where avalanches happen equipped to deal with that? - Biology

Humans have manipulated wildlife populations for thousands of years. Early human objectives were to provide food, clothing, protection, and shelter to family and tribe. Modern wildlife management shares some of the same objectives and new tools are available for use by managers. Today, wildlife management is a blend of art and science. Managers gather information and make decisions to manipulate habitats, resources, and people in an effort to achieve human goals.

The understanding of species biology and application of ecological principles are crucial to successful wildlife management. While wildlife managers work with vegetation and animals, much time is also spent managing people. Think of a three-legged stool. Wildlife management includes the legs of habitat-resources-people. Remove one of the legs and the stool falls. Human goals in wildlife management include conservation, preservation, consumption, and non-consumptive objectives. Wildlife management is the legal responsibility of state government through fish and wildlife departments and several federal agencies.

Conservation is the wise use of natural resources while preservation is generally considered to preclude most consumption. Consumptive use of wildlife includes harvesting through hunting and trapping. Non-consumptive use includes activities such as ecotourism, bird-watching, bird feeding, whale-watching, and endangered species management. Wildlife species are often placed into one or more categories based on their utility to humans and methods of management.

Wildlife is often defined as all non-domesticated vertebrates. A wild animal is generally defined as not wildlife and not domestic but a cross or hybrid between wildlife and domestic species. This legal designation is important for law enforcement purposes. Domestic species occasionally revert to a wild condition and are called “feral”. Donkeys, horses, cats, dogs, and pigs are common examples of feral species that often require management. They can have severe negative impacts on native ecosystems. Endangered and threatened are other legal designations that label some species of wildlife. Managers may deal with several different types of animals but the goal is generally the same – too achieve human objectives.

Wildlife is considered to be owned by the people and held in trust by the state. This principle forms the basis of what is known as the North American model of wildlife conservation. This definition is in contrast to a European model where animals are owned by the land owner – often nobility.

Wildlife Habitat Management

All wildlife species need food, cover (or shelter), space, and water. Wildlife managers manipulate these resources to increase or decrease the population size in response to management objectives. Ultimately, all wildlife must meet their need for energy. Individuals must balance their energy intake with the energy needed to maintain physiological process and reproduction. Food can be provided through supplemental sources such as food crops and orchard plantings, bird feeders, or timber management. Agricultural practices may be used to plant crops for wildlife or forests may be burned, thinned or harvested in order to manipulate natural vegetation for wildlife.

Habitat management activities may increase cover or shelter. Such activities can include supplying bird and bat houses in urban environments, creating snags or brush piles for natural cover, burning or disking (plowing) vegetation to reduce density or change species composition. Wildlife needs cover for protection from the weather including wind, heat, and cold protection from predators and competitors and escape cover for resting and raising young. Adequate cover minimizes energy loss to cold and wet conditions and helps animals maintain a positive or at least neutral energy balance.

Wildlife also needs adequate space for hunting and securing food and other life necessities. If wildlife populations are too dense, competition between individuals will contribute to stress and could lower survival rates or reproductive productivity. Water needs are often met from natural vegetation and free-standing water such as ponds and streams but humans may supplement water resources through management by supplying bird baths and (in the western deserts) watering holes.

Space is important for wildlife as is the distribution of habitat resources. Nearly all animals have a home range – an area on the landscape where the animals can acquire the daily and seasonal resources needed to survive. Some wildlife species will defend all or a portion of the home range from competitors of the same species. This defended space is called a territory. Wolf packs and large cats such as cougars and bobcats typically exhibit this behavior. Territorial behavior may be apparent throughout the year as with predators or only seasonally such as when the adults are raising young as in Canada geese.

The distribution of habitat resources must occur within the range that an animal can traverse in a limited time. The home range of larger animals like deer can be hundreds of acres or measured in square miles for large carnivores like cougars and bears. It can be as small as a few acres for smaller animals like mice and small birds. All the necessary requirements must occur within this space or the animal will not survive.

But animals do not live in a two dimensional world. Habitat can be arranged vertically as well and many species of birds and mammals can utilize vertical components of the environment. Songbirds may feed on the ground, on the tree trunk, in the canopy or above the treetops. Deer, on the other hand, are restricted to a much small vertical space. Wildlife species can also divide the habitat resources temporally. Songbirds may feed on insects by day and bats may feed on the same insect resource at night thus fully exploiting the resource but reducing competition since each feeds at a different time. The components of an animal’s habitat including diet, feeding strategy, activity time, breeding season, social organization and many other characteristics define a concept wildlife managers call the animals’ niche. A habitat is the animals address while niche is the animals’ occupation.

Habitat management includes manipulating resources through the use of numerous tools and techniques. Wildlife may prefer young, frequently disturbed environments or old stable environments or something in between the two. Succession is an ecological concept that describes how plant communities change over time. Generally, a plant community has a characteristic animal community associated with it.

Managers manipulate vegetation to create a mosaic of successional habitats across the landscape. Fire, herbicides, machinery, and timber harvesting are tools used to change vegetation and manipulate habitats to favor or discourage certain wildlife species. Edge is the contact zone between two different habitat types such as a forest and field. Some wildlife species are adapted to use the resources found in edge habitats while other species prefer large unbroken tracts of undisturbed habitat.

Wildlife managers study the preferences and behavior of target species and take actions to meet the needs of the species being managed. Rarely can a single area provide all the resources for many species. Managers must decide on which species to favor on each area and manage the area accordingly. Across the landscape, many areas will provide habitat for the maximum diversity of wildlife species.

Resources are not equally abundant throughout the year. Insects and seeds are generally not available in winter in northern latitudes. Forage may become dormant or unpalatable. Animals are faced with resource availability issues on a regular basis. Some animals, like songbirds and waterfowl, migrate when cold weather reduces the available of insects, seeds, nectar, or open water. Bird, whale, and sea turtle migrations are often latitudinal and individuals may migrate several thousands of miles. Bats may also migrate but they often migrate to a common location for hibernation. Other animals (mammals and reptiles) hibernate alone or with a few other individuals. Elk are examples of large mammals that migrate in response to seasonal changes in food availability but their migration are often altitudinal. Elk use high mountain meadows in summer and lower valleys in winter. Caribou and bison are nomadic migrants wandering over vast acreages in constant search for food and other life necessities.

Wildlife Population Ecology

Wildlife populations have tremendous capacity to increase in the absence of mortality agents. For example, two healthy mice can produce ten offspring in one generation. If half the offspring are female and each female produces ten additional offspring, the two original mice can reach a population size of 432 mice in just three generations! This is called biotic potential.

Biotic potential is limited by genetics (elephants cannot have 10 offspring in one litter) and modified by the environment and health of the animal (old or sick mice are not likely to have ten offspring). The environment plays a role in population increase as well. Abiotic factors such as hurricanes, flood, fire, acid rain, global warming, pollution, and avalanches are examples of mortality factors that limit population increase. Biotic factors such as disease, parasites, starvation, hunting, accidents, habitat loss, and predation are examples of mortality factors that also limit population increase.

Wildlife Population Management

Carrying Capacity
- Wildlife managers try to maintain wildlife populations in balance with available habitat resources. The ability of a habitat to support any given level of wildlife is referred to as the carrying capacity of the habitat. When wildlife populations are below carrying capacity, resources are not being fully utilized. When populations are lower than the desired objectives, managers implement activities designed to increase reproductive output and survival. This generally includes habitat manipulation. Other techniques include legal protection for migratory or endangered species, captive breeding and release, and restocking.

Successful population management can result in wildlife densities that are too high for the available habitat. Wildlife overabundance can result from a sudden loss of habitat forcing individuals into less space or from successful reproduction in the absence of predators or other mortality factors. If the former is the cause, balance is often restored in a short time. However, if wildlife populations are allowed to grow in the absence of natural regulation from predators then undesired consequences can include overgrazing and habitat destruction, conflicts with humans, increased healthy and safety concerns, and sudden die-offs of individuals.

Overgrazing and habitat destruction by one wildlife population can result in loss of habitat for other species. Conflicts with humans can result in damage to human landscapes and property. Healthy and safety concerns can include disease and predation risks. Carrying capacity really has two components. Biological carrying capacity is the ability of the habitat or environment to support a given population size. Cultural carrying capacity is the tolerance humans have for a given population size.

For example, the habitat may be able to support 100 deer but if those deer are contributing to increase deer-automobile collisions or eating human landscape and gardens then the cultural carrying capacity is less that biological carrying capacity and management action is warranted. Action could include hunting and trapping, fertility control (although this is largely experimental with wild populations), trap and relocate programs (costly and often illegal), or introduction of predators. Each of these management tools has distinct advantages and disadvantages and each is not without controversy. Wildlife managers must work with other citizens and stakeholders to try to achieve an acceptable comprise solution.

Habitat Management
Habitat management may be one of the best ways to increase or decrease wildlife populations. Habitats can be created using the tools we discussed above. Habitats can be improved with fire and timber harvest or other techniques. For direct management, habitat must be acquired before management can take place. For management across broad ecosystems, the land must be owned by the government, or agreements must be made among mixed public and private landowners. Various incentives, regulations, or educational programs also may be used to encourage management by private forest landowners.

Habitat acquisition is accomplished through a variety of methods. The federal government and individual states can acquire land by purchase or donation. Non-government organizations also acquire, manage, and sometimes donate land for wildlife management activities. Funds for state wildlife management and habitat acquisitions come from user fees like licenses and specialized taxes on outdoor equipment. Only rarely do general tax revenues support wildlife management at the state level.

Wildlife Damage Management
When wildlife populations become too abundant, managers step into to resolve human-wildlife conflicts. Generally, when this occurs, cultural carrying capacity has been exceeded. Lethal and non-lethal methods are available for wildlife damage management. Public education may solve simple problems like raccoons eating pet food. A solution may be as simple as sealing the pet food in containers with tight lids. However, other conflicts may require more complex solutions. Habitat modification can be used to alter habitats and make it unattractive to nuisance wildlife. Exclusion methods such as fences or other barriers may prevent wildlife from causing damage. Another method may include chemical repellents which can be effective in certain situations. A final solution may require lethal control such as mouse traps and poison baits or sport hunting.


Wildlife management requires knowledge of species ecology, biology, behavior, and physiology. Additional knowledge of plant species, population ecology, habitat restoration, and ecosystem management is required as well. Wildlife management involves working with animals and people. Wildlife management objectives are people oriented and people driven. Landowners, homeowners, farmers, ranchers, outfitters, restaurants, motels, and other businesses may all rely on wildlife for a portion of their income, livelihood, and personal well-being.

Adams, C. E., K. J. Lindsey, and S. J. Ash. 2006. Urban Wildlife Management. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.

Anderson, S. H. 2002. Managing Our Wildlife Resources. 4 th edition. Prentice Hall. Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Logsdon, G. 1999. Wildlife in the Garden: How to live in harmony with deer, raccoons, rabbits, crows, and other pesky creatures. Expanded Edition. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN.

Chiras, D. D., J. P. Reganold, and O. S. Owen. 2004. Natural Resources Conservation. 9 th edition. Prentice Hall. Upper Saddle River, NJ

Chernobyl Mutations in Humans: How Humans and Animals were Affected

Many years after the Chernobyl accident, there were people who still had health issues. The radiation that leaked after the explosion still harmed people and Chernobyl animals as well as plants that were in the area. There were many patients who were treated for diseases such as thyroid cancer, leukemia and also respiratory illnesses.

The high radiation levels made the residents prone to life-threatening illnesses in which some people could not afford medical attention, a fact that contributed to an increased death toll. After the accident and due to the radiation, healthy foods were not available since crops could not be grown on the land. This led to malnutrition which also contributed to Chernobyl mutations and also health problems.

Chernobyl Human Mutations. What is Genetic Mutations are?

Chernobyl child mutations include the fact that some children were born with heart defects caused by genetic mutation from the radiation. This issue was difficult to fix among many children since medication was difficult to get and because of the cost factor when it was available.

Chernobyl child mutations

During the year 1986, the year of the Chernobyl Power Plant Disaster, the number of babies born with birth defects significantly increased by a rate of 200%. The number of those that were reported increased more than this and there were probably more that may not have been reported. Because their defects were because of genetic mutations, they are likely to pass it on to other generations. This leads to more birth defects and possibly more Chernobyl mutations from radiation. Because of genetic mutations, Downs Syndrome was a common occurrence due to radiation effects.

Health problems continued to increase since the children were forced to live in areas with high radiation levels. They couldn’t move since they were unable to work and they had no other people to help raise them. The children were living in severe poverty. Some were forced to reside in medical and mental facilities that were supported by the government.

Chernobyl Animals Mutations from Radiation. What are Genetic Mutations?

Many animals travelled back into the area because of the lack of presence of humans and the problems caused by them. Reproduction of the animals was difficult because of the high radiation levels. When some of Chernobyl animals were able to reproduce offspring, unfortunately, they were born with mutations and various birth defects. In some cases, the type of Chernobyl animal could not be recognized. There are many wild boars that do not resemble their natural form.

Even though the area is considered dangerous for life, the animals such as deer and elk still stayed in the radiation-ridden lands. The population is very high with many Chernobyl mutated animals. As mentioned, reproduction was limited but this was just a temporary effect. The population continued to increase but not without health effects. Without people around, they thrived on the plants since they were not removed or destroyed to be used for other purposes such as building and farming.

There were many signs of radiation effects on the animals. Because of the stress and the lack of antioxidants, many Chernobyl wildlife mutations included an under-developed nervous system and smaller brains which led to the inability to think properly. The birds that called the radiation area home were affected by Chernobyl animals mutations since they had much smaller brains compared to those that were not in radiation areas. Some of the swallows found in the area have physical mutations and physical abnormalities. The typical characteristics of this include deformed tails, discolored feathers and improperly shaped air sacks. They will fail to survive in radiation affected areas.

Chernobyl Plant Mutations

Because of high radiation levels, radioactive iodine was present so Chernobyl animals did not have food that was safe for consumption, especially cows. This led to contamination of milk produced by cows. The roots of the plants can easily absorb the radiation and materials like strontium and caesium.

The plants located in the forests are still contaminated because of the caesium radioactivity that is shared by the insects and other wildlife living in the areas. It is said that the berries and mushrooms as well as the Chernobyl animals should not be consumed for food because of the high radiation content.

Because of the radiation levels, some trees and shrubs have dried up and changed colors while others are short when they should not be like this. Chernobyl plant mutations have destroyed a once beautiful area.

Chernobyl mutations children

Chernobyl Mutations Fish in Pripyat River

The radiation from the Chernobyl Power Plant contaminated bodies of water such as reservoirs, rivers as well as lakes. Because of this, there were fish mutations. The seafood in the water bodies was not edible because of this. Wildlife and humans had a shortage of food because of the effects of radiation on the water and the plants. The fish living in the water has high level of radioactive iodine. This effect was felt in more areas, in other countries as well as areas close to the horrific accident.

Animal Diversity Web

Vancouver Island marmots, Marmota vancouverensis , are endemic to Canada. They are found only on Vancouver Island, located in the south-western portion of Canada. Through extensive captive breeding and reintroduction programs, this species is now re-established on 27 mountains in south, central and northern Vancouver Island. ("Fall/Winter 2010 Newsletter", 2010 Bryant and Janz, 1996 Nagorsen, 1987 Nagorsen, et al., 2008 Thorington and Hoffman, 2005)


Vancouver Island marmots are found on south and west facing mountain ridges that are free of trees as a result of avalanches and snow accumulation during the winter months. Steep tree-less slopes allow for rapid snow melt in the spring, good visibility of predators, and excellent areas in which to "lounge" in order to thermoregulate. Vancouver Island marmots also inhabit mine tailings and meadows created by ski runs. They are found at at high elevations, from 900 to 1450 m above sea level.

Although rare, some marmots have been recorded at low elevations in suburban areas, such as back yards and in one case on a private dock. In general, the high amount of brush and trees makes lower elevations unsuitable habitat, and intensely forested landscapes do not contain the forbs and grasses necessary to the diet of Vancouver Island marmots. (Bryant and Blood, 1999 Bryant and Janz, 1996 Cardini, et al., 2005 Nagorsen, 1987 Nagorsen, et al., 2008)

Vancouver Island marmots require colluvial soil structure for their burrows, which are used to escape predators, overwinter and hibernate. Vancouver Island marmots require deep soil, as they burrow below the frost line during winter winter temperatures within the hibernacula must be maintained at at least 5 °C. Higher elevations typically do not contain soil patches deep enough to construct proper burrows, while lower elevations are too heavily vegetated and warm. Burrows may be found at the base of tree trunks and large boulders where visibility is good. For this reason, newly clear-cut areas may be quickly colonized but do not support long term populations as a result of poor overwintering success and forest regeneration. Populations of Vancouver Island marmot are limited primarily by the availability of suitable habitat. (Bryant and Blood, 1999 Bryant, 1996 Nagorsen, 1987 Thorington and Hoffman, 2005)

  • Habitat Regions
  • temperate
  • terrestrial
  • Terrestrial Biomes
  • savanna or grassland
  • mountains
  • Range elevation 900 to 1500 m 2952.76 to 4921.26 ft

Physical Description

Vancouver Island marmots are semi-fossorial sciurids that differ from other marmots in their pelage coloration. Adults are a dark chocolate brown color and have characteristic irregular patches of white fur on their chest, chin, nose and forehead. Other closely related marmot species (hoary marmots Marmota ciligata and Olympic marmots Marmota olympus) are tawny or grey colored, with no distinct white markings. The dorsal side of Vancouver Island marmots have white hairs interspersed, but with no prominent patterning.

Pups are born a uniform black-brown that fades to a reddish brown in the summer months. As this species does not complete a full molt every year, juveniles are easily identifiable by their mottled rust colour when compared to the darker, white marked adults. Molting occurs unevenly, beginning on the forelegs and shoulders and ending with the head, back and tail. (Blumstein, et al., 2006 Bryant and Blood, 1999 Bryant and Janz, 1996 Bryant and Page, 2005 Nagorsen, 1987 Thorington and Hoffman, 2005)

Mature Vancouver Island marmots measure between 56 and 70 cm from the nose to the tip of the tail. Their tails are bushy and covered with relatively coarse, long guard hairs. Their body is stout with short strong legs, and paws are pentadactyl, donned with robust fossorial claws for burrowing. Forepaws have two posterior pads and three anterior pads located at the base of the digits, while hind paws have two posterior pads and four anterior pads at the base of the digits. Posterior foot pads are circular, a trait that is shared with the closely related M. caligata and Marmota olympus. The head is broad and short, with relatively short ears located dorsolaterally, slightly posterior to the eyes. Adults weigh between 3 and 7 kg depending on sex and time of year. Males tend to weigh significantly more than females. Vancouver Island marmots weigh the most in mid-September, prior to hibernation. (Bryant and Blood, 1999 Bryant and Janz, 1996 Nagorsen, 1987 Thorington and Hoffman, 2005)

Skull structure of Vancouver Island marmots is one of the strongest distinguishing feature of this species. The nasals are shorter than those found in other marmot species (41.5 mm +/- 0.7 mm) and have a v-shaped notch at the posterior border. Parietal bones are relatively narrow when compared with other Marmota sp., and the coronoid process has a distinct bend at its tip. Average condylobasal length is reported as 92.7 mm =/- 0.7 mm, with average width of rostrum of 21.8 mm +/- 0.3 mm, zygomatic width 60.7 mm +/- 0.6 mm, and interorbital width of 22.3 mm +/- 0.4 mm (n = 10 for all measurements). Average male cranial measurements are larger than females. Dental formula for the Vancouver Island Marmot is 1/1, 0/0, 2/2, 3/3 = 24. Incisors are prominent and typically pale to dark yellow on the labial side and lighter on the lingual side. (Cardini, et al., 2005 Nagorsen, 1987 Thorington and Hoffman, 2005)

  • Other Physical Features
  • endothermic
  • bilateral symmetry
  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass 3 to 7 kg 6.61 to 15.42 lb
  • Range length 65 to 70 cm 25.59 to 27.56 in


Small colonies consist of a single family group containing 1 male, 1 to 2 females, juveniles and young of the year. Vancouver Island marmots have a monogamous mating system, though males have been recording siring more than one litter in a single breeding season. Pairs breed for multiple years, with juveniles dispersing from the family colony between 2 and 3 years of age. Younger males are subordinate to older males, with females preferentially breeding with males 3 years of age or older. As females tend to live longer than males, the operational sex ratio is skewed toward older females. (Bryant and Blood, 1999 Bryant, 2005 Casimir, et al., 2007 Keeley, et al., 2011)

As with many mammals, behavior associated with reproduction in Vancouver Island marmots corresponds with increased levels of reproductive hormones such as estrogen and progesterone in females and testosterone in males. Ovulation is induced through copulation, and an increase in play behaviour corresponds to frequent copulation several attempts may be necessary for conception to occur. Because mating occurs within burrows, little is known regarding specific mating behaviors. (Casimir, et al., 2007)

In captivity, female Vancouver Island marmots are more receptive to males they have had prolonged contact with, suggesting that the strength of the social system is integral in mating success. The relatively large distances between colonies (20 km^2) that has occurred as a result of recent population declines may be negatively impacting reproductive success due to a lack of access to potential mates. (Brashares, et al., 2010 Bryant and Page, 2005)

Female Vancouver Island marmots reach reproductive maturity between the ages of 2 and 4. Females rarely raise pups at the age of 2, and most often raise their first litter of pups between the ages of 4 and 5. Mating occurs once a year in the early spring when snow melts and adults emerge from hibernation. While mating is seasonal, individual females rear young every 1 to 3 years. Females may give birth for the first time between the ages of 2 to 6. While males younger than 3 may be sexually mature, they rarely mate as they are subordinate to older males. (Brashares, et al., 2010 Bryant, 1996 Bryant, 2005 Cardini, et al., 2007)

Vancouver Island marmots usually have litters of 3 to 4 pups, though litter size can range from 1 to 7. Litter size and success varies greatly from year to year, perhaps depending on food availability, female body condition, and weather. Past rearing of pups does not appear to influence survival of offspring. Females in the intermediate age class have a higher rate of reproductive success than young or old individuals, and older females also produce fewer offspring. Gestation lasts approximately 32 days, and pups are weaned at about 30 days of age. Weaning tends to occur at the beginning of July, when pups emerge from the burrows. (Brashares, et al., 2010 Bryant and Janz, 1996 Bryant, 1996 Bryant, 2005 Keeley, et al., 2011 Thorington and Hoffman, 2005)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • seasonal breeding
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • induced ovulation
  • viviparous
  • Breeding interval Vancouver Island marmots breed every 1 to 3 years.
  • Breeding season Vancouver Island marmots breed in the spring from early May to June.
  • Range number of offspring 1 to 7
  • Average number of offspring 3.6
  • Average number of offspring 3.3 AnAge
  • Average gestation period 32 days
  • Average gestation period 30 days AnAge
  • Average weaning age 30 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female) 3 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female 1186 days AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male) 3 years

Parturition of Vancouver Island marmots occurs within burrow chambers in late May to early June. Pups remain underground where the mother nurses, emerging to forage. Males do not appear to play a direct role in care of the offspring, but do provide protection through vigilance to potential threats. Pups are weaned at about 30 days of age. (Bryant and Janz, 1996 Keeley, et al., 2011)

Vancouver Island marmot young of the year first emerge from their burrows in late June or early July. They remain near the natal burrow for their first year and often hibernate in the same burrow system as their mother. Pup mortality is generally low until hibernation, with the majority of mortality occurring over the winter. Females with young have significantly smaller home ranges than females who did not breed that year, indicating increased vigilance and preparedness to retreat to burrow systems. Adults with pups experience an increased risk of predation compared to adults that are without pups in the same breeding season. (Brashares, et al., 2010 Bryant and Page, 2005 Bryant, 1996 Casimir, et al., 2007)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
      • female
      • protecting
        • male
        • female
        • provisioning
          • female


          Vancouver Island marmots have an average lifespan of 10 years, with females typically living longer than males. Based on longevity of closely related marmot species, the maximum age of Vancouver Island marmots is estimated to be between 12 and 15 years. Average age of mortality due to predation is around 3 years, with the majority of these deaths occurring from August to September. The majority of pup mortality occurs over the first winter during hibernation. Annual survival rate of Vancouver Island marmots is 73%. (Bryant and Blood, 1999 Bryant and Janz, 1996 Bryant and Page, 2005)

          • Average lifespan
            Status: wild 10 years
          • Range lifespan
            Status: captivity 12.1 (high) years AnAge


          Vancouver Island marmots live in small family colonies composed of 1 adult male, 1 to 2 adult females, varying numbers of juveniles and the young of the year. Each colony contains an average of 3.6 individuals. Subadult males disperse from the colony between 2 and 3 years of age, roaming between 20 and 50 km. Vancouver Island marmots spend much of their time alone, foraging and resting independently of other marmots. They spend less than 40% of their time within 100 m of other colony members.

          Social hierarchies within a colony are established through agonistic behaviors such as lunging and chasing by dominant individuals and avoidance by subordinates. Play fighting and wrestling occurs most often in young and breeding pairs, while agonistic behaviors such as chasing and fighting occur between males in the breeding season and upon initial meetings. Play fighting, tail raising, mounting and allogrooming may also be indicative of social status within the colony. Adult males are dominant to adult females, followed by juvenile females. Vancouver Island marmots are territorial and mark territories with scent glands located in their cheeks. The majority of scent marking is done by adult males, though adult females also scent mark. (Brashares, et al., 2010 Bryant and Blood, 1999 Bryant and Janz, 1996 Bryant and Page, 2005 Nagorsen, 1987)

          Daily activities of Vancouver Island Marmots include foraging, being vigilant, resting on rocks and logs, interacting with conspecifics, and spending time within burrows. Feeding typically occurs during the early morning and evening hours, with the rest of the day allocated primarily to lounging behavior and vigilance. Vigilance is described as when an individual lifts its head or stands on its hind legs in order to scan its surroundings. Resting includes the many hours that individuals spend lying on rocks or logs. As the summer progresses, marmots spend less time feeding, particularly when temperatures exceed 20 °C. Time spent in the burrow during the day is directly correlated with the daily maximum temperature.

          Areas that are used for resting are typically exposed to the sun and have good visibility. Frequently used resting spots have distinct mud stains that the marmot leaves on the surface. (Blumstein, et al., 2001 Brashares, et al., 2010 Bryant and Blood, 1999 Bryant, 2005 Nagorsen, 1987)

          Vancouver Island marmots are semi-fossorial and spend a great deal of time underground in burrows. These burrows vary in size and use, but usually have an entrances that are 30 to 45 cm in diameter. Burrows used to escape from predators are typically shallow and small, located primarily beneath rocks and root systems. Burrows used for birthing and sleeping overnight may be deep and comparatively elaborate, with multiple entrances and deeper chambers. Sleeping chambers have been recorded to be as deep as 1 m underground. Chambers used for hibernation must be deep in order to stay below the frost layer. It is believed that these burrow systems are used by multiple individuals for a number of years. (Brashares, et al., 2010 Bryant and Blood, 1999 Bryant, 2005)

          Vancouver Island marmots hibernate from late September to late April in deep burrows containing a larger chamber filled with vegetative bedding. Family colonies hibernate together. The average number of individuals within a single hibernacula is 8, mostly containing pups and juveniles. To protect themselves from harsh weather, the entrance to the burrow is closed by piling up rocks and soil from inside the hibernacula prior to the onset of winter. At the onset of spring, the group emerges from their burrow and initiate extensive greeting and social behavior associated with dominance hierarchies. (Bryant and Blood, 1999 Nagorsen, 1987)

          • Key Behaviors
          • terricolous
          • fossorial
          • diurnal
          • motile
          • sedentary
          • hibernation
          • social
          • Average territory size 900 m^2

          Home Range

          The average home range of a Vancouver Island marmot has increased over the past 30 years, from approximately 30 m^2 to approximately 900 m^2. The average distance between colonies is 20 km^2. Males tend to have much larger home ranges than females, and males that hibernate alone have larger home ranges than those who hibernate with a female. Females that are weaning pups have the smallest home range, as they tend to stay close to their burrows for protection from predators. (Brashares, et al., 2010 Bryant and Page, 2005)

          Communication and Perception

          Marmots are a social animal that communicate with one another through direct contact and whistling vocalizations. Vancouver Island marmots have an array of calls that are used to communicate potential danger to conspecifics. When a marmot produces a call, other marmots within the area become vigilant toward the threat. As with other marmot species, calls can be flat, trilled, and ascending or descending in tone however this species has a characteristic "kee-aw" call not used by other marmots. Calls are not specific to terrestrial or aerial predators, though flat calls are more frequently used with terrestrial predators. Kee-aws are used when the threat is not intense or imminent, though it induces maintained vigilance in conspecifics. Trills are used most frequently during high threat interactions. Females with weaning pups are more likely to emit calls than other marmots, presumably to increase the vigilance of their offspring and relatives.

          Vancouver Island marmots mark territories with scent glands located in their cheeks. The majority of scent marking is done by adult males, though adult females also scent mark. (Blumstein, et al., 2001 Brashares, et al., 2010 Bryant and Blood, 1999 Bryant and Janz, 1996 Bryant and Page, 2005 Casimir, et al., 2007 Nagorsen, 1987)

          • Communication Channels
          • visual
          • tactile
          • acoustic
          • Other Communication Modes
          • pheromones
          • scent marks
          • Perception Channels
          • visual
          • tactile
          • acoustic
          • chemical

          Food Habits

          Vancouver Island marmots eat primarily grass and forbs that are found in subalpine meadows. They forage slowly across their home range, preferentially eating flowers, fruits and fresh buds. They also browse on fresh fiddleheads of bracken fern ( Pteridium aquilinum ). In the spring, grasses make up the majority of the diet, including oatgrass ( Danthonia intermedia ), woodrush ( Luzula ) and various sedges ( Carex ). Spreading phlox ( Phlox diffusa ) and lupine herbs ( Lupinus ) are consumed readily when present but are not as common as grasses at this time of year. Throughout the summer, meadowrue ( Thalictrum ), paintbrush ( Haemanthus ), cow parsnip ( Heracleum maximum ) and woolly sunflower ( Eriophyllum lanatum ) are consumed. By late summer, broad leaved herbs such as peavine ( Lathyrus ) and lupines make up the majority of the diet. Foraging occurs most often in the early morning and evening. (Bryant and Blood, 1999 Bryant, 2005 Thorington and Hoffman, 2005)

          • Primary Diet
          • herbivore
            • folivore
            • frugivore
            • Plant Foods
            • leaves
            • fruit
            • flowers


            Vancouver Island marmots are subject to strong predation pressure, with 83% of annual mortality resulting from predation. Death due to wolves account for 38%, cougars 21%, and golden eagles 14%. While no incidents have been recorded, it is likely that bald eagles occasionally prey upon marmots. Predators target adult marmots, and the majority of predation occurs in late summer, between August and September.

            Between 1992 and 2007, the overall annual survival of adults marmots was 70.9%. This is much lower than then 80% survival rate necessary to sustain populations, indicating a steady decline. Survival rates of both adults and pups does not differ with age and sex.

            The increase in home range size over the last 30 years likely makes these marmots more vulnerable to predation. (Blumstein, et al., 2001 Bryant and Page, 2005 Bryant, et al., 2004)

            When a predator approaches, Vancouver Island marmots become vigilant and orient their body toward the threat at a distance of 50 m. Prior to emitting an alarm call, they retreat to locations near burrow entrances when the perceived threat is approximately 32 m away. A variety of alarm calls warn conspecifics of the threat. (Blumstein, et al., 2001 Brashares, et al., 2010 Bryant and Blood, 1999 Casimir, et al., 2007)

            • Known Predators
              • wolves Canis lupis
              • cougars Puma concolor
              • golden eagles Quila chrysaetos
              • bald eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus

              Ecosystem Roles

              As herbivores, Vancouver Island marmots may act as seed dispersers and pollinators for the variety of grasses and flowers that they consume as they amble about subalpine meadows to forage, they may collect various pollens and disperse consumed seeds through their feces. Further, they build large burrow systems that may be used by other animals, including insects and small mammals.

              Vancouver Island marmots are hosts to ticks (Ixodes) and fleas (Thrassis spenceri). Many trapped marmots are heavily infested, though parasite infestation does not seem to decrease their survival or fecundity. Vancouver Island marmots also act as hosts for the nematode Baylisascaris laevis . Interestingly, the cestode Diandrya vancouverensis is completely unique to Vancouver Island marmots. This tape worm is closely related to a mainland helminth found in Marmota olympus and may be an example of coevolution due to allopatric speciation. (Bryant and Blood, 1999 Mace and Shepard, 1981)

              The increase in predation and consequent decrease in marmot populations is believed to be an indirect result of a decrease in black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus), the main prey of wolves and cougars. The small deer population has caused an increase in both wolf and cougar predation upon alternative food sources, which includes Vancouver Island marmots. (Bryant and Page, 2005 Bryant, et al., 2004)

              • Ecosystem Impact
              • disperses seeds
              • pollinates
              • creates habitat
              • soil aeration
              • ticks (Ixodes)
              • fleas (Thrassis spenceri)
              • nematode Baylisascaris laevis
              • cestode Diandrya vancouverensis

              Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

              The role of Vancouver Island marmots as prey for wolves and cougar may allow for higher populations of these fur bearing animals.

              Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

              There are no known adverse affects of Vancouver Island marmots on humans, as they live in remote areas at extremely low densities.

              Conservation Status

              First listed as endangered in 1978 and now critically endangered, Vancouver Island marmots are currently one of the rarest animals in North America. In 2004, it was estimated that only 35 individuals remained in the wild in an area less than 10 km². While these marmots have historically lived at low densities as a result of limited habitat and predation pressures, the recent sharp decline in numbers has been attributed to habitat loss from clear cut logging. While a temporary increase in population occurred as a result of logging in the 1980s - newly clear cut landscapes create ideal forage, burrow sites and visibility for marmots, - colonies that established in these areas vanished after a few years. Reforestation of these areas provided excellent cover for predators, and overwintering success was low. The population peaked at 300 to 350 marmots in 1984 before a drastic decline as a result of high mortality rates.

              As opposed to even mortality across populations, it appears that entire colonies fail at one time, a trend consistent with intense predation, disease and poor hibernacula. Prior to reintroduction efforts, the population of Vancouver Island marmots declined more than 80% in 20 years, and extinction in the wild was imminent. (Bryant and Janz, 1996 Bryant and Page, 2005 Bryant, 1996 Bryant, 2005 Nagorsen, et al., 2008)

              In 1998, the Marmot Recovery Foundation was established and 4 breeding programs were organized across Canada in an effort to reintroduce Vancouver Island marmots to the wild: the Calgary and Toronto zoos, Mountain View Conservation and Breeding Centre in Langley, BC and the Tony Barrett Mt Washington Marmot Recovery Centre on Vancouver Island. As of 2010, the program has been a success, with the wild population estimated to be about 300 individuals. Vancouver Island marmots now inhabit 27 mountains, compared with the 5 that were inhabited in 2003. The Recovery Strategy Goal is to have 600 marmots living in the wild in core populations in south, central and northern Vancouver Island.

              Captive born individuals have successfully established colonies, surviving through the winter and producing pups. The second generation of pups from captive born marmots have successfully weaned in the wild. It is thought that several more years and a greater understanding of this species' ecology and behaviour is necessary to reach sustainable populations in the wild. Further conservation sites at marmot colonies are also sought after by the Marmot Recovery Foundation, which hopes to establish Wildlife Habitat Areas at colonization and reintroduction sites. ("Fall/Winter 2010 Newsletter", 2010 Bryant and Page, 2005 Bryant, et al., 2004 Nagorsen, et al., 2008)

              • IUCN Red List Critically Endangered
                More information
              • IUCN Red List Critically Endangered
                More information
              • US Federal List Endangered
              • CITES No special status

              Other Comments

              Additional information regarding reintroduction programs can be found at


              Jacqueline Chapman (author), University of Manitoba, Jane Waterman (editor), University of Manitoba, Gail McCormick (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.


              living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

              uses sound to communicate

              young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

              having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

              uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

              animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

              parental care is carried out by females

              an animal that mainly eats leaves.

              Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.

              an animal that mainly eats fruit

              An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

              the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

              ovulation is stimulated by the act of copulation (does not occur spontaneously)

              animals that live only on an island or set of islands.

              Having one mate at a time.

              having the capacity to move from one place to another.

              This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

              the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

              chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

              having more than one female as a mate at one time

              communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

              breeding is confined to a particular season

              reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

              associates with others of its species forms social groups.

              digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in

              uses touch to communicate

              that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

              A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

              A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

              A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

              uses sight to communicate

              reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


              2010. "Fall/Winter 2010 Newsletter" (On-line). Accessed October 14, 2011 at

              Blumstein, D., B. Holland, J. Daniel. 2006. Predator discrimination and 'personality' in captive Vancouver Island marmots (Marmota vancouverensis). Animal Conservation , 9: 274-282.

              Blumstein, D., J. Daniel, A. Bryant. 2001. Anti-predator behavior of Vancouver Island marmots: using congeners to evaluate abilities of a critically endangered mammal. Ethology , 107: 1-14.

              Brashares, J., J. Werner, A. Sinclair. 2010. Social 'meltdown' in the demise of an island endemic: Allee effects and the Vancouver Island marmot. Journal of Animal Ecology , 79: 965-973.

              Bryant, A. 1996. Reproduction and persistence of Vancouver Island marmots (Marmota vancouverensis) in natural and logged habitats. Canadian Journal of Zoology , 74: 678-687.

              Bryant, A. 2005. Reproductive rates of wild and captive Vancouver Island Marmots (Marmota vancouverensis). Canadian Journal of Zoology , 83: 664-673.

              Bryant, A., D. Blood. 1999. Vancouver Island Marmot: Species at Risk in British Columbia. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Victoria, BC): 1-6.

              Bryant, A., B. Forbes, L. Hartman. 2004. Vancouver Island Marmot: Marmota vancouverensis. Accounts and Measures for Managing Identified Wildlife: 1-8.

              Bryant, A., D. Janz. 1996. Distribution and abundance of Vancouver Island marmots (Marmota vancouverensis). Canadian Journal of Zoology , 74: 667-677.

              Bryant, A., R. Page. 2005. Timing and causes of mortality in the endangered Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis). Canadian Journal of Zoology , 83: 674-682.

              Cardini, A., R. Hoffmann, R. Thorington. 2005. Morphological evolution in marmots (Rodentia, Sciuridae): size and shape of the dorsal and lateral surfaces of the carnium. Journal of Zoological Systematics , 43(3): 258-268.

              Cardini, A., R. Thorington, P. Polly. 2007. Evolutionary acceleration in the most endangered mammal of Canada: speciation and divergence in the Vancouver Island Marmot (Rodentia, Sciuridae). Journal of Evolutionary Biology , 20: 1833-1846.

              Casimir, D., A. Moehrenschlager, M. Barclay. 2007. Factors influencing reproduction in captive vancouver island marmots: Implications for captive breeding and reintroduction programs. Journal of Mammalogy , 88(6): 1412-1419.

              Keeley, T., K. Goodrowe, L. Graham, C. Howell, S. MacDonald. 2011. The reproductive endocrinology and behaviour of Vancouver Islamd marmot (Marmota vancouverensis). Zoo Biology , 29: 1-16.

              Mace, T., C. Shepard. 1981. Helminths of a Vancouver Island marmot, Marmota vancouverensis Swarth, 1911, with a description of Diandrya vancouverensis sp.nov. (Cestoda: Anoplocephalidae). Canadian Journal of Zoology , 59: 790-792.

              Nagorsen, D., S. Cannings, G. Hammerson. 2008. "Marmota vancouverensis" (On-line). In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. Accessed October 04, 2011 at

              Nagorsen, D. 1987. Marmota vancouverensis. Mammalian Species , 270: 1-5.

              Thorington, R., R. Hoffman. 2005. Vancouver Island Marmot. Pp. 802-803 in D Wilson, D Reeder, eds. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographical Reference , Vol. 2, 3rd Edition Edition. Baltimore, Maryland: John Hopkins University Press.

              Threats to survival

              The expansion of human settlement, especially livestock grazing, has led to increased conflict. Herders sometimes kill snow leopards to prevent or retaliate against predation of their domestic animals. Their lives are also threatened by poaching, driven by illegal trades in pelts and in body parts used for traditional Chinese medicine. These cats appear to be in dramatic decline—they've lost at least 20 percent of their population in two decades as a result.

              Vanishing habitat and the decline of the cats’ large mammal prey are also contributing factors. Climate change is raising the average temperature across the snow leopard’s home range, which scientists believe will shrink the species' alpine habitat and drive competition with other predators like leopards, wild dogs, and tigers. For these reasons, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies snow leopards as vulnerable to extinction.

              Sea urchins and humans interact in a number of ways. Humans in different cultures have used sea urchins as a source of food, and the part of the sea urchin consumed is typically the gonads. Sea urchins are eaten in Japanese, Mediterranean, Italian, Chilean, Native American, and New Zealand cultures.

              Injuries frequently occur due to sea urchin impalement. Sea urchins have brittle spines, and when stepped on, the spines have a tendency to break off in the foot or hand. Most sea urchin species are not venomous, and as long as the spines are removed the damage is minimal.


              Sea urchins have not been domesticated, but they have been easily bred in aquariums. They are also commonly used in biological research.

              Does the Sea Urchin Make a Good Pet

              Some species of sea urchins make a wonderful addition to salt water tanks, as they feed on algae. Salt water aquariums are, however, expensive and difficult to maintain.

              Snow F all

              The very thing the 16 skiers and snowboarders had sought &mdash fresh, soft snow &mdash instantly became the enemy. Somewhere above, a pristine meadow cracked in the shape of a lightning bolt, slicing a slab nearly 200 feet across and 3 feet deep. Gravity did the rest.

              Snow shattered and spilled down the slope. Within seconds, the avalanche was the size of more than a thousand cars barreling down the mountain and weighed millions of pounds. Moving about 7o miles per hour, it crashed through the sturdy old-growth trees, snapping their limbs and shredding bark from their trunks.

              The avalanche, in Washington&rsquos Cascades in February, slid past some trees and rocks, like ocean swells around a ship&rsquos prow. Others it captured and added to its violent load.

              Somewhere inside, it also carried people. How many, no one knew.

              The slope of the terrain, shaped like a funnel, squeezed the growing swell of churning snow into a steep, twisting gorge. It moved in surges, like a roller coaster on a series of drops and high-banked turns. It accelerated as the slope steepened and the weight of the slide pushed from behind. It slithered through shallower pitches. The energy raised the temperature of the snow a couple of degrees, and the friction carved striations high in the icy sides of the canyon walls.

              Elyse Saugstad, a professional skier, wore a backpack equipped with an air bag, a relatively new and expensive part of the arsenal that backcountry users increasingly carry to ease their minds and increase survival odds in case of an avalanche. About to be overtaken, she pulled a cord near her chest. She was knocked down before she knew if the canister of compressed air inflated winged pillows behind her head.

              She had no control of her body as she tumbled downhill. She did not know up from down. It was not unlike being cartwheeled in a relentlessly crashing wave. But snow does not recede. It swallows its victims. It does not spit them out.

              Snow filled her mouth. She caromed off things she never saw, tumbling through a cluttered canyon like a steel marble falling through pins in a pachinko machine.

              At first she thought she would be embarrassed that she had deployed her air bag, that the other expert skiers she was with, more than a dozen of them, would have a good laugh at her panicked overreaction. Seconds later, tumbling uncontrollably inside a ribbon of speeding snow, she was sure this was how she was going to die.

              Moving, roiling snow turns into something closer to liquid, thick like lava. But when it stops, it instantly freezes solid. The laws of physics and chemistry transform a meadow of fine powder into a wreckage of icy chunks. Saugstad&rsquos pinwheeling body would freeze into whatever position it was in the moment the snow stopped.

              After about a minute, the creek bed vomited the debris into a gently sloped meadow. Saugstad felt the snow slow and tried to keep her hands in front of her. She knew from avalanche safety courses that outstretched hands might puncture the ice surface and alert rescuers. She knew that if victims ended up buried under the snow, cupped hands in front of the face could provide a small pocket of air for the mouth and nose. Without it, the first breaths could create a suffocating ice mask.

              The avalanche spread and stopped, locking everything it carried into an icy cocoon. It was now a jagged, virtually impenetrable pile of ice, longer than a football field and nearly as wide. As if newly plowed, it rose in rugged contrast to the surrounding fields of undisturbed snow, 20 feet tall in spots.

              Saugstad was mummified . She was on her back, her head pointed downhill. Her goggles were off. Her nose ring had been ripped away. She felt the crushing weight of snow on her chest. She could not move her legs. One boot still had a ski attached to it. She could not lift her head because it was locked into the ice.

              But she could see the sky. Her face was covered only with loose snow. Her hands, too, stuck out of the snow, one still covered by a pink mitten.

              Using her hands like windshield wipers, she tried to flick snow away from her mouth. When she clawed at her chest and neck, the crumbs maddeningly slid back onto her face. She grew claustrophobic.

              Breathe easy, she told herself. Do not panic. Help will come. She stared at the low, gray clouds. She had not noticed the noise as she hurtled down the mountain. Now, she was suddenly struck by the silence.

              Tunnel Creek

              The Cascades are among the craggiest of American mountain ranges, roughly cut, as if carved with a chain saw. In summer, the gray peaks are sprinkled with glaciers. In winter, they are smothered in some of North America&rsquos deepest snowpack.

              The top of Cowboy Mountain, about 75 miles east of Seattle, rises to 5,853 feet &mdash about half the height of the tallest Cascades, but higher than its nearest neighbors, enough to provide 360-degree views. It feels more like a long fin than a summit, a few feet wide in parts. Locals call it Cowboy Ridge.

              To one side, down steep chutes, is Stevens Pass ski area, which receives about 400,000 visitors each winter. To the other, outside the ski area&rsquos boundary to what is considered the back of Cowboy Mountain, is an unmonitored play area of reliably deep snow, a &ldquopowder stash,&rdquo known as Tunnel Creek.

              It is a term with broad meaning. The name is derived from the Cascade Tunnel, originally a 2.6-mile railroad tube completed in 1900 that connected the east and west sides of the Cascades, a boon for the growth of Seattle and Puget Sound. The mountain pass that it burrowed beneath was named for the project&rsquos engineer, John Frank Stevens, who later helped build the Panama Canal.

              In late February 1910, ceaseless snowstorms over several days marooned two passenger trains just outside the tunnel&rsquos west portal. Before the tracks could be cleared, the trains were buried by what still stands as the nation&rsquos deadliest avalanche. It killed 96 people.

              Bodies were extricated and wrapped in blankets from the Great Northern Railway, then hauled away on sleds. Some were not found until the snow melted many months later.

              To skiers and snowboarders today, Tunnel Creek is a serendipitous junction of place and powder. It features nearly 3,000 vertical feet &mdash a rarely matched descent &mdash of open meadows framed by thick stands of trees. Steep gullies drain each spring&rsquos runoff to the valley floor and into a small, short gorge called Tunnel Creek.

              The area has all of the alluring qualities of the backcountry &mdash fresh snow, expert terrain and relative solitude &mdash but few of the customary inconveniences. Reaching Tunnel Creek from Stevens Pass ski area requires a ride of just more than five minutes up SkyLine Express, a high-speed four-person chairlift, followed by a shorter ride up Seventh Heaven, a steep two-person lift. Slip through the open boundary gate, with its &ldquocontinue at your own risk&rdquo warning signs, and hike 10 minutes to the top of Cowboy Mountain.

              When snow conditions are right, the preferred method of descent used by those experienced in Tunnel Creek, based on the shared wisdom passed over generations, is to hopscotch down the mountain through a series of long meadows. Weave down the first meadow, maybe punctuate the run with a jump off a rock outcropping near the bottom, then veer hard left, up and out of the narrowing gully and into the next open glade.

              Another powder-filled drop ends with another hard left, into another meadow that leads to the valley floor.

              Tunnel Creek is, in the vernacular of locals, a &ldquohippie pow run&rdquo &mdash breezy and unobstructed, the kind that makes skiers giggle in glee as they descend through a billowing cloud of their own soft powder and emerge at the bottom coated in white frosting.

              Despite trends toward extreme skiing (now called freeskiing), with improbable descents over cliffs and down chutes that test the guile of even the fiercest daredevils, the ageless lure of fresh, smooth powder endures.

              But powder and people are key ingredients for avalanches. And the worry among avalanche forecasters, snow-science experts and search-and-rescue leaders is that the number of fatalities &mdash roughly 200 around the world each year &mdash will keep rising as the rush to the backcountry continues among skiers, snowboarders, climbers and snowmobilers.

              The backcountry represents the fastest-growing segment of the ski industry. More than ever, people are looking for fresh descents accessible by helicopters, hiking or even the simple ride up a chairlift.

              Before 1980, it was unusual to have more than 10 avalanche deaths in the United States each winter. There were 34 last season, including 20 skiers and snowboarders. Eight victims were skiing out of bounds, legally, with a lift ticket. And many of the dead were backcountry experts intimate with the terrain that killed them.

              &ldquoIt&rsquos a cultural shift, where more skiers are going farther, faster, bigger,&rdquo said John Stifter, the editor of Powder magazine, who was a part of the group at Tunnel Creek in February. &ldquoWhich is tending to push your pro skiers or other experienced, elite-level backcountry skiers that much farther, faster and bigger, to the point where there&rsquos no margin for error.&rdquo

              No one knows how many avalanches occur. Most naturally triggered slides are never seen. Those set off by humans are rarely reported unless they cause fatalities or property damage.

              But avalanches occur in Tunnel Creek regularly. Its slopes, mostly from 40 to 45 degrees, are optimal for avalanches &mdash flat enough to hold deep reservoirs of snow, yet steep enough for the snow to slide long distances when prompted. The long elevation drop means snow can be fluffy at the top and slushy at the bottom. Temperatures, wind and precipitation change quickly, and something as welcome as a burst of sunshine can alter the crystallized bonds deep inside the snow. And because Tunnel Creek is outside the ski area, it is not patrolled or specifically assessed for danger.

              In March 2011, a University of Washington student was caught in an avalanche in Tunnel Creek. Having been carried into a stand of trees, he was unburied by friends within minutes and found dead. Three others were partially buried about an hour later when the ski patrol&rsquos arrival set off a second avalanche.

              Many of the most experienced locals view Tunnel Creek with a mix of awe and fear.

              &ldquoI&rsquove always been a naysayer of Tunnel Creek,&rdquo the snowboarder Tim Wesley said. &ldquoI&rsquove seen a big avalanche back there before. It has about 2,600 vertical feet. Not typical. The snow changes a lot in that distance. That&rsquos the reason I always have a second thought about Tunnel Creek. In Washington, there&rsquos a saying: If you don&rsquot like the weather, wait five minutes. And it&rsquos true. You&rsquoll be on the chair and it&rsquoll be freezing, and then all of a sudden there&rsquos a warm breeze that smells like the ocean.&rdquo

              Even those who are not leery of Tunnel Creek on the best days heed the pass-it-on warning of the experienced: stay left.

              To head straight down to the bottom is to enter what experts call a terrain trap: a funnel of trouble and clumsy skiing, clogged with trees and rocks and confined by high walls. Few go that way intentionally.


              Chris Rudolph, the effervescent 30-year-old marketing manager for Stevens Pass, knew the preferred route down. Tunnel Creek was his favorite at-work diversion. Earlier that weekend, he mentioned plans for a field trip to Tunnel Creek to a select group of high-powered guests and close friends.

              The operations manager for Stevens Pass agreed to pick up the group in one of the ski area&rsquos trucks at the end of its descent. From the bottom of Tunnel Creek, it is about a half-mile trek through deep snow to U.S. 2, then a four-mile ride back to Stevens Pass.

              At 11:32 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 19, heading up the mountain, Rudolph sent a text message to the operations manager.

              &ldquoA big posse,&rdquo Rudolph wrote.

              A Plan in Motion

              Like many ideas that sound good at the time, skiing Tunnel Creek was an idea hatched in a bar.

              It was Saturday, Feb. 18, the afternoon light fading to dusk. Outside the Foggy Goggle, a bar at the base of the ski area, the snow continued to fall, roughly an inch an hour. By morning, there would be 32 inches of fresh snow at Stevens Pass, 21 of them in a 24-hour period of Saturday and Saturday night.

              That was cause for celebration. It had been more than two weeks since the last decent snowfall. Finally, the tired layer of hard, crusty snow was gone, buried deep under powder.

              Rudolph promoted Stevens Pass with restless zeal. In seven years there, he helped turn a relatively small, roadside ski area into a hip destination.

              He unabashedly courted ski journalists and filmmakers to take a look. They, in turn, gave Stevens Pass star turns in magazines and popular ski movies, raising the area&rsquos cool quotient.

              Rudolph was the oldest of three children raised in California&rsquos Bay Area by outdoors-minded parents. The young family pulled a pop-up Coleman camper around the West and skied at the areas around Lake Tahoe. The grown siblings continued to vacation with their parents, climbing peaks like Mount Whitney in California and Mount Rainier in Washington.

              Rudolph peppered his language with words like &ldquorad&rdquo and &ldquostoked.&rdquo But he was no simple-minded ski bum. He was an Eagle Scout with a marketing degree. When he applied at Stevens Pass years earlier, he sent a video of himself speaking, skiing and mountain biking. He included a bag of popcorn for the viewer. He got the job.

              Children knew Rudolph because he kept his pockets full of Stevens Pass stickers. He starred in self-deprecating Webcasts promoting Stevens Pass. He wrote poetry on his blog and strummed a guitar. He drank Pabst Blue Ribbon, the unofficial beer of irony and the hipster generation.

              Tunnel Creek was where he took special guests. And it is where he wanted to take the tangled assortment of high-caliber skiers and industry insiders who, as if carried by the latest storm, had blown into Stevens Pass that weekend.

              Many of them happened into the Foggy Goggle on Saturday night.

              Among them were professional skiers like Saugstad , 33, a former champion of the Freeride World Tour. There were reporters and editors from Powder magazine and ESPN. There were executives from ski equipment and apparel companies. There were Stevens Pass regulars, some with broad reputations in the niche world of skiing, glad to spend time with the assortment of guests.

              &ldquoIt was a very, very deep, heavy, powerful, strong group of pro skiers and ski industry people,&rdquo said Keith Carlsen , a photographer and former editor of Powder.

              Rudolph was the connecting thread. Some visitors, like Saugstad, were at Stevens Pass for a promotional event aimed at expert female skiers, sponsored by Salomon, the ski equipment maker. Rudolph skied with the group all day Saturday. He organized and hosted a catered dinner for the women later that night in Leavenworth, a serious outdoors town dressed as a Bavarian village, 35 miles downhill to the east.

              Powder had come to spotlight Stevens Pass for a feature article on night skiing. When the magazine&rsquos editor, John Stifter , arrived by train to Leavenworth two days earlier, he found Rudolph&rsquos car waiting for him. Inside were keys to the car, keys to a slope-side cabin and two Pabst Blue Ribbons in the cup holders.

              At the bar, Rudolph mentioned an idea to a few people: Tunnel Creek on Sunday. Invitations traveled in whispers and text messages, through a knot of friendships and slight acquaintances.

              Meet at the fire pit, on the stone deck at Granite Peaks Lodge, at 11. Rudolph thought his Sunday morning staff meeting would end by then.

              Rattlesnake fencing isn’t as simple as it seems.

              That sounds simple enough, right? Just have the handyman, landscaper, or the pest control guy do it? It’s unfortunately not that simple. Unlike other kinds of fencing, snake fences must, above all else, provide the function of keeping rattlesnakes out. It should also look good, last a long time, and be installed with significant attention to detail.

              Being a pretty new thing, it can be difficult for a homeowner to know what to look for when going through snake fence installation estimates. Obviously every company is going to tell you they’re the best at it, but how can you differentiate and cut through the noise? It’s not exactly like shopping for a new water heater where you can just compare features and pricing.

              Depending on the size and layout of each property, rattlesnake fence services can range from relatively inexpensive single day projects, to a significant investment in finances and property modification. When considering options, the protection of your family, the aesthetic of the finished product, and the quality of workmanship are all of critical importance.

              Before getting into the details, a notable anecdote about how snake fence installation is different than other home improvement projects you may take on:

              Understanding rattlesnakes in the wild is a necessary part of keeping them out of your yard.

              Generalists vs. Specialists (and the Specialist’s Dilemma)

              In December of last year, I gave a presentation to a group of investors on the mental models of robustness and generalist/specialist species. Below are some of my findings, along with how these models can be applied to business and investing.

              Animal species reside on a scale with “generalist” on one end and “specialist” on the other. Specialists can live only in a narrow range of conditions: diet, climate, camouflage, etc. Generalists are able to survive a wide variety of conditions and changes in the environment: food, climate, predators, etc.

              Specialists thrive when conditions are just right. They fulfill a niche and are very effective at competing with other organisms. They have good mechanisms for coping with “known” risks. But when the specific conditions change, they are much more likely to go extinct. Generalists respond much better to changes/uncertainty. These species usually survive for very long periods because they deal with unanticipated risks better. They have very coarse behavior: eat any food available, survive in many climates, use a simple mechanism to defend a wide range of predators, etc. But unlike specialists they don’t maximize their current environment, because they don’t fill a niche where they could be more successful. It’s tough being a generalist—there’s more competition.

              An environment with more competition breeds more specialists. Rainforests have huge diversity and competition, and therefore many specialist species.

              Specialist examples: Orchid mantis (colorful mantis with appendages like leaves, thrives only on orchids and in tropics), sword-billed hummingbird (beak longer than body, co-evolved with flowers having very long corollas and difficult getting food elsewhere), koala (lives almost entirely on eucalyptus filling a niche that is toxic to most animals).

              Generalist examples: Cockroach (survives in most climates, only needs water/moisture and a food source, only defense is responding to puffs of air), raccoon (wide diet, omnivore, lives in any area with trees, brush, or structures), rat (found everywhere in the world but the Artic, not picky eaters), horseshoe crab (wide diet on floor of sea bed, tolerates wide range of water temperature, can survive in low oxygen waters and out of water for extended periods species over 360MYO).

              Specialists & Generalists in Investing

              This model can be applied to many different areas.

              Investors themselves can be put on the specialist/generalist scale. The most specialized investors focus only on narrow segments of the market or certain types of securities. They can be very successful during certain time periods but in the long run are usually disrupted by a changing investment landscape or black-swan-like event. The most generalized investors use very coarse, unchanging rules and are truly “go anywhere”, willing to buy or sell any type of security around the world. They may underperform or lag behind their specialized brethren in the short term but will likely do well in the long run when averaged out over many different environments. Most investors (including Warren Buffett) lie somewhere in between these two extremes. Specialists include investors in certain industries like Sam Zell (real estate) and Ron Burkle (retail), or in certain situations like Jim Chanos (shorting) and David Tepper (distressed). True generalists are more rare, but include great investors like Ben Graham and Seth Klarman.

              Specialists & Generalists in Business

              A more interesting application is to the competitive business world. Like in the animal kingdom, generalists are rare and are usually much bigger than the specialists. They include big multinationals like Johnson & Johnson, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, and Proctor & Gamble. Also included are conglomerates that may hold many diversified specialists like General Electric or Berkshire Hathaway. Specialists are businesses that focus on a local niche whether in geography or product space. Because many specialists can dominate their niche, they’re usually protected by moats and thus have high returns.

              This is what I call the Specialist’s Dilemma. The stronger your competitive position in a market niche, the more vulnerable you are to eventually being disrupted by changes in the business environment.

              Let me explain further. Out of the universe of companies that have strong competitive moats, many of them have advantages originating from the niches they occupy. (Which can lead to barriers like economies of scale, brand attachment driven by habit, and being ahead on the learning curve.) These advantages are durable only as long as the niche itself remains viable. In other words, the more specialized a company’s dominance is, the stronger its advantages are — but the higher the odds of the niche itself eventually disappearing. Not disappearing due to competitors within the industry, but due to the niche being completely destroyed and replaced by something else. The timing of when this happens partially depends on the “clockspeed” of innovation within the industry (more on that in my last post).

              Just something to think about if you’re a long term investor or business manager.

              Appendix Habitat classification of sea cliffs

              In the habitat classification used by the European Union ⎥] there are four cliff types defined by the vegetation and their geographical location all considered to be composed of 'Hard' rock:

              • 1230 Vegetated sea cliffs - Atlantic & Baltic, PAL.CLASS.: 18.21
              • 1240 Vegetated sea cliffs - Mediterranean with endemic Limonium spp., PAL.CLASS.: 18.22
              • 1250 Vegetated sea cliffs with endemic flora of the Macaronesian coasts, PAL.CLASS.: 18.23 and 18.24
              • 4040 * Dry Atlantic coastal heaths with Erica vagans, PAL.CLASS.: 31.234

              'Soft' rock sea cliffs are not classified although they can be considered to be included in 1230 above.

              Watch the video: Why Real Avalanches Arent Like Cartoons (January 2023).