News Local

Saving of the shrew in Vancouver

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Federal and provincial efforts are being made to save the shrew. (SUBMITTED)

Federal and provincial efforts are being made to save the shrew. (SUBMITTED)

A species known for its ability to walk short distances on water is “critically imperiled” in the Lower Mainland — its chief habitat — and the federal and provincial governments have a proposed plan to save it. 

The strategy to save the Pacific water shrew was released last month. While populations are stable in the U.S., the species is at risk of disappearing from B.C. as their territories are encroached by humans in the highly urban Metro Vancouver region.

Denis Knopp, a member of the shrew recovery team, said on Tuesday the shrews rely on the shrinking wetlands in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley to survive.

These are places such as Surrey’s Tynehead and Surrey Bend regional parks, next to parts of the South Fraser Perimeter Road in Delta, at Burnaby Lake, or near the North Shore’s Seymour reservoir.

The federal part of the plan calls for population counts and habitat measurements from 2014 to 2017.

The B.C. part of the plan — which was established earlier — has already called for protections on Crown land where shrews live, conservation measures on private land, among other initiatives.

“You get a park, you have a nice sandy beach and you take all the litter off of it — you have nice mowed grass, and it becomes useless to the shrew,” Knopp said.

“It has no cover. If it tries to eat, it would get eaten by heron or owl.”

Typically, the shrews require a combination of slow-moving water, soft soil, proper cover and the presence of soft insects or fish to eat, Knopp said. “They look a little bit like a mouse, much shorter legged — they’re unable to hop any distance — they scurry along with very little short legs and they’ve got a sausage-shaped pointed nose.”

Shrinking areas have also made it easier for predators, he said, as now predators would only need to search narrow strips of wetland to locate their prey.

And with urban areas come a new form of predator — the housecat.

“Numerous people tell me over and over that their cat has caught a shrew,” the biologist and naturalist said.


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