We can’t monitor every one of the thousands of species that are found in this vast country. But we can investigate what is happening with key species that can tell us a lot about the health of large wild landscapes or water systems. Caribou, for example, need large intact areas of old forest for survival and healthy caribou populations usually indicate that wild ecosystems have not been heavily disturbed by human actions. Similarly, lake sturgeon are a great indicator for healthy waterways because of their long lives and need to migrate long distances. Bird population trends can be representative both of the state of global ecosystems, but also local indicators of availability of good nesting grounds. WCS Canada studies a suite of key species – including birds, bats, caribou, wolverine, lake sturgeon and bison – to better inform our landscape conservation efforts. Ensuring these species have the habitats they need requires changing approaches to things like resource development and land-use planning to ensure we retain core areas and connections that will keep Canada’s wild character intact.
Caribou: We are continuing to advocate for better protection for remaining caribou habitat and a change in policies to prevent the fragmentation and disturbance that has steadily eaten away at caribou habitat in places like southern British Columbia and northern Ontario. Protecting some of the healthiest remaining boreal caribou populations in places like northern BC and the far north in Ontario will take a new commitment to lessening cumulative impacts and better recognition of the growing impact of climate change on this iconic species.
Wolverine: Our team has tracked wolverines across northwestern Ontario for three winters, using a combination of live traps, hair snag traps, and camera traps to better understand wolverine movements and habitat use. We have already made recommendations on how to change forestry practices to help protect wolverine dens and will continue to use our scientific findings to advocate for evidence-based policies for management of boreal wolverine populations. This finer-scale work builds on the seven-year aerial survey effort we undertook to better determine where wolverines were in northern Ontario and whether their range was expanding.
Freshwater Fish: A number of North America’s last large free flowing rivers flow from the peatlands of the Hudson Bay Lowlands into Hudson’s Bay. However, one set of rivers in this remote region was dammed in the 1960s. We are comparing how lake sturgeon are faring in dammed and undammed rivers both to better document how dams affect these long-distance migrants and to see if steps can be taken to lessen the impact of the existing dams on these ancient fish. WCS Canada is working with the Moose Cree conservation team on a long-term monitoring program and involving youth from the community in monitoring these fascinating fish that can travel hundreds of kilometres and dance on their tails. With the potential for mining projects in the headwaters of these major river systems or further hydroelectric development, we need to pay careful attention to how this key indicator species is faring now – and tomorrow.
Birds:The amazing journeys taken by many bird species make them a unique indicator for planetary health. Sadly, many bird populations have experienced steep population declines over the past 50 years thanks to everything from habitat loss and pesticides to collisions with buildings and power lines. In Yukon, we are looking at a number of aspects of bird life, from how birds use old shoreline forests and migration patterns along the territory’s Tintina Trench to the importance of burned forests for woodpeckers. Our Canary in the Goldmine video captures some of our work studying how birds respond to habitat disturbance.
Bison: Working with our U.S. colleagues in WCS, we have helped revive the American Bison Society and hosted an annual gathering to discuss how to restore bison that included everyone from ranchers and First Nations to scientists and park staff. Bison’s role in shaping grassland ecosystems is now well understood and we need to accelerate efforts to bring this keystone species back to our remaining grasslands while expanding their habitat. This year our scientists are working with an international team to identify and map priority landscapes for bison reintroduction.