Canada has some of the largest remaining wild areas left on the planet. But monitoring the health of these vast areas, including deep forests, wetlands and peatlands and thousands of lakes and rivers can be challenging. That is why WCS Canada scientists look at specific species as indicators for the health of broader systems. Species such as caribou, wolverine, bison, birds and freshwater fish can help us understand how systems are faring because they need large wild spaces, healthy rivers, lakes and forests. Caribou and wolverine, for example, are sensitive to disturbance by resource industries and may disappear from areas that become heavily fragmented by roads, logging and mining. Freshwater fish require good water quality and the ability to migrate up or down river from spawning sites. Bison can be a critical element in restoring now rare grassland systems.
Caribou: We continue to fight for effective recovery plans for threatened caribou across Canada and protection of remaining habitat. Meanwhile, our work on areas like the Muskwa-Kechika in BC focuses on saving intact habitat for healthy caribou herds, which are disappearing in more southerly parts of the BC.
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: Working with the Moose Cree community in northern Ontario, we studied the impact of hydroelectric development on sturgeon to highlight the importance of undammed rivers to this ancient species. Our freshwater fish research aims to protect species that have both ecological and cultural importance.
Birds: 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. We are interested in addressing the issue of habitat loss in the boreal nesting ground used by millions of songbirds each year and along critical migration corridors, such as the Tintina Trench in Yukon. By documenting bird movements – including the amazing migratory journey of the blackpoll warbler – and habitat use, we can make the case for protecting forests that function as huge bird nurseries.
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.