Earth Rangers teams up with on-the-ground conservation organizations and researchers to protect species and habitats at risk across Canada.
The Northern Project
In the Southern Hudson Bay, the number of ice-covered days is decreasing by 6.8 days per decade. Polar bears rely on this sea ice as a platform for hunting seals, and are forced to migrate on shore when the sea ice melts completely each summer. Without access to the marine mammal prey that make up most of their diet, polar bears on shore are forced to fast and rely on stored fat for energy. Climate warming has also affected the availability of denning habitat for reproductive females.
Earth Rangers has teamed up with York University researcher Tyler Ross as he works to better understand the influence of climate change on one of the Arctic’s most treasured animals. Tyler’s team will fit 25 polar bears with GPS radiocollars, collecting data that will allow them to determine polar bear movements and behaviours and providing crucial information on the degree to which a warming climate is affecting the bears’ migratory patterns, foraging success, and maternity denning behaviour. Results of this research will help to inform conservation activities in Ontario’s Northern Boreal Forest and along the Hudson Bay coast, providing models for land-use planning to mitigate impacts on polar bears and their critical habitat, as well as providing important information on the effects of climate change on the timing and distribution of polar bear denning.
Thick-billed murres are a resident of the far northern oceans, found in Arctic waters all across the globe. Known as the “penguins of the north”, these birds have distinctive black and white colouration and are one of the deepest underwater divers of all birds, regularly descending to depths of over 100 metres and using their stubby wings to “fly” through the water. Although their population is in the millions, recent reported declines of 20%-50% in some large colonies are cause for concern as the species is increasingly exposed to threats like fishing net entanglement, and ocean pollution, oil spills, and climate change. The ability of thick-billed murres to respond to changes and degradation in their habitat is largely unknown, although the high energetic demands of flying and diving pose physiological constraints for them.
Earth Rangers is working with McGill University researcher Emily Choy as she examines the relationships between thick-billed murres physiological strategies and foraging movements on Coats Island and northern Hudson Bay. Using miniature bio-loggers, Emily will be able to track the movements of murres remotely, measuring things like heart rate, body temperature, and activity levels as they dive, fly, and forage. With this information, Emily will develop an “energy map” to assess habitat quality for these charismatic seabirds and other marine predators with the goal of ensuring that their key foraging areas are not being negatively impacted by human disturbances, like Arctic shipping traffic.
Bahía de San Antonio
Red knots are colourful sandpipers that sport brilliant terracotta-orange underparts and intricate gold, buff, rufous, and black upperparts. They have some of the longest migrations of any bird, travelling from nesting areas in Baffin Island, Nunavut, North Hudson Bay and the central Arctic to wintering spots in southern South America. Sadly their populations have declined in recent decades, and they’re now listed as Endangered in Canada. But why? Making the long journey home requires a stopover in Bahía de San Antonio, where the red knot can refuel, rest, and moult. Unfortunately as this important habitat continues to face increased disturbance, fewer red knots are stopping there, which means fewer are able to complete the journey home.
Earth Rangers is working with the International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC), Argentinean researcher Patricia Gonzalez and her Fundación Inalafquen, and the Provincial Environmental Rangers to enforce protection of the red knot at Bahía de San Antonio. Patricia will be working with local rangers and the community to protect the site and reduce the impacts of human disturbance during the annual migration season, which is critical as we work to protect this important link in the migratory chain.
The Meadoway is a vibrant, 16-kilometre expanse of urban greenspace and meadowlands that will become one of Canada’s largest linear urban parks. Stretching from the Don River Ravine in downtown Toronto to Rouge National Urban Park, the Meadoway will connect four ravines, 15 parks, 34 neighbourhoods, over 200 hectares and more than 1,000 diverse species of flora and fauna, including red foxes, ospreys, and eastern milksnakes. Meadow habitats have been in decline throughout Ontario due to the expansion of urban areas, the intensification of agriculture, and the suppression of natural disturbances such as fire. The Meadoway will serve as year-round habitat for some species, while providing a migrating corridor for others passing through, as they fuel up for their journey to warmer over-wintering regions.
Earth Rangers is supporting the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) as they work to restore and create new wildlife habitats in the Meadoway. This will promote the return of native species to the area, using methodologies such as tilling soil, planting native wildflowers and grasses, removing invasive species, cleaning up litter, and creating additional feature such as downed woody debris, nest boxes, and snake hibernacula.
Wolverines in Western Canada
Fierce and tenacious, wolverines live in northern boreal forests and up to the Arctic Circle—one of the most rugged, inhospitable terrains on Earth. They are solitary creatures that wander huge distances in home ranges that can exceed 500 square kilometres, where they forage for fruits and vegetables, hunt prey large and small, and scavenge from carcasses. The wolverine’s considerable habitat needs are compounded by the fact that this species is highly sensitive to human disturbance, sometimes even abandoning their dens if they detect humans nearby. As land is developed and wolverine territory is increasingly being used for human recreation, the large, contiguous tracts of land available for wolverines to live, hunt, and breed are getting harder to find. In addition, wolverines use high snow levels for dens to raise their young and cache food—so as climate change intensifies and heavy snow pack areas shrink, wolverine populations are running out of room.
Earth Rangers has teamed up with University of Calgary researcher Mirjam Barrueto as she works to learn more about the habitat needs of wolverines in the Columbia and Canadian Rocky Mountains. Mirjam’s goal is to assess wolverine abundance, and investigate any interactions between natural habitat quality, human activities (like skiing, backcountry tourism, and forestry), and wolverine distribution. Using non-invasive methods like motion sensor camera traps and hair traps that will also allow for DNA analysis, important data is being collected that will help inform backcountry tourism partners and provincial land use managers on how to optimize their wildlife protocols and balance land uses.
Grizzly Bears on the Beaver River Watershed
The beautiful and remote wilderness of the Beaver River watershed provides habitat and homes for moose, caribou, wolves, Chinook salmon, trumpeter swans, and grizzly bears. This once untouched landscape is marked with wetlands, lakes, valley bottoms and mountains, and is shared with the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun as their people have lived off the land for thousands of years. The Beaver River watershed is now under threat due to a potential 65 km mining road which will puncture through important wildlife habitat, intersect 73 rivers and streams, and destroy or disturb many hectares of valley bottoms and berry patches—important habitat and food sources for grizzly bears.
Earth Rangers is working with the Government of Yukon and the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun to support a team of grizzly bear biologists, working to access the difficult terrain by helicopter and use non-invasive methods, like hair traps, to determine grizzly bear population size, habitat use, and distribution. This new data will be used to learn how the road and mining sites will impact grizzly bears’ preferred habitats and where conservation and avoidance of key habitats could mitigate potential effects of the road.
River Otters in the Yukon
The river otter is scarce throughout Canada, with the marked exception of the BC coast. This adorable member of the weasel family is amphibious, with a streamlined body and tail, short legs, webbed feet, and dense waterproof fur equipping it to hunt in water. Unlike other fish-eating mammals like seals and whales, otters do not have thick blubber but only a thin layer of fat under its skin. This requires them to get out of frigid waters to rest, find shelter, and travel between different lakes and streams to find food. All of these challenges for an otter are greater during the winter. Otters can only swim for about 100 m from a source of air, and when traveling above ground and across snow-covered land or ice, they must be as efficient as possible to reduce exposure to cold and predators.
Earth Rangers is supporting Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Canada as they work to investigate the crucial areas of open water and cavities along the Yukon’s lake shore, which provide access beneath the ice. These areas support the majority of the Yukon’s species, but are also where most human development and recreational activities are focused and where there are very few protected areas. By identifying the routes that river otters take between waterways, researchers will be able to produce best management practices for the conservation of otter habitats as well as conserving and connecting wetland ecosystems.