WCS Canada Annual Report 2016

"WCS is one of the most impressive, foremost organizations working to save the world’s wildlife." - Sir David Attenborough, January, 2017

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We Stand for Wildlife

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WCS Canada scientist Dr. Constance O’Connor assesses a lake sturgeon

Big Wild Places

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"Modern conservation science tells us that we need to protect more than just the spectacular "rock and ice" vistas in mountain landscapes. Also protecting rich valley bottoms, rivers and wildlife corridors, is critical to long-term wildlife survival.

The boreal forest that straddles the Yukon-British Columbia border has one key difference from the forests that run across the northern half of eastern and central Canada — mountains.

As the boreal forest climbs up and over the mountain ranges of the west, it adds a whole new dimension to life in the northern forest: altitude. Here broad valleys are hemmed in by rugged mountains, which in turn may be divided by high alpine plateaus. This topographical element adds immensely to the habitat diversity of one of Canada’s – and the world’s – wildest regions.

This is a place where you can still come across wolverine, grizzly bears, and wolves moving freely through a wild landscape. They may be pursuing mountain caribou or thin-horn sheep, which remain abundant in the region. More than 200 bird species find what they need for over-wintering, nesting or just refuelling during long migratory journeys in these forests and wetlands. Salmon, meanwhile, spawn in the cold, clean waters of the Yukon River as they begin their 3,000 kilometre run to the Bering Sea.

These wild characteristics have drawn WCS Canada’s scientists to the region with an eye to understanding how we can keep this area’s wildness intact as interest grows in the resources it contains, from minerals and timber to oil and gas. Fortunately, we expect the Yukon Government to restart broad-scale land-use planning for the territory and we’ll be bringing our scientific insights to the table in that process.

WCS scientist Dr. Hilary Cooke has already been looking at both what it would take to retain the rich biological diversity of the region and how to develop conservation-focused land-use plans that leave plenty of room for both wildlife and wild forces, particularly fire. Her research has highlighted the need to preserve large, undisturbed landscapes in integrated conservation networks to ensure the long-term protection of biodiversity.

Thinking big is the only way to keep such a globally important area naturally functional -- small, isolated natural areas lost in a sea of development are just not going to do the trick. In fact, Dr. Cooke supports a reversal of this conventional approach that instead isolates development impacts in a region where natural areas remain intact and well connected.

The planning approach being followed by WCS Canada takes its cues from the landscape itself – the way species like caribou or wolverine travel across vast areas, the way fire or insects consume and then regenerate forests across huge areas or the way nutrients are spread throughout a watershed by fish travelling hundreds of kilometres downriver. In short, we are building a picture of what it will take to keep one of Canada’s most natural regions at the pinnacle of wildness.

WCS Canada scientist Dr. Hilary Cooke exploring the old spruce forests that line wild Yukon rivers.

Key Wild Species

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Science in Action

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Bats in British Columbia and Alberta are on the cusp of a major crisis. In 2016, a bat infected with a disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) was found just over the Canadian border in Washington State. WNS has devastated bat populations in eastern North America and now it is on Western Canada’s doorstep.

WCS Canada scientist Dr. Cori Lausen is passionate about bats as well as about the need to take action to protect their key habitats and to better understand which bats can be found where across Western Canada before WNS crosses the border. She spends many of her days and nights crawling through caves or netting bats in often remote places to gather valuable knowledge about the wide diversity of bats found in Western Canada.

But Dr. Lausen also spends time talking to citizen groups and government leaders about the need to take action now to prepare for the almost inevitable arrival of WNS. For example, she has succeeded in getting the B.C. government to allocate increased resources to bat science and her work has led to increased awareness of the potential economic impact of a major decline in bat populations for agriculture, forestry and human health.

As the No. 1 nighttime consumers of insects, bats play a critical role in keeping insect populations in check — everything from spruce budworm caterpillars to the unwelcome biting guests at your summer barbecue.

That's why Dr. Lausen has also spearheaded an effort by bat scientists and conservation organizations to draft a comprehensive Bat Action Plan for B.C. that she is now encouraging the provincial government to adopt. She is also working with everyone from cavers — through the innovative BatCaver program — to the mining industry to improve bat monitoring efforts, take steps to educate cave visitors on how to avoid spreading the disease, and to keep old mines bat-friendly.

Bats with WNS are infected with a fungus that eats at their wings and forces them to burn through their precious stored winter fat long before the return of insect season. It spreads throughout hibernation sites and can kill up to 90 per cent of resident bats.

Bouncing back from the devastating impact of WNS is not going to be easy for bats. While to some, bats seem like mice with wings, our only flying mammal actually has more in common with grizzly bears, bearing only one young each year and living 20 to 40 years.

To Dr. Lausen, bats are fascinating creatures that deserve greater respect, but she’ll settle for recognition that helping bats survive is vital to our own interests and something that requires urgent action.


Through programs like BatCaver, WCS Canada is implementing innovative underground monitoring efforts to track bats and potential disease outbreaks. We are using this information to help develop proactive responses to the potential arrival of deadly white-nose syndrome in Western Canada.

A BatCaver researcher is pictured exploring a newly discovered cave used by hibernating bats in Alberta.

A Day in the Life

We asked WCS Canada scientist Dr. Steve Insley about what it is like hanging out with seals and listening to ocean sounds in Canada’s north. Currently, Dr. Insley is researching the impacts of a changing soundscape on marine mammals in the Arctic.

What keeps you going on tough days in the field?

Thinking about how much better this is than being in the office. (And maybe a pocket full of tootsie rolls!)

What’s the most satisfying part of your research work?

Glimpses of understanding/connection, whether with colleagues, locals in remote places, or from the animals themselves.

What’s the most frustrating?

Roadblocks to getting things done - they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

What can’t you live without when out in the field?

Long underwear? Seriously now, I can't think of anything. There's lots of things that are important, but you always find yourself in situations without and just have to make do.  

What has been your most memorable wildlife encounter?

There's many and too much to detail here, but one time on the Pribilofs in Alaska stands out when the big territorial male northern fur seals in my study group treated me as one of the group.

Where do you want to go next?

Go? I've barely scratched the surface up north.

Through our W. Garfield Weston Fellowship Program, we work with students across Canada on conservation research projects and to mentor the next generation of conservation field scientists. In this video, graduate student Mathew Heerschap describes his research on the health of fish in Ontario's Far North.

Making an Impact

Stand with us to protect wildlife and wild places by making a donation to our conservation science across Canada.


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At WCS Canada, we pride ourselves on our muddy boots. We get our feet and hands dirty by doing field science that gives us firsthand insights into what is happening with wildlife and ecosystems, where conservation action is needed, and how we can reduce our footprint on the natural systems that provide us with the necessities of life, including clean water and air.

We use the insights and information gained from this work to help craft plans and policies that can help protect wildlife and wild places, and then we engage with everyone from government to industry to put these plans into action.

Our research focuses on a few specific wildlife species and wild areas, but we use it to drive broader conservation achievements by applying the lessons learned about species needs, good conservation practices and good policies to the challenge of conserving Canada’s natural areas. We work on a vast canvass, but by honing in on important indicators — such as keystone species or intact areas — and applying rigorous science, we believe we can draw a picture of what needs to be done to create a more sustainable Canada.

Our supporters – large and small – make this work possible and we thank you for being a part of our work to save wildlife and wild places. Together, we stand for wildlife.


Thanks for your support

Together, We Stand for Wildlife



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