WCS Canada

Our Staff

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Justina C. Ray
WCS Canada President & Senior Scientist
Dr. Justina Ray has led the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada since its incorporation in 2004. In addition to overseeing the operations of WCS Canada, Justina is involved in research and policy activities in associated with conservation planning in northern landscapes, with a particular focus on wolverine and caribou. Although Justina worked for years in African and Asian tropical forests, North America has been her predominant geographic focus over the past decade. The questions that drive her research are rooted in evaluating the role of shifting landscapes in biodiversity decline and/or change in forested ecosystems. These issues include quantifying the impacts of development activities on biodiversity, including effects of forest changes on mammal population and community structure, and monitoring of species at risk. In Canada, Justina has been appointed to numerous government-led advisory panels, including: Ontario Wolverine Recovery Team, the Nova Scotia Marten and Lynx Recovery Team, the Ontario Caribou Science Advisory Panel, the federal Boreal Caribou Science Advisory Group for the Critical Habitat Science Review, Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO), the Lake Simcoe Science Advisory Committee, and the Ontario Far North Science Advisory Panel. In 2006-7, she served on the Endangered Species Act Review Advisory Panel for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources through to the passage of a new Act in May 2007. Since 2009, she has served as co-chair of the Terrestrial Mammal Subcommittee of The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Justina graduated from University of Florida with a Ph.D. in 1996; her dissertation subject was on the community ecology of forest carnivores in Central Africa. She has authored or co-authored more than thirty book chapter, journal, or popular articles, and is lead editor of the book Large Carnivores and the Conservation of Biodiversity (Island Press; March, 2005), co-editor of Noninvasive Survey Techniques for North American Carnivores (Island Press, 2008), and co-author of Caribou and the North: A Shared Future (Dundurn Press, 2008). She is Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto (Faculty of Forestry) and Trent University (Biology Department), and Research Associate at the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Biology at the Royal Ontario Museum. She is co-chair of the Board of Directors of Two Countries, One Forest (a Northern Appalachians conservation network).
Biz Agnew
WCS Canada Associate Director
As the Associate Director Biz leads fundraising and development for WCS Canada. Biz joined WCS Canada in December 2007. Prior to arriving at WCS Canada in 2007, she worked at Nature Conservancy Canada (NCC) as Director of US Programmes and at WWF Canada focusing on several conservation portfolios: Eastern Arctic marine mammals, Canadian Prairie wildlife, WWF Canadian endangered species and the Latin American Programme focussing on Central America, Brazil, Guyana and Cuba. Biz has a BA from Queen’s University at Kingston and a Masters of Environmental Studies (Biological Conservation) from York University, Toronto.
Brie Edwards
Freshwater Research Associate
Brie holds the position of Freshwater Research Associate with the WCS Canada Boreal Freshwater Conservation Program within the Ontario Northern Boreal Landscape. Her current research centres on developing approaches for spatial conservation planning for the protection of freshwater biodiversity and aquatic ecosystem services across the largely intact watersheds of the Ontario Northern Boreal Landscape. Prior to assuming this role, Brie completed a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship with the WCS Canada Boreal Freshwater Conservation Program and as a Visiting Fellow at the University of Toronto, broadly aimed at evaluating the potential impacts of environmental change on freshwater biota in Ontario’s Northern Boreal Landscape. With Connie O’Connor and the Ontario Northern Boreal group, she investigated potential lake-scale effects of climate change on the future distributions of both native and invasive fishes, and developed an approach for using benthic invertebrates to evaluate cumulative effects assessment tools for freshwaters. Prior to working with WCS Canada, Brie completed her PhD at the University of Toronto, where she investigated the conservation status, ecology of and potential threats to freshwater crayfish, a sensitive biotic indicator group, in central Ontario. Outside of work she spends most of her time with her husband and their two young sons, enjoying Toronto or taking advantage of family cottages in the Kawarthas and Nipissing’s French River.
Cheryl Chetkiewicz
Ontario Northern Boreal Landscape Leader
Cheryl is the leader for Ontario's Northern Boreal Landscape at WCS Canada, applying her experience in academia, field based research and varied partnerships with First Nations, Government and NGOs to help develop tools to support regional and community-based conservation planning in Ontario’s Northern Boreal landscape. Cheryl’s research is focused on developing a monitoring program to assess thresholds for key wildlife species and ecological processes under strain from resource extraction and climate change in the boreal. Cheryl joined WCS in 1998 as a Policy Analyst at WCS headquarters in New York and later became a Program Officer. Building on her experience at WCS, Cheryl completed her PhD working on identifying and designing local wildlife corridors for cougars and grizzly bears within two key areas of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, Canmore and the Crowsnest Pass. This research has guided the application of land-use planning within increasingly fragmented habitats outside of protected areas.
Connie O'Connor
Associate Conservation Scientist
As Freshwater Conservation Scientist with WCS Connie leads the Northern Ontario Boreal Freshwater Program. With a lifelong passion for fish and freshwater ecosystems Connie completed her PhD at Carleton University, where she used advanced telemetry and field physiology techniques to study how environmental stressors impact fish in eastern Ontario. Next Connie completed a postdoctoral fellowship at McMaster University, where she researched the ecology and evolution of cichlid fishes in eastern Africa. Connie’s research has greatly contributed to the developing field of ‘conservation physiology’, and she was awarded the prestigious Alice Wilson Medal from the Royal Society of Canada in 2013. In addition to a successful research career, Connie is a leader in science communication, outreach, and student mentorship.
Cori Lausen
Associate Conservation Scientist
Cori Lausen joined WCS Canada in 2011 as part of her NSERC Industrial Research and Development Fellowship, investigating winter bat activity and hibernation in western Canada. Cori completed her PhD in Ecology at the University of Calgary in 2007. Both her Masters and PhD research were on bats, with the former focussing on behaviour and physiology, and the latter on landscape genetics. Since 2007, she has taught bat acoustics courses, completed several independent research projects, and remained active in the field both summer and winter, surveying bat diversity in unsampled areas of NW North America.
Donald Reid
Northern Boreal Mountains Landscape Leader
As a Conservation Zoologist with the WCS Canada, Don leads conservation research and planning projects in theYukon and northern British Columbia. His primary research interests are in the spatial and temporal dimensions of ecosystem dynamics, and how these affect conservation needs, opportunities and planning. Since 2006 Don has been a lead scientist on an International Polar Year study of the terrestrial tundra food web in northern Yukon, with central focus on the trophic interactions of lemmings and their predators. He has also led a team of biologists in gathering and interpreting ecosystem and wildlife habitat data for a strategic land use plan in the Peel Watershed of northern Yukon. This planning process has produced recommendations for substantial new protected areas, and is now undergoing political review. His focus is shifting to conservation issues in the Northern Boreal Mountains, spanning northern British Columbia and southern Yukon. Large areas of wilderness with robust wildlife populations are at risk from new natural resource extraction projects, conversion of land to agriculture, and climate change. Don is leading work in this emerging WCS landscape, including forest resource planning, analysis of protected area options, and capacity building with First Nation governments. Don joined WCS Canada in 2004, based in Whitehorse, Yukon, when the Canada Country Program was getting started. He has helped establish the Country Program, including its strategic planning, and has assisted in the development of the North America Program’s strategic planning. His work in northwest Canada is now strengthened with the inclusion of Hilary Cooke as a research biologist based in Whitehorse. Don has advanced degrees in animal ecology: MSc (Calgary), PhD (British Columbia). His research background includes river otters, beavers, lynx and snowshoe hares in boreal Canada, giant pandas and Asiatic black bears in the eastern Himalaya of China, and lemmings, foxes and raptors on nearctic tundra. His conservation activities include analysis of wildlife habitat and distribution data for land use planning processes, management planning for protected areas, and integration of wildlife habitat needs in forest management.
Gillian Woolmer
WCS Canada Assistant Director
As Assistant Director Gillian leads the financial management and administration of WCS Canada. Gillian's conservation experience includes large landscape conservation planning and the application of spatial analysis tools to address conservation challenges. Gillian collaborated on the initial global Human Footprint project and later adapted the methodology to map the Human Footprint for the transboundary Northern Appalachian ecoregion as part of a collaborative effort with Two Countries, One Forest (2C1Forest). As part of this collaborative Gillian has led the development and management of the Northern Appalachian Ecoregion Conservation Planning Atlas (https://2c1forest.databasin.org), a web-based interactive conservation mapping tool. Gillian has collaborated on a diverse array of conservation projects, including rates of deforestation in Sumatra, Sudden Oak Death Syndrome in California, mandrill habitat use in Gabon and the identification of caribou wintering grounds in Ontario. Gillian first joined WCS in 2000 at WCS headquarters, Bronx Zoo, New York, as GIS Analyst and Lab manager providing GIS support and training to WCS field scientists around the world. Gillian has a Masters degree in Geology and Mineral Exploration with extensive field experience ranging from the Highlands of Scotland and the mines of central Queensland, Australia to the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile. Gillian also holds, and a Certificate in Conservation Biology from Columbia University, an Advanced Diploma in GIS from the College of Geographic Sciences (COGS) in Nova Scotia, and a certificate in Human Resource Management for Not-For-Profits.
Heather Gates
Conservation Assistant
As the Conservation Assistant with the Bat Program, Heather works with Dr. Cori Lausen to understand the distribution and winter ecology of bats in Alberta and British Columbia. Heather holds a BSc in Biology from the University of Victoria. Before joining WCS Canada in 2014, Heather worked for several years as the head grower for a leading forest nursery.
Hilary Cooke
Associate Conservation Scientist
Hilary Cooke joined WCS Canada in 2010 as Research Associate for the Northern Boreal Mountains landscape. Here she is partnering with First Nation, territorial, and federal governments to identify priority areas for conservation and to fill information gaps for species and ecosystems of conservation interest, such as songbirds in valley-bottom habitats, with the goal of bringing science-based conservation solutions to resource management and land-use planning. Hilary began her career with WCS as a member of the North America Program in 1998, where she worked with WCS Researcher Dr. Steve Zack on riparian conservation issues in semi-arid regions of the western United States. Through field studies in Oregon, California and Wyoming, they linked healthy riparian bird communities with alternative riparian management practices used by private and public land managers. Throughout her academic and professional career, Hilary has been committed to developing and communicating science-based solutions for wildlife conservation in landscapes managed for resource use. Her research and conservation focus has been linking wildlife habitat ecology, primarily for birds, with best management practices in threatened or at-risk ecosystems. Her field studies have taken her from the high deserts of the western United States to the boreal forests of Canada. Hilary has a breadth of experience partnering with governments, industry, academia, private land managers, and non-governmental organizations. After earning a M.Sc. in Wildlife Management at Humboldt State University in 2002, Hilary returned to her native Canada in 2003 to complete a Ph.D. in Ecology at the University of Alberta.

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