Muddy Boots is our internal blog where our staff members share experiences getting their boots muddy with on-the-ground conservation research! You can find our contributions to external blogs and Op Eds here.
By Jaime Grimm
I grew up on the wild west coast, an incredible environment with lots of curiosities to explore. At a young age I discovered that marine invertebrates – the sometimes slimy animals lacking backbones – were just about the most fascinating things on earth. Their diversity is immense! Some have hard exoskeletons with spines and claws to defend themselves. Some are squishy or leathery and feel smooth to the touch. Some are readily identified by the way they smell – take the hooded nudibranch for example, famous for its watermelon-scented skin.
Hooded nudibranch (Melibe leonina) Credit: passiflora4, iNaturalist
And by that, I mean the concrete jungle – Toronto. Being from a relatively small town, it still blows my mind how many people and buildings are here. And at first glace, how little wildlife. What a strange place for a wildlife conservation organization to set up shop. But I started taking walks, reading books in parks and exploring urban gardens. I noticed the bees frequenting the “weeds” popping up in green lawns. The baby robin, barely able to fly yet, hopping after its mother being fed. And while my focus, and by and large, WCS Canada’s focus, is on more traditionally wild, untouched places, urban ecology is hugely important. Further, being based in a major urban center positions WCS Canada to take the results of our research in remote places to the national stage.
On that note, science isn’t done until its communicated. Communication takes many forms – publishing in academic journals, sharing your results with the public, and importantly, sharing your findings with decision-makers. WCS Canada scientists use their experiences and evidence from the field to provide comments and recommendations to people in charge of making decisions that will impact wildlife and their habitats. During my tenure at WCS Canada I was exposed to a whole suite of existing and emerging policies that impact the conservation of species in Canada – something I certainly didn’t experience in my ecological studies. Trying to understand how policies are enacted and how they can influence the state of biodiversity was enough to make my head spin, and I was thrown in the deep end trying to make sense of it. I worked with our President and Senior Scientist, Dr. Justina Ray, to survey and categorize biodiversity legislation across the country, at federal, provincial and territorial scales. This exercise will allow us to highlight gaps that exist in our current framework for protecting biodiversity, and hopefully, make some recommendations about how these gaps can be addressed for a more complete national biodiversity strategy.
At WCS Canada, I became involved in lots of research projects – primarily featuring vertebrate animals. None of my beloved marine invertebrates to be seen. For me, it was a brand-new world of feathers and fur. I collected data from camera traps aimed at mapping wolverine populations in the far north in Ontario and became acquainted with each of the beautiful animals that we caught on camera by their unique chest markings. We also use camera traps in Yukon to monitor migrating birds at stop overs, where they rest during their long seasonal migrations. I was amazed by the huge, beautiful flocks of swans, ducks and geese as I witnessed a small part of their spectacular journeys. In both of these projects, the information we collect will help us map out spaces that are important for wildlife so we can manage them in a way that allows both humans and animals to thrive.
A wolverine caught by one of our camera traps at a bait station in Red Lake, Ontario. Credit: WCS Canada
Camera trap monitoring waterfowl in the Tintina Trench, Yukon. Credit: WCS Canada
During my internship, a landmark report was published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services showing that one million species are facing extinction globally. That’s a pretty shocking number to process. We are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, primarily driven by habitat loss, climate change, overexploitation of species, pollution and invasive species. It can feel really overwhelming, and honestly, pretty hopeless at times. Which is why I’m so grateful to have been involved in the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) process in Canada – it's provided me with an outlet to do something that can make a real, immediate difference.
KBAs are areas that are important for the persistence of biodiversity. The KBA process strives to identify sites that hold endemic or endangered species, important biological processes, have high ecological integrity or are irreplaceable. In 2019, WCS Canada has led the process of identifying KBAs in Canada, a major undertaking that will provide valuable information for decision-makers as Canada strives to protect 25% of its lands and waters by 2025. KBAs can help make sure that we are protecting the areas that are most important for biodiversity – not just creating “paper parks” that won’t help mitigate our biodiversity crisis. My involvement in the KBA process has allowed me to collaborate with governments, other NGOs, local knowledge holders and taxonomic experts.
Baikal sedge (Carex sabulosa) is a rare plant found only in Yukon and Alaska. The presence of these species in sand dunes in Yukon will designate the area as a KBA. Credit: Jaime Grimm/ WCS Canada
I’ve been so fortunate to work with the WCS Canada team – an unparalleled group of inquisitive and dedicated individuals, doing their best to make a difference to our nation’s wildlife and remaining wild places. I don’t think it would have been possible to interact with them over the course of a year and not been influenced by their infectious drive to make a positive change. For me, this internship has reaffirmed that I’m on the right career track for me. It has opened me up to new possibilities for change, new species and places that deserve conserving. It has given me a whole new wild world of things to be curious about – and for that, I think it has made me a better scientist.
Photo credits: Banner | Lila Tauzer © WCS Canada