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.