Happy New Year from WCS Canada


Biodiversity Conservation planning



Dr. Sue Lieberman, Chair, WCS Canada, reflects on our conservation programs from the past year and looks forward for an exciting year of biodiversity conservation to come.

Last year, 2014, was very joyous for me and my family, with the birth of my granddaughter (my first). Of course, she’s wonderful and absolutely perfect in every way; what grandmother would say otherwise? This powerful, moving experience now makes me the “older” generation, and has caused me to reflect on the years past, and on the years that lie ahead — particularly for conservation, which is my life’s work.

I have worked in international conservation, particularly at the intersection of science and policy, for almost 30 years. As I held my granddaughter for the first time, I felt even more intensely how critical it is that we all work to ensure that our planet’s wildlife and wild places persist. This child, along with tens of millions others born in 2014, will likely live to see the 22nd century; but what sort of world will that be? Will the wildlife that I cherish, and have worked to protect, be there for her? Will there still be wild places that are sufficiently large and secure to allow wildlife to thrive?

In the midst of these reflections and celebrations of the New Year I am looking ahead to 2015 and the important and tireless role played by WCS Canada to protect wildlife and wild places. Currently, as the WCS Vice President for International Policy, the threats facing wildlife and wild places are never far from my mind. I am very fortunate to be able to work with the dedicated conservationists of WCS around the world, in more than 60 countries. I was honoured to be chosen this year as Chair of the Board of Directors of WCS Canada, based in Toronto. This is particularly exciting for me, because I cherish many visits I have had to wild places in Canada, whose national parks and other wilderness areas are truly magnificent.

This New Year brings particular focus on the boreal forests of Canada. Canadian wild areas are iconic – both from a North American and a global perspective. With the largest intact boreal forest tracts in the world, and some of the world’s most majestic wildlife – from caribou and lynx, to lemmings and owls – inspiration is not hard to find. To protect these still-wild places, our scientists at WCS Canada are lacing up their boots and getting ready for another great year of field research.

WCS Canada has a long history of collaboration with government agencies, NGOs, First Nations and communities to inform land use designations and key conservation-related policies. WCS scientist Dr. Donald Reid provided conservation advice and scientific leadership for land-use planning in 67,000 km2 of the Peel River Watershed as part of Peel Watershed Planning Commission. Just recently (in December), a landmark legal decision has been made; the Government of Yukon must comply with the planning process and the original land-use plan will be reinstated. This will effectively protect 80% of the Peel watershed, and its incredible wildlife. Working as a team with Dr. Hilary Cooke, Dr. Reid will continue to advocate for careful planning in the region using the best available scientific information, including those from WCS field studies on birds, otters, and other indicator species.

Further north, our work in Arctic Beringia, which includes parts of Alaska and Russia, is focused on pending changes to marine environments due to shifting climates and increases in boat traffic. For example, Dr. Steve Insley is monitoring noise levels to determine the effects of increased sea traffic on seals and whales. Dr. Justina Ray continues her tireless work tracking, studying and documenting the condition of caribou populations in Canada. The spirit of collaboration in Ontario’s Far North is strong and our work is led by Dr. Cheryl Chetkiewicz. This area, housing a globally-significant chromite deposit (the “Ring of Fire”), is larger than many countries, so developing the region in a way that considers the needs of wildlife and wild places is integral to true conservation of these large iconic Canadian landscapes. Moving south, WCS Canada will continue to fight against the spread of White-Nose Syndrome – a devastating disease that has ravaged bat populations in eastern North America. Through the efforts of Dr. Cori Lausen, we are studying bats’ over-wintering habits in an effort to develop baseline measurements on bat populations and habitat so we know exactly where we stand. Also in western Canada, WCS is working to restore American bison to prairie lands straddling the US and southern Alberta. The most recent positive step in this direction happened with the signing of a treaty between U.S. Tribes and Canadian First Nations this fall to establish intertribal alliances for co-operation in the restoration of American bison on Tribes/First Nations Reserves and co-managed lands within the U.S. and Canada. In a similar fashion, Dr. John Weaver is advancing conservation initiatives to protect key roadless areas across the Crown of the Continent region, which includes southern B.C., Alberta, and northern Montana.

In the Northern Appalachians, an area that encompasses the Maritime provinces and Gaspé Peninsula of Québec, we were a founding partner of the Two Countries One Forest initiative. Our work led by Gillian Woolmer extends across a large trans-boundary forested region with a network of conservation partners and collaborators to ensure wildlife can travel unimpeded across centuries-old connected wild habitats.
These are just a few examples of the many exciting programs of WCS Canada and its amazing scientists and other experts. On behalf of the team at WCS Canada, we invite you along on this adventure, and also thank you for being with us this year. 2015 is going to be another very exciting year for all of us. We are looking forward to some big conservation opportunities and the successes we have achieved in 2014 fill us with hope. We will be celebrating throughout the year with events in Toronto, including open houses featuring our remarkable field scientists. I hope you are able to join us, whether in person, on Facebook, via Twitter, or by signing up for our monthly e-newsletter. Don’t forget to tell your children —and grandchildren — about WCS Canada.

Thank you
Susan Lieberman, PhDVice President, International PolicyChair, Board of Directors WCS Canada