Canada

Boreal Landscape in Canada Photo
The Canadian Boreal Forest stores about 186 billion tons of carbon in its forest and peat ecosystems, roughly the equivalent of 27 years’ worth of the world’s carbon emissions.
©J. Ray
Caribou in Canada Photo
Caribou herds can number up to 500,000 individuals, but are vulnerable to increased development in their range.
©Joe Liebezeit
People in Canada Photo
Without roads or easy access to many of Canada's wild places, WCS researchers rely on other forms of transportation.
©J. Ray

Canada is about the same size as the United States, but has only about one-ninth as many people, most of whom live near the two countries' border. A stable, relatively affluent country with vast expanses of pristine wilderness, Canada has a generally solid conservation record and an extensive network of parks and protected areas. Those protected areas span temperate and Arctic ecosystems, from maritime forests to open prairies, deciduous and evergreen forests, high mountain ranges, Pacific Coast rainforests, and Arctic mountains, rivers, grasslands, tundra, glaciers and ice. Significant wildlife includes wolverine, caribou, bears (grizzly, black, brown and polar), Arctic fox, Arctic wolves, snowy owl, eagles, whales, salmon, and a robin-sized bird called the red knot, which migrates from its winter habitat on the southern tip of South America to its breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic.

Natural resource extraction is the primary engine of Canada’s economy, and it is the dominant agent for land-use change. In southern Canada, conversion of large areas of the landscape to farmland and urban areas has eliminated huge swaths of natural habitat and led to the eradication of some species from their original ranges (such as the mountain lion in the northern Appalachian Mountains). The northern boreal forests and Arctic regions are experiencing growing pressures from industrial development as well as from climate change. These regions also comprise traditional-use areas of aboriginal peoples who are struggling to meet their economic needs while maintaining cultural ties to the land. WCS-Canada focuses its efforts in these northern areas.

Fast Facts

  • Canada has the world’s longest coastline, a fourth of the world’s freshwater supply, a fourth of the its wetlands, a fifth of its remaining natural areas, and 10 percent of its forests (nearly half the country is forested).
  • Mid-size carnivores such as the Canada lynx and American marten are the new top predators in the northern Appalachians since the disappearance of wolves and mountain lions.
  • The Canadian Arctic is vast and largely undisturbed, but its northern reaches are suffering from climate change in many profound ways.

Challenges

The threats to Canadian wildlife vary greatly from north to south. Mining, logging, fossil fuel extraction, hydroelectric power, and associate road development result in shrinking wildlife ranges, local species losses, and habitat degradation in the boreal forests of northern Ontario.

Many wild areas, both protected and unprotected, are becoming islands of habitat that are too small to conserve biodiversity. Caribou are extremely vulnerable to landscape changes, and major resource development activities in their home range is imminent. As a result, there is a need for caribou surveys to document current populations, including their sizes and distribution, and for more research projects to better define caribou wintering areas, calving areas, and movement patterns in Ontario's boreal forests.


WCS Responds

Despite the extraordinary conservation opportunities that Canada's vast wilderness regions offer up, incremental development decisions in the country's northern reaches pose historically unprecedented threats.

WCS began working in Canada in the early 1900s and has had a permanent Canadian presence since 1997. WCS-Canada, independently incorporated in 2004, generates and shares assessments of key wildlife species and their needs with conservation groups, resource agencies, and governments. With support from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, WCS-Canada is focusing on habitats and populations of caribou, Canada lynx, wolverine, and freshwater fish in northern Ontario and in Yukon/northern British Columbia.

WCS is also systematically mapping the ecological regions of the Northern Appalachian-Acadian Ecoregion (a cooperative project of conservation organizations in the U.S. and Canada). WCS-Canada has developed the regional Human Footprint map to identify the last of the wild in this region. These initiatives will help us understand what is at risk and help us to plan for and adapt to the outcomes of a changing climate.

From the Newsroom

Alberta’s Heritage of Wildlife & Headwaters Up for GrabsDecember 27, 2013

John Weaver, Senior Conservation Scientist with WCS-Canada, warns that the Alberta government’s draft Regional Plan for the South Saskatchewan, which would establish new Wildland Parks in about a quarter of the area, will be inadequate to conserving its vulnerable fish and wildlife populations and sources of precious water that are cherished by southern Albertans.

Reindeer Are Fading into Holiday MythDecember 25, 2011

Executive director of WCS-Canada Justina Ray discusses how changes to the landscape and climate of the far north affect its iconic caribou herds, and what we can do to safeguard these beloved Yuletide symbols.

Rudolph’s Real-World TroublesDecember 15, 2011

WCS and Canada’s Earth Rangers join forces to protect woodland caribou. WCS conducts scientific research on caribou, which are threatened by development of their home in the far north.

Mapping Montana for Climate ChangeJune 23, 2011

A WCS conservationist maps out a climate change survival plan for species living within Montana’s Crown of the Continent ecosystem.

The Eagles Have LandedFebruary 15, 2011

Two injured bald eagles find a new home at the WCS Bronx Zoo. These young birds from Wyoming add to the growing ranks of this once-endangered species now making a comeback in New York.

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