Special places

Things are moving fast when it comes to our changing climate and biodiversity loss. It can often feel like our systems (political and natural) simply can’t keep up. But through our cutting-edge field science, WCS Canada is demonstrating that effective action can be taken to address these threats.

As champions for wildlife and wild places, we focus a lot on habitat, particularly Canada’s vast and still intact wild areas such as the far north in Ontario and the cross-border landscape of BC and Yukon – two landscapes where we have concentrated our efforts for more than 10 years. Few other places in the world still have the opportunity to protect such wondrous natural areas, which are vital for sustaining ecosystems and provide a refuge for species at risk, all while naturally storing carbon. These areas are also homelands for many Indigenous communities, who are the guardians and stewards of these lands and waters.

So it was very good news when the federal government announced in 2019 that it would allocate $175 million for 67 land-based conservation projects across Canada. This gives us an excellent opportunity to apply the deep knowledge we have gained through our field research to provide support to projects being developed by First Nations in Yukon, BC and Ontario. For example, in BC, we have provided a scientific blueprint for protecting the magnificent Greater Muskwa Kechika, an undisturbed area four times the size of Vancouver Island, much of which intersects with Kaska First Nation homelands. It is a key stronghold for sensitive species like caribou and for freshwater ecosystems that are threatened throughout much of the rest of Canada. In Yukon, we are building on the huge precedent of protecting the Peel Watershed by working closely with First Nations on land-use planning and new Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) in the territory.

In Ontario, we are working hard to quantify both the conservation potential of one of the world’s greatest intact areas and the importance of northern peatlands as a carbon storehouse. Importantly, our request (along with those from the Aroland First Nation and the Osgoode Environmental Justice & Sustainability Clinic) to the federal government for a Regional Environmental Assessment for the Ring of Fire mineral belt in the far north received a positive response in early 2020. This is a major step forward in protecting this globally important wild area from the sort of “death by a thousand cuts” outcome that has degraded areas further south thanks to fragmented project-by-project planning processes.

Protecting unique places and species is also a focus of our rapidly growing Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) program. Having helped develop the global scientific standard for KBA identification in cooperation with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, WCS Canada is now leading the process in Canada to ensure conservation efforts (and dollars) are focused on high-value areas. This will be particularly important given the federal government’s commitment to protecting 25% of Canada’s lands and waters by 2025. By ensuring we put just as much emphasis on quality as quantity, KBA identification can be a critical tool in aiming protection efforts at areas with strong biodiversity values.

Our work does not end at the water’s edge. In the Arctic, we are going deeper  with our work to understand – and address – the potential impacts of increased ship traffic on whales that will come with longer ice-free seasons driven by a changing climate. In the Arctic, we are going deeper with our work to understand – and address – the potential impacts of increased ship traffic on whales. In Ontario, we are working with the Moose Cree First Nation to better understand the habitat needs of ancient lake sturgeon and to assess how sturgeon are affected by hydroelectric development before any more dams are built on some of North America’s last free flowing rivers.

Habitat loss can compound other threats to wildlife survival and that is certainly the case for bats, which have been devastated by a deadly disease – white-nose syndrome – in eastern North America. Our BC bat team continues to crawl through caves and spends long nights netting bats to better understand the ecology of western bats that may soon be facing the same threat. They have also developed a probiotic solution using naturally occurring bacteria that they believe can enhance bats’ resistance to the disease. The team conducted a successful field pilot last summer. Now they are working on ways to test and deploy it more widely, such as applying a probiotic dust in the entrances to bat boxes.

Getting our boots muddy is a key part of WCS Canada’s approach to the huge conservation challenges of our time. We are on the ground developing a real-world understanding of what it will take to help wildlife survive in the face of a changing climate and an ever-expanding human footprint. We use our insights to bring forward practical solutions, but also to illustrate the urgency of taking action now to save wildlife.

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A quick look at WCS Canada

By the Numbers


On the ground
from coast-to
coast to coast


35 WCS Canada Scientists
and Support Staff from


4 field staff for
BC Bat Program


8 field staff in Ontario


10 field staff in Yukon, and NWT (Arctic Ocean)


25 field research


12 post-graduate research fellows


Using science
to identify
priority places


6 to 8.5 million ha area
recommended for protection
through WCS Canada field
research in BC, Yukon and


30 potential Key
Biodiversity Areas


80+ bat research sites


A Voice for Science


24 public commentary


26 media appearances
and interviews


16 scientific papers
and reports


21 submissions on
government laws and

A Holistic Approach

Weathering the climate storm

The changing climate is not just a problem for people. It is also a huge problem for wildlife. The fires that swept across Australia killing billions of animals are just one example of the direct impact of rapid climate change on wildlife. But there are many others - from warmer waters for cold-water fish to shifting seasonal patterns that leave migratory species out of sync with their spring and summer homes.

Thinking about climate change is a big part of life for our field scientists, whether it is designing protected areas with “climate ramps” to help wildlife move to cooler altitudes or find refuge in colder headwaters or looking at how changing ice cover will affect industrial access to the Arctic Ocean.

WCS Canada scientists are looking at ways to both reduce emissions and address the multiple impacts of climate change on wildlife. For example, we are documenting the value of protecting massive carbon storehouses in our boreal forests and wetlands to sustain natural carbon storage, while also preparing for increased ship traffic in a rapidly warming Arctic by ensuring ships reduce speed to minimize disturbance for whales and seals.

We are looking at everything from better understanding how to manage burned forests to protect their ecological values to assessing how wolverines are trying to cope with less predictable snow cover in a world where significant warming is already “baked into” our climate systems and action to reduce emissions is still not moving quickly enough.

Climate change is a huge global problem that is affecting northern regions faster than almost any other place on the planet. But Canada’s one advantage is its very large and intact wild areas that give wildlife the room they need to move and adapt. Protecting this legacy in Canada while acting to quickly reduce emissions will be crucial if we want to prevent the kind of devastation Australia has experienced over the decades to come.


Mapping our Work


Helping bats survive

This map shows the wide reach of WCS Canada’s BC Bat program, made possible in part by strong community engagement through programs like BatCaver and the BC Community Bat Program. Our goal is to learn more about the ecology, distribution and physiology of the wide variety of bat species in British Columbia before the province is hit with white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease that has been steadily spreading west. Finding and tracking bats over the vast geography of B.C. is challenging, but with help from cavers, local conservationists and the B.C. government, we have steadily expanded our coverage. Our bat team is also now testing a probiotic preventative that they hope will increase bats’ resistance to the introduced disease. Early trials have shown promise and now they are working on ways to distribute this protective measure more widely.

Special Places

The magnificent Muskwa-Kechika

The Greater Muskwa-Kechika area in north-central British Columbia is a vast area of undisturbed mountain landscapes. Conservation efforts began here in the 1980s, but left a patchwork system of protected areas that lacked key connections. WCS Canada scientist Dr. John Weaver used information on the movement of four key species – caribou, stone sheep, wolverine and bull trout – to design a more comprehensive protected area system for the area that would fill in the gaps and allow for future adaptation to climate change. Dr. Weaver worked closely with the Kaska First Nation and other Indigenous groups in northern BC to help identify key habitat areas. WCS Canada will continue to work alongside the Kaska as they proceed with their development of conservation plans for the area, while also calling for the B.C. government to include areas to the north of the Kaska territory in a new globally important Indigenous Conserved and Protected area that would be twice the size of Vancouver Island.

Shaping protected areas

Keeping it wild

In the Yukon-British Columbia cross border region, conservation opportunities abound. This is one of the largest undisturbed landscapes in North America and First Nation groups in BC and Yukon are eager to ensure that it does not follow the fate of southern areas that have heavily impacted by piecemeal planning and development. Fortunately, there are a number of large land-use planning and Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area initiatives underway in the region, giving us an opportunity to use our field knowledge to directly inform decisions about creating new protected areas or conservation management plans. WCS Canada scientist Dr. Don Reid played a large role in developing strong recommendations that led to protection for much of the Peel Watershed, which can now serve as a northern anchor for a conservation network stretching down to the Muskwa-Kechika area in BC. WCS Canada is working closely with First Nations on both sides of the border to develop cutting-edge conservation plans.

Key species

Finding elusive wolverines in a vast wilderness

This animated map (click to activate) shows the movement of wolverine M01, one of more than 30 wolverines tagged by WCS Canada researchers near Red Lake, Ontario. Prior to the start of WCS Canada’s research project, little was known about the movement of wolverines in Ontario. Thanks to the satellite-tracking collar worn by M01, we now know that this young male has traveled hundreds of kilometres – from northwestern Ontario all the way to Manitoba. This mapping work helps us to understand how animals like wolverines navigate across managed landscapes, particularly within resource road networks. This, in turn, allows us to make recommendations for forest management plans that can ensure females are protected during the most sensitive periods while they rear their young.


Image Credits


Nanny goat - Kevin White

Special places

Lynx - © Phil Walker
Bighorn sheep - © Phil Walker

Weathering the climate storm

Owl - © Phil Walker

Keeping it Wild

Muskwa-Kechika landscape - Ryan Dickie @winterhawkstudio


Caribou grazing - Mark Bradley


Canoe - WCS Canada


Boreal aerial - © Garth Lenz