A Case for Pollinators in Canada

I’ve known that I wanted to be a biologist since I was 11 years old.

As a young girl, some of my fondest memories were the summers my family would go camping. I loved being in the woods. I loved connecting with nature and wildlife.

Many years later, I’m now on a team of dedicated wildlife scientists in Canada, working to develop long-term solutions for some of the most serious and complex environmental issues of our time.

One of these very important issues is the state of Canada’s pollinators.

Canada’s Pollinators are in Jeopardy

High-clearance sprayer working a canola field in Canada.
High-clearance sprayer working a canola field in Canada.

Pollinators — such as bees, butterflies and many others species — face real and serious problems including habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change. Insect pollinators are declining around the world. . Without pollinators, our food system will suffer.  We all need insect pollinators to thrive. But here at the Canadian Wildlife Federation, we are trying to give them a fighting chance.

How Are We Helping Pollinators?

Senior Conservation Biologist Carolyn Callaghan in the field.
Senior Conservation Biologist Carolyn Callaghan in the field.

Learning more. Research. Research. Research. We need to learn more about pollinators, how they’re coping in their current environments and what habitat improvements will help the most. We are initiating scientific research, in collaboration with one of the world’s leading entomologists Jeff Skevington, to determine what farmland habitats are optimal for insect pollinator abundance and diversity. The knowledge generated from this research will inform farmers on what habitats pollinators need to provide pollination services to their crops.

Make choices about the food they buy in order to support sustainable farming
Understanding the right choices in the market to support sustainable farming.

Savvy Consumers. Alongside research, a goal that we are working hard to develop, are markets for ‘pollinator-friendly’ foods and products. This approach is the most efficient way to make change quickly. When concerned consumers make choices about the food they buy in order to support sustainable farming, real change can happen.

This work will support wild pollinators which play an important role in food production.

Go Neonic Free

When you use systemic chemicals on plants of any kind (whether they’re in your backyard or in farmer’s fields), those chemicals seep into bees’ food sources. Researchers at York University studied the levels of neonicotinoids that Honeybees were exposed to in regions in Canada where corn is grown. It seems these bees were also exposed to the neonicotinoids for longer periods of time than originally believed – about four months to be precise – when they’re hard at work pollinating. They also found that worker bees died quicker than they would have if they hadn’t been exposed to the substance, clothianidin. Moreover, these same bee colonies had a higher risk of losing their queens.

 

In the end, I wanted to write this: Thank you for your outstanding support of Canada’s environment and the plants and animals that call it home…especially our incredibly hardworking pollinators. Together, we can revolutionize how our food is grown for environmentally sustainable farming, food security, and biodiversity conservation. This is not only possible; it is essential.Medallion Plants

Act today! Our friends at Medallion Plants are generously commitment to triple matching your donation, up to $40,000! Learn more.

Monarch Butterflies Hit Hard This Winter

The latest news on the Monarch Butterfly is cause for deep concern.

Surveys conducted this winter in the Mexican Highlands, where the bulk of the Monarch population overwinters, has revealed that the Monarch population dropped 15% from December 2016 to December 2017.

The population now occupies only 2.48 hectares (ha) of land. Since the counts were initiated, the greatest amount of land occupied was 18.19 ha. The current area of occupation represents a decline of almost 90% since the highest count in 1996. The figure below provides details of the overwintering counts.

monarch overwintering population in mexico
The graph depicts ups and downs in the population over the years, which likely was normal for this species. However, the downward trend without recovery years is very concerning. Over the past six years, the three lowest populations ever were recorded!

Why are Monarchs Declining?

monarch on orange flower

Scientists have listed the main cause of the decline to include habitat destruction on both breeding and wintering habitat. Also, use of pesticides and herbicides on agricultural lands, and climate change impacts have hurt this species. More recent research in the U.S. points the finger at yet another issue: diminished sources of nectar-rich plants along the migratory pathway. Nectar is the fuel that Monarchs need on their incredible journey from Canada to their overwintering grounds. Monarchs need to refuel regularly. The loss of nectaring wildflowers along their migratory path makes it hard for Monarchs to restore their depleted energy reserves. It would be similar to the removal of about one half of all gas stations along our vacation route. We would have difficulty refueling and might run out of gas.

Why did the Monarch Population Decline this Year?

Many of you rejoiced last summer when you saw many adult Monarchs flying in southern Canada. It seemed to be a banner year, especially in Ontario and Quebec. Here at the Canadian Wildlife Federation, we held hope that this would be a recovery year. So what happened to the population? One of the main culprits was the fall hurricanes that struck the southern U.S. this fall. Another culprit was the warmer than usual weather, which delayed migration in some parts of Canada and the United States. Both may have also contributed to reduced numbers in 2017.

Climate change brings extreme weather and increasing variability in weather. Climate change scientists predict increasing extreme weather events and more variability of weather. This will not likely be an advantage for the struggling Monarch population.

What is Being Done About the Decline?

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), which is tasked with assessing species and recommending listing to the federal government, has recommended that the Monarch be listed as Endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act. In Ontario, the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO), the group of experts tasked with listing species under the province’s Endangered Species Act, will likely decide this year whether to list the Monarch as Endangered. An endangered listing will spark the creation of a Recovery Strategy with specific conservation action plans.

In addition to government action, there is plenty of good science happening for Monarchs. Maxim Larrivée’s team at the Montreal Insectarium and colleagues are researching whether milkweed is limited in Canada. Milkweed is the host plant that Monarch larvae depend on for survival, and there are several species of Milkweed in Canada. The results of this research will help us to understand the impact of changing land use on Monarch as well as whether we should target restoration of milkweed host plants to aid the recovery of Monarch.

Monarchs grouped

On other science news, a Canadian study led by Tyler Flockhart determined that habitat in Canada contributed a relatively high proportion of the overwintering Monarchs in Mexico, considering Canada comprises a small portion of the total range of Monarch. The research team looked at chemical isotope signatures from Monarchs on the overwintering habitat to determine where the butterflies were born in the previous summer and fall. They found that 12 per cent of the insects were born in the northwestern U.S. and Canadian Prairies, 17 per cent in the north-central States and Ontario, 15 per cent in the northeastern U.S. and the Canadian Maritimes.

What is CWF Doing for the Monarch?

It will take large scale restoration efforts to increase breeding and nectaring habitat. The Canadian Wildlife Federation is forming partnerships with right-of-way corridor (e.g. roadways and hydro-electric) managers to conduct habitat restoration trials, including:

We aim to document the cost and conservation benefits of restoring Monarch habitat, which will inform restoration practices at a large landscape scale.

CWF also continues to engage school groups and citizens like you to plant milkweed and native wildflowers to provide for Monarch during breeding and migration. Everyone can help to restore Monarch habitat!

Let’s Do More for the Monarch!

To compensate for ever increasing impacts of climate change and agricultural intensification, habitat restoration throughout breeding and overwintering habitat will need to overachieve conservation outcomes. In other words, restoration efforts will have to be bigger and better than ever before. It will take a concerted effort of federal, provincial, federal governments as well as private landowners to make this happen. Together, we have to knock it out of the park for the Monarch!

Learn how you can Help the Monarch!

Photo Scapes: Standing on Thin Ice

How are Canada’s great white giants of the North handling a decline in sea ice? We’re working hard to find out.

Polar Bear

A National Icon

The Polar Bear is probably one of the most prominent species that comes to mind when we think of Arctic animals. Living in the frigid great white North, these beautiful beasts rely on sea ice as a platform for hunting, travelling and mating.

Polar Bear

Canada is home to two thirds of the global Polar Bear population, which means we have an important responsibility towards the conservation of this incredible species. The Polar Bear was listed as a species of Special Concern in November 2011 under the Species at Risk Act.

Polar Bear

On Thin Ice

Polar Bears prefer to live in areas near sea ice to catch their favourite prey, ringed seals. Because of this, some subpopulations face long-term threats due to climate change. As the water gets warmer each year, the ice shrinks, making it difficult for Polar Bears to hunt enough seals to survive.

Polar Bear

The summer seasons are getting longer as Arctic temperatures rise, forcing the Polar Bear to fast for longer periods of time. The longer summer seasons also leave less time for the Polar Bears to store fat and prepare for the fast they must endure.

Polar Bear

The early break up of sea ice means that Polar Bears have less time to hunt seals and build up their fat stores, causing bears to come ashore in poorer condition. Instead, they move inland where they remain less active, living off the fat they’ve stored.

Polar Bear

When the bears do search for food, most try to snatch carcasses, but females with cubs might snack on grasses and berries to get by. However, the more Polar Bears move inland, the more these great white bears increase their chances of becoming problematic for humans.

Polar Bear

Surviving the Arctic

Polar Bears are wonderfully adapted to their Arctic surroundings. Their thick winter coats, with glossy guard hairs and dense underfur, and the thick layer of fat beneath their skin protect them against the cold. Probably the most significant adaptation of polar bears to the uncertainties of food availability in the Arctic is their ability to slow down their metabolism to conserve energy at any time of year.

Polar Bear

Did you know that cubs stick close to their mothers for two and a half years? As a result, female Polar Bears only have new litters every three years. Since Polar Bears breed at a slow rate, it’s crucial that the cubs survive.

Polar Bear

Supporting the Polar Bear

CWF is working towards the long-term survival of Polar Bears by monitoring behaviour shifts in response to changes in their habitat, advocating for polar bear-friendly legislative protection, and by engaging the public on climate change.

Polar Bear

As individuals, we can help Polar Bears by reducing our consumption of greenhouse-emitting gases and household pollution. Each time we use energy, small amounts of carbon are emitted, either by our furnaces or through power plants. Reducing energy usage in the home, and cutting back on the amount we drive, can help reduce pollution.

Polar Bear

What can you do to help the Polar Bears?

  • Adopt a Polar Bear and help fund climate change education in Canada
  • Make a Symbolic Gift in support of wildlife research. Your donation can go towards an important project, such as aerial surveillance of Polar Bear populations in the Hudson Bay area.

Together, we can conserve the wildlife and natural habitats that Canadians love.

Colour mismatch

We all know that hares turn white in winter to help them blend into their snowy environment and back to brown in the spring. But have you ever seen a hare that has already changed colour in preparation for a snowy winter just a little too early – when the snow has not yet arrived? Or a hare that is still white but it seems that spring has sprung early?

This is sometimes referred to as camouflage mismatch or colour mismatch.

Hares start the process of changing colour not based on temperatures or the presence of snow but instead on day length. Currently this mismatch in colour between hares and their environment only lasts for about one week out of the year. But with climate change, scientists are concerned that this mismatch could happen for longer periods of time, having a potentially serious impact on hares.

Researchers are finding that mismatched hares do die at higher rates. A white hare sitting motionless against a brownish background equals easy prey for its many predators including lynx, coyotes, foxes and raptors.

Snowshoe Hare

Scientists predict that with snow in many Canadian areas coming later and spring-like conditions arriving earlier, this colour mismatch could actually last up to eight weeks by the year 2100.

But researchers are hopeful. Hares, can have up to four litters a year and each litter can contain one to 13 young, with the average between four and seven. With this many litters and this many young there is a possibility that hares might be able to evolve so that their molt times are more in sync with their environment. We just have to see if they’re able to evolve fast enough.

Want to learn more?

Put on your long-johns and join us on an amazing sub-zero safari into the winter world of wildlife with Below Zero.

Conserving Wild Species and Spaces Vital to Success of COP21 Agreement

The global commitment to combat climate change agreed by 195 nations in Paris at the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference holds potential to benefit natural areas and wildlife. The agreement’s main aim is to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees, even 1.5 degrees if possible, above pre-industrial levels. The agreement also requires countries to develop action plans on how they intend to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and how they will adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change.

One of the ways to achieve this ambitious goal, according to the agreement, is to reach a balance between carbon sources and carbon sinks, which includes areas like oceans, prairie, peatlands and forests, between 2050 and 2100. Therefore, investing in our ecosystems should be an important part of Canada’s action plan. Canada is home to about a third of the world’s boreal forests and peatlands, a diminishing prairie, and is bordered by three oceans. These ecosystems, if they remain healthy, can make a world of difference in reducing atmospheric carbon at a global scale, while also providing clean water, food, fibre and other services that are the foundation of much of our economy.

Wildlife is an indicator of the condition of an ecosystem, so by ensuring wildlife populations and habitat are healthy, we are also making a critical contribution to helping people and communities.  An important step is to minimize the impact of any threat (habitat loss, contaminants, over-use, etc) on top of climate change so that wildlife and our ecosystems have the greatest chance to adapt and survive.

Natural areas are one of our greatest allies in the fight against climate change, so adaptation must include more than people.  It must include wildlife and the ecosystems that wildlife – and people – depend upon.  CWF and our supporters look forward to working to ensure adaptation that includes ecosystems and wildlife is also part of Canada’s solution to climate change.

For more information, please visit http://newsroom.unfccc.int/unfccc-newsroom/finale-cop21/

The CWF COP21 Delegation
The CWF COP21 Delegation

The COP21 agreement will have implications for CWF and wildlife conservation in Canada

blog post by Rick Bates, Executive Director, CWF

ThinkstockPhotos-122399606

Negotiators are close to a comprehensive agreement at the Paris COP21 UN climate change conference that currently includes most of the elements CWF supports.  The latest draft agreement made available last night sets the stage for more work by CWF within Canada to ensure the national plans are most beneficial to wildlife and ecosystem conservation.

The draft agreement includes three options for action, each of which includes targets of no more than two degrees Celcius above the pre-industrial levels.

This draft also includes a section on adaptation, which are investments to minimise impacts on people and ecosystems from unavoidable climate change.  This is important for wildlife because it sets the stage for investments to conserve natural areas and to enhance them to help store carbon and to keep them strong enough to withstand and-or adapt to changes in climate. CWF conservation supports this type of work in Canada through many of our programs such as Love Your Lake, our Endangered Species program, our boreal forest program and work to conserve fish habitat.

There are other elements present in this draft that are important for wildlife.  CWF encouraged federal government support of the REDD-plus programme prior to the Copenhagen COP 15 in 2009.  Canada was one of the early countries to commit funding to this program, providing $40 million in 2010.  This programme encourages developing countries to conserve forest ecosystems that naturally store carbon.  It also maintains habitat for wildlife in many areas under intense harvest pressures. The REDD-plus program is built in to this latest version of the agreement.

Negotiations are still underway and we will continue to keep you posted on the agreement and events here as the agreement develops.

 

University Students Mobilizing for Sustainability

blog post by Rick Bates, Executive Director, CWF

University students from around the world are connecting to take on the challenges of climate change and sustainable development.

At the COP 21 meetings in Paris today “Students Organizing for Sustainability” (SOS) group met in the Solutions area to share successes, projects, ideas, lessons learned and to attract new participants. “It’s a very exciting time,” said Clementine Robert of Neoma Business School in France, “university students around the world are taking action.”

Rick Bates
Clementine Robert at COP21 in Paris

 

Although only recently formed, the SOS session was attended by approximately 65 students from countries including Canada, France, Kenya, England and Switzerland. But their goals are far more ambitious. “We want to have students from all campuses improving sustainability practises.” Projects underway or being planned include improvements to student housing, transportation, addition of solar panels, sourcing of local foods for campus cafeterias, improved efficiency of buildings, as well as input on national environmental policy issues. The wide range of projects attracts students from social sciences, engineering, architecture, business, law and pretty much all areas of a typical campus, Robert said. See sos-alliance.world for a map of project locations as well as a forum to exchange ideas and advice.

Here more from Clementine:

Students Organizing for Sustainability (SOS)

 

Adapting to Climate Change will Ripple Through Society

blog post by Rick Bates, Executive Director, CWF

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The first draft of a potential agreement on climate change is now being reviewed in facilitated negotiations in the Le Bourget building here, so we do not yet know how fully the important concept of ‘adaptation’ will be built in to the final agreement, but we continue to encourage its inclusion.

“The effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the ocean,” the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) reports, and this will continue for many years as a result of carbon already in the atmosphere. Every country will need to adapt to the changes unique to its ecosystems, people and social milieu. Successful adaptation is also key to minimize negative impacts on wildlife and to maintain ecosystem services that are the foundation of much of our economy.

Reducing emissions is key to minimizing climate change, but because the climate is already changing and will continue to change, we will need to adapt our infrastructure and reduce impacts on wildlife so they can adapt. Changes to the climate are already producing negative impacts on wildlife habitat in Canada including lost sea ice, reduced snowpack and water flows, increased water temperatures, and increased forest fires. These changes impact ecosystems, which in turn affect people. Just one example is increased water temperature in BC streams can reduce salmon spawning success, which in turn reduces food supply for wildlife up and down the food chain, so grizzly bears, birds like bald eagles, other fish, crayfish and on and on. Fewer salmon has an economic impact through commercial, sport and First Nations fishing, which in BC creates hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact every year, including thousands of direct and indirect jobs, and the culture of the province.

Minimizing these types of impacts has ripple effects through our society. These kinds of actions can include increasing vegetation along a stream to provide shade to help moderate water temperatures for salmon, or improving flood protection for communities near the ocean or along a river. But it also includes long-term watershed management and land and resource-use plans that affect industries like forestry and agriculture, how we live, our economic prospects, the wildlife around us and the quality of our lives.

Healthy ecosystems provide a wide range of services that benefit our economy and overall quality of life. They help mitigate the impacts of climate change and are often the most cost effective approach to carbon sequestration and storage. They can also be incorporated into strategies at the local, provincial and national levels.

The agreement being worked on this week should include a goal for adaptation and encourage national plans that incorporate

– input from stakeholders to ensure programs are effective and minimize negative impacts on wildlife
– continuous improvement so we can learn and change as needed to unanticipated challenges
– build on existing programs and incorporate new ones if needed
– maximum use of nature-based solutions that help maintain underlying ecosystem services that are the basis of much of our economy and wildlife

Stay tuned over this week as we report on these negotiations, what others are doing, and share what CWF is doing to minimize impacts of climate change on wildlife.

CWF – Your Connection to Wildlife

 

 

COP21

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COP21 United Nations Conference on Climate Change started on Monday November 30and will run through to December 11. At this conference, world leaders are negotiating on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reach temperature rise targets and begin to adapt to a changing climate. The conference is expected to produce an agreement on limiting rising global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Prime Minister Trudeau is at the conference, alongside our environment minister, our international affairs minister, leaders of the opposition and many provincial premiers. In a tweet showing a picture of the Canadian political delegation, he wrote “To fight climate change, we’re all in this together. Canada is back. #COP21”. Climate change is an important threat to Canadian wildlife and habitats. Species like the Atlantic Puffin are under threat since changes in water temperatures and chemistry are modifying their prey species’ distribution. Others, like the Narwhal, might experience loss of habitat since it needs a specific ice cover over the Arctic Ocean in order to survive. And those are just two examples. This is why we need to ensure that our wildlife heritage is part of Canada’s climate change plan.

Healthy ecosystems provide not only habitat to wild species, they provide a wide range of services that benefit our economy and overall quality of life. For example, peatlands and the boreal forest actually help mitigate the impacts of climate change by storing huge amounts of carbon! This is why CWF will be present at COP21 to be the voice of Canadian wildlife and habitats in the fight against climate change.

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COP21, la conférence des Nations Unies sur les changements climatiques, est en cours, ayant commencé lundi dernier le 30 novembre et se terminant le 11 décembre. Durant cette conférence, des dirigeants de partout sur la planète négocieront sur les moyens de réduire les émissions de gaz à effet de serre afin d’atteindre les cibles de hausse de température et comment s’adapter à notre climat en changement. Il est attendu à ce que la conférence produise un accord afin de limiter la hausse de température moyenne globale à deux degrés Celsius au-dessus des niveaux préindustriels.

Le premier ministre Justin Trudeau y est présent, accompagné de notre ministre de l’Environnement, notre ministre des Affaires Internationales, des leaders de l’opposition et de plusieurs premiers ministres provinciaux. Dans un gazouillis montrant une photo de la délégation politique canadienne, M. Trudeau écrit : « Personne ne peut se soustraire de la lutte contre les changements climatiques. Le Canada est de retour. #COP21 ». Les changements climatiques sont une menace importante pour nos espèces et habitats sauvages. Des espèces telles le Macareux moine sont menacées par des changements dans la température et la composition chimique de l’eau qui modifient la distribution de leurs proies. D’autres, comme le narval, subiront des pertes d’habitat vu les changements dans la couverture de glace sur l’océan Arctique, ce qui pourrait menacer leur survie. Nous devons donc nous assurer que les espèces sauvages fassent partie du plan canadien sur les changements climatiques.

 

 

Des écosystèmes en santé donnent non seulement un habitat aux espèces sauvages, ils nous fournissent également des avantages économiques et améliorent notre qualité de vie. Par exemple, les tourbières et la forêt boréale aident à amenuiser les effets des changements climatiques en entreposant d’énormes quantités de carbone! C’est pourquoi la FCF sera présente à COP21 : nous serons la voix de nos espèces sauvages au sein du combat contre les changements climatiques!

Re-investment of Fees on Carbon Not Clear: First Ministers Meeting on Climate Change

Alberta took an important step with announcement of a new climate change strategy ahead of the First Ministers’ meeting today and the United Nations climate conference in Paris beginning at the end of November.

Alberta’s plan includes a carbon tax, a cap on oil sands emissions, the phasing out of coal-fired electricity and an emphasis on wind power. It is expected that the price of gas will jump 4.7 cents per litre and home heating costs will rise by $320 per year by 2017.

Other provinces, including BC, ON and QC that make up nearly 70 per cent of Canada’s population, have already introduced carbon taxes or cap and trade systems, as well as undertaken other steps to reduce emissions.

At the First Ministers meeting today leaders will receive a briefing from top climate scientists and work to reach a national consensus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions so they have a consistent message in Paris. The goal of the climate change negotiations, known as Conference of the Parties (COP) 21, is to create a framework agreement on reducing emissions among all countries in the world.

While the steps by Alberta are important, the provinces and the federal government need to commit to avoid siphoning off some of the fees to general revenues and instead ensure revenues from fees on carbon are
• re-invested in renewable energy
• projects to reduce emissions by existing industries
• steps to encourage protection of habitats that offer natural sinks for carbon such as the boreal forest, grasslands, wetlands, marine aquatic habitats.
• and support for implementation of adaptation techniques, such as increasing riparian area vegetation and improved aquatic habitat management that can help moderate water temperatures and improve water quality.