The Alberta Wildlifer February 2020 Volume 31 Issue 1

To inspire and empower wildlife professionals to engage in science-based management and conservation of wild animals and their habitats.

In This Issue

  1. Executive Director's Message
  2. President's Message
  3. Canadian Section of the Wildlife Society Update
  4. ACTWS 2020 Conference Update
  5. Meet an Alberta Wildlife Researcher: Jonathan Backs
  6. Meet a Wildlifer: Meet the New ED
  7. Book Review: Biodiversity Conservation in Canada – From Theory to Practice
  8. The Snow Goose Festival is Back
  9. Canadian Wildlife Services Public Consultations
  10. TWS Leadership Institute Now Accepting Applications
  11. TWS Early Career Professional Working Group Logo Contest
  12. Mystery Wildlife
  13. Upcoming Events

Executive Director's Update

Every day I go for a walk in the woods around my home in Canmore, Alberta. This week I’ve smiled at the antics of the magpies and ravens chit chatting, staking a claim, and pairing up. Spring is definitely in the air. I love every moment that I spend in the woods, whether in the back country doing field work or walking to town on the paved path from my house. As your new Executive Director, I’m looking at my forest with a renewed enthusiasm for all of Alberta’s wildlife, especially the common species I encounter every day.

Thinking about the year ahead as your Executive Director, I wanted to go back to basics while helping move our organization forward. The essence of who we are as an organization stems from a deep love of Alberta’s biodiversity. So, let’s celebrate that! I’ve started posting my #wildlifemoments on our Instagram page to bring awareness to our daily interactions with wildlife – whether you run into a grizzly bear or a black-capped chickadee, share it on Instagram and tag us (@theACTWS).

I’ve started some themed Facebook and Twitter posts and want to stimulate discussion with our members and internet followers by sharing thought-provoking research and media articles related to Alberta's wildlife. Let’s start an online dialogue about different topics and how they influence our management recommendations for Alberta. Comment, share, and get engaged in the conversation! Like my predecessor (who leaves big shoes to fill by the way), I want to acknowledge the hard work of our membership. #MembersMondays is all about sharing your latest article, talk, or success. If you have something to share on our social media page, email me. I also want to keep the “Where are They Now” on our website active, let me know if you want to be a part of that.

What do you see for the year ahead? As our membership has grown over the past years, it has also diversified. In order to provide you with the services you need, I want to know more about you. In the coming months, I will distribute a survey asking you about your professional interests, needs, and your envisioned role for the ACTWS in the future. Fill out the survey and help shape your ACTWS… you can also enter to win a FABULOUS prize!

Years ago, I went to my first ACTWS conference as a student. I loved the networking and learning that occurred and have always looked forward to what I see as the Alberta wildlife networking event of the year. I am so excited to be at the conference this year as your ED. This year’s conference looks like an amazing weekend and I hope to see you there.

I don’t have a door, but if I did it would be wide open. Please email me any time. I will happily talk wildlife until the cows (or bison) come home.

From the Canmore woods to you,

Sarah Elmeligi, PhD (and your ED)

President's Message

With howling winds and freezing temperatures, the arrival of spring is sometimes difficult to imagine. I take solace in the fact that although winter is still solidly in place, the days are slowly but surely getting longer.

Winter is often a time to hunker down and get to work, and the exec has been doing just that. Members of the Conservation Affairs Committee have been busy attending open houses related to fisheries management across Alberta. They have also recently submitted a joint letter with CSTWS to Minister Wilkinson regarding carbon sequestration and grassland conservation in the context of carbon tax investment planning. You can find the full letter on the ACTWS website.

Perhaps the biggest news since the last newsletter is that we have welcomed a new Executive Director, Sarah Elmeligi. Sarah began work in mid-January and has been busy familiarizing herself with all manners of ACTWS business, including the cumulative effects study, developing a social media strategy to engage members across diverse streams, and reviewing proposed changes to the Alberta recreational fisheries regulations. We are excited to have Sarah join our team! I encourage you to speak with Sarah at our upcoming ACTWS conference.

Indeed, the Chapter conference is rapidly approaching. Alex Beatty and the conference planning team have been hard at work putting together what is sure to be an excellent event. All abstracts have been received and we will have a great diversity of presentations. The plenary session and workshops are finalized, and all information can be found on the ACTWS website. Be sure to register soon as you won’t want to miss this event! I would say that I hope to see you in Camrose, but life has other plans. I am currently pregnant with baby boy number two and due about one week after the conference. While I will be sad to miss the opportunity to connect face to face with our membership, my doctor and I decided it would be best for me to stay closer to home.

This will be my last newsletter as president. After the AGM, I will pass over the reigns to our president-elect Alex Beatty. As I sign off, I want to take a minute to thank the exec for all of their work this past year. The dedication of this group of volunteers is amazing and it has been a wonderful experience working with this group of people. I have learned a lot over the past year, and it has been a pleasure leading this wonderful organization.

I wish you all a safe and happy rest of your winter!

Andrea Morehouse, Ph.D.

Canadian Section of The Wildlife Society Update

Fun fact: Did you know that when The Wildlife Society (TWS) very first established geographic regions in 1947, that Canada was Region VII? While we were integrated back into US sections for a while in the late 1960s, the Canadian Section has been back on track since 2007 thanks to the efforts of many individuals. We are now incorporated and have signed our MOU with TWS, so we are fully legal under U.S. and Canadian Law and have applied for Charitable Status. Member services are in full swing and we are growing!! Oh, happy days!

The Council members are gearing up for their annual meeting at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Omaha, NE in early March. If you have any issues that you or your Chapters would like me to bring to their attention, please let me know by 24 February.

Conservation issues. Much of TWS’s conservation efforts has focused on the Policy Priorities for 116th U.S. Congress. TWS has supported a number of key programs that have direct implications for Canadians, including increasing federal funding for Cooperative Fisheries and Wildlife Unit System that trains fisheries & wildlife biologists ($5.6 to $24 million), passing the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (that provides $1.4 billion to state, territorial and tribal wildlife agencies for the conservation of thousands of fish and wildlife species vulnerable to extinction), completing the Bureau of Land Management’s report on managing horses and burros managed under federal law, promoting regulations by U.S. Fish & Wildlife and States to prevent introduction and spread of invasive species, and working to support efforts for refining regulations for the definition of Take under and conservation measures under the Farm Bill. If you are interested in other policy activities and TWS’s stance, I recommend you visit the Policy Resources section on the TWS website that links you to position statements and on goings of the Conservation Network.

Awards. This is my persistent plea to nominate those deserving Canadians from near and far (or even very far) for a Diversity Award, Group Achievement Award, Special Recognition Service Award, Conservation Education Award, Excellence in Wildlife Education Award among the few. Deadlines vary from 1 March to 1 May.

A reminder of Member Services. One of the TWS programs you might not be aware of is the Give Back Program. Professional members “Give Back” to the wildlife profession by gifting a six-month complimentary TWS membership to an active wildlife professional of their choice to introduce that person to the many benefits that TWS has to offer. The nomination process is easy, and you will give new professionals the chance to benefit from networking across North America.

A reminder to students that in addition to local Chapter’s and the Canadian Section’s travel awards, TWS funds ~20 Student Travel Grants to go to the TWS Annual meeting, which this year is in Louisville, KY (Sept 27- Oct 1, 2020). Applications for the Leadership Institute (LI) are now being accepted. LI consists of a program of intensive activities and mentoring relationships that prepare participants for leadership positions. A great program for young professionals to move their career along and make life-long friends. CSTWS’s current President and Executive Director are alumnae!

Feeling isolated in your area of expertise? Join a TWS Working Group (WG) to network on current issues and solutions. There are WG’s focusing on topics from professional development to wildlife disease to climate change, and a new one on nutritional ecology. Sign up!

I look forward to seeing you this year at Chapter meetings in B.C., AB, and at our CSTWS meeting in Ontario this year! Stay warm!

Evie Merrill, Canadian Section Representative

emerrill@ualberta.ca/ 780-492-2842

ACTWS 2020 Conference Update

The ACTWS 2020 conference is just weeks away and if you haven't got your tickets yet, you can still get some here. To get you ready for the conference, here is the freshest information to get you ready for the big event.

Larry Comin Photo Contest

Share with us those exceptional photographs where you caught incredible wildlife poses, beautiful landscapes, or just stunning moments in nature. Submit your photograph to the Larry Norman Comin Photo Contest at the 2020 ACTWS Conference and AGM in Camrose, Alberta. Photos can be of Wildlife Poses, Landscapes, and/or Relationships with Nature. A single award of a plaque and $250 is presented for the top photo and the winner announced at the meeting banquet.

Photo Submissions Guidelines

1. All photos must be submitted at the registration table by Saturday 14 March at Noon.

2. Include your name, address, email, contact information with the photo submission.

3. Once submitted, the photos will be numbered and mounted for viewing and judging.

4. An electronic copy must also be submitted online at

Miquelon Lake and Ministik Bird Sanctuary Field Trip

Presented by Margo Pybus, Alberta Fish and Wildlife, Glen Lawrence and Strathcona County

Friday, March 13, 2020 from 9:30AM-3:30PM

Norsemen Inn (Meet at Registration Desk)

A bus will transport attendees around the Beaver Hills Biosphere and a bagged lunch is included.

Cost: FREE (This field trip is sponsored by Strathcona County)

Enjoy a full day immersed in the unique landscapes and history of the Beaver Hills Biosphere, a world-class example of a working landscape where the pillars of sustainable land use leading to long-term quality of water, land, air, natural resources, and community development are on display. We will wander through the biosphere and make intermittent stops and walks that highlight landscape and human history as well as conservation successes with species such as swans, bison, and fishers. Guided interpretation provided by local residents and naturalists, Glen Lawrence and Margo Pybus.

Please note: the field trip will begin at the Norsemen Inn (meet at the Registration Desk). Then a bus will transport field trip participants to the offsite locations. Please prepare for being outside for intermittent extended periods during (possible) cold winter temperatures. This is an all-day field trip – a bagged lunch will be provided.

How to Prepare for and Pass Graduate School Oral Exams (qualifying exams and defenses)

Presented by Dr. Lee Foote, Professor, University of Alberta

Author of Oral Exams: Preparing for and passing candidacy, qualifying, and graduate defenses (2016) Academic Press

Friday, March 13, 2020


Norsemen Inn, Salon A1

Most graduate students worry about their graduate oral exams - particularly, how to best prepare, how to manage nervousness, what they will be asked, how to frame answers appropriately, and basically what their committee considers satisfactory. Unfortunately, the available advice thus far has consisted of highly variable guidance from professors, scary internet tales, and graduated students’ horror stories. In this short workshop we will change all of that with insights and compiled advice from many faculty members across a dozen disciplines and universities. This information is available in my recent book, the contents of which will be outlined in workshop format to address the most common exam concerns. This casual and interactive ½ hour presentation will give you the tools to understand committee selection and dynamics; recognize the types of questions you can expect; give specific advice on framing oral answers; describe techniques for handling baffling questions; describe preparation time frames and techniques; and provide a description of “the bar” over which successful students must pass. By following this advice it is unthinkable that you won’t succeed in defending a worthwhile proposal or thesis. The information is crucial for both qualifying exams and defenses as well as expert testimony, board oral exams, and framing answers in a courtroom.

How to select a good committee?

How to prepare for questions?

How to frame a 3-minute descriptive answer?

How to address the impossible/unfair/trick/unknown question?

What about antagonistic questioners?

What are committee members really looking for to pass you?

I will also invite questions and discussion afterward about your specific conundrums.

Keynote Speaker and Invited Speakers for the “Species on the Move” Plenary are announced

The keynote speakers and invited speakers for the upcoming conference has been announced and a the lineup is a great one.

Kathy Martin, Professor, University of British Columbia

Dr. Kathy Martin is a Professor of Wildlife Ecology in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and a Senior Research Scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. Kathy has always held a fascination for how species persist and cope in extreme and challenging environments. She conducts research on population ecology and life history variation of alpine, arctic songbirds, and grouse across elevation gradients, and in relation to climate variation in these increasingly unreliable habitats. She and her students have written over 200 scientific papers and book chapters on ecology, behaviour and conservation of birds. Kathy Martin is currently President of the American Ornithological Society, the largest member-based ornithological society globally. She is also a Past President of the Society of Canadian Ornithologists, and a member of The Wildlife Society and the International Ornithological Union. Dr. Kathy Martin received the Doris Huestis Speirs Award for Lifetime Research Contributions to Ornithology from the Society of Canadian Ornithologists (2008), the Ian McTaggart-Cowan Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding contributions to the understanding, conservation, and/or management of wildlife in Canada by The Wildlife Society, Canadian Section (2016), and the Godman Salvin Prize for Lifetime Contributions to Ornithology from the British Ornithologists’ Union (2018).

Title: Temperate Mountain Bird Responses to Climate Change influences

Abstract: About 24% of the North American land base is classified as mountainous, including over 75% of the British Columbia and Yukon land base. One-third of bird species breeding in continental North America use mountain habitats for at least one critical period of their annual life cycle (breeding, migration or winter). In addition to the specialist and generalist birds breeding in mountains, many birds use high elevation habitats for stopovers during fall migration. One quarter of these species are on lists of conservation concern. Temperate mountain birds are considered to be particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts in the short term given the increasingly variable temperature and precipitation regimes, and also from habitat loss or change in the longer term. I examine the potential impacts of environmental variability for the reproduction and survival of grouse and songbirds in mountain habitats. Factors enabling birds to cope with climate change include flexibility in their reproductive phenology and behaviour, as well as a shift towards a slower life history. However, species differ in their abilities to cope with more variable seasonality, and thus even congeneric and sympatric species experience different reproductive outcomes after storms and extreme delays in breeding. Climate change models predict habitat losses will exceed gains, and alpine patches will decrease in number and size likely resulting in higher costs to conduct seasonal and dispersal movements. As climate change is only one of multiple stressors, the potential of birds to adapt to changing climates will depend on the extent to which their adaptation abilities are constrained by other disturbance processes. Understanding the life history and year-round ecology of species will be critical to predicting responses of mountain birds to climate change.

Contact Information: Dept. of Forest and Conservation Sciences, the University of British Columbia, Vancouver British Columbia, V6T 1Z4. Kathy.Martin@ubc.ca

Home Page: http://profiles.forestry.ubc.ca/person/kathy-martin/

Centre for Alpine Studies: http://alpine.forestry.ubc.ca/

Andrew E. Derocher, Professor, University of Alberta

Andrew E. Derocher is a Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. He holds a B.Sc. in Forest Biology (Hon.) from the University of British Columbia and a M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Alberta. After graduating, he worked with Environment Canada, B.C. Ministry of Forests, and then the Norwegian Polar Institute before returning to Canada. Andrew is a member and past chair of the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group. His research has studied polar bears across the Arctic over the past 35 years. Andrew has published >100 peer reviewed papers on polar bear ecology, ecotoxicology, and the effects of climate change.

Title: An accidental icon: climate change and polar bears

Abstract: Habitat loss is the major threat facing ursids across their range and in the Arctic, rapid warming has fundamentally altered and degraded polar bear (Ursus maritimus) habitat. Polar bears are an accidental icon and became the poster-species for climate change because long-term monitoring revealed the links between sea ice loss and population impacts. The changes in polar bear life history are influenced at several life history points. Energy stores are the primary affected link and the key to understanding the effects of habitat loss on polar bears lies on the balance between energy intake and energy use. Energy use is influenced by habitat conditions and ice-free period duration. Past monitoring of polar bears focussed on abundance estimates, yet the inventory intervals have failed to evolve to the changing ecological conditions. As the Arctic sea ice ecosystem disappears, a new one is emerging, but polar bears are unlikely to retain their top predator status in much of their current range.

Diana Stralberg, Research Scientist, University of Alberta

Diana Stralberg is a research scientist at the University of Alberta, working with the AdaptWest Project for climate-change adaptation and the Boreal Avian Modelling Project. Her work has primarily focused on predictive modelling and multi-species conservation planning questions at multiple scales, from landscape to continental, with an emphasis on climatic drivers and responses to climate change. Her recent research has involved the development of avian abundance models for the boreal region, which she has used to develop future projections of climatic suitability, and to identify potential refugia from the effects of climate change. She has also worked on modeling vegetation responses to changes in climate and wildfire activity in the western boreal region. Her current focus is on understanding the landscape features and ecosystem characteristics that confer resilience to climate change in the rapidly changing boreal region. Prior to moving to Alberta in 2010, she worked as a researcher at Point Blue (founded as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory) in California. She holds a BS from UCLA, an MS from the University of Michigan, and a PhD from the University of Alberta.

Title: Conservation and management of western boreal birds in a changing climate: What do we expect, what have we observed, and what do we do about it?

Abstract: Climate change is expected to bring rapid and dramatic changes to the boreal forest region of North America, challenging boreal birds and other organisms to keep pace by adapting in place or tracking changing environmental conditions. The magnitude of expected change means that bird conservation and management activities must consider increasingly larger geographies, often spanning multiple jurisdictions. This creates new challenges for conservation research, as scientists struggle to address broad-scale ecosystem transitions across large geographies while also addressing local and regional management needs. Conservation planners and managers are also confronted with high-stakes decisions and trade-offs, given large remaining uncertainties. This begs the related questions: “What are anticipated direct and indirect consequences of climate change on boreal bird populations and communities? What changes have been observed to-date? and How does this information influence conservation planning and management decisions?” With an emphasis on Alberta and the western North American boreal region, I will review results from various types of predictive modeling efforts, including correlative niche models as well as landscape change simulations. I will compare these results with new population trend estimates and present a recently developed vulnerability-adaptation framework to guide bird conservation based on species’ individual vulnerability and exposure to climate change. Finally, I will address ways in which climate-change information and predictions can be synthesized to inform conservation and management of boreal species.

Kathreen Ruckstuhl, Professor, University of Calgary

Kathreen Ruckstuhl: I have studied the behaviour and ecology of ungulates for the past 30 years, from work on alpine chamois (MSc), and bighorn sheep (PhD) to a variety of species including ibex, chamois, gazelles, goral, wild and feral sheep, deer, oryx, equids, etc. Since June 2004, I have been a professor for wildlife ecology, department of biological sciences, at the University of Calgary. While my main research focus is on the behaviour and ecology of wild ungulates, my students, collaborators and I, have also worked on rodents of all sorts, fish, canids, and not to forget, their parasites. What I particularly love about my profession is the possibility to gain a deep understanding of an individual’s behaviour and life history, and more directly to be with and observe these magnificent animals in the wild. My long-term (26 years) research on individually marked bighorn sheep in Sheep River Provincial Park allows me to follow each individual’s ontogeny of behaviour in greatest detail, from their first summer as lambs to the time they disappear or die. Over the decades, I have worked both on applied and fundamental studies, investigating human impacts, climate change, behaviour and sociality in a variety of species, and on different continents. We have explored the impact of social networks on individual survival and LRS, group dynamics and sexual segregation, cooperation, feeding ecology, decision-making, mate choice and mating tactics.

Title: Of hosts, parasites, migration and climate change: what can long term studies tell us?

Abstract: My talk will be a synthesis of various research projects, focusing on the behavior and ecology of wild sheep but also some recent research on parasites and climate change. Long-distance seasonal and breeding migrations are very common in many species of insects, birds, fish, and mammals. While most of these migrations are undertaken to track the phenology of food and water, and to avoid predation on neonates, or parasites, many species also have partial breeding migrations in search of potential mates. During the breeding season, some of the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis canadensis) who winter in Sheep River Provincial Park remain with their natal subpopulation, while others migrate to breed elsewhere. Rams often go on breeding migrations, but we have observed that a subset of ewes also leaves their range to breed elsewhere. The purpose of this study was to determine the proximate and ultimate causes of breeding partial migration. The second part of my talk will concentrate on parasites and how they can affect the behavior and ecology of their hosts, from affecting body condition, sociality to behaviour. Lastly, I will briefly talk about climate change and what potential problems that will entail in regard to parasites and their hosts, and conclude with a remark on the importance of long-term research on marked individuals.

Geoff Holroyd, Chair, Beaverhill Bird Observatory

Dr. Geoff Holroyd’s interest in birds developed as a teenager when he was an active volunteer and subsequently, chairman of the Long Point Bird Observatory. He earned his MSc and PhD from the University of Toronto for his studies of the foraging strategies and diet of swallows. During his 36 year career with the Canadian Wildlife Service he supervised Ecological Wildlife Inventories of Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Glacier and Mt Revelstoke National Parks, and was Head of the Threatened Wildlife Section; then as a research scientist he studied Burrowing Owl and Peregrine Falcon and chaired their Recovery Teams. He was an adjunct professor in the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta. He is now chair of the Beaverhill Bird Observatory which he co-founded in 1984. During his variety career he has published articles as diverse as Green Sea Turtle biology to dung beetles in the diet of Burrowing Owls.

Title: Avian Passerines on the Move

Abstract: As our climate changes and becomes more volatile, the effect on small birds varies considerably. While average annual temperatures are warming in Alberta, the seasonal and even monthly changes are more important than the annual average. Averages mask variability particularly for temperature which is getting warmer faster in the winter than it is in the summer. This presentation will present species trends from 50+year databases that show Mountain Bluebirds are arriving earlier, Tree Swallows are nesting later and less successfully, Purple Martins appear to be dispersing westward and severe weather event are negatively impacting a variety of avian species, including burrowing owls and peregrine falcons.

Co-authors: Myrna Pearman and Glen Hvenegaard

Meet an Alberta Wildlife Researcher: Jonathan Backs

Jonathan Backs setting up the warning system. Photo courtesy of Patrick Gilhooly.

Where did you go to school that led to this project?

I completed my schooling at the University of Alberta, starting with my bachelor’s degree in engineering physics. I started my Master of Science in Materials Engineering before switching to the PhD program. I then switched to an interdisciplinary PhD in Materials Engineering and Ecology with Colleen St. Clair (ecology) and John Nychka (materials engineering). Since there was no engineering department dedicated to wildlife behaviour, it was a learning curve to be able to integrate these two fields and tackle the problem I was interested in.

Grizzly bears on tracks. Photo courtesy of Niels de Nijs.

Tell me a brief overview of your project

The project is about keeping wildlife safe from train collisions.

Wolves on tracks. Photo courtesy of the Grizzly Bear Conservation Initiative.

How did you begin to tackle the problem of how to reduce these collisions?

To reduce the number of wildlife–train collisions, we wanted to make it easier for animals to avoid trains. Trains might be difficult for animals to detect under some circumstances, and we thought it might be possible to warn animals in dangerous locations about inbound trains. If a unique signal were presented at a consistent time before every train arrival at a location, we would expect animals to learn an association between the signal and the scary experience of train arrival, and so animals would be encouraged to leave the track when they detected the signal instead of waiting for the train to get close.

Field testing took place in Banff. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Backs.

Your research focused on trains, how are train collisions with wildlife different than vehicle collisions?

Vehicle collisions on roads are more common and certainly better studied, perhaps because they are more publicly visible and more likely to be dangerous for people. Trains are a different threat because trains generally cannot slow down on the time scales required to avoid wildlife collisions and they can’t swerve to avoid wildlife because they are confined to the tracks.

How common are train collisions with wildlife within Banff?

In Banff, Parks Canada and Canadian Pacific record these collisions and there are on the order of a few dozen wildlife–train collisions with large mammals each year. These are spread across the entire 82 km of the tracks within the park.

Morant's Curve. Photo courtesy of the Grizzly Bear Conservation Initiative.

What were the main questions your research was trying to answer?

In this project I tried to address two broad questions, the first being why wildlife are vulnerable to train collisions. The second was to see if there was a way to reduce these collisions. In addressing the first question, I focused on train audibility. This was motivated in part by my experiences helping others of Colleen’s students with their work in Banff, when I noticed some trains are harder to hear than others.

Elk on the track. Photo courtesy of the Grizzly Bear Conservation Initiative.

What factors lead to different trains being more detectable or louder than others?

We started by examining factors that could cause some trains to be harder to hear for wildlife. This was a challenge because of the complexity of acoustics in a natural setting as well as the complexity of wildlife perception and behaviour. One important aspect might be that train tracks tend to follow topographical contours through Banff to minimize the grade, because trains cannot safely and efficiently climb or descend grades that are too steep. This results in the tracks curving through the landscape. It is well known that earthen berms absorb sound and so I thought that the hills around which the track curves could impact the sound transmission from trains and make them harder to detect. In particular, I hypothesized that trains would be hardest to hear around these curves, especially when the curves are around steep topography. To test this idea, I chose 10 locations at which I measured the audibility of trains approaching from both directions (east and west). Train audibility was measured with rugged outdoor audio recorders. Both curved and straight sections of track were observed and compared to each other. My preliminary results suggest that the audibility of trains approaching from curved and straight track was not different on average, but within each site the audibilities of eastbound and westbound trains can be different. These differences within each site might be due in part to topography.

Are there other factors other than hearing the trains that reduce the detectability of trains?

Considering that animals might be more likely to be hit by trains when they can’t detect the trains early enough, the curves seem likely to add danger not only because trains are harder to hear around some curves, but also because they reduce the distance from which animals can see trains. From a perception perspective, vision and hearing are the only two senses that could be used to detect trains from a distance, as olfactory, taste and touch would be generally unhelpful at the speed trains travel.

You might expect that trains would be consistently loud enough for these issues to be irrelevant, but the audibility of a train regardless of the landscape can also vary depending on its speed and on whether the horn is blown as it approaches a location.

How does the detectability of trains impact the risk of wildlife collisions?

Work by others and anecdotes from the Banff area have shown that wildlife tend to be hit by trains when they run down the tracks away from the approaching train, as they are eventually overtaken by the faster train. This is interesting because for humans, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to behave this way when we know the train is confined to the tracks, but animals seem to lack that understanding. When I observed wildlife reacting to trains in my work, most of the time animals made the safe choice and ran perpendicular from the tracks into cover. I and others have speculated that wildlife are more likely to make the maladaptive choice to run down the tracks when they are surprised by trains. Animals might be more easily surprised by trains that are harder to hear.

This lead to the second part of my project, where I created a warning system that could increase the detectability of trains and so decrease the likelihood of wildlife being surprised by trains.

Grizzly bear on the tracks. Photo courtesy of the Grizzly Bear Conservation Initiative.

How did you design your train detection and warning system?

I wanted to design the system with off the shelf parts so that it could be easily built by anyone who wanted to set up their own warning system. Using off the shelf parts also meant a lower cost for parts and assembly, reducing economic barriers to setting up the system. My design was inspired by the train detection and warning systems used at road–rail crossings. However, for safety reasons, I couldn’t risk interfering with the existing railway signaling systems. I tried several different methods for detecting trains that would not interfere with railway signaling, so instead I used off the shelf sensors, and I tested the ability of these sensors to reliably detect trains. Of the sensors I tested, I got the best results using either a digital compass or an accelerometer. These devices could be placed on the outer web of the track rails where they would not be damaged by the train wheels. I then added a radio transmitter so that whenever a train was detected, a radio signal would be sent to turn on the warning signals further along the track. For the warning signals, I chose flashing lights and bell sounds similar to those used at road–rail crossing signals. To accommodate the dichromatic vision of most mammals, I chose to use amber lights instead of red lights. The advantage of this approach is that any wildlife that had prior experience with the road–rail crossings within the park would have a head start on learning, while for other animals this combination of signals ought to be unique in their experience, allowing them to learn a unique association between these signals and the experience of a train passing. My prototype of this system costs $1500 (USD) and protects 200m of track, orders of magnitude less than the sophisticated systems that warn people about trains at road–rail crossings. I designed the warning signals to activate 30 seconds before the train arrives.

Train detector. Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Backs.

Why was 30 seconds chosen?

There were a few reasons why we chose 30 seconds. This was similar to the timing commonly chosen for road–rail crossings, where the literature suggests that 20 seconds is the minimum amount of warning time that pedestrians and motorists can use to keep themselves safe from trains. This was taken into account and tuned from field experience: at 20 seconds away in our study area, you can often hear an approaching train, but less so at 30 seconds. Thus, 30 seconds of warning time ensured that the warning signals were proximate to the train’s arrival for animals, but not so close that wildlife could hear the train before the warning (ensuring the stimuli are experienced in the correct order).

Train-triggered trail camera. Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Backs.

What are some possible limitations of this design?

During my acoustic study, I noticed (as others have reported in the literature) that trains create a wide range of ultrasonic to infrasonic sound. I was able to measure ultrasonic noise produced by trains up to 80 kHz and above, which is as high as the equipment I used could measure. Importantly, these ultrasonic sounds were sometimes detected by the recording equipment well before sounds within the human hearing range were detected. Many large mammals can hear into the ultrasonic range, and so this ultrasonic sound may affect how animals respond to a warning signal provided at 30 seconds before train arrival.

Grizzly bear on the tracks. Photo courtesy of Sonya Pollock.

What was the next step after designing the train detection and warning system?

The next step of my project was to test the train detection and warning system. The system was set up in Banff, where I also placed remote cameras to record wildlife reacting to trains with and without the warning system turned on. For this test I chose four locations in the park using a historical dataset from Parks Canada of wildlife-train collisions over the last 40 years. The warning signals were exchanged between pairs of sites every three weeks to account for seasonal effects. A total of 1.6 million photos were taken during the experiment. With help from many volunteers, we sorted through all of the images to find images with animals present. I then looked at all of the animal sequences to quantify their responses to the trains, essentially when they began to move off of the tracks and when the train crossed the spot where they left. I called this time interval the flight initiation time and this was compared between trials where the warning system was active and inactive.

What were the results of your research?

Our preliminary results suggest that animals coyote and larger left the track 6.5 seconds earlier with the warning system active versus the system being inactive. This is a great deal of extra time when you consider that animals need only travel a short distance from the track to avoid being hit. For the train speeds common within our study area, this equates to an extra 100 m of separation between the animal and the approaching train. Although we did not observe any collisions during our study, we anticipate this extra time and space could be used by animals to reduce their likelihood of being hit by a train.

Grizzly bears on tracks. Photo courtesy of Niels de Nijs.

What do you see as the next steps for this research?

A next step could be to deploy the warning system at wildlife collision hotspots for a longer period of time. This would give us more insight into whether the technology can reduce collisions. With some more work, this system could potentially be used to reduce the impact of wildlife collision hotspots in other jurisdictions around the world.

It would be ideal to measure if animals are learning that the warning system indicates a train is on its way. But to do this, we would need to observe the same animal react multiple times to the system, which is challenging because we would need a way to control how wild animals interacted with our test sites and a way to identify individual animals.

Your research is based specifically in Banff, do you think it could be applied elsewhere? If so, where?

This technology can, in principle, be used anywhere that wildlife and trains may come into contact. It would be interesting to test this technology in India where endangered Asian elephants are hit by trains.

This research was funded by the Joint Initiative for Grizzly Bear Conservation of Parks Canada and Canadian Pacific, NSERC, the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA), Alberta Innovates and the University of Alberta.

Meet a Wildlifer: Meet the New ED

Interview with Dr. Sarah Emeligi

What’s your favourite Alberta species?

As a bear biologist, I am pretty partial to grizzly bears. The more I work with bears, the more amazing I think they are.

Where did you go to school?

I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta, my masters at University of Northern BC and my PhD at Central Queensland University in Australia.

Can you give a quick overview of your career?

I punctuated my education with 5 years of working and traveling between degrees. After my undergrad, I worked as a science educator at the Royal Tyrell Museum and travelled a bit. After my masters, I spent a few years working in the environmental non-profit sector in Alberta, including Y2Y and CPAWS, advocating for the use of science in landscape decision making and regional planning. With this work, I helped get grizzly bears listed as threatened under the Alberta Wildlife Act and worked on the Castle Provincial park Campaign. I then completed my PhD and began working as a planner with Alberta Parks in Kananaskis. I now run my own consulting company out of Canmore.

What are your career highlights?

There are 4 big highlights for me:

The first highlight is that recommendations from my master’s thesis led to bear viewings guidelines in BC.

The second would be working with a lot of great people to get grizzly bears listed as threatened in Alberta in 2010.

The third was working with a lot of dedicated people to eventually get the Castle Provincial parks designated

And the fourth is going to sound lame, but it was completing my PhD (editor note: PhDs are not lame) because of how hard it was. I am still working on getting the publications out.

What interested you in working in wildlife?

I have always been drawn to animals and nature since I was a child. I was interested in understanding animal behaviour because they can’t communicate like we do. Understanding animal behaviour requires thinking outside of your instinctual communication methods and opening yourself up to how another species perceives the world and communicates. I love the creativity and science that goes into that. There are so many ways that animals communicate, because they use every single one of their senses. And as humans, we view communicating as speech and hearing, whereas animals have a really attuned communication system. For example, grizzly bears can communicate across habitats without ever seeing each other. They leave scents or mark trees to have conversations across the landscape, even when they aren’t in the same place at the same time.

What research did you do for your PhD?

Both my masters and PhD applied an interdisciplinary approach to grizzly bear-human interactions in the same landscape. In parks and protected areas, we need to look at ecological and social science together to define some really cool and meaningful management recommendations. In my PhD, I looked at grizzly bears and human trail use in Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks. The basis of my question was how grizzly bears selected habitat around human used trails within the parks. I looked at grizzly bear habitat selection and trail use by using remote cameras and GPS collars. I also had a component of surveying trail users to understand their expectations of grizzly bear management within the parks. The resulting management recommendations were designed to make a satisfactory trail visitor experience and meet grizzly bear habitat within Canada’s busiest national parks.

What’s the biggest change you have noticed since starting your career?

The biggest change is the diversity around what it means to be a biologist. When I first started my undergraduate degree, I used to think a biologist did research and published research. But as I moved through my career, I saw a bigger range in what they can be. Biologists are academics, independent consultants, industry professionals and more. The definition of being a wildlife biologist has changed as the needs have changed. This diversity has been great because it’s led to a bigger diversity in questions being asked. Instead of asking species specific questions, we start looking at ecosystem management and integrating human dimensions into our ecological research so that we have the whole picture. The diversity of questions has led to diversity in the scale of questions, instead of smaller spatial scales, we look at landscape or even global scales. This diversity in science is reflected into our everyday work and has led to more people getting into biological sciences, especially women and people from other countries. Every conference I go to, I am overwhelmed with the diversity in subject matter and people and cultures. This changes what it means to be a biologist and what it takes to conduct biological related research. I could not have predicted how diverse we would become as a group of dedicated biologists and conservationists and I love how it has changed our field for the better.

(For an excellent read about the growing diversity in wildlife, check out David Frey's article about TWS Out in the Field LGBTQ+ Visibility Lunch Social at last year's TWS conference.)

Where do you see your work in the future?

I don’t know because as the field of conservation biology expands and diversifies, it’s hard to predict the diversity of the possibilities. I know I will always be working to protect Alberta Wildlife and making sure robust science is included in decision making because that’s who I am. When I retire, I want to know that each stage of my career contributed to recovering Alberta’s grizzly bear population, but there are a hundred different ways I can do that. I look forward to exploring my future with the same curiosity and passion I had when I graduated high school..

Who was a mentor or famous biologist who helped shape your career?

As a kid, I admired Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey, I loved the relationship they developed with chimps and gorillas and how they were able to learn so much from their behaviours. For mentors, it’s going to sound cheesy, but both my masters and PhD committees were amazing. My supervisors inspired me, challenged me and helped me become a better biologist and scientist.

Where’s your favourite place to visit in Alberta?

I love all of Alberta. I was born and raised here. I love the diversity of the landscapes, ecosystems and communities. It is not the same from the aspen parkland to the boreal to the grasslands to the foothills or the mountains. It’s so different from landscape to landscape and community to community. The diversity of Alberta is where our true strength is. Every square inch of the province is unique.

Do you have any advice for students and young wildlifers you wish you’d known when you started?

My advice for students and young wildlifers is to follow your passion in wildlife biology and to allow it to motivate you when the times are hard. There will always be people you encounter throughout your career who want to see you fail or who want to compete with you based on their own ego’s needs. Focus on the wise words of your supporters and don’t lose your passion. During the hard times, it is your passion that will fuel you and move you forward. Let the naysayers be damned! You do you and be the best wildlife biologist you can be!

Book Review: Biodiversity Conservation in Canada – From Theory to Practice By Richard R. Schneider

Review by Ludwig Carbyn

Dr. Schneider’s new book provides an important contribution to the practice of biodiversity conservation in Canada. Not only does Schneider supply a comprehensive and authoritative overview of conservation theory, he also builds a bridge between conservation principles and their application in real-world settings. Written in a clear and engaging style and brimming with full-colour figures and illustrative case studies, his book explains how conservation decision making is informed by science, shaped by social and political context, and embedded in a complex set of institutions. The subject is exceptionally well dealt with.

Another welcome feature of the book is that it is focused specifically on Canada, which is a first in this field. The consideration of local circumstances is what permits Schneider to delve into the practical aspects of conservation. The types of threats matter; the existing laws and policies matter; institutions matter; the values and concerns of local people matter; history matters; and so on. In short, how conservation is done depends on where it is done. By incorporating these aspects, Schneider delivers a synthesis tailored to the needs of conservation practitioners in Canada.

The first section of the book introduces the social and scientific context of conservation, setting the stage for the applied chapters that follow. In these initial chapters, we learn the “what” and “why” of conservation. Subsequent chapters are devoted to the practice of conservation at both the species and ecosystem level. In these chapters, we learn the “how” of conservation and gain an understanding of how theory and practice are linked together. We also gain insight into the role of conservation practitioners in the overall enterprise of conservation. A dedicated chapter on climate change explores the expected effects of progressive warming on Canada’s ecosystems and what these changes mean for conservation. There is also a chapter on structured decision making, a topic of central importance to effective conservation. Finally, the book presents a sequence of six case studies that illustrate the complexities of real-world conservation and provide additional insight into how conservation theory is translated into practice.

Dr. Schneider intends this book to be used as a vehicle for teaching. For undergraduates, it is meant to expose future practitioners to a broad overview of both the scientific and social dimensions of conservation. For graduate students, the book is a way of moving from theoretical information obtained in classes to dealing, in a practical and meaningful way, with real world conservation problems. For readers with a professional or personal interest in conservation, this book will provide an accessible guide to state-of-the-art conservation science and its current application in Canada.

It occurred to me that much in this book could also be applied to high school curricula. In the very least, a copy could well be placed in every high school library in our country. I found the chapter on “The Historical Foundations of Conservation in Canada “ particularly interesting. Many young Canadians have little exposure or knowledge about such important events of the past such as the fur trade in the 19th century and how it influenced Canadian history .

I also enjoyed the book’s treatment of difficult and controversial topics within the field of conservation. For example, the book explores the fundamental goals of conservation, the question of how much conservation is enough, the concept of conservation triage, scientists as advocates, and the meaning of conservation in a world that is fundamentally changing because of global warming. Rather than simply presenting his own point of view, Schneider provides a thorough account of the alternative perspectives on each topic.

This book represents applied biology at its best. In essence, it outlines logical approaches to finding solutions to complex problems. It has a practical, “no nonsense” approach that I found highly compelling. Conservation practitioners, conservation organizations, government scientists, academicians, and people in all walks of life with an interest of our natural world, can get a great deal out of this book. I highly recommend it.

Additional information about Biodiversity Conservation in Canada – From Theory to Practice can be found at www.ccte.ca. Copies are available at Amazon.ca for $59.50.

The Snow Goose Festival is Back

The Snow Goose Festival is back for 2020 for April 25 and 26. The first iteration of the festival ran from 1993 until 2002 and was one of the first events of its kind in North America. It's return has been partially due to higher water levels in Beaverhill Lake and due to devoted volunteers.

Canadian Wildlife Services Public Consultations

The Canadian Wildlife Services launched a public consultations on proposed changes to the migratory bird game bird hunting regulations in Canada for the next two hunting seasons.

The main change proposed in Alberta is to simplify the hunting zones, going from 8 zones down to 2 zones.

The left is the current migratory bird hunting zones in Alberta and the right is the proposed new and simplified hunting zones.

The second proposed change in Alberta is to increase the daily bag and possession limits of Northern Pintails. The proposed changes would increase the daily limit up to 8 birds per day and increase the possession limit to 24 birds.

The third proposed change is to establish a Sandhill Crane hunting season in Alberta. Sandhill Cranes are currently harvested in other regions of Canada, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and through many the US states they fly through. The establishment of a Sandhill Crane hunting season in Alberta has been requested by hunters as well as agricultural producers due to crop damage by Sandhill Cranes.

The consultation process closed on February 17, 2020 and there is no date on when the results are going to be released.

If you want to be a part of the consultations process, email the CWS.

For more information on the consultation process, click here.

For a full breakdown of the proposed changes, click here.

And for more information on the, click here.

TWS Leadership Institute Now Accepting Applications

The Wildlife Society’s flagship leadership training program, the Leadership Institute, is now accepting applications for its Class of 2020! The program begins in May and concludes at TWS’s Annual Conference in Louisville, Kentucky in October. This year’s Leadership Institute cohort will engage with Leadership Institute alumni and TWS Council members, work collaboratively to understand a wide array of leadership styles and perspectives, develop stronger written and verbal communication skills, and learn how to better navigate the conservation field. Participants will receive complimentary registration and a travel grant to attend the conference.

Participation in the Institute is geared toward early-career professionals, typically individuals 2 to 3 years out of school (either undergraduate or graduate school), currently working full-time in a wildlife professional position, and with demonstrated evidence of their leadership potential. All applicants must be members in good standing of TWS and a chapter or section of TWS. The selection committee will be seeking to create a diverse group of participants, with selection based upon:

• An excellent academic record

• Demonstrated leadership capability or potential

• Demonstrated level of excellence in current position

• Commitment to and involvement in TWS

Preference will be given to individuals who are certified as Associate Wildlife Biologists® or Certified Wildlife Biologists®, or who have submitted such an application to TWS.

Learn more and apply here. The application deadline is March 16, 2020.

TWS Early Career Professional Working Group Logo Contest

TWS Early Career Professional Working Group (ECPWG) is having a contest for their logo. To enter your design, email ECPWG by March 31. The winner will receive a free year of TWS membership and stickers of their logo, and their design will be featured on all ECPWG material.

Mystery Wildlife

Can you identify this month's mystery wildlife? Check your answer on the ACTWS blog. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Melsted)

Upcoming Events

2020 ACTWS Annual Conference - March 13 to 15, 2020 at The Norseman Inn, Camrose, Alberta

ACTWS Bison Public Talk: Cultural and Ecological Perspectives - March 12, 2020 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm at The Norseman Inn, Camrose, Alberta

Ontario Chapter/Canadian Section Joint TWS Conference - March 27 to 29, 2020 in Peterborough, Ontario

Canadian Section of The Wildlife Society Webinars

Climate change impacts on polar bears by Dr. Andrew Derocher - February 10, 2020 at 2:00 pm (ET)

R package for animal movement, managing tracking data, and conducting habitat selection analyses by Dr. Tal Avgar - April 29th, 2020 at 12:00 pm (ET)

The Wildlife Society Annual Conference - September 27 to October 1, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky

Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan (PCAP) Native Prairie Speaker Series

How alternative grazing practices affect the diversity and abundance of grassland birds by Jeannine Randall (webinar) - February 28, 2020, 12:00 pm

Restoring a Prairie Icon: Sage-grouse recovery in the Grasslands National Park and South of the Divide by Maggi Sliwinski - March 4, 2020 at 7:00 pm in McCord, Saskatchewan

Prairie Butterflies At Risk by Medea Curteanu (webinar) - March 20, 2020 at 12:00 pm

Birds and Window Collision by Erin Bayne (webinar) -April 20, 2020

2020 Native Prairie Restoration/Reclamation & Transboundary Grassland Workshops - February 25-27, 2020, in Regina, Saskatchewan

22nd Biennial Northern Wild Sheep and Goat Council Symposium - April 22 to 23 in Canmore, Alberta

The Northern Wild Sheep and Goat Council Symposium biennial symposium will be held in Canmore from April 20 – 23, 2020. The Northern Wild Sheep and Goat Council http://www.nwsgc.org/ is a non-profit, international scientific and educational organization dedicated to the management and conservation of northern wild sheep and mountain goat populations and their habitats in North America. The biennial meeting of the Council includes a symposium and a business meeting. The location of the biennial meeting rotates among the members’ states, provinces, and territories. The symposium includes technical presentations, panel discussions, poster sessions, and field trips related to the research and management of wild sheep, mountain goats, and related species. We are planning a special session focusing on disease that will address known risks, management activities and current research. This year’s event is a rare opportunity to showcase the work of Alberta biologists. For those in attendance it is an opportunity to learn from experts from across North America. For information on the symposium, travel arrangements, abstract submission and registration click on More Info.

Land Use 2020: A Place for Biodiversity Offsets - May 26 to 28, 2020 in Banff, Alberta

Biodiversity offsetting is increasingly used as a policy tool in an attempt to reconcile industrial development and environmental protection. Land Use 2020 - A Place for Biodiversity Offsets (https://landuse2020.ca/ ) is intended to raise the level of knowledge and discussion around biodiversity offsetting in Canada.

The conference is structured to take a participant from an introduction to offsetting and its major concepts through a series of advanced discussions, leading to consideration of how offsetting concepts might contribute to more advanced tools for incorporating economic tools in environmental protection.

The first day will feature an afternoon optional session entitled “Biodiversity Offsetting 101,” which will present an introductory overview of the concept of offsetting, its major concepts and issues, and an examination of select offset projects. The following two days will focus on a series of key issues and opportunities in biodiversity offsetting. There will be a series of plenary and concurrent sessions on specific subjects. Each will be led by a noted researcher who will give a 30-40 minute presentation framing the issue and reviewing current research. This will be followed by a series of presentations and panel discussion. This process has been designed to allow participants to hear from both established researchers and those scholars and practitioners newer to the field.

We hope that Land Use 2020 will help to create links and partnerships between Canada's policy-makers and researchers, with those from around the globe, advancing academic study, policy-making and on the ground offset practice.

Join us at Land Use 2020 to help move the conversation forward.

Birds Canada: The Great Canadian Birdathon - May 2020. The Great Canadian Birdathon is a fundraiser for Birds Canada that has been running since 1976.

Nature Calgary Calgary Birding Challenge 2020 - Nature Calgary is promoting its Big Year challenge for people in Calgary to identify as many species of birds in Calgary city limits during 2020. The previous Big Year challenges were in 2000 and 2010, as well as the Calgary region challenges in 2005 and 2015.

Columbia Mountains Institute of Applied Ecology

Introduction to Wildlife Bioacoustics - March 3 to 5, 2020 in Revelstoke, BC

Amphibian Inventory & Monitoring Techniques - April 14 to 15, 2020 in Creston, BC

Scaling Up Camera Trap Surveys to Inform Regional Wildlife Conservation - May 5 to 6, 2020 in Kimberly, BC

Advanced Field Ornithology: Identification and Surveys by Sound and Recordings - June 1 to 4, 2020 in Revelstoke, BC

To inspire and empower wildlife professionals to engage in science-based management and conservation of wild animals and their habitats

The Alberta Wildlifer

February 2020 Volume 31 Issue 1

The Alberta Chapter of the Wildlife Society

P.O. Box 4990

Edmonton, AB T6E 5G8

Cover photo courtesy of Ian Buchwald

Created By
ACTWS Newsletter Team