How conservation efforts have helped some at-risk species in Alberta

It's Environment Week, and to mark the occasion, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is shining a light on 10 Canadian species that are rebounding in the wild — including a few that make their home in Alberta.

Bison, swift fox, trumpeter swans and pronghorn antelope have recovered

Conservation efforts helped the swift fox population recover, and it can now be found in several areas in Alberta and Saskatchewan. (Rob Palmer Photog/Shutterstock)

It's Canadian Environment Week, and to mark the occasion, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is shining a light on 10 Canadian species that were saved from extinction and are now rebounding in the wild — including many that make their homes in Alberta.

The conservancy is hosting a webinar on June 10 called Saving Canada's Species:10 Stories of Canadian Wildlife Recovery and Why They Matter.

The NCC says it will emphasize successful conservation efforts as scientists warn of a looming "age of extinction."

The webinar will be hosted by Dan Kraus, a senior conservation biologist with the conservancy.

A widely known example of successful conservation efforts in Alberta is its bison population that was reintroduced in places like Banff National Park and Elk Island National Park. (Brian Keating)

Kraus recently wrote in a column for the Hamilton Spectator that this extinction will be attributed to the impact on habitat by humans, rather than by asteroids or volcanoes.

However, Kraus told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday that reversing the trajectory of these species is possible — and in Alberta, examples include bison, the wood duck, the trumpeter swan, the peregrine falcon, the wild turkey, the American white pelican, the swift fox, the osprey and the bald eagle.

"Behind every one of these recovery stories is a story about people," Kraus said.

"Sometimes it's individual [and] sometimes it's a group of people that cared enough to try to make a difference."

Alberta's success stories

The conservancy says that in Canada, over 800 species are at risk, including the bumble bee and shorebird populations that are in decline. Meanwhile, others have disappeared entirely, such as sea mink and passenger pigeons.

However, thanks to captive breeding and reintroduction programs, the implementation of protective laws, and evolving perceptions of wildlife and its importance, many that were once at risk are rebounding.

Trumpeter swans are the largest species of water foul in North America. They nearly went extinct in the 1890s until habitat protection and relocation projects allowed them to recover in Western Canada and Ontario, says conservation biologist Dan Kraus. (Submitted by Raymond Turner)

A widely known example of this is Alberta's bison population, which was reintroduced in the early 1900s to places like Banff National Park and Elk Island National Park, where habitats are protected and herds are tested for disease.

But Kraus said this is not the only instance of conservation efforts making a notable difference in the province.

Pronghorn antelope, for example, were once abundant in Alberta but came close to extinction until large sections of their habitats were protected by the NCC.

This wood duck, a species of perching duck found in North America, floats in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. (Submitted by Mike Kelly)

The prairie fox also vanished from the Canadian Prairies, but translocation efforts successfully brought it back to Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Kraus said.

Bird populations like the wood duck that were once hunted commercially in Canada are also recovering due to relocation projects, nest boxes, enhanced habitat protections, laws that protect most species of birds and a reduction of chemical usage, such as DDT.

"Because [the wood duck is] fairly common now, we've maybe kind of forgotten this story — that at one point there was concern that it could be lost forever. It was heavily hunted. There was habitat loss that was occurring," Kraus said.

"But thanks to that Migratory Birds Convention Act, thanks to the efforts of hunters and landowners to put up nesting boxes, it's a bird now that has recovered and is again quite common."

Habitat loss ongoing challenge

According to Kraus, while these are some examples that provide us with evidence that conservation efforts can be successful, the ongoing challenge is habitat loss.

He says we need to acknowledge and be inspired by the understanding that there are steps we can take to directly change these outcomes.

"Many of our Prairie grasslands are continuing to disappear. We're losing wetlands, and without habitat, we won't have wildlife," Kraus said.

"There are these bright spots of where conservation has worked … [but] we need to respect that work that was done, and just think about how future generations are going to appreciate the conservation efforts that we're doing today."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.