Canada’s wildlife draws international tourists and indicates the health of our environment. Human encounters, ocean pollutants and shrinking habitats are endangering wildlife. This issue recently became the focus for a new BUFF® ThermoNet® collection featuring endangered Canadian species with the hope of inspiring us to protect our shared environment. The collection uses 70 per cent recycled fabrics and part of the proceeds will be donated to Protect Our Winters Canada.
I live in Revelstoke, an area that is currently at the center of a provincial debate about protection of endangered species, specifically the Southern Mountain Caribou. This species, which used to be so abundant in British Columbia and Alberta that they were often referred to as ants, are now seriously endangered. Today, almost every herd is in decline and three herds have become extinct.
“It is well understood that human impact, principally extractive industry, as well as outdoor recreation in Southern Mountain Caribou environments have a negative impact on their habitat,” explains Charlotte Dawe from the Wilderness Committee.
Through our conversation, it became clear that these distributions not only decrease the species’ habitat but also makes the herds more susceptible to predators. Coupled with climate change, the Southern Mountain Caribou are now at a tipping point that could very soon end in extinction.
The loss of one species might seem relatively inconsequential. Charlotte Dawe offers another perspective. “These ecosystems we are currently seeking to protect also support us. As species slip away, it is a reminder that we are also species; we are not exempt from the extinction train.”
We intrude on wildlife’s ‘personal space’ when we travel through wilderness or national parks. While you might not intentionally mean to disrupt wildlife, actions such as intentionally feeding them, leaving human food for them to eat or not remaining an appropriate distance away from them can have serious consequences on their health and ability to survive.
As visitors in wild animals’ habitat, it is sometimes difficult to comprehend how our behaviour can be so damaging. Part of the problem lies in our inability to understand their social cues. “Most people don’t know how to read animals' behaviour, so they don’t realise how often they are stressing the animal out,” explains Tawnya Hewitt, a wildlife conflict and coexistent specialist for Glacier and Mount Revelstoke National Park. “When a bear is pinning its ears back, huffing or smacking its lips, that is the bear saying, ‘I’m not comfortable’.” In heavily travelled corridors like Banff National Park, a ‘one-in-a-lifetime’ encounter for you could occur daily for the grizzly.
Further afield in Churchill, Manitoba, Polar Bears International and other organisations have spent over twenty years researching polar bears to better understand how stressors are impacting them.
“We have known for a long time that polar bears need sea ice," says Kt Miller from Polar Bears International. “Sea ice is essential for hunting as well as home for the polar bear’s prey: seals.”
During this period of research, scientists have watched the number of bears drop by 30 per cent, and although the reasons for this are complex, the decline can be linked to an extended time period on land, where polar bears are forced to fast without food for a month longer than their ancestors did.
The most shocking part of this research is that none of it is new. It has been clear for years now that climate change is making polar bears more vulnerable to extinction than they have ever been before.
What is new is the impacts being felt much closer to home. When your house is threatened by flood, wildfires or drought it is easy forget about the plight of a far away species. However, what happens in the arctic doesn’t stay in the arctic. The issues that are facing polar bears are relevant to us now more than ever.
After spending several months researching, interviewing and compiling my thoughts, it’s become clear we have a huge impact on wildlife; our actions directly impact their chance for survival, and in turn, our own survival. Protecting them also means protecting ourselves and moving forward we need to make decisions with our whole ecosystem in mind. However, if you want to keep it simple, I particularly liked the advice that Tawnya from Parks Canada gave me: “Put wildlife first, keep them wild and treat them like you would like to be treated.”
This winter gear article was brought to you by our friends at BUFF®. On the slopes or on the trails, BUFF® Headwear has you covered with cozy Merino Wool, Polar Fleece and the new ThermoNet® Canadian Collection in partnership with POW Canada. Learn more: buff.com/ca