Did you know that Canada has more lakes than every other country on the planet combined? While many of us may think of maple syrup as Canada’s liquid gift to the world, the real answer may actually be freshwater. As custodians of over a fifth of the world’s supply of freshwater, Canadians have a duty to help protect this vital resource.
This goal is why we partner with great organizations like the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and support water projects all across the country. This week we were fortunate enough to host Dan Kraus, national conservation biologist with NCC, at our King Street office. Dan shared with associates the freshwater challenges facing Canada and how
We sat down with Dan to learn more about his work, why freshwater is so important and what we can all do locally to join the conservation movement.
What does a conservation scientist do? What does a normal day look like for you?
Most of my work with the Nature Conservancy of Canada is around identifying priority areas that need to be protected. I sometimes refer to myself as a Biodiversity Investment Advisor, because the reality is we have limited resources to spend on nature conservation, so we have to be smart about how we allocate those resources to have the biggest impact possible.
A lot of my time is spent looking at maps and trying to determine the important places for conservation, based on information such as the location of endangered species or the places that are most likely to change in the near future. We need to identify those places, because in many cases if we don’t act quickly, it will be too late and we will lose the opportunity to make change.
Where does your passion for nature come from?
I think early exposure to nature is important. I grew up in the country, so I had a lot of exposure to nature when I was young. I was also very curious; I wanted to know more about all the species and habitats that were around me. The amazing thing about curiosity is that it leads to greater curiosity. I’d learn one thing, just to discover there were three more things I wanted to learn about.
What has been your most rewarding moment as a conservation scientist?
The Nature Conservancy of Canada’s objective is to go out and protect key natural areas. To be honest, there are places we’ve protected in the last decade that 20 years ago I wouldn’t have thought possible.
A great example of this is Pelee Island. When I started my career as an ecologist, we’d visit the island because it was so rich with plants and birds. At the time, there were only two protected sites on the whole island. There was also a lack of communication between the local community, government and conservation groups.. Today, most of the important habitats on the island are protected. Conservation groups are doing a much better job listening to and working with the local community. There has been a tremendous change within the community on Pelee. They now see conservation as something that is helping to diversify their economy. Something that creates real value. That is what you really need for sustainable conservation; you need protection of key areas, but just as importantly, you need support from the community. The work we’ve done on Pelee Island is definitely one of the most rewarding projects I’ve been a part of.
The other part of my work I find rewarding is helping people to discover the species and habitats found in Canada. For me, that ranges from going for walks with people or turning over a log and showing off a yellow-spotted salamander they didn’t know existed. Or, there are presentations like today, where I show a map that highlights the fact that Canada really does have species and habitats that are unique and help make us Canadian.
Why should Canadians care about freshwater? Why does it matter?
Nothing exists without water. You look at some of the great civilizations from human history and if water failed, they failed. It’s as simple as that. We have amazing technology and can accomplish incredible things today, but we still need nature to provide water. We can’t make water.
I think people feel more connected to their water when they understand its source and the role nature plays in helping to purify that water. That kind of understanding is good for people as well as nature.
What can Canadians do to support conservation efforts in their own communities?
The Nature Conservancy of Canada actually launched a project recently to help people with small acts of conservation at home. These are things people can do in their own backyard, from installing a rain barrel to planting small areas of natural habitat to support migratory birds.
I also urge people to learn more about Nature Conservancy of Canada and our work. We’re very strategic in what we do and collaborative with the communities and landowners that we work with.
This work is important for us now, but also future generations. Nobody looks at places that were protected 100 years ago and gets angry. Nobody is complaining that they created Algonquin Park! The work that we do today is going to be appreciated by future generations; probably more than we even realize.
We also have a program called Conservation Volunteers, which is an opportunity for people to get out to NCC properties, learn about what we’re doing and maybe even get their hands dirty. Volunteers can help with everything form removing invasive species, to planting trees and counting rare species on some of these properties.
In general, help nature and help connect people to their watershed and the natural world around them, and you’ll be doing your community a whole lot of good.