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Grasslands National Park

Volunteer Opportunities

2016 Canadian black-tailed prairie dog fine scale research volunteers event

We are looking for volunteers to assist with University of Saskatchewan fieldwork beginning June 15 and continuing until August 31 (preference may be given to applicants who can start earlier in June). The project investigates the ecology, conservation and evolution of Black-tailed prairie dogs and will involve live-trapping, handling and monitoring of individuals. Prairie dog towns are critical for black footed ferret recovery and home to many other species such as: burrowing owls, swift fox and the prairie rattlesnake. Assistants will have the opportunity of seeing all of these iconic grassland species, plus the many more resident in the Park.

This is an excellent opportunity to gain experience working with a population of small mammals in a spectacular setting and in collaboration with university, park and zoo researchers. All fieldwork is carried out in Grasslands National Park, southern Saskatchewan, one of the largest remaining tracts of native prairie in Canada. We will be staying in Parks Canada housing in the heart of the park. Food and accommodation are provided. Volunteers are required to provide for their own travel to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Travel between the field station and Saskatoon is provided.

Training will be provided and no experience is necessary, but candidates should have an interest in the following (the more the better!): ecology, evolutionary biology, wildlife, field biology, and conservation biology. The field house and study population is isolated (the nearest town is approx. 45 min away) and, as such, successful applicants need to be able to cope under these conditions, enjoy the outdoors, be up-beat, positive, responsible and work well as a member of a team.

If you wish to apply for one of these posts then please send a CV with a cover letter and contact details for three references (with e-mail addresses), by email to Jeff Lane (contact info below) ASAP. Applications will be evaluated as they are received. While we thank all applicants for their interest in these positions, only applicants chosen for interview will be contacted.

Dr. Jeff Lane
Department of Biology
University of Saskatchewan


Parks Canada and the Calgary Zoo have partnered in the recovery of black-footed ferrets and the management of black-tailed prairie dogs since 2004, with the Calgary Zoo commencing field research in 2007. The primary objective of this partnership is for the Calgary Zoo to use its scientific and communications/outreach expertise and capacity to work collaboratively with Parks Canada to incorporate scientific research into conservation actions and to inspire Canadians to value Canada’s only Prairie Dog Ecosystem. Furthermore, the Calgary Zoo uses their expertise in species reintroductions to collaboratively further the process and increase the success of ferret recovery in Canada.

Grasslands National Park in partnership with the Calgary Zoo are looking for volunteers willing to participate in field research for the Canadian Prairie Dog Ecosystem Research Project. Space is limited and will be filled with qualified applicants on a first come first serve basis.

Conducting burrow swabbing, visual counts, burrow counts and vegetation sampling on black-tailed prairie dog colonies in the West Block of Grasslands National Park. In addition, volunteers may be able to observe and participate in live-trapping of black-tailed prairie dogs, depending on scheduling constraints. We will attempt, but unfortunately cannot commit, to accommodate preferences for a specific research activity.

As our field work is heavily dependent on the weather, the schedule of specific field activities will be determined on a daily basis. Field activities are limited on rainy or cold days and will likely be replaced with motion sensor camera maintenance and sorting through wildlife photographs.

Black-footed ferret reintroductions began in Grasslands National Park in 2009. They are a specialist predator of black-tailed prairie dogs, a highly social and colonial keystone rodent. Two of the biggest threats to the recovery of black-footed ferrets in Canada are sylvatic plague (to which both black-footed ferrets and black-tailed prairie dogs are highly susceptible) and availability of prairie dogs as prey. In addition to plague, a potential limiting factor for black-tailed prairie dog populations is availability of forage. The research conducted by this volunteer program will contribute to learning about the distribution and abundance of fleas (burrow swabbing for fleas, which are the vector for sylvatic plague), prairie dog population density and pup production (visual counts and burrow counts) and prairie dog habitat quality and availability of forage (vegetation sampling). All of these research activities will contribute to better understanding the drivers of population dynamics of black-tailed prairie dogs, contributing to making strides in the recovery of this predator - prey system in Canada.

Volunteers are needed for the following times:

  • June 20th - 24th
  • June 27th - July 1st
  • July 18th – 22nd
  • July 25th – 29th
  • August 22nd – 26th
  • August 29th - September 2nd

We will only be able to accommodate a maximum of two volunteers for each time period.

For more information or to apply please contact:

Heather Facette
Resource Management Officer II
Grasslands National Park of Canada
Box 150
Val Marie, SK S0N 2T0
Telephone 306-298-2166 ext 227