All of nature is connected. But sometimes things get disconnected.

Wildlife living in national parks cross their boundaries all the time in order to access what they need to survive. But roads and railways make it hard for wildlife to travel from one area to another. Dams can interrupt the flow of streams and rivers. Logging, mining and urban development can impede the movements of many animals, whether they’re traveling vast distances (birds, grizzly bears, wolves) or just down to the local pond (turtles and frogs).

When living things can move freely, populations can intermix, helping maintain genetic diversity and healthy populations. Plant seeds can disperse. Rivers and streams can replenish lakes. And wildlife can travel to find more favourable habitat—a vital consideration in a changing climate.

Ecological connectivity is all about…

  • maintaining the “unimpeded movement of species and the flow of natural processes that sustain life on earth” (from the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species)
  • protecting habitat corridors that knit together fragmented landscapes
  • lessening the impacts of fragmented habitats that make it hard for species to move and interact over large spaces
  • creating the links required to conserve biodiversity, foster ecological integrity and support the recovery of species at risk

Nature needs its connections big and small, just as humans need theirs. Such connections are the arteries of the living world, helping life circulate and oxygenating entire ecosystems. Here are some ways Parks Canada and its partners are improving ecological connectivity.

Re-establishing flow

A Parks Canada staff member kneeling in front of a creek.
Planting trial plots of native seeds at Cascade Creek in Banff National Park.

 

It’s one small creek, and one giant leap for connectivity.

Cascade Creek in Banff National Park was once Cascade River, and home to two native fish species, Bull Trout and Westslope Cutthroat Trout. But the river was dammed in 1941 with the construction of the Minnewanka Dam. The dam made a creek out of a river—and a tiny, sluggish creek at that. Flows were reduced by more than ninety-nine per cent, and the trout disappeared.

Banff and its partners have been restoring Cascade Creek by repairing stream habitat, improving infrastructure and removing non-native fish. Native trout will be reintroduced in 2022.

Not only has the work restored the Cascade flow (and thereby the entire ecosystem), the new pipes and culverts have reduced the risk of flood damage in the area.

Moving across boundaries

Forillon National Park
Autumn panorama in the interior of Forillon National Park, Quebec.

 

Wildlife do not recognize the boundaries of protected areas, like national parks, as they search for what they need to survive. Instead, they travel back and forth across park boundaries to nearby natural areas. This becomes a major challenge for conserving species that are always on the move.

A challenge that Forillon National Park in Quebec knows all too well. Provincial highway 197 runs along the park’s western border, cutting it off from the rest of the eastern Gaspé Peninsula. Most of the land along the highway is privately owned, with residential developments occupying the upper stretch.

That makes movement difficult for wide-ranging species such as moose, bear, deer, lynx, and the American Marten. A small tree-dwelling member of the weasel family, marten need to move in and out of the park to explore new territory.

Parks Canada and the Nature Conservancy of Canada have been working together to understand how wildlife moves back and forth through the park—and to find ways to make that movement easier. Out of that work has come the Forillon ecological corridor, a 240-hectare stretch of forest that runs along the highway and connects the park with the rest of the peninsula.

In addition to radio-tracking American Marten to find out how they move, Parks Canada is working with partners to further protect the linkages between Forillon and the larger ecosystem.

Importance of collaborating with others

A white and brown caribou with antlers looks straight at the camera while others graze on ground vegetation in a snow-covered landscape.
Woodland caribou in their winter coats on the coastal lowlands of Gros Morne National Park.

 

Wildlife often move across the boundaries of protected areas. They will travel across entire landscapes in search of food, water, shelter and mates. To protect wildlife effectively, Parks Canada must work with others to connect, conserve and restore important habitats that exist beyond the boundaries of their protected areas.

Knowing where species are moving is key for helping them safely access what they need to survive. Parks Canada wants to better understand the travel patterns and habitat connectivity of the Woodland Caribou at Gros Morne National Park.

They work with partners to collect and analyze data on its movements. Knowledge of caribou movement patterns helped contribute to the creation of the Main River Waterway Provincial Park— an area located outside of Gros Morne National Park.

  • Watch the path that a Woodland Caribou takes as it travels inside and outside of the national park boundaries to other nearby natural areas.

Caribou conservation

Transcript

[bird sounds chirping in the background]. Two illustrated caribou, one parent and one calf, stand in forested vegetation. An illustrated map of Canada appears in the background, with a place marker over top of Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland. A close-up map then shows the boundaries of Gros Morne as well as the boundaries of the Main River Waterway Provincial Park, located about 20 km outside of Gros Morne. The movement patterns of a caribou over the course of 15 days begins to appear. First, the caribou track is shown circling the upper reaches of Gros Morne National Park, before moving eastward outside of the park, and eventually into the Main River Waterway. The caribou then travels inside and outside of the provincially protected park before it returns westward to Gros Morne National Park on day 15.

Movement data for this animation was generously provided by Natural Resources Canada, the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture.

Tracking the travellers

Building eco-passageways

Getting rid of stuff