WWF-Canada’s Megan Leslie on hope, solutions and the future of conservation
It’s a new year and a new decade, and there’s a whole lot of work ahead to protect our environment and safeguard our future. So, we sat down with our president and CEO, Megan Leslie to find out what’s in store for WWF-Canada.
It’s only January and 2020’s been pretty tough already. What gives you hope?
As a human being on this planet, I’m also struggling with how to deal with news like Australia. Part of me wants to bury my head in the sand, and part of me gets obsessive about it: clicking and refreshing. Neither one of them is sustainable.
What grounds me is taking a step back and looking at what we’re doing here at WWF-Canada. We’re working on nature-based solutions, that’s what calms me down. That’s what makes me get out of bed in the morning. I am inspired to come to work every day.
Can you explain what nature-based solutions are?
It’s the idea that we can fight climate change and biodiversity loss with nature. A third of our greenhouse gas emissions globally come from the destruction of nature. So, we need to protect those carbon sinks, wetlands, peat bogs, grasslands and forests that are also habitats for at-risk species. But at the same time, we can also pull carbon out of the atmosphere and put it back into the coasts, back into the wetlands, back into the soil by restoring ecosystems.
This is about more than planting trees. This is the future of conservation, and WWF Canada is at the leading edge of knowing how to do it. I am so excited at the potential!
One of our biggest 2019 successes was protecting Tuvaijuittuq, part of the “Last Ice Area” above Nunavut, as a future climate refuge for ice-dependent species. How are we doing that elsewhere in Canada?
Our Wildlife Protection Assessment mapped out where the carbon is locked in soil and forest biomass and where the species at risk are. But we also identified places that could become refuges for wildlife. We are going to be putting a very heavy emphasis on restoration where it will have the biggest impact — that includes taking into account where those climate refuges are because we need to think about the future and what a warming planet means for our conservation work.
What else do you want our supporters to know about the year to come?
People know there are problems. Everybody knows climate change is an issue. Everybody now knows that there’s a biodiversity crisis. But what are we going to do to fix those problems?
And it’s really important that it’s not just WWF. We need people to help us. We need communities. We need individuals. We need schoolkids. We need businesses and corporations. We need all hands on deck!
So, we’re going to be there explaining what the solutions are and showing Canadians how they can join us.
Foresight is 2020
This will be an important year for our planet — one where the world must dramatically increase our ambitions as we tackle the escalating crises of climate change and wildlife loss. So, we wanted to update you on just some of the projects, reports and events that WWF-Canada has planned in 2020 to help protect nature and people.
Canada is home to one fifth of the world’s freshwater. Thousands of intertwining rivers and lakes make up the 25 watersheds across our country that provide the essentials of life for people, animals and ecosystems.
But these watersheds are in trouble. In 2017, our first Watershed Report identified priority threats and discovered a data deficit across the country.
This year’s Watershed Report will be providing updates on the health indicators across Canada, including information on water flow, water quality, fish populations and benthic invertebrates, the tiny bugs living at the bottom of water bodies. This new data will help us assess the overall health of these watersheds and determine which areas will require further oversight.
This year kicks off the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, and our In the Zone Forum is a perfect place to start. This one-day event on March 11, hosted by WWF-Canada and Carolinian Canada, will bring together municipalities, community groups, Indigenous leaders, corporations and enthusiastic gardeners to learn more about how native plants can help us restore ecosystems, provide nature-based climate solutions and protect local biodiversity.
Blue Resilience Research Action Centre
This spring, WWF-Canada’s Quebec program is launching the Blue Resilience research-action centre in collaboration with the Université de Montréal. Due to the impacts of climate change, southern Quebec municipalities and citizens have been facing increasing flood risks. Our new centre will help by offering nature-based solutions to improve climate resilience in cities to strengthen communities and support urban biodiversity.
Canada announced last summer that it had protected 13.82 per cent of its ocean territory, surpassing the UN Convention on Biological Diversity target of 10 per cent by 2020. These federal Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) ban oil and gas exploration, mining, dumping and bottom trawling.
This was great news, but MPAs must be about more than percentage targets. We need to ensure they’re protecting the most important habitats and that they’re connected to each other because marine wildlife doesn’t stay put, especially with the climate crisis increasing ocean temperatures and acidification. This is particularly true in the warming Arctic where melting ice has been attracting the eyes of industry.
So, WWF-Canada is releasing its MECCEA project later this year. Our Marine Ecological Conservation for the Canadian Eastern Arctic research will identify a network of priority areas to best protect the present — and the future — of the species and habitats in this climate-threatened ecosystem.
30 years and climbing
This spring marks the 30th anniversary of our CN Tower Climb for Nature fundraiser, an amazing once-a-year opportunity to assist wildlife while ascending the world’s tallest freestanding tower. How tall? There are 144 flights of stairs with a grand total of 1,776 steps!
Around 7,000 people participate each year, ranging in age from four to 84, and can climb as individuals or in teams of friends, family or co-workers. Folks who start raising money early also have a chance to win an eight-day trip to the Canadian Rockies courtesy of G Adventures.
This year’s climb takes place on Saturday, April 4 and Sunday, April 5. Sunday also features the Elite Climb Challenge where competitors will try to beat last year’s fastest time by Tyler Kruschenske, who reached the top in 10 minutes and 24 seconds. The rest of us can try to best WWF-Canada’s Megan Leslie who clocked 22 minutes and one second!
Jacklyn Barrs — Specialist, Forage Fish and Marine Conservation
At WWF, Jacklyn is responsible for the “Food for All” campaign, which recognizes the important role of forage fish (small fish that feed larger predators) in the marine ecosystem. She researches and develops forage fish conservation strategies and projects in BC that protect and maintain healthy marine ecosystems.
“The coastal zone is experiencing intense pressure through coastal development and sea-level rise. Important habitat can be impacted or lost because of these pressures. Now is the time for Canada to show that protecting its coastlines will benefit wildlife, people and nature.”