How we charted a new course for nature’s recovery in 2021

Well, we made it to the end of another tough year.

The pandemic continued taking a physical, economic and emotional toll while biodiversity continued disappearing at record rates. And this year’s climate-fuelled nature disasters — especially the battering of B.C. by a heat dome, wildfires and historic flooding — showed definitively this once-future concern is now a clear and present danger.

Campfire under aurora borealis
People by their campfire watch the green lights in the sky produced by the aurora borealis, Northwest Territories, Canada. © Tessa Macintosh / WWF-Canada

It’s important to take stock of all this so we fully understand the urgency and stakes. But we can’t lose sight of the one fact that really matters — if we take the right actions now, in the right places, there’s still time to reverse the path we’re currently on.

So, let’s also take stock of what we accomplished this year, together, to reverse biodiversity loss, reduce climate change and help safeguard a brighter future for nature and people.

Canadian wilderness image overlaid with the words Regenerate Canada
© Alex Gorey / Unsplash / WWF-CA

Regenerate Canada 

Human activities are driving both biodiversity loss and climate change, and these crises also feed each other: habitat loss puts wildlife at risk while decreasing carbon absorption from the atmosphere. But when you reverse the cycle, you reap the benefits.

This was the first full year of us taking action under our new strategic plan, Regenerate Canada. There’s a lot of work to be done, and not a lot of time to do it, so every action must multitask and tackle both crises at once. If done correctly and equitably — prioritizing regions with the most carbon stores and at-risk species as well as Indigenous management, which studies prove results in higher levels of biodiversity — these conservation actions can have local, national and global impacts.

WWF-Canada is on our way toward 10-year targets to restore at least one million hectares of lost complex ecosystems and steward at least 100 million hectares of carbon-rich habitats essential for wildlife — actions that will help reduce carbon emissions by 30 million tonnes.

We mapped Canada’s carbon landscapes

WWF-Canada debuted a new study, with scientists at McMaster University’s Remote Sensing Lab, on the international stage at COP26. The research showed that Canada’s landscapes contain hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon.

This data was used to create the first-ever national carbon map of Canada, showing the density of carbon from trees and other plants to two metres underground. Now that we know where large ecosystem carbon stocks are located, we can prioritize their protection and management, benefitting both wildlife and climate.

Jimmy Oleekatalik, manager of Spence Bay HTA, standing with WWF-Canada’s Sr. VP and chief conservation officer Mary MacDonald and Sr. Arctic sopecies and ecosystems spciealist Brandon Laforest at the COP26 panda Pavilion in Glasgow © WWF-Canada

Jimmy Oleekatalik Goes to Scotland

Our partnership with Taloyoak, NU soared to new heights in 2021. Not only did the 1,100-person community win a $451,000 Arctic Inspiration Prize (WWF-Canada’s Paul Okalik and Brandon Laforest were also members of the winning team) but project lead Jimmy Oleekatalik also participated in an Inuit Circumpolar Council panel at COP26, hosted by WWF’s on-site “Panda Pavilion.”

While Oleekatalik’s arrival was delayed by — wait for it — climate change (record-breaking warm weather kept Taloyoak’s airport fogged in) we pre-recorded his remarks. Once he arrived, Oleekatalik joined a number of sessions and Inuit Day events and met with Hon. Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s minister of the environment and climate change, to discuss his community’s proposed 86,000 square kilometre Aviqtuuq Inuit Protected and Conserved Area.

Down with dumping in MPAs

On World Oceans Day, WWF-Canada launched our #NoDumping advocacy campaign calling on Canadians to hold the federal government to their unfulfilled promise to ban ALL dumping by commercial shipping and cruise lines in marine protected areas.

To date, more than 5,000 people have sent emails to government demanding action. That number will continue growing in the new year when WWF-Canada releases national research on exactly how much harmful discharges are being dumped in our MPAs. (Spoiler alert: a lot!)

Blue whale diving with a cargo ship in the background
Blue whale diving with a cargo ship in the background © iStock

Safeguarding cetaceans

Ship strikes, underwater noise and pollution are major threats to the recovery of endangered cetaceans such as the North Atlantic right whale, the blue whale and the St. Lawrence beluga.

To support the safe coexistence of ships and whales, we collaborated with partners to develop a navigating whale habitat toolkit for mariners operating in the Northwest Atlantic, including the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence, to help identify high-risk areas, implement best practices, and improve whale identification and data collection.

Growing our native plants program

Southern Ontario and southern Quebec are heavily developed with vast urban, industrial and agricultural areas. This intense human activity has fragmented habitats for many at-risk species like the snapping turtle and the Western chorus frog.

So last spring, we expanded our native plants program with Carolinian Canada, In the Zone, to reach even more gardeners, and partnered with Loblaw Companies Ltd. to bring native plants to garden centres from Windsor to Quebec City, making it easier than ever to garden for wildlife.

Southern Ontario and southern Quebec are heavily developed with vast urban, industrial and agricultural areas. This intense human activity has fragmented habitats for many at-risk species like the snapping turtle and the Western chorus frog.

snow leopard running a
One of the two snow leopards successfully collared in Shey Phoksundo National Park, Western Nepal. © DNPWC / WWF Nepal

Collaring elusive snow leopards

Good news from Nepal! Wildlife researchers were able to successfully collar two male snow leopards named Ghangri Ghapi Hyul (which means “an Eden amidst the mountains”) and Langyen (named after a local holy mountain).

The GPS collars will periodically update their locations, helping us learn more about the critical habitats and corridors used by snow leopards to move across their range. Only three per cent of snow leopard habitat has been systematically studied, so this is a big win for this big cat. Speaking of wins, your donations this past spring helped us raise over $260,000 in support of big cats and other WWF conservation efforts.

Fifth and Final Glen Davis Conservation Leadership Prize

For the past half-decade, WWF-Canada and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society have been privileged to commemorate conservationist Glen Davis’ legacy with this annual $10,000 prize. Our fifth and final winner is Vuntut Gwitchin elder Lorraine Netro, who was recognized for two decades of dedication protecting Porcupine caribou herd calving grounds.

“As a Gwitchin, it is our belief that we do not accept honourable recognition for ourselves,” Netro said from Old Crow, Yukon. “I will accept this award on behalf of my family, community, our nation, for all those who came before me and those who will come after me, and those who walk with us to protect our Sacred Lands, the animals and waters.”

Schoolchildren planting
© Salt Spring Elementary

Students went WILD for nature

Young conservationists across Canada brought their projects to life thanks to Go Wild School Grants to create, restore, rehabilitate and recover natural ecosystems and habitats.

This past year, we awarded $60,000 to students and educators in elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools, funding 110 projects ranging from the creation of a natural walking trail lined with native trees and ferns to the installation of a schoolyard butterfly garden.

Critical salmon habitat restored

Members of Katzie First Nation in B.C. saw Pacific salmon reappear in the rivers and creeks of their unceded territory once again! This is thanks to a restoration project that’s been ongoing since 2019, supporting these culturally significant fish by creating and enhancing habitat that has been damaged due to poor land-use practices.

With support from WWF-Canada and other partners, this Nation-led initiative removed in-stream barriers that prevented water from flowing freely and planted native plants along newly restored streams to control erosion and contribute to healthy aquatic habitats.

We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish together in 2021 — and cannot wait to keep building on our progress in 2022. Wishing you all the best in the new year!