Well, that’s finally over: Fieldnotes looks back at 2020

It’s hard to do an ordinary year-in-review for a year that’s been anything but ordinary. Much like yourselves, our work was impacted by COVID-19 — our scientists had to drastically change their approach to fieldwork, and we couldn’t see our supporters in person. But there was still conservation to be done and, in this final Fieldnotes of 2020, we look back at what we accomplished together during this tough year.

Wood turtle on a log
© Shutterstock

Living Planet Report Canada 2020

WWF-Canada’s flagship Living Planet Report Canada 2020 found current efforts to protect and recover vulnerable wildlife are not nearly enough.

Canada is not only home to wildlife at risk of going extinct nationally, we’re also home to species that could go extinct globally. LPRC2020 found populations of Canadian species assessed as at risk have plunged by an average of 59 per cent since 1970, while species assessed as globally at risk have seen their Canadian populations fall by an average of 42 per cent.

But our report also highlighted ways we can reverse this trajectory, including Indigenous-led conservation and nature-based climate solutions.

Priority Threat Management

New Brunswick could prevent 40 at-risk species from going extinct, and it would only cost the equivalent of $33 per person per year! That finding is from our new Priority Threat Management-based report, a collaboration with UBC which, for the first time, identified and costed species recovery solutions in the Wolastoq / Saint John River Watershed.

All at-risk species considered in this study — including wood turtle, bank swallow, Atlantic salmon and shortnose sturgeon — are likely to go locally extinct in the next 25 years without interventions. But our study found that recovering most of these species is not only possible, it’s also affordable.

“In less than two years, we’ve gone from talking about threats to individual species to implementing multi-species recovery projects,” says Simon Mitchell, WWF-Canada’s VP, Resilient Habitats. “Not only is the speed of this process unheard of, the approach is more efficient. There’s now a plan for the entire ecosystem.”

Priority Threat Management is a decision-making tool developed by UBC’s Dr. Tara Martin and  team. Taking costs, benefits and feasibilities into consideration, it draws on data and experts to rapidly identify which strategies will have the greatest impact on the largest number of species.

“We’re already replanting riverside forests, stabilizing streambanks and building fish ladders for culverts — and this is just the start,” Mitchell adds. “Thanks to this process, we now know what actions are needed, and, importantly, exactly how much it will cost.”

WWF-Canada goes to court

WWF-Canada joined Ecology Action Centre and Sierra Club Canada Foundation in suing the government of Canada for approving a regional environmental assessment of an Alberta-sized offshore area in Newfoundland and Labrador that would exempt future oil and gas exploration from project-specific assessments.

Our lawsuit noted that the assessment was not conducted to a high enough standard: it was rushed; data gaps were not addressed; and mitigations for sensitive habitats were not put in place.

Ghost gear

Did you know that 46 per cent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of ghost gear? This abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear ends up in our oceans, often because of bad weather or accidental losses, and harms marine species. So, WWF-Canada funded a Fishing Gear Coalition of Atlantic Canada’s report on the extent of ghost gear loss in the Maritimes and how to address it.

One of our colleagues, Martha Lenio, also participated in a High Arctic shoreline cleanup that found ghost gear fishing nets as well as pop cans dating back to the 1960s!

Wildlife Wednesdays

WWF-Canada conservation specialists Emily Giles and Ryan Godfrey answer kid questions
© WWF-Canada

When the world went indoors, we went online with Wildlife Wednesday. The flagship franchise for our virtual outreach during the pandemic’s first wave

— which included Tech Hub Tuesday, Meet an Expert Thursday and Our Planet Trivia Friday — was viewed nearly 300,000 times over the year.

This weekly livestream saw our conservation experts talking about everything from butterflies and hummingbirds to polar bear and narwhal to collared pikas and snow leopards. We even did episodes on bats and bugs plus an Afterschool Special answering video questions from kids.

Now monthly, Wildlife Wednesday returns in the new year with more episodes about your favourite animals.

Watershed Reports

Our 2020 Watershed Reports reassessed the health indicators — flow, water quality, benthic invertebrates and fish — for Canada’s 167 sub-watersheds with reassuring and concerning results.

Sixty-four percent of sub-watersheds with enough data scored Good or Very Good for overall health. But 100 sub-watersheds did not have enough data to even receive a score, a slight uptick from 110 in our initial 2017 assessment. Despite significant efforts, data deficiency continues to obscure how threats are affecting most of Canada’s watersheds.

Leaders’ Pledge for Nature

Leaders’ Pledge for Nature
© Reece David

On the eve of September’s UN Biodiversity Summit, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed onto WWF’s Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, showing global leadership by committing to safeguard species and habitats.

“The way we’re going to do that is the way we’ve worked on it so far,” Trudeau said at WWF’s virtual event, “which is working with Indigenous peoples who need to be partners in protecting the land, who understand how important it is to be good stewards of this land and these waters that sustain us.”

Hours earlier, environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson committed Canada to protecting 30 per cent of our lands and waters by 2030, making us the only one of the world’s ten largest countries to do so.

And we, of course, commit to holding our leaders to their pledges.

Virtual CN Tower

Our 30th annual CN Tower Climb sure didn’t turn out as expected. We had three weeks to convert the April event into a Virtual Climb and, thanks to you, it was a heartwarming and species-saving success.

With over 4,200 registered climbers raising more than half a million, we tried to match the tower’s 1,776 steps however we could — from running apartment building stairwells or going up and down a single step stool to joining our online workout classes or skipping rope 1,776 times like our (literally) tireless president and CEO, Megan Leslie.

Then there’s David Reece who dressed as Deadpool to climb up and down the world’s highest hydraulic lift lock in Peterborough, ON. He even caught the attention of Deadpool himself, Ryan Reynolds, on Twitter. Nice work, everyone!

Go Wild School Grants

We received over 260 Go Wild applications from schools, staff, faculty, and students across Canada for hands-on restoration and habitat creation projects. Proposals included building pollinator and native plant gardens, creating wildlife habitats with bat and bird nesting boxes, consulting with Indigenous Elders on reconciliation projects, and more. Go Wild School Grant recipients will be announced in January 2021.

Generation Water Tech Challenge

We also granted $75,000 to four Generation Water Tech Challenge award recipients alongside a spot in the Centre for Social Innovation’s Climate Ventures’ Earth Tech accelerator to help bring their solutions to life. We look forward to their technologies modernizing our approach to freshwater data and reducing urban threats to freshwater habitats.