Q&A: Nature, coronavirus and lessons learned

Boreal forest in Northern Alberta, Canada near Fort McMurray.

The coronavirus crisis has left us all with a lot of questions. Thankfully, we work with scientists. So we spoke to James Snider, WWF-Canada’s vice-president of Science, Research and Innovation, to find out some answers.

We know how people around the world have been tragically affected by coronavirus. But how has all this been impacting nature?

Increased sightings of animals — like foxes on the Toronto waterfront or moose, deer and coyotes in Alberta — have left many of us wondering if wildlife might be stepping into the open spaces that COVID-related restrictions have left in our densely populated urban areas.

There are also early signs that the reductions in our human activities might be providing a short respite for at-times heavily pressured habitats and ecosystems, and even broad global indicators like rates of climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions may be lessening. But whether these trends will continue in the future — or if they’re merely a short reprieve from our human footprint — is unclear.

How do you think this will change our relationship with wildlife?

Hidden deep within the tragedy of the COVID outbreak is an important undercurrent of the increasing risk of disease and our current relationship with nature — how we use, degrade and often destroy important habitats for wildlife.

In our heavily interwoven globalized economy, the drivers of human consumption and use are putting people and wildlife closer together and increasing the risk for so-called “spillover” events where disease in animals can make its way into our human populations.

Clearly, we need to work to reduce the stressors on intact ecosystems that wildlife rely on. We also need to actively bring back areas that have been degraded or destroyed to recreate habitats that wildlife need and to provide a distance from our human activities. Doing so will deliver multiple benefits, including increases in wildlife populations, reductions in climate change emissions, and a reduction in the risk of zoonotic disease.

What lessons can we draw from this time that will help us create a safer, more sustainable world when we’re out the other side?

We have learned how crucially important community is, and how small actions matter to the health and well-being of others. As we look ahead to resuming our personal connections with family, friends and colleagues, let’s take this moment to build better, more resilient communities and economies, and recognize that our interconnectedness extends to our relationship with nature.

Fieldnotes is WWF-Canada’s newsletter about our evidence-based work finding solutions in the face of an unprecedented crisis in climate change and wildlife loss. Please click here to subscribe to future issues.