A monarch butterfly and a chickadee may live in the same ecosystem, but their habitats are entirely different. The monarch eats milkweed during its caterpillar stage. The chickadee couldn't care less about milkweed, but counts instead on tree cavities where it can nest. Unfortunately, milkweed is considered a noxious weed and is often destroyed, while nesting trees are chopped down to make way for buildings and roads.
- If a species is thriving, its habitat is probably healthy too. When a creature or plant starts to disappear, something must be wrong with its habitat. Usually we humans are to blame with our building, dredging, spraying, and draining projects.
- Some generalized species, like the coyote, adapt well to habitat disruption, so their range in Canada is large. Specialized species, like the phantom orchid, are far more finicky. If their tiny habitats are disturbed, they could become phantoms not only in name but also in fact.
Endangered habitats are those that have been so seriously damaged that many of the species within them have dwindled or disappeared.
- These unhappy habitats can sometimes be helped. For years, beluga whales have been vanishing from the polluted St. Lawrence River. But since 1996, laws have cut back the poisons flowing from industries into the river. The next step in helping belugas is to protect them from zooming motorboats and jet skis.
- Canada aims to help its wild spaces and species by protecting a percentage of important habitats and ecosystems. Read more about this at the Atlas of Canada.
- Governments, communities, and individuals need to be good stewards of natural resources, so future generations of wildlife and humans can flourish. It may seem cheaper to dump toxic waste into the environment than to dispose of it safely. But we pay a high price when plants, animals, and people that depend on habitats are harmed.
Habitats to Cherish
- Irreplaceable habitats are crucial, because so many creatures and plants depend on them for life. They include arctic tundra, prairie grasslands, and sea-coasts, just to name a few.
- Habitat hot spots are natural areas so degraded that without careful management they could vanish. Some are huge, such as the Canada-U.S. borderlands. Others are tiny, like the hot-springs of Banff, Alberta, where the Banff Springs snail finds its only known home on the planet.
To Serve and Protect
Canada has many kinds of protected natural areas, which are set aside to conserve ecosystems, habitats, and wildlife. Governments create and manage most of these spots, sometimes in collaboration with other groups such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
- National and provincial parks protect ecosystems and wildlife. They also provide superb spots for visitors to learn about nature. Provincial parks vary in size from small roadside picnic spots to enormous areas such as Spatsizi Wilderness Park, British Columbia.
- National wildlife areas conserve habitats critical to many species. Most are owned and managed by the Canadian Wildlife Service. Others are the shared responsibility of federal and provincial governments and private landowners.
- Canada's numerous migratory bird sanctuaries exist on federal, provincial, and private lands nationwide. Read about them here.
- Ramsar sites are internationally important wetlands. Canada's Ramsar sites include Quill Lakes, Saskatchewan, where hundreds of thousands of waterfowl nest, rest, drink, and dine.
- Biosphere reserves represent the planet's major ecosystems; read about them here . Canada has fifteen such reserves, including Long Point, Ontario.
- World heritage sites are areas of globally important cultural and natural value. Among Canada’s world heritage sites is Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta.
Learn About Wildlife Woes
- Pick a species listed in the tables below. In groups of four, research what that plant or animal needs in terms of food, water, shelter, and space. (Each student is responsible for one habitat element.) If a species' numbers are declining, list reasons why, such as habitat loss.
- See the ecozone map on the back of the enclosed poster to find out if there is a protected natural area near you. If possible, visit the site with someone knowledgeable about habitats and wildlife there. Contact a federal or provincial biologist for details on the laws that protect that area. Are they strict enough?
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