In the North, there are fewer people and less development than anywhere else in Canada to cause problems for wildlife. Just the same, species here suffer from the effects of pollution, deforestation, construction, and other human goings-on. For example, cadmium has been found in the kidneys and livers of caribou in northern Quebec — probably because these subarctic deer eat a lot of lichens, which absorb heavy metals from air pollution. (Cadmium can come from smelter stacks where fossil fuels are burned.) Mining roads also chop up and disrupt the vast spaces that caribou need.
Logging operations in the North are expanding and could mean trouble for the Marten and other species. Forest destruction has already caused the Marten to disappear from most of its range further south. In the Yukon, the rare Mountain Goat is highly prized by trophy hunters. That, combined with today's efficient hunting methods, has put pressures on the species in North America. While some River Otter populations in Southern Canada have been wiped out by polluted waterways, this sort of contamination is not a big problem — so far — in the North. But it could easily become one if we're not on our guard.
If you live in the North, you can "stand on guard" for wildlife as follows:
- Do a "walkabout" in your community. Look for situations that could cause trouble for local plants and animals. For instance, how is garbage disposed of? Is it biodegradable or not? Do people dump motor oil on the ground? Where does the oil go? Could it harm wildlife?
- List the problems you find.
- Brainstorm with family, friends, and classmates to find ways of improving the situation for wildlife.
Getting to Know Permafrost
Permafrost is ground that stays frozen all year. In some parts of the Arctic, permafrost can be more than 600 metres deep. It is found not only in the Canadian North but also in Alaska, Eurasia, and Antarctica.
Permafrost is divided into two zones: continuous and discontinuous. In the continuous zone, the climate is so cold that permafrost is found everywhere, except beneath large rivers and lakes that don't freeze to the bottom in winter. Near the surface of the ground, an active layer, 0.5 to 1 metre thick, thaws each summer and freezes each winter.
The discontinuous zone lies further south, where it's not so cold. Permafrost in this zone can be anywhere from 1 to 60 metres thick. The active layer is between 1 and 2 metres thick.
The location of this frozen ground is controlled by climate. But local conditions, such as vegetation, drainage, snow, soil, and rock decide the extent and depth of permafrost as well as the thickness of the active layer.
Mosses and other vegetation protect permafrost from thawing in the summer. If this cover is damaged by, say, motor vehicle tracks, permafrost can melt and produce puddles or, after some time, lakes.
Do you live in a permafrost zone? Get to know more about it. Talk to experts on the subject. When permafrost is damaged, does it create problems or perks for wildlife? What species in your area would be affected? Is it possible to restore damaged permafrost?
How About Habitat?
Do you have any idea what wildlife and habitats exist in your community? Find out by taking a habitat inventory. This project can work well anywhere – not just in the North.
- Choose your study area, perhaps on the edge of town. Make a detailed map of all the land within a 1-kilometre radius of your project site. Refer to topographical, lake contour, county, or aerial maps for help.
- For a smaller project, map out a nearby park or field.
- Use a scale that can accurately measure small land tracts, such as a ratio of 5 centimetres to every 100 metres.
- On your map, include grasslands, brush, forests, wood lots, pastures, water, and so on. Also note fences, buildings, wind-breaks, roads, and ditches.
- Use your map to indicate where and what kind of wildlife exists. (Don’t forget insects and plants.) Consult wildlife biologists, local naturalist groups, and other sources.
- Are basic requirements – food, shelter, clean water, or suitable space – lacking for any species?
- With help from area wildlife specialists and the inventory you have made, have fun designing habitat improvement projects.
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