NATURE ALBERTA - Eastern Kingbirds Avian Attitude - Winter 2021

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NATURE ALBERTA - Eastern Kingbirds Avian Attitude - Winter 2021
                                                            WINTER 2021
                                                       VOLUME 50 | NUMBER 4

                                                     A COMMUNITY

                                                   CONNECTED BY A
                                                   LOVE OF NATURE


                                      Eastern Kingbirds
                                      Avian Attitude

              Raptors of     Keeping            Loons and

              the Red Deer   Urban Coyotes      Lake Health
              River Valley   Wild
NATURE ALBERTA - Eastern Kingbirds Avian Attitude - Winter 2021
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NATURE ALBERTA - Eastern Kingbirds Avian Attitude - Winter 2021

02 The President’s Perspective
03 Nature Alberta News
04 Parks Win a Reprieve
05 Eastern Kingbirds             24
08 Winter LakeKeepers
10 Why Are Common Loon
     Chicks Becoming Less

14 A Fisheye View of
     Cumulative Effects in
     Alberta’s Southern
     East Slopes

18 Keep Those Wily Urban
     Coyotes Wild!

22 The Road to 50:

     A Logo, a Look, a Legacy

24 Birding the Badlands
30 Stories in the Snow
32 Nature Kids
36 Meet a Member Club
37 Alberta's Nocturnal
     Owl Survey

                                 18               10
                                      NATURE ALBERTA MAGAZINE WINTER 2021 | 1
NATURE ALBERTA - Eastern Kingbirds Avian Attitude - Winter 2021
MAGAZINE                                               THE PRESIDENT’S PERSPECTIVE
ISSN 1713-8639

Publisher Nature Alberta                                    As I write this, 2020 is finally ending; a year of
Managing Editor Jason Switner                          unprecedented challenges, global changes, like
Technical Editor Richard Schneider                     an opened Pandora’s box. It’s a time of change for
Creative Susan May, intrinsic design                   Nature Alberta, too, as we say goodbye to Linda
Cover Image Myrna Pearman
                                                       Howitt-Taylor as president. For the past three
Editorial Committee                                    years she has been advocating and promoting the
The Magazine Editorial Committee, which
consists of dedicated volunteers, who all have         changes needed to revitalize Nature Alberta. Her
a passion for nature, lend their respective            leadership has helped guide and build dynamic
experience and expertise to developing
editorial outlines, commissioning articles and         teams that will drive us successfully into 2021 and beyond. As incoming President, I thank
reviewing/vetting article submissions for the          Linda for everything she has done and the inspiration she has provided. She now moves
magazine. The committee includes:
Lu Carbyn                                              into the position of Past President, where her knowledge and expertise will be valued and
Linda Howitt-Taylor                                    called upon. I wish Linda all the best and hope she now has more time to relax and enjoy
Kim MacKenzie
Valerie Miller                                         the natural Alberta around her.
Richard Schneider                                           To introduce myself, my name is Elizabeth Watts. I have a B.Sc. in Microbiology, and
Content                        have enjoyed a career in clinical trials research — lots of data for processing and details
                                                       to be scrutinized. While not known for any hiking ability, I love being outside, camping
Nature Alberta magazine is published four
times per year by:                                     and soaking up the beauty of Alberta. I plan on taking up kayaking at the first available
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available free of charge at          promote, conserve and research the unique ecosystems found in the Park, and support
Print copies of Nature Alberta Magazine are            educational needs as they arise.
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the cost of postage and handling of four                    2020 has shown us that change is possible and adaptation is necessary. The pandemic
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Advertising in Nature Alberta Magazine is              throughout Alberta that appreciate the unique ecology and beauty of our land. Even
not considered an endorsement by Nature                during the winter months, we can use innovative solutions and technology — including
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necessarily reflect those of Nature Alberta            experience of “This Land of Ours” (with apologies to Oscar Brand).
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©Nature Alberta 2021
About Nature Alberta
Alberta is home to incredible natural
spaces comprised of beautiful and varied                    ELIZABETH WATTS
landscapes, and rich biodiversity reflected
in our abundant and diverse flora and fauna.
Across the province, natural history clubs
and their members are engaging Albertans           NATURE ALBERTA BOARD OF DIRECTORS
in the conservation and appreciation of this
                                                   Executive Committee             Directors
natural heritage. Nature Alberta represents a
                                                   President Liz Watts                         Alberta Native Plant Council Kimberly Seifert-MacKenzie
network of these natural history organizations
                                                   Treasurer Gerben Deinum                     Buffalo Lake Naturalists Claudia Lipski
in Alberta.
                                                   Secretary Amy Bergunde                      Edmonton Nature Club Len Shrimpton
                                                   Past President Linda Howitt-Taylor          Grasslands Naturalists Angela Turner
                                                                                               Lac la Biche Birding Society Jennifer Okrainec
                     A COMMUNITY                                                               Lethbridge Naturalists Society Ted Nanninga
                     CONNECTED BY A                                                            Nature Calgary Kaya Konopnicki
                                                   John Acorn
                     LOVE OF NATURE                                                            Peace Parkland Naturalists Margot Hervieux
                                                                                               Red Deer River Naturalists Tony Blake
                     NATUREALBERTA.CA                                                          Member at Large Brian Joubert

NATURE ALBERTA - Eastern Kingbirds Avian Attitude - Winter 2021
Nature Alberta News
The New                   Urban Nature Initiative Update
   Have you had a chance to explore           Since this past spring, Urban Nature Initiative
our completely revamped website?           (UNI) Coordinator Kelsie Norton has worked
It’s been rebuilt from the ground up to    with homeowners throughout the Edmonton
emphasize three core themes: Learn         to create urban oases — yards equipped with
About Nature, Experience Nature,           various tools and techniques to enhance and
and Protect Nature. Combining a hub        support biodiversity. The results of the program
of resources with an ever-expanding        are now available to see — and inspire!
library of content — including                Visit
integrating articles from this magazine    to watch four videos that feature homeowners
in a searchable blog-like format — our     putting beneficial management practices
aim is to become the best resource         (BMPs) into action in their yards. These folks
available to learn about nature and        accomplished some pretty impressive things
conservation in Alberta.                   in just one season. If you’re inspired to make
   The site is designed to serve as a      some changes in your yard, you don’t have to
hub for what we hope will become           go it alone. Supporting Nature and Biodiversity
a Nature Network — a place where           in Urban Yards is packed with tips and techniques
all our member clubs can spotlight         just like the ones put into practice on the
their news and events, so anyone           demonstration yards. You can read or download a
in the province can easily find and        copy at,
participate in activities in their area.   or contact for a physical
We’re excited to have an online            copy.
presence that can grow along with us          We have to give special thanks to Ryan
as an organization!                        Northcott of Panoramic Media for the
                                           beautiful work on the videos. Panoramic Media
                                           specializes in corporate filmmaking and drone
                                           photography and cinematography, bringing a
                                           wider perspective to the production process.
                                           Ryan’s work speaks for itself and we would
                                           encourage anyone looking for professional
                                           video production to get in touch with him.
                                           Visit or email
                                              We also thank the Edmonton Community
                                           Foundation for funding the UNI, and
                                           homeowners like Lissa, Amanda, Holly, and
                                           Calvin for sharing their urban nature journeys.

                                                NATURE ALBERTA MAGAZINE WINTER 2021 | 3
NATURE ALBERTA - Eastern Kingbirds Avian Attitude - Winter 2021

Parks Win a Reprieve
A     lbertans love their parks! Individu-
      als like you from across the prov-
ince have written to the government by
                                               in the East Slopes, permitted the sale of
                                               Crown lands, increased the intensity of
                                               forest harvesting, reduced environmen-
                                                                                            mining. In December, nearly 2,000 ha
                                                                                            of East Slopes landscapes that the
                                                                                            Lougheed government identified as
the thousands, voicing their opposition        tal monitoring, and permitted hunting        ecologically sensitive were put up for
to the proposal to delist 164 parks from       of sandhill cranes for the first time in     bid. A large open-pit mine, proposed
the provincial parks system. And thou-         Alberta’s history.                           by Australian mining giant Benga
sands of "Defend Alberta Parks" lawn              It is important that we celebrate         Mining, is already in review, and many
signs have sprung up in neighborhoods          the policy reversal on parks and             more are in queue. You can read more
everywhere. Fortunately, it seems the          acknowledge the power we have to             about the implications of mining in
message finally got through.                   effect change by working together.           this important landscape in Sarah
   Just before Christmas, like Ebenezer        But don’t take those lawn signs down         Milligan’s article on page 14.
Scrooge, Minister of Environment and           just yet! This is not a time to be           Coal: The Good News
Parks Jason Nixon appeared to have a           complacent. This year the government            The new coal mines in the East
change of heart, declaring that “Many          will be advancing plans to align the         Slopes are targeting metallurgical
Albertans, including myself, love and          management of parks and public lands,        coal, mainly for export to Asia. The
value our parks and wild spaces.” More         and there is a danger that the level of      news is much better for the thermal
significantly, he reversed the govern-         protection within parks could decline        coal that is burned to make much of
ment’s policy direction and promised,          as a result. Alberta conservation groups,    Alberta’s electricity. TransAlta and
in writing, that no parks will be delisted     including Nature Alberta, are prepared       Capital Power — the two main pro-
and that “all will retain their current des-   to engage on this front to keep our parks    ducers of coal-generated power in the
ignations and associated protections.”         protected. We hope that you will remain      province — are transitioning from coal
   This is an important development. As        engaged as well, since it’s the choir, not   to natural gas years ahead of schedule
recounted in the Summer 2020 issue of          the conductor, that makes the music.         (now 2021 and 2023, respectively).
Nature Alberta Magazine, the Alberta           Coal: The Bad News                           This will reduce greenhouse gas
government has been rapidly advancing             Since rescinding Alberta’s long-          emissions by millions of tonnes each
an anti-environmental policy agenda.           standing Coal Policy, the Kenney             year, reduce the release of mercury
In addition to the proposed delisting of       government has wasted no time in             and other pollutants into the air, and
parks, it has rescinded the Coal Policy        leasing the once-protected lands for coal    reduce the demand for thermal coal
put in place to protect sensitive lands                                                     mining.

NATURE ALBERTA - Eastern Kingbirds Avian Attitude - Winter 2021

Eastern kingbirds are readily identifiable by their
distinctive black and white plumage. MYRNA PEARMAN

L   ast August, while enjoying an evening walk in the Great
    Sandhills east of Leader, Saskatchewan, I had an unexpected
encounter with an eastern kingbird. It flew in surprisingly close,
                                                                        This encounter was one of many I’ve had with eastern king-
                                                                     birds. Common across most of Alberta, these highly visible birds
                                                                     are readily identifiable by their black plumage, conspicuous white
a big, juicy two-striped grasshopper in its beak. I watched as it    tail tip, and distinctive shallow, rowing wingbeat flight pattern.
bashed the hapless hopper against a horizontal branch, then          Regularly seen perched on barbed wire, fenceposts, and treetops,
tossed it into the air, caught it at a different angle and bashed    they wait — in classic flycatcher style — on a perch for an insect
it again. It repeated this process three times before gobbling it    to fly by, then sally out to snatch it in mid-air. They supplement
down. It then sat for a few moments in apparent contentment          their insect diet with fruit, especially in late summer.
before flying off.

                                                                                          NATURE ALBERTA MAGAZINE WINTER 2021 | 5
NATURE ALBERTA - Eastern Kingbirds Avian Attitude - Winter 2021
Eastern kingbirds belong to a group of birds known as the tyrant
                                          flycatchers, and the Latin name of this species, Tyrannus tyrannus,
                                          reflects their pugnacious nature. They are extremely aggressive
                                          toward each other, with territorial disputes often including
                                          dramatic aerial combat. They are also aggressive toward other
                                          species, especially crows and other nest predators. Apparently,
                                          they will also attack humans if their nests are threatened, but I
                                          have never been subjected to any aggression, even when (quickly
                                          and quietly) observing their nests and young.
                                             Although eastern kingbirds will nest in a variety of locations
                                          and have been known to use artificial nesting structures, it has
                                          been my observation that they prefer to build their dishevelled
                                          yet sturdy nests over water. The female constructs the nest,
                                          which can take up to two weeks to complete. She lays two to five
                                          red-splotched white eggs, which she incubates for 14–17 days. The
                                          nestlings, which hatch with orange skin covered in white fuzz,
                                          grow quickly and fledge at about 16–17 days. Both adults feed the
                                          young. Interestingly, genetic research confirms that kingbirds not
                                          only mate outside the pair bond, but they sometimes parasitize
                                          each other’s nests.
                                             While watching one eastern kingbird nest near Delburne a
                                          few years ago, I was able to observe and photograph the parents
                                          tending the nest. There was more than feeding going on. I also
                                          observed that the parents would wait for the young to defecate,
                                          whereupon they would either eat the fecal sac or carry it away
                                          from the nest.
                                             Eastern kingbird fledglings stay dependent on their parents for
                                          about three to five weeks, which is thought to be one reason why
                                          the species is only single-brooded (laying a single clutch during
                                          a breeding season). They remain together as a family group until
                                          the young are fully independent.
                                             Eastern kingbirds overwinter in South America, primarily in
                                          the western Amazon, where they forage together in flocks along
                                          riparian areas. Fruit is eaten during fall migration and makes up
                                          most of their diet on the wintering grounds.
                                             The next time you’re out hiking, travelling the backroads, or
                                          canoeing, keep your eyes peeled for these wild neighbours. It’s
                                          worth taking the time to observe and appreciate their striking
                                          beauty, spirited behaviour, and saucy attitude. Enjoy the show!

                                          Eastern kingbirds build a messy but sturdy nest, often low over
                                          the water. Both adults are diligent parents. MYRNA PEARMAN

NATURE ALBERTA - Eastern Kingbirds Avian Attitude - Winter 2021
Eastern kingbird young are very demanding of their parents for two to three weeks after fledging. MYRNA PEARMAN

Myrna Pearman is a naturalist, writer, photographer, and recently retired as the
Biologist and Site Services Manager at Ellis Bird Farm. She can be reached at

                                                                                              NATURE ALBERTA MAGAZINE WINTER 2021 | 7
NATURE ALBERTA - Eastern Kingbirds Avian Attitude - Winter 2021
Winter LakeKeepers

F    or many, cold weather and freezing
     lakes means an end to lake activities
for the year. However, for a determined
group of citizen scientists, frozen lakes
signal the start of a new environmental
monitoring opportunity.
   In Alberta, the bulk of lake monitor-
ing occurs during the warm summer
months, and not for selfish reasons. The
summer is when threats to lake eco-
systems and water resources are most
obvious: toxic cyanobacteria blooms
form expansive neon scums, invasive
plants grow into dense mats, and
boaters risk carrying invasive organ-
isms from lake to lake. As the summer
ends, the invasive plants die off, and
cyanobacteria go dormant, sinking to
the bottom of the lake… Or do they?
   In February of 2013, bright pink
photosynthetic cyanobacteria, called
Planktothrix rubescens, rose from the
depths of Fork Lake and became trapped
in the surface ice. Looking down through
the ice created a dramatic effect:
the ice glowed an otherworldly pink.
Subsequent ice cores revealed row upon
row of frozen cyanobacteria, and toxicity
tests detected toxin concentrations
that more than doubled Alberta’s             Volunteer Vien Lam collecting data from Spring Lake during an ice fishing trip. MARIELLE LAM
recreational guideline. This discovery
led to a blue-green algae advisory           so little data has been collected from                   effect does climate change have on
posted by Alberta Health Services —          lakes in the wintertime, we don’t have                   winter lake conditions? These gaps in
in February. The same phenomenon             a clear answer. The same goes for other                  our understanding of Alberta’s lake
was later observed at Matchayaw Lake         important questions related to lake                      ecosystems inspired the Alberta Lake
during November of 2017.                     ecosystems, such as how do summer                        Management Society (ALMS) to begin
   What factors lead to these under-ice      cyanobacteria blooms influence the                       investigating lakes under the ice.
blooms of toxic cyanobacteria? Because       quality of winter fish habitat, or what

Winter limnology presents inter-          following year, the program caught on
esting logistical challenges. Sample         with watershed stewardship groups
sites that are easily accessible in the      and participation more than doubled.
summer can become dangerous in               In 2019, 25 volunteers sampled 22
the winter depending on snow and             lakes across 44 sampling events.
ice conditions. Traditional sampling         Geographically, lakes ranged from
gear might not fit into an auger hole.       Beauvais Lake in the south to Snipe Lake
Delicate instrumentation might freeze.       in the north. As a testament to Alberta’s
And how do I keep my fingers warm?           citizen science community, volunteers
Fortunately, Alberta has an active com-      were making excursions solely for data
munity of individuals who are equipped       collection, rather than in addition to a
for winter fieldwork and regularly visit     pre-planned ice fishing trip.
lakes between December and April: ice           After only two years, the program has
anglers. Recognizing this community of       started to generate interesting results.
potential citizen scientists, ALMS devel-    Some lakes that exhibit low phosphorus         An ice core collected from Fork Lake in 2013
oped the Winter LakeKeepers program          concentrations in the summer demon-            reveals bands of frozen pink cyanobacteria.
                                                                                            DR. RON ZURAWELL
with financial support from the Alberta      strated high phosphorus concentrations
Ecotrust Foundation.                         in the winter. One volunteer measured          hopes to ensure a sustainable future for
   Before heading out, participants in       high dissolved oxygen concentrations           healthy lake and aquatic ecosystems.
the Winter LakeKeepers program first         and observed a pink hue to the water              ALMS would like to thank our incred-
complete an ice safety quiz. Then, they      — a sure sign that cyanobacteria was           ible volunteers and the generous sup-
are provided with training materials and     making another appearance. ALMS                port of our funders, including Alberta
a sampling kit. Sampling kits include        has prepared the results into reports on       Environment and Parks and the Alberta
a multimeter probe used to measure           their website, and the data is uploaded        Ecotrust Foundation. We always wel-
temperature and oxygen concentrations        to DataStream, an open-source water            come more volunteers; if you are
throughout the water column, a sample        quality portal that is becoming increas-       interested in becoming involved with
bottle and glove to allow for the collec-    ingly popular amongst citizen science          any of ALMS’ programs, please visit
tion of a total phosphorus sample, a hot     programs.                            
water bottle to prevent the contents of         Winter LakeKeepers is just one of
the sampling kit from freezing, and a        many citizen science programs offered
field sheet for recording environmental      by ALMS and other organizations across
observations. Environmental obser-           Alberta. These types of programs are an
vations are crucial to understanding         affordable way to deliver environmental
winter lakes. For example, snow cover        monitoring, but the benefits are not
and ice transparency are critical factors    just in the economics. Engagement of
influencing the amount of light available    citizen scientists creates an ownership
under the ice — a key requirement for        of environmental data, breaks down the
the growth of cyanobacteria.                 silos that separate academics from the
   In 2018, the pilot year of the program,   public, and enables citizens to use envi-
ten volunteers braved the elements           ronmental data to improve the health                 Bradley Peter is a Professional
to collect data from ten lakes. These        of the environment. Through programs                 Biologist and the Executive Director
samples were collected primarily during      such as Winter LakeKeepers, ALMS                     of the Alberta Lake Management
pre-planned ice fishing excursions. The

                                                                                         NATURE ALBERTA MAGAZINE WINTER 2021 | 9
Why Are
                                                                                            trial processes like metal smelting,
                                                                                            manufacturing, and oil refining. Once
                                                                                            in the atmosphere, these chemicals

Loon Chicks
                                                                                            transform and make rainwater acidic,
                                                                                            which lowers the pH of lakes over time.
                                                                                            In highly acidic lakes (pH less than 6),
                                                                                            fish growth and survival can become

                                                                                            reduced, leading to lower productivity
                                                                                            in fish predators like loons.
                                                                                               An additional consequence of acid

Less Common?
                                                                                            rain is that it speeds the transformation
                                                                                            of elemental mercury into its organic
                                                                                            and more toxic form, methylmercury.
                                                                                            As a result, the mercury naturally pres-
                                                                                            ent in the environment can become
                                                                                            damaging. Additional mercury enters
                                                                                            the environment through the burning

T      he common loon is a bird that most
       Canadians easily recognize. With
its jewel-like red eyes, striking black and
                                               waterbodies to study 69 lakes near
                                               Sudbury, Ontario. My goal was to figure
                                               out which lakes had loons and to count
                                                                                            of fossil fuels (especially coal), certain
                                                                                            industrial processes, and waste incin-
                                                                                            eration. Mercury from such sources is
white plumage, and beautiful, echoing          how many of those loons had chicks.          stable in the air and can travel far from
call, the common loon is a bird that is        Specifically, I wanted to determine          the initial point of release.
hard to miss and even harder to forget.        the number of six-week-old young                Because mercury is not broken down
   Like most people, I’ve always been          per loon pair—a measurement loon             when ingested, it becomes increasingly
excited to spot a loon or to hear its call     researchers refer to as “productivity.”      concentrated at higher levels of the
when I’ve been near a lake. But it wasn’t      Most predation losses occur within the       food chain. The implication is that top
until I started working with loons as a        first six weeks of life, so the number of    predators, like loons, can ingest high
biologist that I realized how fascinating      six-week-old young per pair is a good        concentrations of mercury as they eat
and important these birds truly are.           indicator of the number of loon chicks       contaminated fish. Adult loons with
   I started studying loons in 2019,           that will survive to become adults.          high mercury in their bodies spend less
when I began work as a postdoctoral               Measuring loon productivity is also an    time caring for chicks, and chicks with
researcher with Birds Canada and               excellent indicator of lake health. As top   high mercury in their bodies are worse
Acadia University. I had two jobs. The         predators, loons are sensitive to damage     at fighting off infections and avoiding
first was to analyze almost 40 years of        at lower levels of the food chain. For       predators. As a result, there are fewer
loon monitoring data from over 1,500           example, processes that decrease the         six-week-old young per pair on lakes
lakes, and the second was to spend a           number of fish in a lake can cause food      with higher mercury levels.
summer canoeing around northern                shortages, especially for young loons.          In theory, the lakes I visited for
Ontario to look for loons. You can             Being a top predator also makes loons        my field work should have provided
imagine which job excited me the most.         more vulnerable to pollutants, like acid     excellent habitat for loons. They were
   My summer looking for loons was one         rain and mercury.                            all remote lakes with very little human
I will never forget. I spent the better part      Acid rain occurs when sulphur diox-       disturbance, and to my eye, the lakes
of three months driving over rugged            ide and nitrogen oxides are released         looked clean and unpolluted. But of
logging roads, bushwhacking through            into the atmosphere by vehicles, power       the 69 lakes I visited, only four had
the forest, and paddling across countless      plants burning fossil fuels, and indus-      loon chicks. On average, there were

Common loon adult with small chick. DARWIN PARK

just 0.09 six-week-old young per loon                             acid rain and mercury pollution, there
pair on these lakes. That is just 20% of                          is also shoreline development and
what previous studies have suggested is
required to maintain a stable number of
                                            Determining           boating activity to consider. And there
                                                                  are natural challenges as well, such as
adult loons. These results suggest that
the loon populations on these lakes are
                                            the specific          depredation of loon eggs and chicks
                                                                  by other animals and harassment from
in trouble.
   Unfortunately, similar declines are
                                            causes of             biting black flies. Sorting this all out was
                                                                  the goal of my desk job.
also being observed in other locations.
Data from the Canadian Lakes Loon
                                            the observed             Working with a team of colleagues,
                                                                  I analyzed 38 years of Canadian Lakes
Survey, a citizen science monitoring
program managed by Birds Canada, indi-
                                            decline in loon       Loon Survey data from 1,577 Ontario
                                                                  lakes. I focused on Ontario because this
cate that loon productivity in Canada
has dropped from over 0.8 six-week-old
                                            productivity is       province had the longest dataset and
                                                                  included the largest number of lakes. In
young per pair per year in 1981 to under
0.6 in 2018. Other studies have shown
                                            no easy task          all, I examined the effects of 16 different
                                                                  factors on loon productivity, including
similar declines elsewhere.1 Therefore,
even though loon populations are cur-
                                            because there         lake acidity, fish mercury levels, fish
                                                                  abundance, lake size, lake location,
rently considered stable in Canada, if
this trend continues, we could start
                                            are numerous          spring temperatures, spring and winter
                                                                  precipitation, and the presence of loon
to see fewer and fewer common loons
every summer.
                                            interacting           predators and competitors. What I found
                                                                  was that lake acidity and mercury are key
   Determining the specific causes of the
observed decline in loon productivity is
                                            threats to            drivers of common loon productivity
                                                                  declines.2 Lakes with higher acidity (pH
no easy task because there are numerous
interacting threats to untangle. Besides
                                            untangle.             less than 6) had lower productivity and
                                                                  showed steeper declines in productivity

                                                              NATURE ALBERTA MAGAZINE WINTER 2021 | 11
An increasingly frequent sight: a common loon adult without any young in springtime. RICHARD SCHNEIDER

over time. I also found that loons                   urban centres and by oilsands projects,                 with a low buffering capacity poses a big
produced fewer chicks on lakes with                  and both sources are projected to                       problem for loons, which breed in the
higher fish mercury concentrations.                  increase acid rain production across                    northern half of the province.
   What about loons in Western Canada,               northeastern Alberta in coming years.3                     Mercury also poses a significant
far from the mining developments and                 Moreover, soils in northern Alberta have                threat to loons in Alberta. Many lakes
dense human populations of Ontario?                  a low buffering capacity, so even small                 in Alberta currently have mercury con-
Unfortunately, acid rain is a problem                amounts of acid rain can cause lakes                    centrations that exceed the province’s
here as well. In Alberta, sulfur dioxide             to become acidic.4 This combination                     safe consumption limits.5 If eating fish is
and nitrogen oxides are emitted from                 of high acid rain production and soils                  not safe for people, you can bet it is not
                                                                                                             safe for birds that eat nothing but fish.
                                                                                                             Mercury contamination is of particular
                                                                                                             concern in northeast Alberta because
                                                                                                             oilsands operations are a significant
                                                                                                             source of methylmercury emissions.6
                                                                                                                Climate change may also intensify the
                                                                                                             problems that acid rain and mercury
                                                                                                             pose for loons in Alberta and else-
                                                                                                             where. A study from Ontario found an
                                                                                                             association between recent changes in
                                                                                                             climate, including warmer temperatures
                                                                                                             and higher precipitation, and increased
                                                                                                             fish mercury concentrations.7 Climate
                                                                                                             change is also predicted to cause more
                                                                                                             frequent and extreme water level fluctu-
                                                                                                             ations, and this can increase lake acidity
                                                                                                             and the amount of mercury in loons.8
Figure 1. Common loon productivity in Canada declined between 1981 and 2018. The horizontal dashed
line indicates the level needed to maintain a stable loon population.

What You Can Do To Help
   There are many meaningful ways for        References:                                          5. Government of Alberta. 2016. Mercury
you to support loon conservation, and        1. Tozer, D.C., C.M. Falconer, and D.S.                 in Fish in Alberta Water Bodies 2009-
thankfully, there is still time to avert         Badzinski. 2013. Common Loon                        2013. Alberta Health, Health Protection
                                                 Reproductive Success in Canada: The                 Branch, Edmonton, Alberta.
serious population declines. By learn-
                                                 West is Best but Not for Long. Avian             6. Kirk, J.L., D.C.G. Muir, A. Gleason,
ing more about loons and the threats
                                                 Conservation & Ecology 8:1.                         X. Wang, G. Lawson, R.A. Frank,
they face, you can help spread aware-
                                             2. Bianchini, K., D.C. Tozer, R. Alvo, S.P.             I. Lehnherr, and F. Wrona. 2014.
ness of their plight and can get others
                                                 Bhavsar, and M.L. Mallory. 2020. Drivers            Atmospheric deposition of mercury
interested in protecting this amazing            of declines in common loon (Gavia                   and methylmercury to landscapes and
species. Another way is to support Birds         immer) productivity in Ontario, Canada.             waterbodies of the Athabasca oilsands
Canada (, the coun-              Science of the Total Environment                    region. Environmental Science &
try’s leading science-based bird conser-         738:139724.                                         Technology 48:7374-7383.
vation organization.                         3. Government of Alberta. 2014. 2011 Acid            7. Chen, M.M., L. Lopez, S.P. Bhavsar, and
   You can also help by becoming a citizen       Deposition Assessment for Alberta.                  S. Sharma. 2018. What’s hot about
scientist yourself and participating             Alberta Environment and Sustainable                 mercury? Examining the influence of
in the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey:               Resource Development, Edmonton,                     climate on mercury levels in Ontario top My research               Alberta.                                            predator fishes. Environmental Research
                                             4. Carou, S., I. Dennis, J. Aherne, R.                  162:63-73.
would not have been possible without
                                                 Ouimet, P.A. Arp, S.A. Watmough,                 8. Watras, C.J., H.-Y. Teng, A.W. Latzka,
the amazing efforts of thousands of
                                                 I. DeMerchant, M. Shaw, B. Vet, V.                  M.W. Meyer, and Z. Zhang. 2020.
survey participants. By taking part in
                                                 Bouchet, and M. Moran. 2008. A                      Near-decadal oscillation of water
the loon surveys, you can collect critical
                                                 National Picture of Acid Deposition                 levels and mercury bioaccumulation
information to help conserve loon                Critical Loads for Forest Soils in Canada.          in the Laurentian Great Lakes region.
breeding pairs and their chicks.                 Canadian Council of Ministers of the                Environmental Science & Technology
   Finally, for anyone who lives on a            Environment, Ottawa, Ontario.                       Letters 7:89-94.
lake or who enjoys visiting a lake in the
summer, there are a number of simple
ways to have a positive impact. Slow
down while boating, especially near the
shoreline. This helps to minimize wakes
and prevents washing out loon nests
and separating small chicks from their
parents. Allow native wetland plants to
grow in wide strips along shorelines to
provide shelter for small loon chicks and
habitat for the fish that loons depend on.
Use non-toxic, lead-free fishing tackle,
which prevents loons from ingesting
toxic lead jigs and sinkers. Anglers
should also properly dispose of fishing                                                               Breeding pair with small chicks. DARWIN PARK
lines to avoid loons becoming entangled
and injured. By working together, we
                                                   Kristin Bianchini is from St. Albert, Alberta. After completing her Ph.D. at the
can ensure that this beloved species is
                                                   University of Saskatchewan, she moved to Ontario, where she is currently working as a
around for years to come.                          postdoctoral researcher with Birds Canada and Acadia University.

                                                                                              NATURE ALBERTA MAGAZINE WINTER 2021 | 13
A Fisheye View
of Cumulative
Effects in Alberta’s
East Slopes

I n photography, a fisheye lens allows the photographer to capture an extremely
  wide angle of view. You can take a snapshot of an entire landscape complete
with mountains, forests, meadows, and lakes. If you are a photographer exploring
                                                                                          alteration and changes in climate. West-
                                                                                          slope cutthroat trout once inhabited
                                                                                          most streams in southwestern Alberta
Alberta’s southern East Slopes, your fisheye lens might capture just that—a seemingly     from the alpine zone to the prairies, but
untouched, beautiful landscape. Turn around and point your lens in another direction,     today are largely restricted to the Rocky
                                                                                          Mountains and foothills.1 Bull trout have
however, and you might see a road crisscrossing a cold mountain stream and well
                                                                                          also experienced a significant westward
sites, cutblocks, and random campsites dotting the background. This is actually a
                                                                                          contraction of their historic range.2
very busy landscape.
                                                                                             As Lorne Fitch, professional biologist
   The southern East Slopes region is        fish species — are illustrative of this.     and former adjunct professor with the
both busy and ecologically significant.      Native fish communities are acutely          University of Calgary, puts it: “Native
It is home to the headwaters of the          sensitive to landscape and watershed         trout declines are a message hard to
Bow and Oldman Rivers and provides a         mismanagement, which makes them an           ignore. Their plight is a signal that many
number of ecological services, including     important indicator species. If they’re      of the values Albertans hold for the East
fresh water for downstream commu-            not doing well, it’s a signal that other     Slopes are at risk.”3 Given the alarms
nities and irrigation districts, habitat     aquatic and terrestrial wildlife might       these species are sounding, it’s time to
for numerous native species, and             not be doing too well either.                ask serious questions about the future
world-renowned tourism and recreation           Bull trout, the only native char to       of this important region. What will the
activities. Its natural resources support    historically occupy all the drainages of     landscape and wildlife populations look
forestry, oil and gas, mining, ranching,     Alberta’s Eastern Slopes, and westslope      like? What is our land-use trajectory
and agriculture.                             cutthroat trout, the only subspecies of      and is it sustainable? If it’s not, how do
   However, no landscape can provide         cutthroat trout native to Alberta, inhabit   we change our trajectory?
an inexhaustible supply of benefits to       the cold waters found along Alberta’s           To answer these questions, we need
humans. And in the southern East Slopes      East Slopes. Both are listed as threat-      to put down our camera and pick up
region, there are growing indications        ened species in Alberta and have exper-      another tool called ALCES: A Land
that a tipping point has been reached.       ienced rapid declines in abundance and       Cumulative Effects Simulator. ALCES
Wildlife — particularly our native           distribution due to progressive habitat      is a computer model that tracks land-

Panorama of Lake Minnewanka. Z. KOZOMARA

use activities and their accumulating        because they are cool-water species               management scenarios and to use that
footprint over time at high resolution. It   and become stressed by warmer water               to inform land use and conservation
allows us to understand how landscapes       temperatures. Progressive changes in              planning in the region. One scenario, the
will change over time and to assess the      climate will also have a dramatic effect          business-as-usual model, assumed that
ecological effects of these changes. The     on the water cycles, which in turn will           resource development would continue
model does this by integrating scientific    impact stream flows, water quality,               along its current trajectory. A second
findings obtained through ecological         spawning substrates, food availability,           scenario, the protection model, placed
field studies and then applying these        and disease risk for aquatic species.4            an emphasis on protecting the land from
findings to future landscapes.                  By integrating all of this ecological          further industrial development. The
   For example, studies have shown that      information and applying it to evolving           protection scenario also assumed that
industrial processes — including timber      future landscapes, ALCES can predict              non-permanent industrial footprints
harvest, mining, oil and gas exploration     how trout and other species are likely            (access roads, seismic lines, and well
and extraction, and the associated           to fare in coming decades. We can                 sites) would be reclaimed and that a
access roads — cause habitat fragmen-        use the model to explore alternative              combination of access management
tation, which negatively affects trout       management scenarios, helping us to               and regulatory protection would lower
populations. Industrial access roads         understand the implications of today’s            angling mortality to levels observed in
also facilitate entry to remote areas by     actions on tomorrow’s landscapes.                 other protected areas in the province.
anglers, which increases angling pres-       Such studies afford us a glimpse into                Several outcome measures were
sure. Roads and other industrial features    alternative futures and allow us to select        used to assess the consequences of
can also lead to greater frequency and       the future we want.                               each scenario, taking cumulative effects
intensity of flooding, blockages and            In 2019, the Alberta Chapter                   fully into account. The focus was on
changes in water flows, and increased        of The Wildlife Society (ACTWS)                   bull trout and westslope cutthroat
sediment and phosphorus loads.               commissioned a cumulative effects                 trout viability, measured in terms of
   Assessments of future landscapes          assessment of this type for Alberta’s             the Alberta government’s Fish Sustain-
also need to take climate warming            southern East Slopes. The overarching             ability Index.5 Additional environmental
into account. Bull trout and westslope       goal was to provide a science-based               metrics included the overall intensity of
cutthroat trout are at particular risk       assessment of two alternative                     the industrial footprint, the amount of

                                                                                          NATURE ALBERTA MAGAZINE SUMMER 2020 | 15
intact land, water quality, and an indica-   these priority areas for conservation
tor of approximate water flow. Natural       were in western watersheds (Figure
resource gross domestic product was          1). Fortunately, these watersheds have
used to assess economic outcomes.            low potential for new oil and gas devel-
   The analysis afforded a fisheye view      opment. Therefore, the economic con-
of the future of Alberta’s southern East     sequences of protection relate mainly
Slopes — and it doesn’t look good under      to forest harvesting, which contributes
the business-as-usual model. The Fish        much less to GDP than energy devel-
Sustainability Index is predicted to         opment. The upshot is that western
progressively decline as human and           watersheds are both of highest value
climate-induced stressors progres-           to trout and carry the lowest cost of
sively degrade freshwater habitats.          protection. For an area described as the
Consequently, further declines in the        last stronghold for trout populations in
abundance and distribution of bull trout     the region, this is good news.
and westslope cutthroat trout can be            The cumulative effects assessment
                                                                                         Figure 1. Watershed conservation priority
expected. Few sustainable populations        found that other environmental out-         ranked by conservation cost-effectiveness.
are likely to remain outside of protected    come measures displayed a similar           Higher values indicate higher priority.
areas.                                       spatial pattern to trout sustainabil-
   Fortunately, there is an alternative.     ity, indicating that land-use impacts       should be targeted. The cumulative
If we train our fisheye lens on a future     encompass the broader ecosystem.            effects assessment has identified target
landscape that is protected rather than      Water quality and intact land cover are     areas where there are good prospects
developed, things look much better for       low in the eastern downstream portion       for protecting or restoring values and
trout. Watershed protection resulted         of the study area, where land conver-       the where costs of protection can be
in substantial risk reduction in several     sion to agriculture and settlement is       minimized.
watersheds, allowing fish sustainability     widespread. In the business-as-usual           So, now that you’ve seen a glimpse
to stay at moderate risk 50 years into       scenario, resource development caused       into the world of tomorrow, how does
the future despite climate change. Fac-      further habitat fragmentation of the        it feel to be there? Are you happy with
tors contributing to the effectiveness       landscape, with intact land cover being     the status quo or would you rather
of protecting these watersheds include       largely limited to protected areas after    see a different trajectory for Alberta’s
higher elevation and therefore lower         five decades. In addition to the ecolog-    Southern East Slopes?
sensitivity to climate warming, relative     ical implications, this can also lead to       There is opportunity for change. As
habitat intactness, and the potential        hydrologic changes, including elevated      surprising as it may sound, watershed
for habitat reclamation. The potential       risk of runoff and downstream flooding.     planning for the East Slopes of Alberta
to reduce access is also critical for           The view from our model-assisted         is still in its infancy. Management deci-
lowering angling pressure, which was         fisheye lens is quite clear. This isn’t     sions regarding our resources occur at
identified as a limiting factor for both     just a fish issue, it’s an entire ecosys-   many levels, from individual landowners
trout species.                               tem issue. Achieving a balance in the       through to government-led regional
   By comparing the Fish Sustainability      southern East Slopes — ecologically,        planning. As fisheries biologist Jennifer
Index and natural resource GDP results       economically, and socially — will require   Earle describes: “As an individual, you
under the two management scenarios,          more than maintaining the status quo.       might not think there is much you can
it was possible to identify the water-       Conservation action will be needed to       do to address large landscape threats
sheds where environmental benefits           maintain viable native fish communities     such as sedimentation, man-made
were greatest and the economic costs         along with other natural capital values.    barriers to fish passage, and climate
of protection were lowest. Most of           Furthermore, we know where this action      change. As part of a group, however,

you can get involved in stewardship
initiatives that help champion these
                                                Coal Mining in the Southern East Slopes
issues and effect change at a local              The Alberta Chapter of The Wildlife Society, along with other groups like the
scale through volunteer projects.”6 The       Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Crowsnest Conservation Society,
Alberta Chapter of The Wildlife Society       Timberwolf Wilderness Society, and Livingstone Landowners Group, recently
and organizations like it need members        participated in the Grassy Mountain Mine Public Hearing. Benga Mining Ltd.
and financial support to continue to          is proposing to construct and operate an open-pit metallurgical coal mine near
engage in science-based conservation          the Crowsnest Pass, approximately seven kilometres north of the community of
and management of wild animals and            Blairmore. As proposed, the life of the mine is about 25 years. The hearing was
wild spaces. Please consider lending          an opportunity for groups and individuals to voice their support or opposition
a hand.                                       to the proposed coal mine. It was also an ideal platform for presenting the
                                              results of the cumulative effects assessment, which included the proposed
                                              Grassy Mountain coal mine footprint and its estimated revenue in the analysis.
     ACTWS’s full report, Cumulative          The results indicate that the watershed containing the proposed coal mine is
  Effects of Land Uses and Conservation       ranked as a high-priority watershed, suggesting that the conservation benefits
  Priorities in Alberta’s Southern East       to trout and ecosystem services over the long-term outweigh the short-term
  Slope Watersheds, can be read at:           economic gains from the mine.                       Without the clarity of a fisheye view into the future of Alberta’s southern
                                              East Slopes, that message is eyebrow-raising. It’s an important reminder that
                                              the people who reside, work, or play in these watersheds, as well as those who
                                              never set foot in the watershed but still value it, need the tools of this report to
                                              inform decisions about the future. The Grassy Mountain Mine is unlikely to be
                                              the last large-scale development project to be proposed for Alberta’s southern
     Sarah Milligan is a Professional
     Biologist whose interests include
                                              East Slopes. In 2020, the government of Alberta rescinded the 1976 Alberta
     wildlife, habitat, and landscape         Coal Policy, which has opened headwaters in the East Slopes to open-pit coal
     ecology. She lives and works             mining. This is additive, of course, to the myriad of other land-use pressures
     in Alberta and holds a M.Sc.
                                              that have already put the health and function of an ecologically significant
     in Conservation Biology and
     Environmental Science from the           landscape at risk.
     University of Alberta.

References:                               Alberta Sustainable Resource Devel-            footprint. Frontiers in Ecology and the
  1. Alberta Westslope Cutthroat          opment, Species at Risk Conservation           Environment, 18(5), 271-280.
Trout Recovery Team. 2013. Alberta        Management Plan No. 8. Edmonton,                  5. Fish Sustainability Index was esti-
Westslope Cutthroat Trout Recovery        AB, 90 pp.            mated according to Alberta Environ-
Plan: 2012-2017. Alberta Environment      tions/9781460102305                            ment and Parks’ Cumulative Effects Joe
and Sustainable Resource Develop-            3. Fitch, Lorne (2020). “A Danger-          Model, which was developed to assess
ment, Alberta Species at Risk Recovery    ous Man with a Dangerous Concept.”             multiple threats to aquatic species at
Plan No. 28. Edmonton, AB, 77 pp.         Nature Alberta Magazine, 50(3), 12-14.         risk in Alberta.
Accessed from         4. Ebersole, J.L., R.M. Quiñones, S.           6. Earle, Jennifer (2020). “Alberta’s
cations/9781460102312                     Clements and B.H. Letcher (2020).              Bull Trout Need Our Respect – and
  2. Alberta Sustainable Resource         Managing climate refugia for freshwa-          Our Help.” Nature Alberta Magazine,
Development. 2012. Bull Trout Con-        ter fishes under an expanding human            50(2), 8-11.
servation Management Plan 2012-17.

                                                                                    NATURE ALBERTA MAGAZINE SUMMER 2020 | 17
                   Keep Those
                        Those Wily
 Urban Coyotes
                                        Wild!                                                        BY COLLEEN CASSADY ST. CLAIR

                                                My goal was to understand how           millennia and are extremely good at
                                             coyotes make a living in cities and to     adapting to, and then exploiting, our
                                             identify the factors that are associated   human habits. I use these terms—adapt
                                             with conflict. I hoped this information    and exploit—in a neutral way. Coyotes
                                             would facilitate coexistence between       are among the handful of species that
                                             people and coyotes to increase security    thrive in cities, in contrast to most other
                                             for people while supporting the many       species, which avoid urban areas or face
                                             ecological and aesthetic benefits coy-     local extinctions.
                                             otes bring to cities. The associated
                                             research has been a collaborative
                                             effort with wonderful participa-

                                             tion from academic colleagues,
    ’ve heard many opinions about urban
                                             civic officials, a private company,
    coyotes. “They don’t belong here!
                                             citizens, and, especially, several
Can’t the government move them some-
                                             graduate and undergraduate stu-
where else?” “They have a right to exist
                                             dents in my lab at the University
and we’ve invaded their space.” “They
                                             of Alberta.
make me afraid for my kids and myself,
                                                What I’ve concluded over the
just walking down my own front street.”
                                             past ten years is that there are
“I love seeing coyotes and have never
                                             four broad components to reduc-
had a negative experience with one.”
                                             ing conflict: (1) remove or secure
These kinds of sentiments about coyotes
                                             attractants, (2) control and protect
come via emails, conversations, radio
                                             pets, (3) increase wariness of bold
call-in shows, and posts to the website
                                             coyotes, and (4) prevent denning
of the Edmonton Urban Coyote Project
                                             in residential areas. None of these
                                             recommendations is unique to
   I began studying urban coyotes a little
                                             Alberta’s cities or the studies
over a decade ago because Alberta’s
                                             in my lab. But we’ve uncovered
cities, like virtually every city in North
                                             some details that help us stay a
America, have seen a steady increase in
                                             step ahead of wily coyotes, which
reports of urban coyotes over time. This
                                             have shared space with people for
is likely the result of cities expanding
into rural areas and coyotes expanding
their range over the past many decades.      Top: A mature coyote in prime condition.
                                             TONY LEPRIEUR

                                             Right: An urban coyote at rest. COLLEEN
                                             CASSADY ST. CLAIR

Before sharing some of the details           In Edmonton, it is increasingly com-              Natural food sources are also abun-
of what we’ve learned, I think it’s         mon for coyotes to den in derelict sheds          dant in cities, especially sprawling
important to acknowledge some               or under decks and sunrooms. Last                 cities like Edmonton and Calgary where
characteristics of urban coyotes that       spring, we discovered nine pups in such           there are abundant open fields, forested
are relevant to successfully coexisting     a location, birthed by a small, appar-            areas, river valleys, golf courses, grassy
with them. Relative to surrounding rural    ently lone female. She likely sought              freeway verges, and major railway lines
areas, coyotes frequently reach higher      this denning location, which required             with spilled agricultural products. Prey
population densities in cities because      Houdini-like contortions while crawling           sources such as insects, rodents, and
of earlier breeding, larger litters, and    under a fence to access, mainly for its           birds have become more abundant
higher survival of pups. In addition,       security from other, more dominant coy-           through progressive policies of pest
urban pups are slower to disperse, which    otes. The large size of her litter (five to       management that eschew chemical
results in large family groups of adult-    six is average) probably meant she had            control. Underground stormwater pipes
looking animals. Their urban diets are      access to high-calorie human food, such           create naturalized habitat and attrac-
more diverse than in rural areas and they   as garbage, but there was no such food            tive wetlands bordered by shrubs and
readily make use of buildings and other     source immediately around the den site.           grasses. These natural features provide
infrastructure as den sites. Coyotes that      What kind of food could a meek but             many ecosystem services cities need, but
would not survive or reproduce without      wily coyote like this one find nearby?            they also attract coyotes. Conflict can
human sources of food and shelter           There are many surprising sources.                result, especially in adjacent residential
are able to do so in cities. The food       Work in my lab, led by Maureen Murray             or recreational areas.
subsidy is usually the root of subsequent   and Deanna Steckler, showed that urban               For wildlife professionals tasked with
problems with conflict, which often         coyotes eat rodents, rabbits, insects,            managing urban wildlife, the presence of
involves den sites in residential areas.    and berries, as expected. But they also           coyotes, even in residential areas, does
                                            eat birdseed, fruit (of both native and           not automatically signal conflict. Con-
                                            domestic species), pet food, compost,             flict requiring intervention occurs only
                                            and all manner of garbage, ranging from           when people or their pets are directly
                                            a leather glove to an entire wrapped              threatened by coyotes with aggres-
                                            burrito. Several people have shared               sive and repeated approaches. This
                                            stories and photos of coyotes climbing            behaviour is almost always accompanied
                                            crabapple trees to eat the apples!                by food conditioning and/or the pres-
                                               Sometimes people provide food to               ence of a den site, both of which increase
                                            coyotes and other wildlife intentionally.         defensive behaviour toward pets and
                                            This has motivated a proposed and very            sometimes people. Thus, key actions
          Alberta's cities...               welcome bylaw amendment in Edmon-                 for minimizing conflict are: securing or
        have seen a steady                  ton to prohibit feeding of wildlife except        removing attractants, preventing food
      increase in reports of                for conventional, suspended bird feed-            conditioning, controlling or containing
        urban coyotes over                  ers. Over the years, every single time            pets, and preventing establishment of
        time. This is likely                I’ve investigated clusters of complaints          den sites in residential areas.
                                            about aggressive coyotes, I have found               Many of the coyotes that use res-
        the result of cities
                                            evidence of access to human sources               idential areas are young, dispersing
       expanding into rural                 of food. Feeding was associated with              animals and first-time breeders that are
        areas and coyotes                   the lethal attack on a 110-pound dog in           excluded from natural areas by larger,
      expanding their range                 Edmonton and severe bites to the head             more dominant coyotes. Murray’s work
         over the                           of a toddler in Burnaby. Repeated access          showed that animals suffering from
       past many                            to human sources of food produces food            mange (a skin parasite) are more likely
        decades.                            conditioning: the association animals             to use residential areas, particularly
                                            make between people and food. It con-             during the day. She also identified the
                                            sistently generates conflict, whether             characteristics of residential yards that
                                            with coyotes, wolves, bears, or geese.            are most likely to attract coyotes. These

                                                                                          NATURE ALBERTA MAGAZINE WINTER 2021 | 19
Left: Two coyotes at home in one of Calgary's natural areas.
                                                                               TONY LEPRIEUR

                                                                               Below: A coyote casually moves through a playground.
                                                                               COLLEEN CASSADY ST. CLAIR

                                                   Many of the coyotes
                                                  that use residential                         program for residential neighbourhoods.
                                                    areas are young,                           We are investigating whether intensive
                                                                                               and repeated frightening encounters
                                                dispersing animals and
                                                                                               with trained volunteers can teach
                                                  first-time breeders                          coyotes to be generally more wary of
                                                   that are excluded                           people, thereby reducing the likelihood
                                                 from natural areas by                         of encounters and conflicts. By
                                                larger, more dominant                          designating both treatment and control
include the lack of a fence, presence of          coyotes.                                     neighbourhoods, we will later be able to
hiding cover (dense vegetation, sheds,                                                         assess the effects of the hazing program.
old cars, piles of debris), and food                                                              In both neighbourhood types, volun-
sources. Mangy animals were much                                                               teers will conduct patrols, assess coyote
more likely than healthy coyotes to                                                            wariness, and follow up on complaints
shelter under decks and beside house        for decades to infect coyotes, but a               by residents. In treatment neighbour-
foundations. In a nasty feedback loop,      new, more virulent strain has arrived              hoods, volunteers will react to coyotes
eating human-sourced food, especially       from Europe, probably with imported                that permit close approaches (i.e., that
compost containing mycotoxins, can          dogs, only in the last decade or so. This          are habituated to people) by chasing
result in immune suppression, which         parasite usually cycles between coyotes            them while throwing tennis balls,
increases susceptibility to parasites and   and their rodent prey, but humans can              shaking a can full of coins, and shout-
disease. Another student, Scott Sugden,     be infected if they accidentally eat the           ing. Similar but more intensive forms
showed that animals in poor condition       microscopic eggs deposited with coyote             of aversive conditioning are already
exhibit disrupted microbiomes in their      feces. Since 2013, 17 Albertans have been          used in Edmonton and Calgary by city
intestines, which appear to stem from       diagnosed, but the infected number may             wildlife professionals and have been
protein-poor diets.                         be much higher because symptoms,                   used successfully to manage bears in
   Beyond the conflict associated with      related to liver cysts, can take 10 to 15          protected areas for a couple of decades.
coyote behaviour, a new parasite makes      years to develop.                                  We hope our community-based aversive
it more important to deter coyotes from        Because the rates and severity of               conditioning program will complement
residential yards and similar human-use     conflicts with coyotes has been rising in          current approaches by increasing the
areas like playgrounds and community        residential areas, grad student Gabrielle          frequency and immediacy of negative
gardens. The tapeworm parasite Echi-        Lajeunesse and I are initiating a                  experiences for coyotes encountering
nococcus multilocularis has been known      community-based aversive conditioning              people in residential areas.

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