During the pandemic, we’ll be back in the wild life again

Before it was the best advice for Edmontonians in a pandemic, physical distancing was the best advice for Edmontonians and moose. And coyotes, deer, skunks, porcupines and the rest of the animal kingdom who live in and move through city limits. 

“People in Edmonton really, really value seeing wildlife,” said Catherine Shier, Principal Ecological Planner with the City of Edmonton. “It is amazing how many people have mentioned to me recently that the deer they saw or the birds they’re hearing now are the highlights of their stay-at-home work days.”

Shier’s advice for living respectfully with wildlife is what you might hear these days from a medical officer of health. 

“Appreciate them from a distance,” Shier said.

“Edmonton has a long history of trying to have safe places for wildlife and protecting biodiversity.” 

Coyote in St. Paul Catholic School yard, April 3, 2020. Courtesy Theresa Agnew

Wildlife and people closer

Shier said three factors have combined at this time of year and this time in history to bring wildlife and people closer together.

One, it’s spring. Animals are on the move and working up their energy stores after winter. 

Two, it’s the pandemic. Fewer automobiles on roads make previously unused spaces safer for animals, especially the skittish types. 

Three, it’s us. 

Shier pointed out that Edmontonians who are safely enjoying the outdoors are also pushing into natural areas in the river valley and the parks system that they might not have before. 

“That’s why it bears repeating,” Shier said, without betraying the wildlife pun, “that our main message is to give them space.”

Deer on University of Alberta campus, April 12, 2020. Courtesy Michael Gravel

University of Alberta connection

The attention on wildlife in public spaces—and the public in wildlife spaces—comes at a perfect time for Shier. 

In 2018, the City and the Urban Coyote Project at the University of Alberta initiated a wildlife monitoring project to better understand how wildlife moves through and within the city. And to keep a spotlight on what Shier calls the single largest threat to protecting the diversity of natural living things: habitat loss and fragmentation. 

“As large areas of habitat are converted into smaller, more isolated habitat patches, the value of maintaining connections between remaining patches increases significantly,” Shier said. 

The research project is aided by 60 cameras located in a variety of habitats home to, among other animals, porcupine: 

White-tailed deer: 

Elk: 

And cougar: 

Naming names

The City’s Biodiversity Report has counted the number of species of flora and fauna in Edmonton. At last count there were:

178: species of birds such as geese, swans and ducks, pheasants and grouse, loons and grebes, pelicans, cormorants and herons, hawks, eagles and falcons, rails and cranes, plovers and sandpipers, gulls and terns, pigeons and doves, owls, hummingbirds and kingfishers, woodpeckers, flycatchers, jays and crows, swallows, chickadees and nuthatches, wrens and kinglets, thrushes, mimics and waxwings, warblers and tanagers, sparrow, buntings and cardinals, blackbirds and orioles, finches and weaver finches

Pelicans near Quesnell Bridge, June, 2019

47: species of mammals such as shrews, bats, hares and rabbits, rodents, canines, bear, raccoon, weasels, cats, ungulates, amphibians and reptiles

27: species of fish (codfishes, minnows and suckers, mooneyes, perches, salmonids, sculpins, sticklebacks, sturgeons, trout-perches)

2: species of reptiles (garter snakes)

5: species of amphibians (frogs, salamanders, toads)

1.835: species of invertebrates (beetles, butterflies, caddisflies, dragonflies and damselflies, land snails and slugs, mosquitoes, moths, pseudoscorpions, spiders, thrips, ticks)

487: species of vascular plants (trees, shrubs, forbs/herbs, grasses, sedges, aquatics, rushes, ferns and fern allies, parasitic/carnivorous)

Not alone here

For Shier, the numbers add up to the need to be aware of, to celebrate and to protect wildlife around us and with us. 

“In the last two weeks alone I’ve seen two herds of deer go by my window in our residential area,” Shier said. “I tried to get a photo, but they were on the move heading through a community park site that is connected to the river valley from a ravine tip.”

And that’s just fine, Shier said. Knowing that Edmonton has a parks system that is designed in a way that provides  space for both people and wildlife is just as rewarding, if not more. 

P.S. The City Plan 

Edmonton’s draft City Plan envisions a way to plan, build and maintain Edmonton that preserves space and habitat for wildlife, including unique habitat corridors. 

“Edmonton protects, expands and improves access to its natural systems and open spaces in support of biodiversity and the health and enjoyment of all Edmontonian,” the Plan states in its Preserve section. 

Editor’s notes: Photo of two moose walking by spruce in northside neighborhood, April 20, 2020, courtesy Katy Bagnariol 📷 

Find more on natural areas and biodiversity in Edmonton.

For the companion piece in our Plants and Animals series, check out the plants.