Science nerds and animal tracking

Last week I spent a glorious week in Thunder Bay visiting my friend April. Yes, you read that right, I went to Thunder Bay. Yes, other people go south in the winter, whereas I, weirdo that I am, decided to head into Northern Ontario. Good thing I’m not scared of a little bit of snow and cold.

Look Ma, I know how to put on my winter gear still. And you thought living in Victoria would make me soft? 😂

Hanging out with April, who is one of my besties ever since grad school at the University of Alberta, is always a blast. Yes, even in Thunder Bay. We sampled many of the local beers and restaurants, and even some of the local culture, like ax throwing.

And of course I had plenty of time to take a series of goofy photos along the way.

We even went to the local Nerd Night in Thunder Bay and I managed to place third, making me the third nerdiest person in Thunder Bay. Though I was told that the person who placed 2nd shouldn’t have been competing since he was on the organizing committee—so really I was the second nerdiest person in Thunder Bay. Either way, I won a rad new pint glass that I get to lord over my hubby when he tries to win an argument. I mean, he didn’t win a prize for his science trivia, did he? 😂

April and I also took a few hikes and sightseeing trips in the region, and it was marvelous being the only humans (and dogs) to lay down footprints in the snow, amongst the local wildlife tracks.

But the area around Thunder Bay was also noteworthy in terms of what tracks I didn’t see too. Most notably, we were surrounded by prime wetlands that should have been full of moose, conspicuous on the landscape with their dark coats against the snowy backdrop. And though there were plenty of roadside signs warning about moose in the area, not a single moose was seen. No tracks. No droppings. It’s like they weren’t there anymore. And as a matter of fact, population surveys and recent research is showing that moose populations in the region are indeed declining significantly.

There used to be caribou in the region too, but the population ranges have been steadily retracting northward with only a few isolated populations along the banks of Lake Superior.

To check out the full range map, click here

I’ve been reading Once and Future World and the first part of the book has really struck me just how much of our biodiversity has already been lost. According to the book, due to the slow creep of change over our lifetimes—and generational amnesia that allows us to forget the abundance of species in prior generations—we have slowly watched a decline of species abundance by 90%. Can you imagine what nonuple (that’s 9 times) more abundant wolves would look like? How about bison? How about black-footed ferrets? I can’t either.

But I do hope that we find a way to restore these populations, and not let conservation fatigue and generational amnesia doom us to ignore the need for conservation… Because catching a glimpse of a moose while out for a hike was always a high point in my childhood.

Or lynx tracks.

Or fox scat (yes, that’s poop, and yes that actually made me excited).


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