Wolverines are the essence of wilderness. High in the mountains, they lurk near avalanche paths and earn their Latin name, Gulo gulo (glutton), by gorging on half-buried animals and breaking bones with powerful jaws. They traverse deep snows with plate-sized feet and scale mountain summits so quickly it puts the world’s greatest human mountaineers to shame.
Although far from timid, wolverines are highly sensitive to human disturbance, says biologist Tony Clevenger, who’s been studying them in the Canadian Rockies for more than six years. “They’re big weasels with very fast metabolisms,” he says, “so they can’t just survive high up in the alpine on a rock; they also have to travel the valleys between those high passes.”
On a sunny day in March, I follow Clevenger into the backcountry northwest of Elkford, B.C. to check some bait traps he’d set up to hopefully attract, photograph (via motion-activated camera), and collect hair samples from passing wolverines.
It’s a non-invasive form of sampling; no animals are handled or harmed. By extracting DNA from the hair wolverines leave behind, Clevenger and fellow researchers hope to better understand these under-studied and elusive predators, and where they live and move throughout these mountain ecosystems.
After flowing some 1,200 kilometres from Canada’s Rocky Mountains, collecting runoff from the Prairies and Boreal Plains, the Saskatchewan River spills into a maze of channels that cut across the low-lying forests and wetlands of the Saskatchewan River Delta.
At 10,000 hectares, it’s the largest inland delta in North America, and prime habitat for diverse wildlife, including one of the continent’s most important regions for migratory birds. It’s also part of Canada’s vast boreal forest, an ecosystem that stretches across the continent and soaks up so much carbon emissions it’s been called the northern lungs of the planet.
The delta and surrounding region in eastern Saskatchewan is one of several priority planning areas for the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA)—an ambitious pact signed in 2010 by six environmental groups and 18 forestry companies, the latter all members of the Forest Products Association of Canada.
If you manage to haul a frozen, skinned beaver carcass up a remote mountain pass in the middle of winter, then nail it about two metres up a tree, you might just be lucky enough to attract a wolverine.
That’s what researchers have been trying to do for the past few years as part of a multi-year study to learn more about these elusive predators, and how they move and survive throughout the mountainous terrain of southern Alberta and British Columbia.
Led by Tony Clevenger, a biologist at Montana State University’s Western Transportation Institute, the research team tracks wolverines using non-invasive methods, such as cameras and hair traps (and, yes, skinned beavers on trees) with hopes of learning how these high-elevation predators are affected by highways and other barriers as they travel long distances in search of food and mates.
Poised to deliver big results, the nearly four-year-old Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement continues to rely on the co-operation of former foes.
At the Radisson Hotel’s 12 resto bar in downtown Winnipeg, a collection of foresters, environmentalists, scientists and First Nations representatives huddle around a long table and shake off the early October chill. Seated together, they couldn’t be a truer reflection of the Canadian wilderness — equal parts “hewers of wood” and tree hugger, conservation biologist and northern hunter.
February 2014: Canada Foundation for Innovation (online)
A framework developed at the University of Alberta is helping the forest planners behind the world’s largest conservation agreement see the bigger picture.
In Canada’s boreal forest, a vast landscape that stretches from Newfoundland to the Yukon, woodland caribou and other iconic species live in an environment which alternates between frozen terrain and soppy ground that’s been known to sink heavy forestry equipment with ease.
The region’s wildlife thrives in large, undisturbed forest tracts. And although the boreal forest may seem endless, industrial excursions in the North have left scars, dividing contiguous landscapes with roads and pipelines and disrupting the region’s natural ecology.
How new technology is boosting the lifespan of large-scale infrastructure.
The ISIS Canada Research Network has a simple but ambitious mission: to ensure that Canada is a world leader in civil engineering.
Based at the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg, ISIS Canada works to improve bridges and other key large-scale structures through the use of new materials and designs. The network coordinates the efforts of 185 researchers representing 14 Canadian universities and other government and industry partners who are working to improve infrastructure through the use of fibre-reinforced polymers (FRPs) — a very strong composite material usually made up of glass, carbon, basalt or aramid (a strong, heat-resistant synthetic fibre).
More than 200 researchers enter the “CRIB” to develop and test large-scale infrastructure in real-world conditions.
Structural engineers are always coming up with novel ways to build infrastructure. It’s what they do best. But when they collaborate with materials engineers, who work at the microstructure level to create more durable building materials, they can literally work wonders.
Using a by-product of the pulp and paper industry to create a kind of super glue for cement.
The cement industry’s carbon footprint is massive. From the energy used to extract raw materials to the emissions released throughout the cement manufacturing process, it all adds up to an estimated 6 to 10 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.
University of British Columbia research is making bridges stronger — and smarter.
All urban infrastructure is essential for properly functioning communities, but there’s something about a bridge that really puts the issue into perspective — perhaps because all that separates you from a likely fatal splash below are impossibly huge concrete structures built on towering stilts. Keeping these structures in good working order demands ongoing maintenance of old bridges and, maybe more important, effective monitoring systems to catch deterioration before it’s too late.
June 2013: Canada Foundation for Innovation (online)
Innovative research is a crucial part of the plan to make Canada’s roads, bridges and water systems stronger, safer and more durable.
We often take public infrastructure for granted. We assume that the bridges we cross on the way to work will remain stable, that our taps will always run with clean water, that our buildings will stand straight. But nothing lasts forever. Everything breaks down eventually.
We live in unprecedented times. Along with the rest of the world, Canada is experiencing a massive migration to our urban centres — roughly 80 percent of Canadians now live in cities, a trend that shows no sign of slowing down. This increases our need for new infrastructure, and it further strains and stresses our aging infrastructure, much of which was built during the post-Second World War development boom. All those roads and bridges, water pipes and sewer systems were built to last. But in those days, that meant about 50 years.