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Bears (and other critters) on the doorstep

At the intersection of human and animal habitats, we need to adjust our understanding of who’s visiting who
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A female moose and her calf graze in front of a house in a small Alaskan town. The peaceful scene highlights the connection between nature and human settlements in the area.


For much of my life, wild animals have been my neighbours. 

I grew up in rural Alberta. There were beaver dams to play on, coyotes howling in the fields and red-winged blackbirds singing outside my bedroom window. I went on to spend large chunks of my twenties working in the Rocky Mountains, where huge landscapes were just outside my doorstep and in them, huge animals: elk, bighorn sheep, bears. Sometimes there were bears on my doorstep.

But now I live in a city. Obviously, I’m not alone. In Canada, nearly three quarters of us do. And often, we feel like we live far removed from wildlife.

So when a Calgary journalist reached out to me about moose living in the city, I was intrigued.

“There’s a community in northwest Calgary where moose just live in the suburbs,” Amir Said wrote to me. “You can see them wandering through the neighbourhood every day, licking cars and eating peoples’ gardens.”

In the story he wrote for us, Amir writes how we need to adjust our understanding of who’s visiting who. It’s not that moose are wandering into the city, exploring unknown territories. It’s that city limits are sprawling outward, swallowing up their habitat.

Since 1990, the world’s urban footprint has increased by an average of more than one square kilometre per hour. We’re building new urban landscapes on top of the places wildlife call home at an unprecedented rate.

And it’s not just moose that make their homes in Canadian cities. This year, a pair of bald eagles nested in Toronto for the first time in the city’s modern history. 

As Emma McIntosh reports in her feature about the species’ recovery, the relationship between bald eagles and people has long been fraught. The use of the pesticide DDT is now an infamous example of the intricate — and devastating — human impacts on wildlife. 

But a long-term, multi-part strategy brought the species back from the brink.

 
A cluster of zebra mussels with a watery background
Can bans on boats stop a tiny shellfish from wreaking havoc across Canada?

Sometimes, a different approach is needed. In Manitoba, Julia-Simone Rutgers reports, scientists are scrambling to fight off a species threatening to take over lakes across the continent. 

Zebra mussels, which are transferred from lake to lake by unwitting boaters, can wreak havoc on ecosystems and infrastructure, not to mention the bare feet of swimmers. In Canada they’ve been spreading westward, now as far west as Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park. The race is on to stop them.

One thing is clear, even for us city dwellers: wildlife is often closer than we might think. 

Take care and check your doorsteps,

Sharon J. Riley
Prairies bureau chief
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P.S. With your support, we can tell more stories at the intersection of human and natural environments. Will you become a member by giving what you can to sustain this solutions-focused journalism?
 
The Narwhal's staff, numbering about 25, stand in a circle playing a game in a grassy area. A wood building and trees are seen in the background.

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Six years and counting!


It’s hard to believe, but The Narwhal turned six years old this month! 

Ever wonder how and why we got started in 2018? Well, co-founder and editor-in-chief Emma Gilchrist took a look back — and forward — during a recent appearance on a podcast by Mongabay, an international environmental news organization.

“At that time you could count the number of environment reporters in Canada on one hand. There was just this huge void,” Emma recalls. “We really wanted to create a brand that was beautiful, that drew people into our shared love of the natural world.”

Thanks to a magical combination of really smart journalists and really supportive readers, we’ve come a long way.

Go here to listen to the full episode, where Emma talks about The Narwhal’s commitment to bridging divides and centring Indigenous voices, how media in Canada cover (or don’t cover) environmental issues, our member-funded business model and much more.

🤍 Become a member

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This week in The Narwhal

Three teens, wearing toques and hoodies, share a laugh around a campfire
They’d never been hunting. Now, Indigenous youth learn skills, culture and language — thanks to a First Nation program
By Steph Kwetásel’wet Wood
A pilot project to educate youth in hunting is part of a broader push to connect Lake Babine youth with the land.

READ MORE
Ken Wu stands beside a giant red cedar tree in Eden Grove, near Port Renfrew
Did B.C. keep its old-growth forest promises?
By Shannon Waters
READ MORE
 
Three small boats float on the ocean, surrounded by an array of circular salmon farm pens
‘It could be very damaging’: feds worried about fallout of Atlantic salmon farm risk report
By Moira Donovan
READ MORE
Pathways Alliance president Kendall Dilling, in a grey suit, speaks while sitting in a chair flanked by two other people on a stage
Inside the Canadian oilsands lobby’s request to fast-track a major project
By Carl Meyer
READ MORE
A man rests on his shovel, standing between rows of grapevines
The future of B.C. wine has never been more uncertain
By Paloma Pacheco
READ MORE
An aerial view of the Woodfibre LNG site looking out over the green-blue water and mountains of Howe Sound
Squamish environmental group challenges Woodfibre LNG, FortisBC wastewater permits
By Ainslie Cruickshank
READ MORE
 

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What we’re reading


The gendered impacts of climate change go well beyond social vulnerabilities. A new series from Grist, Vox and The 19th dives into the profound physical toll of extreme heat, rising seas and wonky weather on reproductive health — from menstruation to conception and birth.

Our friends at Bridge Michigan, part of the Great Lakes News Collaborative, report on the human health risks of a warming climate in the Great Lakes region, including mosquito-borne disease, bacteria-laden sewer overflows and toxic algae blooms.

Heaps of reclaimed asphalt were meant to bring paved roads to Neskonlith Indian Band, near Chase, B.C. But residents have been experiencing headaches and dizziness, and worry that chemicals in the road material are poisoning people and the environment. Aaron Hemens reported the story for IndigiNews.
A GIF of a man in a bear costume pokes out from behind a tree, with his 'paw' held out
Won’t you be my neighbour? Spread the word about The Narwhal’s independent reporting and remind your friends to sign up for our newsletter — it’s the neighbourly thing to do! 
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