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Trent Researchers Engage Youth in Wolf Conservation Activities

Lakefield High School students participate in three-day youth outreach session on the eastern wolf in Algonquin Provincial Park

Trent Researchers Engage Youth in Wolf Conservation Activities
Trent Researchers Engage Youth in Wolf Conservation Activities

Fourteen students from Lakefield District Secondary School braved snow squalls and cold temperatures to take part in a unique three-day youth outreach session led by Trent University researchers and focused on understanding the eastern wolf, a species at risk in Canada.

“I wanted to provide youth with an experiential learning opportunity that would promote wolf stewardship and conservation,” says Dr. Linda Rutledge, a graduate of Trent’s Environmental and Life Sciences (ENLS) graduate program and now a post-doc at the University. She came up with the idea for the youth summit last year.  “Top predators are disappearing at an alarming rate, mostly from human causes, and their absence is damaging ecosystems and even accelerating climate change. It’s important for people to view predators like wolves in this context because better understanding leads to better conservation.”

Fuelled by a similar passion for wolf conservation, Hannah Barron, a current M.Sc. Candidate in the ENLS program at Trent, signed on to help coordinate field sampling, laboratory exercises and guest speakers for the program, which was held in December at the Summit Centre for the Environment in Huntsville.

“We designed the session to give high school students a chance to try their hand at the research we do for the Eastern Wolf Survey from start to finish,” explained Ms. Barron. “Exploring provincial parks from a wolf’s perspective to find samples is only part of it. The lab work involved in the genetic profiling of individual canids is something that students generally don’t experience until their undergraduate degrees or beyond. Providing students who are still in high school with hands-on research opportunities can help inform their decisions about pursuing post-secondary education in biology.”

Working with the Eastern Wolf Survey Team

Funded by a grant from the Ontario Species at Risk Stewardship Fund awarded to Dr. Rutledge and Dr. Bradley White, the inaugural session involved the 14 high school students from Lakefield, along with three of their enthusiastic teachers, Jon Grimwood, Gaynette Friesen and Emily Pearson. The group joined the Eastern Wolf Survey team in Huntsville to take advantage of good snow conditions in neighbouring Algonquin Park.

While the storm raged outside, the students took part in wolf-focused laboratory activities led by Ms. Barron, and Trent alumna Erica Newton, who currently works for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) as the wildlife research biologist intern. Armed with pipettes, microscopes, and hairspray, students extracted DNA, and assessed wolf diet by identifying prey hair found in various scat.

“I think students were surprised that we can get genetic profiles for individual wolf identification from things like scat,” said Ms. Barron. “Not to mention that hairspray is such a useful lab tool.”

An Inside Look at Algonquin

Students also had the opportunity to meet and talk with Trent adjunct faculty and celebrated OMNR research scientists Dr. Brent Patterson, who presented his work on wolves, coyotes and caribou, and Dr. Marty Obbard, who talked about his research and bear awareness, as well as demonstrated some very convincing bear behaviour. The trip to Algonquin wouldn’t have been complete without a presentation by Chief Park Naturalist Rick Stronks about Algonquin’s world-famous wolf howl program, and an introduction to wolf communication by Bob Andrews, an avid outdoorsman committed to characterizing wolf vocalizations.

When the storm finally subsided, Dr. Rutledge and Ms. Barron led the group for a day of snowshoeing and scat hunting in Algonquin’s pristine wintery wilderness, and managed to add several scat and urine samples to their collection, to be used for tracking the persistence of eastern wolves within the park. The program finished with a private tour of the Algonquin Visitor Centre collections led by natural heritage educator David LeGros.

In an effort to refine the distribution of the eastern wolf, the Eastern Wolf Survey team, with the support of Ontario Parks, OMNR, non-governmental organizations, and local landowners, has sampled several provincial parks across Central Ontario since 2012. You can find out more about the research project at or follow it on Twitter @EastWolfSurvey.

Posted on Thursday, January 16, 2014.

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