Sat. Feb 24th, 2024

Have you ever wondered or wanted to conduct scientific research in a provincial park? Today’s post by Northwest Intern Ecologist Lindsey Boyd and Northwest Senior Assistant Ecologist Evan McCaul should answer your questions.

Spread across Ontario, our 340 provincial parks protect 8.27 million hectares of land and 1.3 million hectares of lakes and rivers. There are also 295 conservation reserves that form a network of protected areas along with parks. From mosses to elk, protected areas provide endless topics and research opportunities.

Scientifically speaking, protected areas are a great place to conduct research. They can be used as a reference site to measure natural conditions within a broader landscape study, or provide an excellent location to study the effects of climate on species and systems in a location with less human pressure such as roads or high noise levels. , light and air. pollution.

Do you want to investigate in a provincial park?

First of all, welcome!

We are pleased to have you join our growing network between parks and external researchers. But before you grab your dragonfly net and fishing waders, there are a few things you should do first.

researchers in the pond

To conduct research in a provincial park (or any protected area in Ontario), you must complete the form Research Authorization Process. This helps us ensure that undue damage is not caused to the precious natural and cultural resources that our parks protect. This also allows us to connect with you and enter into an agreement to share information.

Applications to conduct research in a protected area can be submitted online here.

Once received, Ontario Parks and Protected Areas staff will review your application. The applicant and staff will agree on the terms of the research, a letter of authorization will be sent to the principal investigator, and the research can begin.

We are in the process of streamlining this approach, but it currently takes up to 60 days to complete the approval process. As many of us were and are researchers, we understand that there are many logistical obstacles to planning field season research, but the sooner you start the approval process, the better it will be for everyone involved!

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A hard-working Ontario parks biologist.An Ontario parks biologist at work

Once the researcher’s field season ends, reporting begins.

Data and a report must be submitted. For multi-year projects, any proposed changes in research activities for the next season should be noted.

The data and results from these reports are extremely valuable to the parks as we can use them to better protect and manage our resources. Ontario has a vast and unique landscape, so cooperation in research is necessary to gain the best possible understanding of our landscape and our species.

Want to align your research with the needs of our provincial parks? Verify our top 10 research needs!

For more information about whether you need authorization for your research and how to obtain it, Check here.

A brief history of research in the park

To our knowledge, the earliest record of research in a park dates back to the 1930s, when lake trout were studied in Algonquin’s Lake Opeongo. Research activities in the parks took off in the 1970s, likely due to the popularity of the environmental movement and the expansion of Ontario’s park system, which allowed additional funding and grants for research.

The number of permits approved to conduct research in provincial parks per decade.Number of permits approved to conduct research in provincial parks per decade

The importance of research in parks is now clearly recognized by legislation, where one of the main objectives of Ontario parks, as established by the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act (2006) is: “to facilitate scientific research and provide reference points to support monitoring of ecological change in the broader landscape.”

In the last 10 years, approved research activities in the province have increased just over 140%. However, it is worth noting that some of this increase could be attributed to greater use of the permitting process.

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All of the scientific research conducted by the Ministry’s internal staff and external researchers is incredibly valuable in enabling park staff to make science-based management decisions.

Fascinating research on birds of prey: Project Peregrine

One example of ongoing research in Ontario parks involves the study of peregrine falcons. The Peregrine Project, taking place in northern Ontario, has been coordinated by Thunder Bay field naturalists since 1989. The primary objective of this work is to monitor peregrine falcon populations within the Lake Superior watershed.

hawk

This research is particularly important because peregrine falcons were extirpated from this region in the 1960s due to exposure to the pesticide DDT that caused a population collapse. Extirpated status is given to species that are no longer present in an area they previously inhabited.

Between 1989 and 1996, 87 young peregrines were placed in hack boxes and released into their cliff habitat. From 1996 to the present, these falcons and their offspring have been closely monitored.

A researcher lowers the newly banded chicks to their nesting area.A researcher lowers the newly banded chicks to their nesting area.

Monitoring these birds is not an easy task, as they prefer to nest on steep cliffs. Each year, peregrine nesting sites are surveyed using helicopters. Expert climbers repel the cliffs to collect new chicks which are banded and evaluated.

As of 2017, 27 occupied territories have been identified within 11 provincial parks in northwestern Ontario. This provides an opportunity for park staff to assist in this research and learn from experts about how to protect these birds and their habitat.

A newly ringed peregrine falcon chickA newly ringed peregrine falcon chick

The good news is that the pilgrim population has been slowly recovering!

Each year, more is learned about the territories of the peregrines and the breeding pairs of birds within this population. Project coordinator Brian Ratcliff reports that since this project began, more than 600 peregrine chicks have been banded.

Learn more about Project Peregrine here.

graph showing the scale of endangered speciesPeregrine falcons have gone from endangered to a species of special concern!

As of 2011, peregrine falcons have been listed as a species of special concern in Ontario. This is just one of many examples of how research in Ontario parks is very valuable and great!