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Universities doing wolf research in Thompson

Since Dr. Alistair Bath, professor of geography from Memorial University, Newfoundland, attended Thompson’s first international Wolf and Carnivore Conference in 2012 as a keynote speaker, Spirit Way Inc.
larissa hutton
Larissa Hutton is a third-year master’s degree student in the Faculty of Natural Resource Management at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. She visited Thompson in January and met with Volker Beckmann of Spirit Way Inc. and Daryll Hedman, northern wildlife manager with Manitoba’s Department of Sustainable Development.

Since Dr. Alistair Bath, professor of geography from Memorial University, Newfoundland, attended Thompson’s first international Wolf and Carnivore Conference in 2012 as a keynote speaker, Spirit Way Inc. (SWI) has been communicating with Canadian universities on wolf-related projects. Bath became intrigued with a small city in northern Manitoba where there are no major wolf/human conflicts and residents are willing to co-exist with the top predator in the boreal forest.

“I don’t see this anywhere in the world, where I have facilitated sessions in the field of human dimensions, that in Thompson people and businesses are supporting the drive to be the Wolf Capital of the World,” stated Bath. One of Bath’s master’s degree students, Bonnie Bishop, started her thesis work on researching the perception of Thompsonites toward wolves. Over 700 surveys with more than 100 questions were delivered at random to residents. The feedback showed a majority base of support for wolves in general and the idea of developing a Wolf Centre of Excellence. Bishop’s three-year thesis will be completed in late 2016.

Ulf Runesson is the dean of the Faculty of Natural Resources Management at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. He met some of the SWI contingent at the Wildlife Society conference in Winnipeg in October 2015. Runesson's faculty team of students had a display of drones that they design and build for government and industry research projects. Discussions with Volker Beckmann, volunteer project director of SWI, soon led to ideas for wildlife research in Northern Manitoba, that has been labeled as a “researcher’s dream world” by author Erin McCloskey (“Wolves in Canada”). Very little is known about wolves in the North regarding population densities, diet, movement, prey/predator relationships, etc. Dr. Paul Paquet, one of Canada’s foremost biologists and a wolf expert and researcher, has stated that there is very little scientific knowledge about wolves in Northern Manitoba. He felt it would important to gather base data about prey and predators while the North’s boreal forest was still in a pristine state, and before all-weather roads, hydro dam electrical corridors, and climate change might change animal movements forever. Indigenous traditional knowledge may no longer apply in the future, he commented.

Runesson saw the opportunity and took it back to his classes at Lakehead. A few phone calls and Skype sessions later with Volker Beckmann and Daryll Hedman, northern wildlife manager, several master’s degree students expressed their interest in wolf research. Discussions were held with Hedman for guidance and approval. Larissa Hutton will now be the main university student to come to Thompson in early winter to determine wolf and moose populations using thermal imagery. The objective is to determine wolf density and prey/predator ratio around the Thompson area, and that compares to other regions in Canada where moose are in decline.

Discussions have been held with professors at several Manitoba universities about more research projects for undergraduate and post-graduate students. In recent weeks three students in the Environmental Science and Studies program at the University of Manitoba have contacted Spirit Way Inc. to undertake a wolf project in the Thompson area. Their professors, Dr. Rick Baydack and Dr. Dave Walker, were involved in some of the first wolf research in Northern Manitoba for Manitoba Hydro during 2010-12.

These students are interested in studying wolf population and dynamics in the Thompson region and how this could relate to eco-tourism opportunities. All big game including wolves and the hunting or trapping thereof in Manitoba is managed by the Department of Sustainable Development. Currently, the province is also doing wolf research in eastern Manitoba to determine interaction between wolf and moose in the region.

Spirit Way Inc. is currently fundraising to launch a wolf and polar bear research project along the coast of Hudson Bay that would be of interest to international researchers. Wolf biologists at the University of Winnipeg and University of Calgary have expressed interest in this research because of the unique dynamics between two megafauna that is not well understood.

As Thompson and the surrounding boreal forest region become recognized for its study, research and education opportunities, it will become an important hub for wildlife and environmental knowledge and continued learning. Spirit Way Inc.’s volunteer project director Volker Beckmann explained a long-term goal is to develop a best practices model for “all things wolf” that would be unique in the wildlife and conservation sector world wide.

“Wolves are being hunted for sport and culled in many American states and Canadian provinces,” said Beckmann. “That does not happen in Northern Manitoba because people have a more positive attitude towards wolves.” This co-existence acceptance is what continues to attract attention from outside universities and wildlife organizations to Northern Manitoba.

This is the second in a series of Spirit Way articles highlighting news about their efforts to highlight Thompson as the Wolf Capital of the World.