About AB Enviro & Parks

Public servants working with Albertans to protect our environment.

Alberta’s Six UNESCO World Heritage Sites


By Katie Sowden, Alberta Environment and Parks

Alberta is home to magnificent landscapes that are waiting to be explored, including six UNESCO World Heritage Sites—more than any other state or province in North America. We are proud of our conservation and cultural heritage, as UNESCO celebrates 50 years of recognizing outstanding natural and cultural sites with universal importance worldwide, Albertans are invited to experience and celebrate these special places.

Dinosaur Provincial Park

In addition to its spectacular badlands scenery, Dinosaur Provincial Park protects some of the most important fossil discoveries ever made. Well known as one of the richest dinosaur fossil locations in the world, dozens of prehistoric species have been discovered at the park. The exceptional abundance and diversity of fossils include dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous Period along with other ancient plants and animals including turtles, crocodiles, fish, birds, ferns and more.


The unique landforms of Writing-on-Stone / Áísínai’pi resulted from the dynamic interaction of geology, climate and time. The coulees and hoodoos in the Milk River valley were formed as sedimentary rocks were exposed by a massive volume of meltwater eroding the soft sandstone after the last ice age, 85 million years ago. Located in the heart of Traditional Blackfoot Territory, this is where ancient stories took place and where ancestors left engravings and paintings on the sandstone walls of the valley. This sacred landscape is an example of the history, longevity, and resilience of the traditions of the Blackfoot people.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

In southwest Alberta, the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump area spans 1,470 acres and demonstrates the Blackfoot People’s history of communal bison hunting. Due to the excellent degree of preservation, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump allows scientists to trace bison jumping from its earliest beginnings. Using their unique knowledge of the landscape and animal behaviour, Blackfoot people chased their prey over a precipice, later utilizing the carcasses in the camp below.

Some of Alberta’s UNESCO sites are also part of the national parks system, including:

Wood Buffalo National Park

Covering 44,807 square kilometres, Wood Buffalo National Park is Canada’s largest national park. Home to North America’s largest population of wild bison and the natural nesting place of the whooping crane, the park is a celebration of the northern boreal wilderness. The world’s largest inland delta sits at the mouth of the Peace and Athabasca rivers, and visitors can take advantage of a dark sky preserve for a spectacular view of the northern lights.

The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks

The interprovincial group of parks, including Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho, Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine and Hamber parks form a striking mountain landscape. On Alberta’s side, picture-perfect scenery and rich history come together with rocky peaks, turquoise lakes and crashing waterfalls. Endless outdoor adventures await in the Banff and Jasper National Parks.

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park

In 1932, Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta and Glacier National Park in Montana combined to form the world’s first international peace park. Nestled in the far southwest corner of Alberta, Waterton Lakes National Park offers outstanding scenery, including prairie, forest, alpine and glacial features. Majestic mountain views and exceptional hiking trails are bursting with diverse flora and fauna where the rolling prairies collide with the stunning Rocky Mountains.

The Ronald Lake Wood Bison Herd in Alberta


By Katie Sowden, Alberta Environment and Parks

Do you know that bison were once on the brink of extinction, and only a few hundred remained? With conservation efforts over time, wild free-ranging bison are now found in a number of locations in Alberta. Two types of bison make their home in Alberta, plains bison and wood bison. Wood bison are larger than plains bison, making them the largest land animal in North America.

Excluding Wood Buffalo National Park and Elk Island National Park, Alberta’s wild wood bison are found in small, isolated herds in northern Alberta.

The Ronald Lake bison herd is a crucial population for the recovery of wood bison, both provincially and nationally, and has a population of around 270 bison. Their range of over 2000 square kilometres is bordered by the Birch Mountains to the west and the Athabasca River to the east, with a small portion overlapping Wood Buffalo National Park.

Since 2014, Alberta has worked with partners and supported research to better understand the Ronald Lake bison herd’s ecology and habitat. Surveys are conducted every few years to monitor the herd’s population and health. The next survey is, planned for 2024, will use radio collars, cameras and aerial flights to observe and record changes to the herd’s demographic, distribution, movement and composition.

How Alberta protects the herd

What are the threats to the Ronald Lake bison herd? The most significant risk is the threat of disease from neighbouring bison herds in Wood Buffalo National Park. Although they live in close proximity to diseased bison that have bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis, the Ronald Lake herd is genetically distinct and disease-free. Other potential threats to recovery include changes to habitat from resource extraction activities. The Ronald Lake herd is protected under Alberta legislation, which lists wood bison as threatened.

The recently expanded Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland Provincial Park protects a significant portion of the natural habitat of the herd, including 100 per cent of the herd’s calving range. A portion of the herd’s range also occurs in Wood Buffalo National Park. Over one half of the herd’s range occurs within protected areas.

Alberta has established a cooperative management board for the Ronald Lake bison herd. The board includes seven Indigenous communities and several additional organizations and is developing a herd management plan. Ensuring the conservation of the herd, and the sustainability of Indigenous traditional use and cultural connection is of utmost importance.

Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland Provincial Park Expansion


By Katie Sowden, Alberta Environment and Parks

Did you know? The expansion of Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland Provincial Park has expanded the largest area of protected boreal forest in the world.

The concepts of conservation and stewardship aren’t new to Albertans and are shared responsibilities. Working together, we are all responsible for protecting and enhancing the environment.

Wildland provincial parks

Wildland provincial parks conserve wilderness while offering opportunities for backcountry recreation on lands that are relatively undisturbed. They provide sustainable outdoor opportunities, support Indigenous People’s traditional activities, including the exercise of treaty rights, protect watersheds and preserve critical wildlife habitats. There are 34 wildland provincial parks in Alberta, protecting over 34,861 square kilometres of land. The Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland Provincial Park is now the fourth largest wildland provincial park in Alberta.

Working together to preserve boreal wilderness

Kitaskino means “our land” in Cree and Nuwenëné means “our land” in Dene.

Collaboration between the Alberta government, the federal government, Indigenous communities and industry made the expansion possible. The Mikisew Cree First Nation led the discussions, which began in 2019, and several industry partners contributed over 230,000 acres of mineral rights to make the expansion of the Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland Provincial Park possible.

Alberta initially established the Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland Provincial Park in 2019, consisting of 400,000 acres of land. The Government of Alberta gathered input from Albertans on the proposed expansion in 2021, and after learning about the proposed expansion, a new oil sands leaseholder offered to support the expansion by voluntarily surrendering Crown mineral agreements in the middle of the proposed expansion area. An additional area 21,000 acres was identified for inclusion, making the final area more than 19,000 acres larger than anticipated.

The expansion of the Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland Provincial Park, now totalling 775,000 acres aligns with the Alberta Crown Land Vision, which guides Alberta’s management of the province’s rich, natural heritage of Crown lands.

Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland Provincial Park is special

The expansion area is located south of Wood Buffalo National Park, part of the largest contiguous protected boreal forest in the world, with 98 per cent of the addition overlapping with caribou habitat, as well as a small portion of the Ronald Lake bison herd range.

The expansion supports Indigenous Peoples’ traditional activities, including the exercise of treaty rights, addressing interests of Indigenous communities and supporting collaboration among Indigenous communities, industry and government.

In addition, the expansion contributes to watershed protection in support of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Outstanding Universal Values of the Peace-Athabasca Delta, and provides a conservation buffer in support of the UNESCO Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site.

The Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland, now 775,000 acres, is slightly larger than Yosemite National Park in the United States which sits at 760,921 acres.

Canadian Environment Week

June 5-11, 2022

Get the whole family involved in Canadian Environment Week with this free, printable colouring page.

Since 2018, Alberta has invested more than $30 million in the Caribou Habitat Recovery Program to help an important species.

The woodland caribou is a threatened species in Alberta and needs our protection! The province’s recovery plan seeks to help keep herds healthy, increase the population and protect the habitat of the majestic wild woodland caribou herds for years to come.

Read more about the Caribou Habitat Recovery Program.


Read more about Environment Week and Alberta’s environmental achievements in this statement from Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon.


Alberta’s Designated River Forecasting Team

By Franco Alo, Alberta Environment and Parks

Alberta is home to the Rocky Mountains as well as some major river systems, including Alberta’s longest river, the Athabasca River, at ~1,300 km. With Alberta rivers being part of the landscape and co-existing with cities and towns, like the North Saskatchewan in Edmonton or the Peace River in Peace River, it is important to monitor these systems in order to keep Albertans safe.

Monitoring rivers in Alberta
“Alberta is unique because we have a dedicated ice team in the River Forecast Center, which means we have a team on call twenty-four seven all winter long,” says Jennifer Nafziger, River Hydraulics and Ice Engineer at Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP).

This team monitors Alberta’s rivers using a variety of equipment both digital (e.g., satellite imagery) and in the field (e.g., drone). Using information from a variety of sources, river forecasters are able to run computer models that can help predict the behavior of rivers due to a heavy rainfall or river ice jam flooding.

With the information gathered and processed in near real-time, it can then be used to inform emergency managers about potential flooding events that may affect a nearby community. Emergency managers play a critical role, making decisions and taking action to mitigate any catastrophic risk to Albertans and their property as a result of a predicted flooding event.

Despite all the science and modern technological advancements today, the biggest challenge with river ice forecasting remains how quickly river ice conditions can change.  

The River Ice Forecasting team send their drone into the air to monitor the movement of ice in the Athabasca River, by Fort McMurray.

How technology has changed the face of river ice forecasting over time
Back when river ice forecasting was a new science, there were no remote gauges, remote cameras, satellite imagery or drones. There were people and paper maps.

It was common to have a cabin upstream of a major river, like the Athabasca, with a person stationed there watching the ice melt. This could last for up to a month, and the specialists observations became the data that was assessed. You can imagine on a cold winter day how that must have felt!

Today, monitoring rivers can be performed more comfortably. It still requires on the ground operations to install technology like remote gauges, and flying a drone to better understand how ice is moving in real time or how a major rainfall is affecting river discharge. Complimentary to the ground operations, river ice forecasters back in their offices use this information to get a better sense of the changes in river movements and patterns.

It is the combination of information acquired from the ground and through digital means that has grown river ice forecasting into the sophisticated machine it is today. One which relies on the expertise of many people: river forecasters, monitoring network service providers, data facilitators and the river hazard team.

April 21, 2022. The AEP River Ice Forecasting team deploy a drone to monitor ice build up by a bridge in Fort McMurray.

Learn More

Six Principles to Advance Citizen Science across Alberta

By Justine Kummer and Jeannine Goehing, Alberta Environment and Parks

From reporting grizzly bear sightings to listening to amphibian calls and assessing water quality, many Albertans are engaged in scientific research and monitoring across the province. Through citizen science, Albertans have the opportunity to help answer questions on Alberta’s environment, contribute to data and information gaps, and inform decision-making.

“Citizen science offers an approach that can enhance the way scientific data and information are collected and shared, improving accessibility, transparency, and credibility in monitoring and science. As participatory science continues to grow, it is important to consider how Albertans can support it and make it more effective in the long run,” says Dr. Jonathan Thompson, Chief Scientist at Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP).

Bradley Peter, Executive Director at the Alberta Lake Management Society, collecting a water sample from Ethel Lake in east Alberta (photo: Alberta Lake Management Society).

Alberta’s growing network of citizen science programs
Contributing to scientific research is only one benefit of citizen science; other benefits include learning about the scientific method and process, collaborating with volunteers and scientists, and building a better understanding about Alberta’s environment. With these common elements in mind, Alberta-based organizations have developed citizen science programs such as NatureLynx, the Alberta Volunteer Amphibian Monitoring Program (AVAMP) and Wildlife Xing.

Alberta Environment and Parks is part of this growing citizen science network, recognizing the role of citizen science in addressing a growing challenge to meet environmental data and information needs. AEP supports or leads several citizen science programs in collaboration with organizations across the province covering diverse environmental topics from local to provincial scales.

LakeWatch is one example that enlists citizen scientists across the province to provide data on lake water quality. Since 1996, the Alberta Lake Management Society in collaboration with AEP, has engaged Albertans interested in collecting information about their local lakes to help fill knowledge gaps in Alberta’s lake monitoring network.

A volunteer citizen scientist collecting data while ice fishing at Spring Lake in central Alberta (photo: Alberta Lake Management Society).

Over the years, LakeWatch has created a network of engaged and informed volunteers who ask questions and learn about their local environment, often over multiple years. These citizens collect and summarize environmental data to assess long-term trends and improve the health of the environment, including development of water management plans (for example, the Pigeon Lake Watershed Management Plan 2018) and state of the aquatic ecosystem reports. Through this engagement, the LakeWatch program aims to ensure a sustainable future for healthy lakes and aquatic ecosystems.

“I encourage anyone to get involved! Citizen science can help expand your understanding, and open your eyes to the world around you,” says Bradley Peter, Executive Director at the Alberta Lake Management Society.

GrizzTracker is another example of a citizen science program that engages the public in reporting grizzly bear observations via a smartphone app, helping fill grizzly bear knowledge gaps and management needs while creating engagement and education opportunities for specific land users and the general public. To learn more about the app and the team behind it, read the GrizzTracker story on the AEP Blog.

Advancing citizen science in Alberta
To further understand the state of citizen science in Alberta and its potential in advancing environmental monitoring and science, Alberta Environment and Parks worked with the Miistakis Institute to identify and document the network of citizen science activities in Alberta, as well as challenges that must be overcome to further advance citizen science in the province.

Based on the findings of this work, the Citizen Science Principles of Good Practice were developed to provide clarity on how citizen science can provide credible data and information to Alberta’s environmental monitoring and science programs.

Together, the six principles will guide good practice in the planning and delivery of scientifically credible and relevant citizen science initiatives that seek to answer questions on environmental issues.

Learn More

How do surface water quality management frameworks protect our water?

Over the past 20 years, Alberta has experienced tremendous growth. Statistics show that not only has our population increased  from around 3.1 million in 2002 to more than 4.4 million in 2021,  Alberta’s economy has also grown significantly. But positive opportunities also come with challenges, specifically, an increased pressure and need to access a valuable and limited resource—water.

So, how do we make sure clean, high quality water is available to promote healthy communities and a strong economy?  That’s where surface water quality management frameworks come into place.

These frameworks establish clear regional objectives for water quality. These objectives have to strike the right balance and are reached in collaboration with stakeholders, Indigenous communities, municipalities and the public. Frameworks are developed for our rivers to ensure these resources can support water needs for the community, aquatic habitat and industrial use in the region into the future.

In Alberta, there are two comprehensive regional surface water quality management frameworks. One is for the South Saskatchewan region and the other is for the lower Athabasca region. Each framework describes a long-term vision, or regional objective, and collects water quality information based on the needs and resources in the area. The frameworks inform government decisions to respond to changes in water quality as a result of human activities in the watershed.

In southern Alberta, the South Saskatchewan region surface water quality management framework includes the Bow, South Saskatchewan, Oldman and Milk rivers. This area, known for its hot, dry climate, experiences a wide range of land uses and every drop of water is in high demand. In northeastern Alberta, an area with a heavy concentration of industrial activity, the framework helps effectively manage water quality.

Bow Watershed, South Saskatchewan Region

Regular water monitoring, evaluation and reporting on ambient surface water quality conditions ensure the objectives of the framework are being met. Ongoing monitoring of key water quality indicators such as nutrients, metals, sediment, bacteria and major ions ensure stressors affecting water quality are closely monitored.

If one or more of the 20+ water quality indicators are triggered, Alberta Environment and Parks will get the early warning signal to act. Based on stringent water quality guidelines, the frameworks also include more specific water quality limits to make sure water is suitable for aquatic life, recreation, irrigation, livestock watering and source water for household use.

If an exceedance of a trigger or limit is found, actions are taken. Depending on the cause and effect, responses can vary in severity. It may mean a non-regulatory approach is developed, such as education and awareness initiatives, or the use of strong regulatory tools. Depending on the situation, these responses are acted upon in collaboration with industry, communities and stakeholders. Tools include changes to regulations or mandatory new approval conditions under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. Whichever the response, the goal is always to protect the environment and support continuous improvement.

Surface water quality management frameworks have proven to be very valuable tools for monitoring and managing long-term, cumulative changes in water quality since being put in place in the lower Athabasca region in 2012 and the South Saskatchewan region in 2014.

Athabasca River, Lower Athabasca Region

Albertans place a high value on our province’s water resources and want to ensure our water quality is protected. With water resources in other areas of the province under similar pressure, the use of surface water quality management frameworks is a proven way to help manage water quality across a region.

Alberta will continue to grow, and surface water management frameworks will help us keep pace and address the water needs for communities and industry opportunities.

The Challenging Visitation Increase to Kananaskis in 2020

Did you know that last year Kananaskis experienced the highest visitation rate in history?

In 2020, visitation to Kananaskis was the highest ever recorded in history for the area, with more than five million visitors—higher than annual average visitation rate in Banff National Park, which is typically just over 4 million.

Consistently increasing over the years, visitation numbers skyrocketed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kananaskis is a large draw for visitors from the area’s large urban centres, such as Calgary.

The make-up of visitors last year was also more varied than before, with a “new to the outdoors” group heading out. Many of these users were discovering outdoor recreation activities, like hiking, for the first time.  

“Social media played a large role in drawing additional visitors to the area, with many blogs and social media postings inspiring visitation to Kananaskis for its renowned activities, trails and experiences,” said Debbie Mucha, Kananaskis West Area Manager, Alberta Environment and Parks.

The extremely high and consistent volume of visitors, and in some cases their inexperience with the outdoors, presented several new challenges and compounded existing ones, including:

Garbage, waste, and litter

Visitors left the highest amounts of garbage, litter and waste ever observed in Kananaskis. Litter was not properly disposed, and it was often tossed in front or around bins, or simply left on trails, day use areas and around other facilities. Bins could not be serviced quickly enough to keep up with the high volume of garbage. Dog poop/waste bags (filled) littered the trails in high densities as did paper coffee cups, masks, wipes, tampons and numerous other items.

“The amount of garbage and disregard for parks facilities were a large issue. Despite our best efforts, visitors seemed to be unaware of leave no trace principles related to going to the washroom in the woods or in some cases in outhouse facilities. Toilet paper was everywhere, including at day use areas and off/on trails. When garbage isn’t disposed of properly, it can attract and endanger wildlife,” added Debbie.

Large amounts of garbage left on trails, day use areas and around other facilities.

Wildlife concerns

High numbers of visitors meant more impacts to sensitive environments, landscapes and wildlife. Conservation Officers, bear management technicians and volunteers spent a lot more time collecting garbage so wildlife would not be attracted to areas where people were recreating.

Many visitors were not familiar with wildlife etiquette and best practices, including bear safety recommendations—like effectively carrying bear spray, knowing how to use and store it—not feeding wildlife, properly disposing of garbage and keeping dogs on leash. Dogs off leash can stress wildlife, so keeping your dog on leash and under control can help keep your dog, you and wildlife safe.

 “We encourage visitors to actively discover, explore and experience nature; but at the same time to be safe and respectful around wildlife. Remember to be cautious whenever there’s wildlife present and give them space, never leave food or attractants out, properly dispose of garbage; respect area, site and trail closures, and stay on sanctioned trails where possible. We all have a role in keeping wildlife wild,” said Debbie.

 Stay in sanctioned trails and respect area, site and trail closures and restrictions

Too many visitors concentrated in one area or location and going off trails can have a detrimental impact on sensitive habitats. We encourage visitors to always stay on designated trails and respect area, site and trail closures and restrictions. Developing new “unofficial” routes and trails is not allowed, as this can cause damage to the environment and present hazards to other visitors. People should always be prepared to adjust travel plans if necessary. If a trail or site is full, we encourage visitors to have alternate plans, such as visiting another area, going earlier or later in the day, or during days or seasons that are less busy.

 “We had very high visitation to Highwood Pass, leading to significant damages to alpine and sub-alpine environment, and severe impacts to delicate flora and fauna which were being crushed or decimated in sensitive areas. We encourage everyone to always stay on sanctioned trails. These have been designed to take you to beautiful locations while at the same time keeping you safe from hazards, and protecting the environment and other visitors alike,” expressed Debbie.

Enforcement Resources

There was an increase in calls for enforcement last year, with a steep increase in calls regarding illegal camping and people with dogs off-leash. In addition, the area experienced an increase in “city like” crime, such as vehicle break-ins and vandalism, like graffiti.

The other side of this problem was that Conservation Officers had a difficult time in responding to the increased enforcement issues because much of their time was spent on public safety incidents, wildlife response, parking issues, and cleaning up garbage.

Some of the graffiti found at Ha-Ling. 

Traffic congestion, illegal parking and excessive speed

Congested parking lots and vehicles parking on the highway shoulder, roadway and ditch parking were also an issue, particularly because they limited the access of emergency vehicles to sites as well as reduced pedestrian safety.

This also degraded roadside vegetation due to vehicles parking off-road sometimes two vehicles deep. Excessive speeds from some drivers and the sheer numbers of vehicles also increased the risk for the public and wildlife.

“Probably due to the underlying stress of the pandemic, visitors were behaving in a more aggressive way with staff and contractors. We had contractors being called certain names and the public arguing if they said a parking lot was full. We received reports of negative behaviours and attitudes from the public towards campground operators and staff,” added Debbie.

Improper parking and traffic issues.

Operational Expenses

Operational expenses in the Kananaskis increased exponentially and exceeded budget allotment for summer 2020. Some of these expenses included additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and associated Occupational Health and Safety requirements, high volume of washroom use, maintenance and clean-up, firewood supply, increased helicopter budget for rescues, among others.

“We saw a high increase in costs of emptying and cleaning toilets, garbage collection, providing supplies including the cost of hand sanitizer and PPE to keep both the public and staff safe. When day use areas and washrooms were closed, visitors defecated beside washrooms and even in front of visitor information centres. A considerable amount of funds had to be spent on a contractor to clean this mess up,” expressed Debbie.

You are now in Mother Nature’s home, so be a good guest!

If you were a guest in someone’s home, would you behave in a disruptive manner? Likely not. Remember that when you head into the outdoors you become a guest in Mother Nature’s home.

Albertans are encouraged to do their part and reduce the pressure on the landscape, wildlife, and the staff that helps keep Kananaskis beautiful, healthy and safe.

Visitors who may lack experience are encouraged to learn more about best practices and proper outdoor etiquettes, by taking a course, learning from others, hiring an expert guide, or doing some reading and research prior to heading out.

“When you visit a park, come prepared and do your research in advance. For example, arrive early and have alternative options in mind if parking lots and trails are full, and think of other times seasons that may not be that busy in the area you plan to visit,” said Debbie.  

Visitors should also avoid playing loud music, dispose garbage and doggy bags properly, not do graffiti, and not park on highway shoulders. These actions will increase your chances for a safe and happy visit that does not have any negative impacts on the landscapes, wildlife and other people.

“We’re currently looking at the impact that high visitation has put on wildlife and sensitive landscapes, and at ways to minimize these impacts. After all, don’t we all want to see places like Kananaskis exist and flourish in the long term and far into the future so they can be enjoyed?,” concluded Debbie.

A Typical Day Isn’t Typical For Alberta Government Wildlife Biologist

By Jeannine Goehing, AEP Office of the Chief Scientist

To mark International Women’s Day on March 8, senior wildlife biologist Dr. Anne Hubbs shares her experience working with Fish and Wildlife at Alberta Environment and Parks for over 20 years.

Dr. Anne Hubbs was surrounded by three humpback whales, each one the size of a standard school bus. The professional wildlife biologist was in her sea kayak exploring Antarctica with her husband during a three-week trip that turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of her life.

“I’ll never forget the moment when I saw one of the whales’ heads go underwater right beside my kayak,” she recalls, adding she has been fascinated with whales since childhood. 

Anne has had special wildlife encounters throughout her career, including one with a black wolf in the Yukon and a face to face encounter with a moose suffering from Chronic Wasting Disease. In Alberta, she has worked with harlequin ducks, goshawks, caribou and bighorn sheep among many other species, and it’s where her passion lies.

“I believe that most Albertans are interested in wildlife, and see their intrinsic value and that of natural ecosystems,” she explains. For instance, when talking to the general public or hunting community about their motivations, she often finds a common appreciation. “They like to be out in nature and they appreciate that pristine, isolated environment.”

As a wildlife biologist, a lot of her work touches on those environments and species that so many Albertans value.

“We’re working to protect ecosystems and maintain healthy wildlife populations for Albertans, whether they want to view wildlife on public land, in provincial or national parks, or whether they are hunters or general recreationists,” Anne explains. “What we do on provincial lands may affect populations in adjacent national parks or bordering provinces and states, and we’re trying to minimize any potential negative impacts from human or industrial development on wildlife.”

Dr. Anne Hubbs kayaking in search of western grebes.
Photo credit: Brendan McGlynn

Anne’s passion for the world around her and her dedication to conservation and species recovery started at a very young age.

Ants in the kitchen

Anne has been interested in science as long as she can remember, and she grew up exploring nature and wildlife whenever possible.

“My dad and I used to go out looking for crayfish or collecting ant farms that invariably escaped in the house – much to my mom’s shock,” she recalls with a smile. “My dad instilled a love of nature in me.”

That interest in the world around her also led to an admiration with some of the biggest names in the conservation world: “I was hooked on French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and English primatologist Jane Goodall from a very young age.”

Growing up in Toronto, Anne followed her passion and enrolled in an undergraduate degree studying biology at the University of Toronto and taking field courses on monkeys in Hong Kong and tundra wildlife in the Canadian Arctic. She also worked as a zookeeper at the Toronto Zoo, marine biologist off the coast of Ireland, and a primatologist in Germany.

“I really enjoyed studying a variety of species and seeing different environments. It broadened my perspective and got me hooked,” she explains.

She followed up with a Master of Science in Zoology at the University of Toronto where her interest in ecology only deepened during fieldwork in Kluane National Park in the Yukon, which led to her PhD in Ecology at the University of Western Ontario. It was her PhD fieldwork that led her to Alberta, and ultimately to her position with the Government of Alberta.

When she arrived at Alberta Fish and Wildlife, things looked very different than they do today.

“When I started out there were less than half a dozen female colleagues across the province, but the dynamics have shifted so much that it’s about fifty-fifty now,” she says. “Women can bring a different vision or perspective to the position – part of this is potentially more of an emphasis on relationship building and also a feeling that they need to work harder than their male colleagues to be the best candidate.” 

For Anne, the key was always learning and innovation.

Quest for learning

Anne has most valued and enjoyed learning, engagement and collaboration throughout her career. As a biologist working in the department, she has had unique opportunities to tap into a province-wide network of biologists, scientists from universities, and experts from other jurisdictions.

“Everybody has different skillsets that they bring to the table and when I work with somebody, I try to learn from them,” she explains. For one of her current projects on bighorn sheep management, she learned a new tool that has also proved helpful for personal life decisions.

“A colleague, Wendy Aupers, introduced me to Structured Decision Making, which is a step-by-step process that combines values from stakeholders or agencies with scientific information. We’re using it to develop a bighorn sheep management plan in collaboration with Cornell University,” she explains. “It can be useful for personal life decisions as well – whether it’s deciding where to go for dinner or how to choose our next holiday destination.”

Anne’s openness to learning also led to her current role as co-chair of the Alberta steering committee for a large collaborative project called WildCam – Wildlife Cameras for Adaptive Management.

“Remote cameras are non-invasive and can collect information on multiple species at the same time, such as lynx, moose and deer,” she says. “It’s a very innovative method and we’re trying to develop guidelines and tools to support its use across Alberta and British Columbia.”

Developing new approaches like these have helped her throughout her career, and keep her engaged with her work.

“I really enjoy the opportunity to collaborate and partner, particularly on large-scale projects – whether it’s with researchers, stakeholders or other jurisdictions across North America. It’s very rewarding.”

Unique opportunities

Anne’s career with Alberta Environment and Parks has spanned over 20 years and four locations including Hinton, Athabasca, Rocky Mountain House and a secondment with the Wildlife Policy Branch in Edmonton as the province’s big game specialist. Each of those posts provided her with unique opportunities –– the sort of opportunities she recommends every aspiring biologist to seek out.

Dr. Anne Hubbs collaring elk with researchers at Ya Ha Tinda Ranch, Alberta.
Photo credit: Julia Wachowski

“Think of things that make you stand out at the end of the day,” she advises. “Take on unique opportunities, either through volunteering or international travel, and develop special skillsets that showcase your passion.”

But she believes there’s more to those opportunities than just developing technical skills like Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or modeling.

“As biologists, we need those technical skills, but we also need the soft skills such as effective communication,” she asserts. “We’re lucky to have unique experiences with nature in our work. Knowing how to effectively tell those stories and engage with people in a meaningful way is key.”

When it comes to developing these abilities, Anne advises young scientists to seek out mentors familiar with the unique challenges and complexities of working in the public service.

“When you’re fresh out of graduate school, the speed at which government works can be surprising,” she explains with a laugh. “For somebody from outside government, it may seem like a long time to move a policy forward, and it absolutely does. But I don’t think some people understand the complexities and number of different divisions, outside agencies and stakeholders who are often involved in the process. It’s not all fieldwork, but also partnerships, and working with stakeholders and industry.”

The diversity and complexity of the work is one of the things Anne most appreciates about her role as a biologist in the department. It also informs the advice she shares with aspiring scientists considering a career path like her own.

“If an opportunity for new learning or leadership role comes up, it’s well worth doing,” she says, before sharing one of her favorite quotes from Albert Einstein “We cannot solve problems with the same thinking we used to create them.”

It’s this philosophy that led Anne into a kayak beside humpback whales off Antarctica. “Challenge yourself, and don’t be afraid to push the limits.”

Interested in resources and networks supporting women in environmental sciences, technology, and conservation? Please find more information below:

  • WiSER (Women in Science, Engineering & Research): Founded in 2008 as a sub-community of University of Alberta’s WISEST aiming at serving the needs of graduate students and early-career professionals. The community is comprised of individuals in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from the academia, government, and industry.
  • Women in Nature Network: Founded in 2013 to promote women’s leadership and participation in the sustainable management of natural resources and their conservation; an Associate Group of Global Wildlife Conservation.

  • Women Entrepreneurs-in-STEM (WESTEM) Program: Program for women entrepreneurs offering training, networking, mentorship and access to current and emerging technologies created by Economic Development Lethbridge and Tecconnect with funding from the Government of Canada’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy.
  • Cybermentor: Encouraging young people interested in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) to pursue post-secondary education through online mentorship and outreach programs.

International Women & Girls in Science Day: Alberta’s Changing Climate and What It Means For Our Water Resources

By Dr. Brandi Newton, Alberta Environment and Parks

To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, Dr. Brandi Newton from Alberta Environment and Parks shares her experience working as a hydroclimatologist in the department.

Alberta’s winter climate with its plentiful snow is ideal for outdoor recreational activities such as skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and fat-tire biking, and we take advantage of it. The snow that accumulates in the mountains also serves as an important source of fresh water during spring and early summer for traditional uses such as river navigation, for aquatic and riparian ecosystem health, drinking and household use, agricultural irrigation, industrial needs, and snowmelt fills reservoirs used in hydroelectricity generation.

Alberta also serves as the source region for several major river basins in Canada making us stewards of a resource essential to both Albertans and numerous downstream users.

We know that climate is changing across the world and here at home in Alberta. Climate models indicate average global temperatures will increase by 1.0°C to 3.7°C above the 1985-2005 global average temperature by the end of this century (IPCC 2013). We also know that higher latitudes and land surfaces are warming at a faster rate and that the biggest temperature changes occur during winter, which will significantly impact when and how much water is available to us through the amount of snow that accumulates each winter and the timing of snowmelt.

Brandi at the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River. During the summer, Rocky Mountain rivers are fed by glacier melt and high elevation snowmelt.
Photo by Dr. Thomas Edwards.

Knowing what the changes to our winter climate will look like is critical to managing Alberta’s water resources. As part of our stewardship work, we have started to examine how climate has changed in Alberta to better understand future risks to water resource availability.

Alberta’s Changing Winter: Early Results

Our goal is to determine which regions of the province are most at risk for annual or seasonal shifts in water supply when it comes to winter climate change. This is particularly important because snow is not evenly distributed across the province, with much greater snowpack in the mountains compared to lower-elevation areas.

One of my favorite parts of being a research scientist is solving complex scientific questions involving water and climate, and more specifically, understanding how a changing climate will influence an uneven distribution of winter snowpack and associated water availability from spring and summer melt.

It all starts with Alberta’s networks of meteorological and hydrometric monitoring stations, and passionate staff who conduct field measurements and maintain equipment to measure snow depth and distribution. This data is critical to provide the best available information to decision-makers.

One of the results of our ongoing study to analyze this data shows that winters appear to get shorter. For example, spring temperatures have been rising above freezing significantly earlier in the last ten to 15 years over the period 1950 to 2017. This trend is more pronounced in the Prairie region of southern Alberta where spring temperatures are occurring two to three weeks earlier.

Historically, Alberta’s southern prairies have experienced the greatest climatic variability – meaning there could be very high temperatures and precipitation one year and very low the next. As a result, the prairies rely heavily upon water management strategies, primarily for agricultural purposes.

High elevation snowpack remains in early July 2019 in Banff National Park. We rely on high elevation snowmelt for summer water resource availability. Photo by Dr. Brandi Newton.

The next steps in this work are to compare our results with future climate scenarios to determine if spring will continue to arrive earlier, further shortening the duration of winter and time for snow to accumulate. Future projections are based on medium- and high emissions scenarios, similar to the 1.5°C and 3.5°C global warming scenarios.

Knowing how Alberta’s winter climate and snowpack may change under these scenarios is important for managing water resources, and foreseeing potential risks.

For example, the amount of winter snowpack and the timing of spring melt will not only affect water availability, but also may affect spring flooding. When snowmelt is combined with spring rainfall and river ice break-up jams, it can cause severe flooding, such as the 2013 flood in southern Alberta and the recent ice jam flooding in Fort McMurray in May 2020.

Conducting routine snow surveys in Banff National Park with an Alberta Environment and Parks monitoring team. Snow surveys are a critical source of information for flood forecasting.
Photo by Dr. Brandi Newton

Ongoing Research

Understanding these factors is to the benefit of all Albertans and the economy and, not surprisingly, generates a lot of interest. Most recently, there’s been a lot of attention on the impact of climate change on glaciers and the possible consequences for communities that rely on glacial meltwater for part of their water supply.  

At Alberta Environment and Parks, we aim to look at all the drivers influencing climate and water availability, including glacier loss and changes to winter precipitation. From a water supply perspective, glacial meltwater reductions are of particular concern in late summer, during drier years, and for communities in closer proximity to glaciers.

For most municipalities in Alberta, glacier melt contributes a small fraction of the overall water supply, particularly during the summer when contributions are the highest. Seasonal and year-over-year variability of precipitation has a major impact on water supply across Alberta.

Understanding the impacts of climate change on water supply requires us to understand many factors and how they interact with each other, so ongoing research is crucial.

Beyond new scientific knowledge, our research will inform Alberta’s water policy and management decisions and help inform community resilience to ensure Albertans have access to water now and in the future.

Dr. Brandi Newton is a hydroclimatologist with Alberta Environment and Parks. She studies climate and hydrology in Alberta to better understand relationships and changes in climate, streamflow, and the drivers of extreme hydrological events such as floods. This helps inform environmental monitoring, management and policy decisions, and public understanding of environmental conditions in Alberta. Brandi has previously worked on projects including the atmospheric role in the Arctic freshwater system, the climatic redistribution of western Canadian water resources, mid-winter river ice break-up, and other winter extreme climate events in western Canada and Alaska.

Learn More

For more details on historic and projected climate change globally and in Canada, see the following reports: