In Saskatchewan, we are lucky to have such a beautiful province that is also home to many wildlife species like black bears, elk, moose, caribou and different bird species.
Whether you see one of these creatures at a provincial park, at the lake, on the edge of a field or even in your backyard, understanding the relationship between wildlife populations and how they relate to the changing world can be challenging.
Because animals can show us the state of our environment, the work of biologists is needed to manage our province’s biodiversity. And we will share one of their stories. This is where wildlife biologist Dr. Ryan Fisher comes in.
Wildlife health in Saskatchewan
Dr. Fisher is the Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM). He is wildlife biologist by trade and a professor at the University of Regina. Dr. Fisher mentors both undergraduate and graduate students, does research and teaches classes.
Whether it is working on bats in the Cypress Hills, boreal caribou near La Ronge, burrowing owls around Regina, ferruginous hawks, sharp-tailed grouse or great horned owls in southwestern Saskatchewan, Dr. Fisher has been lucky to be involved with some interesting research projects.
“Our job is to uncover the hidden lives of wildlife in Saskatchewan and understand a little more about the types of wildlife we have here, where they live and what resources they need to survive,” Dr. Fisher explained. “This information is critical for making good science-based management decisions to ensure that wildlife is thriving in the province.”
Dr. Fisher said they work closely with other branches (and levels) of government, non-profit agencies and private landowners to provide them with information on the health of ecosystems that we all rely on.
Birds of a feather
Birds can show us environmental health, and they are Dr. Fisher’s main interest. His interest in birds began when he was nine and attended a summer camp at the RSM on the science of birds.
“This program must have sparked an interest, because I always knew I wanted to have a career where I could work with animals,” he said. “I bounced around my first couple years at the University of Regina trying to find the right program. In my third year, I took a class in Animal Behaviour, which included doing fieldwork in the West Block of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. I knew after that course that wildlife biology was a career that I’d love.”
Over the years, most of his research has focused on birds and the impacts, (both positive and negative), that humans have on birds.
“The bird community in our wetlands is an indicator of the health of those wetlands that we rely upon for things like flood prevention and water filtration. The bird community in grasslands is reflective of the health of those grasslands and their ability to provide forage for cattle and even their ability for carbon sequestration,” he said.
Because Saskatchewan has some of the most amazing patches of native grasslands remaining in Canada, Dr. Fisher said the birds in these patches of grassland have a very unique relationship with other animals.
“These birds require those grasslands to be disturbed either though cattle or bison grazing – so our ranching families and First Nations people who have bison herds in this province are a really, really important part of keeping these birds around for future generations to enjoy,” he explained.
Citizen science and shared research
Although biologists are a capable and mighty bunch, they can’t be everywhere all the time! This is where citizen science comes in.
At the RSM, the provincial collection of vertebrates is now almost entirely made up by submissions from the public.
In some cases, researchers like Dr. Fisher ask volunteer scientists to help collect information on wildlife. One example is the great horned owl project Dr. Fisher started in 2021 in with the University of Regina.
“Basically, we asked folks to send us information if they saw a great horned owl, and the response was amazing,” Fisher explained. “We received over 700 responses and information on owls from over 290 townships across the province.”
They have also asked Regina residents to do short wildlife surveys on urban wildlife found in their neighbourhoods. These surveys are easy to do and they help the urban wildlife research program at the RSM and University of Regina.
Dr. Fisher has also worked with the Saskatchewan Science Centre, Nature Regina and Friends of Wascana Marsh on a number of projects.
Public education and outreach
For Dr. Fisher, every day is a little bit different. His day could start by preparing tissues samples from a specimen in the collection, going out into the field to study owls, or working with the RSM’s exhibits staff on a new exhibit.
Whether it is sharing his knowledge in identifying bird sounds, helping with birding walks during World Migratory Bird Day or helping with Nature Regina field trips, Dr. Fisher is passionate about sharing his love of wildlife and protecting our province’s natural beauty.
“My motto is if people know about wildlife, they’ll be engaged and interested in protecting it,” Dr. Fisher said. “We try to do a lot of education and public outreach work here at the RSM.”
To learn more about Dr. Fisher’s work, or other research at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, visit the RSM website.