Species Spotlight: Ord's kangaroo rat
Common name: Ord’s kangaroo rat
For 52 years, Alberta’s Rat Patrol has been using shotguns, shovels and poison to eradicate rats. Patrollers protect the province from these pesky destroyers of crops, harbinger of disease and epitome of urban neglect along the Saskatchewan border, helping Alberta remain the only rat-free region in North America. One species of rat has escaped the Rat-Patrol’s radar – Ord’s kangaroo rat. That’s surprising because they live in one of the most heavily inspected and guarded areas in the province: Canadian Forces Base Suffield. More than half of the population’s range is amongst the dunes and low scrub in the eastern buffer zone of the military base.
Kangaroo rats have recently been placed on COSEWIC’s endangered species list and may soon meet the same fate provincially as their distant rodent brethren. Kangaroo rats live primarily in actively eroding sand dunes and sand flats. These areas are sensitive to both climatic change and human land-uses; areas that may be gone within 10 years.
Combine shrinking dunes and a population susceptible to winter kill and you have the makings of a foreboding future. Add EnCana Corporation’s plans to drill 1,275 new gas wells near rat habitat – doubling its current fleet - and you have a recipe for extirpation.
Although 458 km2 of the eastern buffer of Canadian Forces Base Suffield was designated a National Wildlife Area (NWA) in 2003, EnCana Corporation is still planning to drill within that same protected area. Learn what you can do to stop this.
EnCana’s application proposes buffer zones around rat habitat and promises not to build more roads, but increased traffic and the construction of new pipelines to connect the wells to existing and new infrastructure may cause problems.
“Roads create unnatural open-area habitat that rats are attracted to,” says Andy Teucher, a researcher studying the effects of unnatural vs. natural habitats for the rats.
These ‘linear dunes’ create habitat but they also act as highly efficient corridors for predators like coyotes, badgers and foxes. Non-native plants along the artificial dunes lead to less optimal forage, which means survival rates for rats that live along roadways, are not sustainable. “Rats in natural sites have a higher body condition; they seem to be fitter,” says Teucher.
Losing kangaroo rats would eliminate a critical link in the prairie ecosystem. “We just don’t know how many species we can lose before the ecosystem collapses,” explains Teucher.
Your letters and support have allowed Nature Canada and its coalition partners to force public hearings into plans to expand gas well drilling inside Alberta's Suffield National Wildlife Area, a unique prairie refuge for endangered species like the Ord's kangaroo rat and the Burrowing Owl. Then, with your help, we mounted a strong case against such development before a government-appointed panel, which recommended against granting a permit to drill, and imposed strict conditions on future plans. Nature Canada is now hard at work to ensure that the government accepts this ruling, and that drilling is permanently prohibited inside Suffield and all protected areas.
What You Can Do
Ord’s kangaroo rats are a key focal species for the conservation of prairie sand dunes. Many other species at risk depend on these declining habitats.