A conversation with Algonquin Provincial Park Biologist Jennifer Hoare. Words :: Carmen Kuntz.
Jenn Hoare’s kids are living a childhood much like her own. Before she begins her own story of becoming the Algonquin Provincial Park biologist, she starts with stories of the past weekend’s family canoe trip. Accounts of sunshine on calm lakes, toddlers falling asleep in canoes and the subsequent mayhem of unpacking from overnighting in Algonquin tumble out. For the Park’s biologist, enjoying the ecosystems she works hard to protect is not a perk of the job, but a way of life.
Mountain Life: When did your fascination with biology start?
Jennifer Hoare: I was always thrilled by the natural world. As a kid, I had hundreds of acres outside my door where I was free to roam. I spent years investigating anything that piqued my interest: climbing trees for a better vantage, poking into bear dens, hopping around wetlands, looking for tracks, scat.
ML: You grew up in Muskoka, not far from Algonquin. What is your earliest memory of the Park?
JH: It was going for a day hike with my best friend’s family. I was maybe 10. I remember hiking Peck Lake trail, which is one of the interpretive trails along the Highway 60 corridor, and I remember seeing many signs of moose. It seemed like we were going to just bump into a moose on the trail—or so I hoped anyway. I now know this was a time when moose populations in the park were at their highest ever recorded.
ML: What is the main purpose or function of an Algonquin Provincial Park biologist?
JH: I provide information and advice on natural resources to help manage the park. As the park biologist, I work as part of a team of other ecologists, biologists, and planners that provide advice on things like park facility development, forestry operations, and recreational use.
We want to ensure that the things people come to the park to enjoy are there into perpetuity: pristine lakes, amazing trout fishing, healthy, curious moose, and intact ecosystems with all the ecological pieces and processes that have always been there.
“The Park research stations provide some of the longest-running research studies in the world and have produced a vast amount of primary literature over the years.”
ML: During your time studying terrestrial and aquatic ecology at Malaspina University College (now Vancouver Island University), you did a lot of field studies and field courses. How did this prepare you for your current profession?
JH: From Belize to the west coast of Vancouver Island, I got to study diversity and connections within ecosystems. All the field time really keyed me into observing and asking questions, and introduced ways in which to answer those questions. This has been an asset when talking with researchers about their findings in Algonquin as well as conducting the various monitoring projects that we do within the Provincial Park. I had my mind set on getting into a profession that would help protect the natural environment I loved.
ML: At that time, were there many women doing the hands-on field research you were doing?
JH: Growing up I knew a couple of great female biologists working for the Ministry of Natural Resources. They were doing work similar to what I do now. They were well respected and very clever and I definitely looked up to them. I also had fantastic female professors at Malaspina.
ML: During your time studying and working throughout Canada have you noticed any patterns in the attitudes or roles of women in the field of ecological science?
JH: I’ve always had female peers or known other female biologists who were doing field monitoring or research studies—enviable things like a friend in the Yukon flying caribou surveys while pregnant or another girlfriend climbing up into an old eagle nest to get a better view of sea otters. There are lots of women out there and they’re studying anything you can think of. From my perspective it’s becoming less remarkable and more just the way things are. Women still have to work their butts off but I don’t think people are surprised to see them leading this type of work.
ML: Algonquin Provincial Park is one of Ontario’s largest operating provincial parks and is just a three-hour drive from the most densely populated part of Canada. The park has a long history of research. Describe the research community in Algonquin and what it contributes to.
JH: Algonquin is a hub for research. The two main research stations in the park today are Harkness Laboratory of Fisheries Research (established in 1936), and Algonquin Wildlife Research Station (established in 1944). It’s rare to have a research station that has been running for more than 70 years, let alone two, and because of this history, these stations provide some of the longest-running research studies in the world and have produced a vast amount of primary literature over the years. We’ve had as many as 60 research projects going on in one year and many studies take place outside the research stations.
This research gives us new insight into the park’s ecology. For example, new aspects of turtle life histories are being exposed (did you know snapping turtles can live to be more than 100 years old?). Or finding that fish species distribution in the park is tied to the retreat of the glaciers? All this research is helping us manage and protect our natural resources better, in the park, as well as beyond the boundary.
ML: What is your favourite part of a day at “the office”?
JH: The best part is getting out in the field. An ideal day would be tramping around a wetland, binoculars in hand, seeing birds, amphibians, cool plants, a wolf scat, maybe a moose. Doing moose surveys from a helicopter is also pretty cool. I do spend a lot of time at my desk but in the end it’s all working for that original goal I had—protecting the natural environment and I feel lucky to be doing that in Algonquin Provincial Park.
Originally published in ML Blue Mountains, Fall 2018.