Until recently, collections of Yukon natural history have been given homes in other parts of the country. Our own territory has had no formal collection of our own diverse species of birds, plants, or insects. Someone living in Ottawa had a better chance of viewing such collections.
But, something is coming. To the Yukon Research Centre (YRC). With the help of the Yukon Government, Environment Canada, and EDI Environmental Dynamics Inc.
Clint Sawiki, who has been running the research department for the last 15 years and is coordinating the curation, says it’s an idea that’s been building since 2004 when the importance of such a collection became clear through the college’s research needs assessment.
“We’re getting so digital,” says Sawiki. “But there’s still a need in research to actually touch the things.”
At the moment the collection is still in the building stages. EDI employee Brett Pagacz is organizing plants into cabinets, identifying species, mounting specimens, and tracking species in a database.
And so far there is some pretty neat stuff. There are birds ranging from the largest, the trumpeter swan, to the smallest, the Rufous hummingbird. There are trays of colourful Yukon butterflies and other insects. And there is a growing herbarium; a collection of pressed, dried plants that may one day include all plants in the Yukon.
At some point the collection will be made available to the public for research and education purposes.
“The problem is getting money,” says Sawiki. Though the initiative has received funding, with the YRC sourcing most of its funding through Yukon’s Department of Education, more is required.
And where exactly this collection will live?
“We’re trying to figure out space-wise how this works,” says Sawiki.
“But we’ve seen an obvious local need to have a public resource,” he says, referring to the ecological research groups donating time and effort to the cause.
“There’s been a lot of support.”
This support extends to sourcing the collection. Across the country there are Yukon natural history samples in museums and research facilities, and they are sharing their resources.
“There’s a willingness to give back collections,” says Sawiki.
“A private researcher is giving us the butterflies. And Dave Mossop [YRC’s professor emeritus] is taking all the birds found dead in the territory, skinning them for display.”
“Collections are critical to understanding our environment as they provide us with baseline data that allow us to make comparisons over time,” says Mossop.
“We have seen how a changing climate is affecting birds and wetlands, and curating natural history will help us better understand these changes.”
While the collection might pique public interest, it will be of distinct value to researchers, educators, and students — especially as the college transitions towards a university.
“Research is growing here at Yukon College,” says Sawiki.
“We’ve got a ton of great ideas — like a Territorial collection of seed specimens,” which people could potentially borrow from.
But it’s mainly about preservation.
“We’re losing species, there’s invasive species,” says Sawiki.
“We want to protect going forwards.”