Deep dive: KBA expert workshops

By: Peter Soroye

The KBA expert workshops are one of the most exciting and dynamic steps in the KBA process; drawing together a veritable who’s-who of species or site experts from around a common regional and/or taxonomic theme to help KBA Coordinators jump-start the process of KBA identification and delineation. According to David Fraser, a Canadian COSEWIC expert, naturalist, and frequent KBA Canada advisor, the workshops are a cost- and time-efficient way to make sure that the best and most up-to-date expert knowledge is included into the KBA identification process.

Incorporating expert and local knowledge into KBA site identification, and working with experts to delineate sites and develop the nomination forms for KBAs, is a central part of the KBA initiative in Canada. KBA Coordinators have access to one of the most comprehensive datasets available on species distributions and occurrences in Canada, thanks to NatureServe Canada and partnerships with regional Conservation Data Centers and data owners, but this data pales in comparison to the knowledge and experience of experts that work with these species. To identify KBAs well, coordinators use this data as a starting point, and then rely on the expertise of researchers and naturalists who have been in the field. By gathering specialists together in KBA expert meetings, KBA Coordinators can incorporate information from experts’ visits to sites and knowledge of the land directly into delineation, and can use information from the latest field seasons and unpublished COSEWIC reports to inform species abundances and population numbers.

“While we’re sitting there figuring out how to delineate a KBA, and making sure that we have the right blob identified on the [map], having someone that’s actually been on the site and goes: “oh that habitat over there is just as valuable as the stuff over here, we should include that” is really valuable and tends to be the kind of stuff that doesn’t get written down. There’s really no other way of getting that information other than by being on an expert call.” – David Fraser

The KBA expert workshops are more than just about contributing to KBA identification and delineation, they’re also great spaces to interact with peers and nerd-out about the species and places that attendees hold dear. David Fraser has been to nearly every KBA expert workshop in Canada; from meetings centered on KBAs in Yukon, to Freshwater KBAs, to KBAs for Ontarian Reptiles and Amphibians, and he finds that experts value the opportunity to work cooperatively with peers on a common cause where their expertise is really valuable.

While expert meetings are typically held in person, the temporary transition to online workshops during COVID has been nearly seamless according to David. Although meetings have gone from multi-day events to a few hours over Zoom, the preparation that KBA Coordinators do beforehand, the technologies that are used to share maps and screens, and the talents of the meeting organizers and live-GIS facilitators, go a long way towards keeping the meetings engaging and productive. In the recent Ontarian Reptiles and Amphibians workshop, for example, experts from across the province (and even from a canoe in the field!) were able to identify and roughly delineate four new potential KBAs for several species at risk, with three new candidate sites also identified. The biggest thing missing now that workshops are online? “The problem solving over beer : some things are just better done ‘in person’”, says David.

We are always looking for more experts to join the growing network of people that inform the KBA process. If you are a species or taxonomic specialist, or if you have a special knowledge of a particular site or region and would like to be a part of an upcoming expert KBA workshop, contact us at KBA Canada.

The Eastern Foxsnake (Pantherophis vulpinus) is one species discussed in the recent expert workshop for herptiles in Ontario. Photo courtesy Tom Preney, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC), submitted to iNaturalist.