Zane Zondervan

Conservation Program Specialist at Ducks Unlimited Canada
MSc in Ecological Restoration, 2020

“Physically seeing how something is restored can be a lot more powerful than data and statistics. It’s hard to motivate people to care if they don’t know what can be accomplished.”


Zane completed his bachelor of science in Wildlife Biology and Conservation at the University of Guelph, though his interest in nature extends much further back. Growing up, Zane spent a lot of time outdoors. He was taught hunting, fishing, and trapping from a young age, and developed a lifelong passion for wildlife, particularly waterfowl. While searching for careers working with waterfowl, he began learning about wetland restoration. From there, the MSc in Ecological Restoration program seemed like the best way to pursue his goals in a scientific, yet hands-on way.

Research on waterfowl use of restored wetlands

Before even beginning his studies, Zane got in touch with Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC), expressed his desire to work with them, and began designing his research project. His research focused on identifying determinants of restoration success in the many wetlands DUC has restored over the years. As he matter-of-factly puts it, “How can we prioritize the reality of limited budgets? If we can’t keep everything running, what do we focus on?”

Zane decided to look at how the size and vegetation cover of restored wetlands affected waterfowl use and breeding success. He used ArcGIS to calculate the size and vegetation cover, grouped them into categories, and chose 12 wetlands, one for each combination of factors. His summer was spent painstakingly surveying each wetland for total waterfowl abundance and the number of breeding pairs and young hatched. Results indicated better outcomes in larger wetlands, and wetlands with small or medium vegetation cover. He recommends future research focused on teasing out species-specific preferences.

Work as a conservation program specialist

While working on his research project, Zane developed strong ties with DUC, and now works with them as a conservation program specialist. Much of his day-to-day is spent assessing and repairing the structural integrity of dams and other wetland infrastructure. Keeping an eye on beaver activity, erosion controls, and making sure vegetation doesn’t plug things up keeps him busy. But he also gets to work on all kinds of other projects, such as waterfowl and wildlife surveys, and amphibian salvages. Best of all, his dog Ember gets to tag along.

Come winter, Zane expects to spend a lot more time in the office, but he’s still excited to gain skills in applying for grants and drafting reports. He also wants to learn more about population management and work with DUC’s partners to expand projects in long-term monitoring. At the end of the day, Zane seems quite happy at DUC, and is looking forward to learning more managerial skills and furthering his career with waterfowl.

Finding common ground and showing people the power of restoration

Ecological restoration has been a great fit for Zane, but the field comes with a lot of challenges. Projects often encounter soaring budgets and technical or logistical challenges. With governments, social groups, and industry all vying for different objectives, inconsistent priorities also plague projects. But Zane feels he’s learned a lot about dealing with this: “Ducks Unlimited is very good at finding different priorities that people share common ground with, so they have a lot of partnerships. If you’re a farmer or rancher, you need to have water for your cattle,” he explains, “So we get together and find some mutual benefit, and then we can negotiate with them to bring about the restoration we need to make that work.”

Yet not everyone sees the benefits of restoration. “The more people are tuned out to what the environments around them were like, the easier it is for no one to notice their absence. It’s hard to have policy to protect things and manage something that no one knows or cares about,” Zane acknowledges. Despite this, he remains optimistic, “A lot is being done for public education to teach people about ecology and the environment and get them interested. Physically seeing how something is restored can be a lot more powerful than data and statistics. It’s hard to motivate people to care if they don’t know what can be accomplished.”

Advice for new students: no skill is irrelevant

One piece of advice Zane has for those beginning careers in ecological restoration is to work on building a varied skillset. Also, don’t discredit indirect experience as irrelevant. He notes, “A lot of my working background was not directly in restoration or ecology. I was working as a forest firefighter. But supervising, working under stress, operating machinery, communications…all these skills and abilities were still transferrable.” Learning skills, specialized or not, is what matters most. “Explore different opportunities and interests. You’re not necessarily limiting yourself if you’re not hyper specialized,” he encourages.