The Localer:
Dan Kehler

Understanding a place first is vital to protecting it. Wild horses could — and did — drag Dan Kehler away from his desk job. For 12 years, Kehler worked for Parks Canada from behind a computer.

Then, in 2017 he galloped away to southeast Nova Scotia to work as the only ecologist on iconic Sable Island, known famously for its population of more than 500 feral horses. Kehler spends about two months a year on the island, depending on what he’s working on.

He’s currently involved in a study by Parks Canada, which administers the island as a national park reserve, and the Sable Island Institute. The project, called Fences in the Sand, focuses on the relationship between the wild horses and the island’s ecosystem. The horses themselves have been researched for decades, but not much is known about their impact on Sable’s rare and endemic species, freshwater ponds and dune processes.

It’s part of our responsibility [at Parks Canada] as the federal land manager to understand the role of the different species living on the island and ensure we can better protect them through increasing our knowledge.

Dan Kehler

The scientist loves his job. It never gets old to be on the narrow, 31-square-kilometre island where horses graze, at-risk sweat bees pollinate, Ipswich sparrows nest, and tens of thousands of grey seals “haul out” on the beach — just some of the hundreds of species that call Sable island home, at least some of the time. “I feel humbled that so many people are interested in this place that’s special to us and that we’re lucky to protect,” Kehler says. “I think about that a lot, as I’m on the island walking around a very incredible landscape.”

We’d love to hear about people doing great things in your community. Send ideas and they could be featured in an upcoming issue.


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