Talking to Gaia, the Goddess of Earth
By Dr. J.F. Bendell
Printable pdf of story with photos
On Sept. 19th members of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists enjoyed a most memorable presentation “From our Backyards to the Boreal and Beyond” by Executive Director of Ontario Nature, Caroline Schultz, as a start to MVFN’s series Knowing and Caring Connects us with Nature. Ontario Nature is a large umbrella organization that identifies and protects wild species and spaces through conservation, education, research, and public engagement. This includes seeking funds and donations, enlisting volunteers, and taking action through: publications, public meetings, hard work, co-operating (when possible) with government and industry, lobbying governments, and taking court actions when wrong is done. The magazine “Ontario Nature” is its flagship publication. It is a charitable organization representing more than 30,000 members and supporters and 140 member groups (such as the MVFN) across Ontario. Moreover, the umbrella shares space with some 23 or more allied organizations. Staff in the divisions of Directors, Conservation and Science, Membership and Development, and Communications are all excellent in what they do and most have university degrees.
Caroline Schultz, Executive Director of Ontario Nature made a powerful presentation to MVFN. Photo Pauline Donaldson
Caroline comes from Arnprior in the Ottawa Valley and was welcomed back by many younger members of the Club. Ms. Schultz developed a deep love of nature along the seashores of County Cork and County Dublin in Ireland where she spent much of her childhood. She later returned to Canada to stay, earning a graduate degree in Ecology from the University of Toronto and a Masters of Management specializing in voluntary sector leadership. Employment in a number of resource firms and environmental organizations including Bird Life International helped relate learning to reality; a useful skill in her present mandate. Young, enthusiastic, personable, and an excellent speaker she and Ontario Nature offer much good knowledge and hope and deserve attention and support.
If Ms. Schultz is not Gaia, perhaps we can call her Mother Nature for that is what the evening was about. She gave an impressive overview of the many and complex aspects of Nature that I can present only briefly here. Nature supports all life and our welfare depends upon its supply. For example, our Boreal Forests are part of the lungs of the world where oxygen is released and carbon dioxide retained to give the air we breathe. Our notions of beauty and truth stem from nature, and our health depends upon it. Surely we should learn about, from, and care for Nature.
We are rich in nature in Ontario compared to Canada and the world. As examples, Ontario contains much of the fresh water and most of the Boreal Forest of the world. Virtually all areas are watered and produce: tundra, conifer and broad-leafed forest, wetland, and treed savannah. Each supports a large biodiversity of plants and animals although all are impacted by man.
Ontario Nature (ON) has worked to identify and inventory all species of wild life and their habitats, recognize special features, and flag those in decline and danger of extinction. A huge task! Examples are the second Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, and reaching 177,000 records for an Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. Recognizing that plants and animals, as ourselves, need an adequate home or habitat to survive, ON has worked continuously to provide an enlarge nature reserves especially for special places and sensitive species. They give needed protection, space, resources, and connectivity. By 2005, ON had worked with others to obtain and protect 2.4 million hectares in 378 new parks, helped block development on the Oak Ridges Moraine, and in the establishment of Ontario’s 720,000 hectare Greenbelt. All are high achievements of ongoing work to establish ecological connectivity across Ontario and north and south through the Algonquin to Adirondacks Corridor.
A major accomplishment in 2007 was the passage of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) declared the best in the world. The Act was to identify endangered species and within a restricted period of time implement management plans to sustain them. More good work was done in education, especially of young. Ontario Nature is also “standing up for migratory birds” which Schultz explained are being killed in mass numbers when they crash into tall buildings in Toronto, especially those with reflective glass walls. With Ecojustice, they have taken landlords to court to force them to take mitigating measures, which can reduce mortality by 80%.
While Gaia may be pleased with what has been done there is much that should concern all about the state of Mother Nature. First is climate change. Much of Ontario could become dry grassland and desert. An older threat is the explosive growth of human populations. Most destructive impacts on Nature are caused by us through loss of habitat, consumption, wastes, pollution and pesticides. Our Ecological Footprint shows what we take from nature and return as wastes for our rich lifestyle. Ontario has the 4th largest ecological footprint in the world, with Canada as a whole being 8th. India has a footprint 9% that of Canada! To support our way of life to all people would take 4 planet earths and increasing demand!
Our impact on Nature shows in many ways especially in the decline in abundance and extinction of plants and animals. Since the age of dinosaurs never has the rate of extinction been so high – about 1,000 times or more the natural rate! There are 200 species of plants and animals classified as endangered in Ontario. One is the magnificent Woodland Caribou of the Boreal Forest displaced by logging. Another the American Eel, once throughout southern Ontario, now runs are reduced almost 100% by dams.
Clearly our Nature is diminished and the Endangered Species Act offered hope of recovery. But, unexpectedly, our Liberal Government, in an omnibus bill has proposed sweeping changes in the act that will reduce and weaken its power to save species! Land owners will be exempt and exemptions more freely given. For example, forest operations may avoid environmental constraints for 5 years. According to Ms. Schultz “our environmental protections have been gutted and will hurt Ontario’s most vulnerable species and precious habitats – the wild species you love and wild spaces where you find peace”. Gordon Miller, our Provincial Environmental Commissioner has echoed Ms. Schultz’s outrage on CBC radio and in the Ottawa Citizen. He notes Crown Lands may go to private organizations! Remedial plans for the endangered Snapping Turtle have not left the shelf, while it is hunted with a limit of 2/day. Ontario Nature, along with two other groups is now taking the government to court for “gutting the Endangered Species Act.”
As concerned citizens and naturalists we must act in all ways possible to correct the wrongs of the Government. Shultz told the MVFN audience “Nature needs Clubs like yours and your local action. We value when the grass roots get involved in big issues because then Clubs can use them to fight local battles. We need you to be part of the collective voice.” Write to the Premier and the Minister of Natural Resources. Support Ms. Schultz, Ontario Nature: 214 King Street West, Suite 612, Toronto, ON, M5H 3S6, phone 1-800-440-2366, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Top: “Nature needs clubs like yours and your local action,” said Schultz as she presented this slide representing the link between Ontario Nature and MVFN. “We need you to be part of the collective voice [for nature conservation]“. This is particularly true with the current battle over the Endangered Species Act; Bottom: After the lecture, Caroline Schultz is thanked by MVFN Vice President Cliff Bennett. Photos Pauline Donaldson
Ms. Schultz changed the focus of her talk from aspects in general to what you and I can do to enjoy and work for nature. Get “Ontario Nature”; the magazine for nature. The publication provides spectacular photography and outstanding writing. It covers all aspects of nature with articles by experts, and snapshots of important events such as the recent decline of pollinators including honey and native bees. Many pages discuss how to lessen our ecological footprint and enjoy a fuller, healthier life. One example is to plant a natural garden and landscape to enhance biodiversity. Repeated studies show the shocking numbers of birds killed by free ranging house cats that should be kept indoors. Above all, join the MVFN or a similar group for more speakers like our Mother Nature, fun, friendship and many other good reasons. Call 613-256-6586 or email@example.com. Hope to see you at the next meeting! Jim Bendell.