Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Our lecture series Algonquin to Adirondacks: Big Picture Conservation series summary

Algonquin to Adirondacks: Big Picture Conservation

summary of series prepared by Pauline Donaldson for 2010 Whip-poor-will newsletter 

Our monthly lecture series is an important part of MVFN programming and for our audiences. This years series Algonquin to Adirondacks: Big Picture Conservation is now drawing to a close but has been quite a journey. Our speakers have addressed different aspects of ‘Big Picture Conservation’ from the concepts of conservation corridors, to large-scale biosphere reserves, to our own interaction with the landscape through time, and species which can act as sentinels for entire ecosystems.

The Algonquin to Adirondack (A2A) area is a natural corridor on Canadian Shield stretching 300 km from Algonquin Park to Adirondack State Park in New York. The vision of the A2A conservation connection requires us to consider protecting biodiversity and ecosystems on a broader scale than we were accustomed to thinking about. In our first lecture Emily Conger, President of the Adirondack to Algonquin Conservation Association (A2A) gave an introduction our lecture series. Conger explained that there is still much conservation potential in the corridor; with much poor agricultural land being abandoned, pioneer species are now returning in places. There is evidence species do move along the A2A corridor, the most famous being Alice the Moose. However there are challenges such the impacts of human activities in the busy St. Lawrence River area (the hardened shorelines of Howe Island being an example). Also, the fact that presently there are no parks in North America that are really large enough to be self-sufficient.

In our October lecture we enjoyed a virtual visit to Algonquin Park, at one end of the A2A conservation corridor. Senior Park Naturalist Justin Peters began with a thorough historical overview of the Park. Limitations to it’s conservation potential are clear. For example, there are only 50 years left for the Big Crow White Pine area because it needs natural fire to allow pines to grow. Secondly, he pointed out the park still supplies 45% of wood harvested in Central/Eastern Ontario. Is there the political will to reduce this? As for insights into the importance connectivity to conservation areas such as A2A for wildlife in Algonquin, Peters said it depends on the species. Grizzlies will wander off, while wolverines need almost as much space but will not cross roads. On the other hand, some black bear populations in the Bruce Penninsula have become isolated in pockets that are likely not large enough to sustain them. The Kirklands Warbler, which was extinct in the park has now been heard at the Petawawa base near the park, which he says is hopeful because there is potential Jack Pines habitat in the park which can be enhanced to bring this species back to the park. Interestingly, fishers, once eliminated in Eastern Ontario from all but Algonquin, are now returning, but genetic studies show they are mostly coming from Bancroft, Gatineau and the Adirondacks with very little input from Algnoquin.

The third lecture given by Don Ross of the 10000 Islands-Frontenac Arch UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserve (FABR) put into perspective the importance of this ecological region stretching from the St. Larwence River north to the southern tip of Lanark County. It is at the crossroads of the ancient granite north-south Frontenac Axis A2A link and the east-west Great Lakes Basin to Atlantic Ocean migration link. It has many microclimates and the greatest diversity of life in Eastern Ontario. FABR is a unique not-for-profit group partnering with a many other groups on a wide range of projects linking community values to conservation efforts. One example is the.www.sustainingwhatwevalue.ca interactive website developed for the public to record, map and photograph valuable natural features. The map includes part of Lanark County.

With our fourth lecture by historian Dr. Brian Osborne, our big picture expanded infinitely to encompass conservation issues through time and we were challenged to understand not only natural landscapes but proscapes and inscapes. In Shifting Perceptions of Nature -Dr. Brian Osbourne likened the natural landscape to a palimpsest or a document with multiple layers written over top with earlier layers still visible in some places. There were limitations the harsh natural landscape imposed on early settlers and in turn the impact of human activity is written on the landscape we see today. Inscapes are mental constructions of reality, e.g. in a well-known early painting of the Saguenay area the artist was able to articulate how people first saw their own country. Proscapes are what the future landscape is turning into and will be influenced by the workings of nostalgia, myth, fantasy, and local identity. Nature was ‘a home’ – to first peoples, but became at various times ‘a wilderness to be conquered’, ‘an icon’, ‘a commodity’, and ‘a resource’. In developing new pillars of sustainability he suggested that authenticity and complementarity to farming will be key. Growth should be not quantitative but smart and creative.

WIth our fifth lecture we took a break from the main concept with the wonderful presentation “Bioblitz Secrets of the Bell Bushlot Preserve’ by our own Tineke Kuiper, Tally Master of our successful MVFN Bioblitz 2009. An appropriate lecture as we held our first ever bioblitz and a relevant prelude to 2010 an International Year of Biodiversity.

Lectures 6 and 7 looked at indicator species and species at risk. In his presentation A Stitch in Time: Monitoring Indicator Species to Diagnose Ecosystem Vitality, Bill Crins explained that indicator species may not always be the ones you expect. No single indicator species is adequate. It depends on the habitat and the ecosystem. They need to be not too common and not too rare. Ideally they are things that don’t move (not large animals like Moose) and are habitat specialists. A good indicator is also easy to detect and measure, well known in terms of life history and ecological requirements, and it is helpful if it is colorful, big, charismatic or unusual in some way. Indicators are needed on a coarse and fine scale. Examples of good indicator species on a coarse scale could be eastern wolf and beaver, on a medium scale, lake sturgeon, ovenbird, whip-poor-will etc. and on a fine scale the walking plant, fen plants, pollinating insects. Other examples given were species which are good indicators in particular ecosystems e.g. for riparian corridors – ebony jewel wing, a damsel fly, for bedrock on soil – the walking fern, for a mature forest -lichens on mature wood, Lungwort for old growth forest, tawny cotton grass for fens vs. a different cotton grass for cedar swamps.

In Paula Norlock’s lecture Bringing Species back from the Brink: Some Good News, the good news is that the status of species such as peregrine falcons has improved. The other good news is that about 80 recovery teams are reviewing biology, habitat requirements and threats to improve the status of many species at risk in Ontario.

The other end of the A2A conservation connection is the Adirondacks, the largest protected space in all of North America. This area has surprising similarities to Lanark County as Cathy Keddy outlines in our front page story about our Spring Gathering 2010. The Adirondacks will be the topic of our final bonus lecture which will be presented by our keynote speaker Dr. Jerry Jenkins of the Wildlife Conservation Society, NY during our Spring Gathering event, 2010 May 20, 2010 in Carleton Place.