Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

The almost year-long efforts of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) to oppose a proposed small development at the southern edge of Burnt Lands Alvar on Golden Line Road in Ramsay Ward, came to a conclusion with an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing on December 7, 2015. The MVFN alvar team fought for changes to the development right up to about a week before the hearing, when they withdrew from the hearing after exhausting all of their options.

Allison Alvar walk 2015, photo by Pauline Donaldson

Allison walk ram's head (1280x960)The County of  Lanark and the Municipality of Mississippi Mills Official Plans allow cluster-lot developments within the alvar  (even though it is a sensitive area and a designated Area of Natural and Scientific Interest) if an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) is conducted and steps are taken to mitigate environmental damage to the footprint of the development. As these steps had been shown in the original application, the proposed development project had been approved conditionally and could proceed. It was on these grounds that MVFN felt it could make an impact by opposing the project as planned. The MVFN alvar team strove to force many improvements to the EIS for the proposed development.

By opposing the development, MVFN has raised awareness of the public as to the existence of the Burnt Lands Alvar, its location, what an alvar is, and the unique and fragile ecosystems which make Burnt Lands Alvar an ecological treasure.  Also, MVFN’s opposition to this particular development has arguably influenced the local municipality to begin processes to change its Community Official Plan and accompanying Zoning By-Laws to ensure future similar development schemes cannot occur on regulated lands in Mississippi Mills.

A significant impact of MVFN’s alvar appeal was to have three additional on-site visits by ecologists and other experts take place, in late spring, summer and early autumn. These field studies added significantly to the developer’s previous EIS study, which had included only one cursory assessment of the Alvar ecology. Two other important concessions were achieved by the MVFN team, to place the roadway in the least damaging location, and the other to change the location of the turning circle, also to minimize impact. Other positive influences from the MVFN team can be seen throughout the final EIS report.

The Alvar OMB team, led by MVFN member Tineke Kuiper, included several qualified specialists and other supporting persons. Key to the effort was a team of lawyers from the Canadian Environment Law Association, which was provided free of costs to MVFN.

The other significant component of MVFN’s appeal effort was the MVFN fund-raising team, led by MVFN Chair of the Environmental Issues Committee Theresa Peluso. They conducted an amazing fund-raising campaign which allowed the MVFN Alvar team to hire a planner and two ecologists and pay other related costs. When final invoices are in, the MVFN Finance Committee will publish a financial statement.

Although MVFN had withdrawn their appeal prior to the hearing, MVFN President Cliff Bennett and a member of the lawyer team, attended the short OMB hearing as a professional courtesy. The final judgments of the OMB will be handed down by mid-January and a final MVFN report will be issued at that time. For any enquiries on MVFN’s involvement in this project, please contact Cliff Bennett at 613 256-5013 or

Photos by Pauline Donaldson were taken during a 2015 walk on Burnt Lands Alvar led by Ken Allison .

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NOTE: The following article by MVFN Program Chair Gretta Bradley reflects on a 2015 MVFN presentation by Almonte native Dr. James Coupland. His presentation “Pesticides and Pollinators: What’s Happening Down in the Pasture?”  highlighted the importance of a healthy, biologically diverse landscape and the wild pollinators on which this depends.

By Gretta Bradley

The B-ee is iconic. As if spilling from a Chiclet box, the alphabet sprawled across the top of the blackboard gave us our first insights, as children, into this important pollinator. The letter “B” was represented by that smiling yellow and black bug with impossibly small wings. “Worker bee”, “busy as a bee”, and “honey bee” were already part of our growing understanding of this cheery, sweet, industrious insect. Needless to say, it was a bit of a shock when we came into contact with the pointy end. But we would eventually learn that in its flight from plant to plant it was, in fact, enabling plants to reproduce.

Now, modern agricultural practices such as pesticide use, habitat loss and climate change have come crashing headlong into this fundamental biological process, posing a serious threat to biodiversity.

Dr. James Coupland, co-founder of FarmForest Research and an authority on Integrated Pest Management (including the use of biological control systems) began his MVFN presentation “Pesticides and Pollinators: What’s Happening Down in the Pasture?” by asking us to think differently about seemingly ordinary places like meadows and pastures, with their meandering streams and low bogs. Explaining the concept of ‘Ecosystem Service’, Coupland helped us to look at the issues around our embattled pollinators and the role they play through a new lens.

The ‘Ecosystem Service’ approach looks in detail at nature’s products (e.g. food crops) and processes (e.g. tree roots draw water into the soil, filtering harmful bacteria, replenishing the water table and municipal water supplies) and determines their worth to our economy. We have traditionally resisted putting a number on our biodiverse natural spaces. Placing a monetary value on an ecosystem and the services it provides challenges the idea that they are “free”. However, as we have depleted these resources and disrupted the processes that support our quality of life and that of the natural world, putting a number on their value helps us to understand, in a very concrete way, that these things have not been without cost. Assigning a value allows ecosystem services to be accounted for, and damaging or destroying them clearly has a negative impact on the bottom line. Assigning value allows governments to make policy decisions based on measurable outcomes that allow for accountability. Wetlands offer a dramatic example. It is estimated that they are worth $2.64 trillion U.S. or $14,785 per hectare per year to the global economy.

Having established a frame of reference, Dr. Coupland turned to the role and value of a diversity of pollinators. Although the Rufous and Ruby-Throated hummingbirds, the Silvery Blue, Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, and Monarch butterflies, Hummingbird Clearwing moth, Paper wasp, the Hoverfly and Checkered Beetle are all pollinators, it is the 4,000 species of bees in North America, and 20,000 species of bee worldwide that are considered to be ecological keystone species for pollination. These species are at the very centre of a viable, functioning ecosystem. Lose them and we risk the collapse of those systems. And scientists are now really worried about collapsing wild bee populations. Our food supply (fruits, vegetables and other crops) as well as that of many birds and most other mammals will be severely impacted. Dr. Coupland used the environmental service model, to reinforce the scope of the challenges ahead. Pollination has been valued at $195 billion for global agriculture. Pollinators are now in decline-both in numbers and diversity, and bee-dependent plants are also declining. The cost of pollinator decline will be high and we ignore the problem at our (and those species with whom we share the planet) peril.

Carefully avoiding an overly simplistic explanation of a complex problem, Dr. Coupland discussed the possible culprits for our pollinator crisis. He warned against seeing the problem as having a single source. The research that promises the greatest potential to produce solutions looks at impacts caused by interaction of a variety of factors characteristic of a species under stress. Neonicotinoids (and other pesticides), fungicides, parasites, pathogens, and reduced plant diversity (some pollinators feed on only one type of plant) are all at work in ways that are not yet fully understood. More research needs to be done. That does not mean that efforts are not underway or that steps have not been taken. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been banned in the EU for 2 years and some will probably be removed for sale in Canada in the next few years, and companies are moving to ‘biosafe’ products. As individuals, we can plant pollinator friendly gardens/lawns, support efforts by organizations to protect and set aside wild spaces, and educate others and ourselves as to the importance of preserving our wild bee populations and their habitat.

If you are looking for additional information, ask your local librarian for “Status of Pollinators in North America”, published by the National Research Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Several printed copies are also available from the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists on loan, and a pdf of the publication can be found on MVFN’s website (just search for key word pollinator).

“Wild bees are our best pollinators. Without them, there would be few flowering plants to produce food, to provide habitat and to make the world beautiful.” ~ Dr. James Coupland

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Biodiversity and the status of pollinators are closely linked, as we heard in our October talk by Dr. James Coupland.

MVFN has several printed copies of Status of Pollinators in North America a publication recommended by Dr. Coupland for additional information. Several print copies were provided by Dr. Coupland to MVFN, and these are available for loan. Copies of this document can also be downloaded at the link below or a pdf of this document is also available here.

http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11761/status-of-pollinators-in-north-america

11761-0309102898-450

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NOTE: Featured photo with this post is of the wildflower Hairy Beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus). photo by Ken Allison

One of the most effective ways you can help protect natural areas is to support municipal government when they consider policy changes to enhance protection of natural areas or restrict development in these areas.

If you live in the Town of Mississippi Mills, you have that chance Tuesday, May 5, 2015. Council is set to consider public opinion on their proposed rezoning of  much of Burnt Lands Alvar as an environmental protection zone. This is a good thing! If you agree, then attend the public meeting in support of the rezoning (or write to tell Council that you support this rezoning. Details for submitting comments are found below and on the Public Meeting Notice). Even if you do not intend to speak, attendance at the meeting would afford you the opportunity to hand deliver your written views or to simply be an observer and register your name to be informed of the Council decision, which will be made at a later date. If you cannot attend, you may wish to make your opinion known to the town by submitting your written comment, as mentioned.

When: May 5, 2015 at 6:30 pm.

Where: Town of Mississippi Mills Council Chambers, 3131 Old Perth Road, Almonte, Ontario.

What:

  • THE PURPOSE AND INTENT of the Official Plan and Zoning By-law Amendments are to provide environmental protection for the Burnt Land ANSI from intensive rural development by amending rural development policies in the Community Official Plan and placing the lands within the Burnt Lands ANSI within an Environmental Protection (EP) Zone.
  • ANY PERSON may attend the public meeting and/or make written or verbal representation either in support of or in opposition to the proposed Official Plan Amendment and the Zoning By-law Amendment. Written submissions regarding the proposed amendments are to be filed with the Town Clerk at the Town of Mississippi Mills Municipal Office, 3131 Old Perth Road, R.R. #2, P.O. Box 400, Almonte, Ontario, K0A 1A0.

Further information about the Burnt Lands Alvar may be found elsewhere on our website; as well as an opportunity to donate to our Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign.

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