Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley
Mississippi River at Pakenham

Hazards to Wildlife

Ontario Nature Action Alert

Unfair chase: The spring bear hunt is bad policy founded on bad science

logo_OntarioNatureHomeThe Ontario government is proposing to extend the two-year spring bear hunt pilot for another five years and to expand it into all areas where fall bear hunting is currently allowed (EBR Registry Number: 012-5485). The excuse? Public safety. The reality? Study after study shows that shooting more bears does not reduce human-bear conflicts.
The government’s fall-back rationale is tourism dollars. Accordingly, the plan is to open up the hunt to trophy hunters from outside the country.Black-Bear_and_cub_Missy_Mandel_banner

Ontario’s spring bear hunt was originally cancelled in 1999. Many felt that the spring hunt was not sporting or fair chase as hungry bears came out of hibernation and were attracted to bait stations where they were shot by hunters waiting on platforms – like fish in a barrel. For the next 15 years, black bear hunting was limited to the fall. But in 2014 the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) decided to reinstate a limited spring hunt as a pilot.

The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s 2014 – 2015 report provides troubling information about the so-called pilot. In reinstating the hunt, the ministry ignored the advice of its own expert Nuisance Bear Review Committee. It failed to put recommended conditions on the hunt such as: prohibiting the killing of all females; providing proof of the age and sex of the bears killed; and timing the hunt to reduce the vulnerability of females.

One thing the ministry did require was that hunters who had purchased a bear hunter licence tag report on their spring hunting activities. But less than 50 percent of the hunters complied with the requirement, begging the question of what the government could actually have learned from the pilot. As noted by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, “incomplete information on the number, age, sex and location of the bears harvested each year prevents the MNRF from effectively evaluating the hunt’s ecological impact and making informed management decisions.”

Indeed, collecting data on two critical factors that are known to lead to an increase in human-bear conflicts – natural food shortages and the availability of garbage – were not part of the ministry’s proposed approach.

Please join Ontario Nature in opposing the unjustifiable extension and expansion of the spring bear hunt. The government should be listening to experts and scientists who have found no evidence that the spring hunt reduces nuisance activity by black bears. Instead, the government should invest in educational programs and solutions to human-bear conflicts that are supported by evidence and science.

Please send in comments by the November 30 deadline. Be sure to reference Environmental Bill Registry #012-5485. Comments can be sent in via the EBR site also at this link. Search for EBR #012-5485.

The not so hidden world of ‘human-related threats to birds’ – cats, houses and cars!

What are the leading causes of human-related bird mortality in Canada?

Findings are in an Environment Canada report (Avian Conservation and Ecology 8(2):11) which can be found at http://www.ace-eco.org/vol8/iss2/art11/ The report details the sources and studies used to generate the data and the range and caveats associated with the numbers which are included.

Michael Runtz (distinguished author of Wild Wings: The Hidden World of Birds) usually dwells on the positive. And although he does not like to look at the negatives, at our February lecture, Runtz outlined these leading causes of bird mortality related to humans. He also gave many insights into a range of other threats, including invasive species, climate change (for example studies with Gray Jays) environmental toxins etc.

Per year in Canada,  the leading causes of bird mortality related to human activity, are the following.  These factors (cats, buildings, cars) are associated most closely with highly populated areas, and this is where most bird kills due to these causes occur, states the report:

# 1 killed by feral and domestic cats (70- over 200 million birds killed per year)

# 2 collisions or electrocution due to power lines (25 million birds per year)

# 3 collisions with houses (20 million birds per year)

# 4 collisions with vehicles (14 million  per year)

A full report of Mike’s talk will be posted soon. Note: photo of Gray Jays by Howard Robinson

by Dr. Paul Keddy, ecologist and author of many articles and books on wetlands and wildlife including Earth, Water, Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County.

Turtle

June is here. The nesting turtles are back! March is for maple syrup, in April the ice melts away, in May the leaves come out, and in June it’s turtle time! Every one of these annual events reminds us where we live; the previous statement could not be made in Paris or Los Angeles. Of course, if you are a high rise building dweller who rarely ventures outside the big city, you may not appreciate my point. Here in Lanark County, every June, many turtles crawl out of their ponds and streams and start crossing the highways looking for nesting sites. Elsewhere, tourists might pay a fortune, say, to travel to South Africa for lions, or British Columbia or Quebec for whales, but here the wildlife comes to visit us!

Most of the time turtles are rather secretive – hibernating nearly half the year on the bottom of lakes and ponds. Much of the rest of the year they swim around looking for dead things to eat and occasionally taking a break to warm up in the sun stretched out on a log. Overall, turtles are harmless, and in fact do some good since they are efficient scavengers that clean up dead animals from our water supply. All of our turtles – even the large snapping turtle – are opportunist feeders. They eat whatever they can conveniently find, which is mainly insects and dead fish. Biologists have spent many years studying turtle diets -by counting the items in their stomachs – and have this well-documented. Even large snapping turtles, which get blamed for eating ducks or game fish, rarely have any of these items in their stomachs. They too eat carrion. Yes, snapping turtles will snap at you — when on land — particularly if you let your dog frighten them, or if you poke them with a stick. Many people would do the same.

Baby Turtle

Hatchling- photo Chris Hume

Let me mention, too, that every part of the world has its own set of turtles. If you were lost, and someone gave you a list of local turtles, you could pin down almost exactly where you were. North America has just over 50 species in all. Some places, like the west coast, are impoverished, having just one species. Other places, like Louisiana, are blessed with turtles – more than 30 species. Lanark County, has exactly, five. In approximate order of size, beginning with the smallest, they are musk turtle (or stinkpot), painted turtle, map turtle, Blanding’s turtle and snapping turtle. All but the painted turtle are now considered species at risk – that is, they are declining. Two, the musk turtle and the Blanding’s turtle, are officially considered threatened species. The decline has two main causes, (1) death on roads and (2) destruction of wild places.

Turtle Crossing
Nesting time is a dangerous time:

So, for nearly 50 weeks each year turtles are rather quiet, inoffensive neighbours, who pretty much keep to themselves. In this way, they might set a good example for human neighbors, like the ones with the loud stereos and motorbikes … but I digress, I was asked to write about turtles. My point is that, finally, after 50 weeks of peace, all hell breaks loose in mid June! All the females of reproductive age climb out of the water and begin the laborious task of hiking around to find a nesting site. It is probably terrifying for them to leave the familiar water and venture onto land, but the nesting urge is too strong to resist. Once they find just the right location, they dig a hole, bury their eggs, and leave. That is the end of motherly care. The eggs are heated by the summer sun, and then, in September, baby turtles about the size of a half-walnut dig their way up to the surface and somehow find their way back to water.

This means that without fail, near the middle of each June, we are treated to a parade of female turtles, wandering around our roads and properties, trying to nest. They have been doing this for about 200 million years, more or less. Turtles existed before the dinosaurs, and they even survived whatever it was – an asteroid collision? – that eliminated the dinosaurs. Despite their long history, turtles just have not had time to learn to adapt to two new things: cars and roads. That tiny brain has no idea that a road means danger. And so, increasingly, we are losing our turtles as the reproductive females (and often the eggs they contain) are killed on highways.

Biologists have calculated how important certain types of individuals are to their species survival, i.e. their “reproductive value”. New baby turtles have low reproductive value because only a few ever survive -skunks, raccoons, crows, fish and even bullfrogs eat them. This high mortality rate for babies is natural for turtles. However the reproductive value of the adult female turtle is extremely high. Once she has made it to 20 years old she has the capacity to make up for the high mortality rate of the babies by laying from 10 to 30 eggs every year for decades. The turtles being killed on our roads are usually the adult females — with the highest reproductive value. When a female is killed – it means the loss of hundreds of offspring she might have produced over future summers. These loses cannot be replaced. As a result, turtles that were present in my childhood, like musk turtles and Blanding’s turtles, are now uncommon. Not only do turtles just cross roads, they are actually attracted to roads. The warm sand and gravel along the road side makes a perfect nest site. So turtles will come long distances to climb onto the shoulder and lay their eggs. If drivers are careless, the highway becomes a ribbon of death.

Turtle Crossing
So what can we do?

1. The first is to accept and even appreciate this annual event. Just as the maple syrup flows in March, so do turtles flow across our roads in June. We might even build an annual tourist event around the nesting week. We could put up some highway crossing signs at critical locations, or better still, plan ahead and build small underpasses when roads are being reconstructed. And, of course, we have to protect critical nesting areas from subdivisions. More urgently there is the immediate issue of death on the roads.

2. Drive carefully. Turtles are slow-movers, so it really does take a complete idiot to hit one with a car.
- Don’t tailgate (which your driver training instructor no doubt told you anyway), as you may run over a turtle that the car in front just missed.
-Help them out. Stop, and carry the turtle the rest of the way across the road – in the direction she was headed, of course. Yes, some will not appreciate your help, and might try to scratch or bite, so keep a pair of gardening gloves handy and perhaps a shovel to help lift. A big snapping turtle is heavy, so I would recommend extreme care – probably best to simply act like a shepherd.
- Alert other drivers. Yes, you can stop your car and let other people know that a turtle is crossing the road. Not a good idea at 100 kilometers per hour, perhaps, but certainly feasible on many side roads.
-Let them nest in peace. If one arrives in your yard, keep the pets away, and let the children watch quietly from a respectful distance more than ten feet away. Think about the respect we give to pregnant women, and give the pregnant turtle the same courtesy. If she does nest, you can put a piece of chicken wire (not mosquito netting – that will trap the baby turtles in the fall) over the nest. Then, wait. Given the right amount of sun and rain, baby turtles should emerge in September.

One of the joys of living here is the annual spectacle of the June turtles. If you still think you must drive so fast that you ignore the crossing turtles, may I respectfully suggest you consider moving to downtown Phoenix or Las Vegas or Toronto, or one of our other larger urban centers, where you won’t have to be inconvenienced by other living creatures. Learning to share the landscape with wild animals is part of what it means to live here. We might start with courtesy to turtles, and then extend it to frogs, birds, butterflies, bears and all the other animals that lived here long before our ancestors decided to settle in North America.

Not everyone can personally save a blue whale, or a black rhinoceros, but everyone can drive responsibly, and, like a good boy scout, help the occasional turtle across the road.

 

 

 

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
August 24, 2002
Written by Cliff Bennett

Mississippi Mills Moves to Protect Turtles

Turtle CrossingAt several noted locations along the roads of Mississippi Mills, turtles cross over with great regularity during the summer, in a migratory move to traditional feeding and nesting sites. Many don’t make it; they get run over by vehicles. In a move to save as many of these important wetland creatures as possible, Mississippi Mills Council recently passed a motion to approve the installation of turtle crossing signs at specific active locations throughout the municipality.

The initiative to encourage the crossing signs came from the organization Turtle S.H.E.L.L. and was supported by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN). The initials S.H.E.L.L. stand for safety, habitat, education and long life. The mission of Turtle S.H.E.L.L. is to protect our indigenous turtle species from extinction through education, habitat awareness and placing of road signs at migratory sites. Many signs are already in place in the Bancroft area and throughout Leeds Grenville and the organization is presently negotiating with the County of Lanark for signs along County Road 16. Turtle S.H.E.L.L. has published a booklet on turtles for use in schools entitled “Let’s Talk Turtles”.

The president of the group, Ottawa resident Michele St.Cyr, approached local officials with details and sign design in April of this year, after key locations were identified by MVFN. Signs are already in place on Clayton Road and will soon be installed on Cedar Hill Road and Bellamy Road. Locations indicate major turtle crossing areas within a km. of the signs.

Mississippi Mills Council is to be commended for taking this initiative to help protect this important wildlife species. The move shows the municipal leaders care about the environment and its natural creatures. Three species of turtles common in our area , the painted, snapping and Blandings will now be better able to maintain their numbers if motorists pay attention to the signs and help keep the mortality rate low.

What should you do if you come across a turtle on the road? Turtles cannot hear well and can only look forward. They sense danger through vibrations but are too slow in movement to get out of the way of fast moving vehicles. Some concerned people stop (in a safe manner) and carefully move the turtles off the road, in the direction they were heading. Snapping turtles though, are often too large and too dangerous to move by hand and should only be helped by inserting a shovel or similar rigid material under it to help it over the road. Turtle S.H.E.L.L. can be contacted by calling 613-446-4995 or by e-mail at

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MVFN's natural history talks take place on 3rd Thursdays, Jan-April and Sept-November, at  Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte, ON. All welcome!

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