Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Appleton Wetland at Tipping Point – Press Release August 11, 2014

 After thriving for thousands of years, the Appleton Wetland is now endangered due to man-made effects of summer flooding caused by manipulation of water levels for hydro power generation.

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photo Al Seaman

Almonte ON, August 11, 2014 – The Appleton Wetland is under immediate threat says a detailed scientific report published by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists. The report states that excessive water levels resulting from Enerdu Power Systems Inc.’s current hydro operations are drowning towering silver maple trees upstream, and that the proposed Enerdu expansion in Almonte’s heritage district will kill the very species that anchors a wetland older than the Great Pyramids or Stonehenge.

The 76-page report calls for an immediate amendment to the Mississippi River Water Management Plan (MRWMP) overseen by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry that will allow for a “valid operational summer water level” and allow the silver maples to survive, and that “approval of the current upgrade plan for Enerdu must be delayed until the recommended amendment has been resolved.”

“The Appleton Wetland: Its Decline, Cause and Recommended Action”, is the result of hundreds of hours of work by a five-member Research Group Chaired by Cliff Bennett, the founding member of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists and the club’s current President. Bennett’s Research Group colleagues include the report’s Principal Author Al Seaman, Joachim Moenig, Mike O’Malley and Howard Robinson.

“Our research results confirm that excessive water levels resulting from Enerdu’s operations are causing the die-off of the silver maples in the Appleton Wetland. In effect, the trees are drowning. The Enerdu operational limits in the existing Mississippi River Water Management Plan clearly do not conform to the priorities of the plan that rank ecological integrity above power generation. Thus an amendment to the Plan is urgently required to preserve a Wetland that has survived for millennia but is now at a tipping point,” said Bennett.

The report is also endorsed by Dr. Paul Keddy, one of Canada’s most prolific and distinguished ecology professors. Based on his 30-year career focused on the study of wetlands at the University of Guelph and University of Ottawa, Keddy stated that, “Further summer flooding will kill the last trees and the thousands of years of development will be ended abruptly. The negative effects will occur not only within the boundaries of the Appleton Wetland, but will cascade through fish and wildlife populations for many miles downstream. Restore the summer low water periods, and the trees will recover and continue to provide the ecological services that they have provided free for thousands of years.”

Continued Dr. Keddy: “Some of the Earth’s most biologically productive habitats are the great swamps that form along water courses. Known as ‘alluvial wetlands’, they are intimately connected with rivers, providing shelter for birds, breeding grounds for fish, habitat for mammals, and generating organic matter that feeds wildlife production for many miles downstream. Some of the better known examples occur in the Amazon, the Congo, and the Mekong rivers, but every large river floodplain has alluvial wetlands. In eastern Ontario, there are alluvial wetlands along rivers including the Mississippi, Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers. One of the finest examples is along the Mississippi River.”

Interested members of the media will be provided with a copy of the full report with appendices on CD and/or its Executive Summary by email upon request.

NOTE: The full report is  posted here on the websiteA printed copy of the report and appendices  are also available for reference at the Almonte branch of the Mississippi Mills Public Library.

About the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists:

Now in its 25th year of operation, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists provides opportunities to learn about and help conserve the natural world with people of all age groups and ranging from neophyte nature lovers to knowledgeable field naturalists and experts, with a focus on the pristine Mississippi River Valley. The club offers many activities, from monthly natural history talks, regular nature walks, field trips and canoe/kayak outings and other opportunities to explore many fascinating aspects of our natural world. There are also opportunities to take part in habitat creation projects, trail building, citizen science work, environmental stewardship projects, writing about natural history for club publications, communications and other volunteer work.

For more information or interviews, please contact:

Al Seaman

Principal Author of “The Appleton Wetland: Its Decline, Cause and Recommended Action”

Email:

Phone: 613-256-1155

or

Cliff Bennett

President, Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Email:

Phone: 613-256-5013

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Bird Loss in Appleton Soft Maple Swamp

High Canopy and Forest Floor Bird Loss Due to Death of Soft Maples in Appleton Soft Maple Swamp

Prior to the beginning of the new millennium, Appleton Wetland Swamp was a lush area of several hundred acres of soft maple and willow trees, reaching forty to sixty feet tall. Much wildlife was to be found in this swamp including otter, muskrat, beaver and many different species of high canopy and forest floor nesting birds.

Today (2014), the dying and dead trees have drastically altered the habitat of these animals and birds. During the five years of the 2nd Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (2000-2005 Cadman et al.), the Appleton Swamp was part of the atlas square surveyed by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists. Many species of birds nesting in the swamp at that time, are no longer to be found.

The largest factor for the disappearance of these birds in the Appleton Wetland can be attributed to the loss of tree canopy because the trees are either dying or already dead. The resulting opening or removal of the canopy causes these birds to be vulnerable to predation by hawks. Also, nestlings are deprived of protection from the sun’s heat when there are no leaves. When this happens, birds abandon their preferred nesting sites and either move on to other suitable habitat or fail to reproduce.

The following bird species, known and potential, are no longer present in the Appleton Wetland:

High Canopy Birds:
Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawk, red-shouldered hawk (on species-at-risk list), least flycatcher, American crow, wood thrush, gray catbird, warbling vireo, scarlet tanager.

Forest Floor Birds:
Winter wren, veery, hermit thrush’, palm warbler, black and white warbler, ovenbird, Northern waterthrush, Canada warbler.

Other Forest Dwellers:
Black-billed cuckoo, olive-sided flycatcher, Eastern wood pewee, yellow-bellied
flycatcher, Swainson’s thrush, Acadian flycatcher, alder flycatcher, blue jay,
wood thrush, blue-headed vireo, red-eyed vireo, mourning warbler.

A change in water management regime for this section (Reach 18) of the
Mississippi River would help greatly in eventually allowing new growth of the
trees and would encourage the return of many of these bird species.

Article written by Cliff Bennett
Reference: A Guide to the Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds, 2nd edition,
Paul J.Baicich, Colin J.O. Harrison, 1997

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A Natural Heritage System Concept Plan for Mississippi Mills

A Natural Heritage System Concept Plan for Mississippi Mills

On May 20, 2014, Tineke Kuiper, of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, presented a Concept Plan for a Natural Heritage System (NHS) for the Town of Mississippi Mills to Council’s Committee of the Whole and a large group of interested observers in the gallery.

A Natural Heritage System is a network of identified Core natural areas (e.g., woodlands and wetlands), connected by linkages. In the case of our municipality, the linkage, Kuiper explained, is often water. Within such a system of interconnected core natural areas, the ecosystems involved are more resilient to change and diversity is enhanced. The system, thus becomes functionally more than the sum of its parts. Most of the larger municipalities in southern and southeastern Ontario have developed an NHS, and the new Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) under the Planning Act makes the development of an NHS mandatory for many smaller municipalities, including Mississippi Mills.

In his introduction to Council members, Town of Mississippi Mills Planner Stephen Stirling, thanked Dr.Tineke Kuiper, local biologist and chair of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ Natural Heritage Design Committee for her work in developing the concept plan. He noted the vital collaboration which had taken place with the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority, especially with regard to Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping done by Alex Broadbent. The NHS Design Committee is comprised of a group of experts including ecologists, Cathy Keddy, MSc and Paul Smith, PhD, as well as Tom Coleman, Eng. Credit was also given to the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust, for providing mapping assistance during the early phase of the project.

Kuiper gave several reasons for the importance of identifying Natural Heritage Systems. First, there are the benefits and services provided by Nature, such as maintaining biodiversity, flood control, regulation of greenhouses gases, recreation, and the provision of personal feelings of well-being. She then explained that fragmentation (the breaking up of natural landscapes into disconnected, small pieces through human activities) and the reduced landscape connectivity which results, is detrimental to the survival of many wildlife species. Lastly, she indicated that a NHS could act as a bulwark to cope with events such as climatic extremes (droughts and floods), which may lead to crop failures and associated food toxicants.

Steps in the design and identification of a Natural Heritage System for Mississippi Mills

The unique location of Mississippi Mills, at the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, results in a wonderfully rich biodiversity in our area, and the NHS Design Committee recommended that an NHS be identified for the municipality as a whole.

In designing and identifying the concept plan for the NHS for Mississippi Mills, Kuiper showed Council how they began by identifying Core areas, based on natural heritage features already designated by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), such as Provincially Significant Wetlands, Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest, and associated or nearby MNR-identified Significant Woodlands.

Using detailed maps, Kuiper showed the process used for characterization and prioritization of MNR-identified Significant Woodlands. The focus was on larger woodlands with an interior forest habitat (i.e. forest further than 100 or 200 m from an edge; essential for many species of breeding birds and other animals), as well as woodlands with potential old growth (older than 80-100 years), or those with uncommon species of trees. Any such prioritized woodlands that were outside previously identified natural Core areas were then designated as Rural Natural Area. Many of these designated Rural Natural Areas are some distance from the areas with greater development pressure.

Next, using the maps, Kuiper showed how our rivers and creeks, with a 30 m buffer on each side (as required under the PPS), could provide natural linkages, so that all areas can work together ecologically as a System. In addition, some Significant Woodlands adjacent to rivers were included as stopover or shelter areas for wildlife. Once these natural linkages were incorporated into the municipal NHS, it was found that few additional areas would be required for linking the Core areas, i.e. probably less than 1% of the total area of the municipality.

The town of Almonte itself includes a stretch of the Mississippi River, part of the Wolf Grove creek, and several important natural areas, one of which is Gemmill Park. It is important to protect the river edge and include these natural areas in a Natural Heritage System. Such areas have been designated as Urban Natural Area.

In summary, the following four Core natural area designations were recommended for inclusion in the NHS: Natural Heritage Area (Pakenham and Wolf Grove wetland complexes, Appleton Wetlands, Burnt Lands and Panmure alvars);Wetlands (White Lake, Clayton –Taylor Lake, Mississippi Lake); Rural Natural Area (some of the Significant Woodlands); and Urban Natural Area (e.g., Gemmill Park). The rivers and creeks within Mississippi Mills, and in the region, will provide most of the connectivity between the various core components within the NHS.

Tineke Kuiper concluded that because the Town of Mississippi Mill’s Community Official Plan is currently in the process of being revised, this NHS Concept Plan could easily be incorporated. Peer review of the NHS Concept Plan and public consultation could take place with the purpose of amending the COP in the future (target date 2015).

Many Councillors thanked Tineke Kuiper and the Committee for their thorough and excellent work. Having this work done by local experts represents enormous savings for the Town, noted Councillor Edwards, and provides the opportunity to balance conservation with sustainable development.

 

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