Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

 Press Release April 24, 2011

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Natural Faces of Wild Mississippi Places

Take a walk on the wild side with the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) at MVFN’s Spring Gathering 2011 which will take place on Thursday, May 19 at the Almonte Civitan Community Hall. All are invited to enjoy a delicious banquet and keynote presentation “Natural Faces of Wild Mississippi Places” by internationally recognized ecologist and Lanark County resident Dr. Paul Keddy.

Dr. Keddy is well qualified to speak about the “wilder” features of our area that make it a unique and special place to live. He will speak on behalf of a natural world he is very passionate about: “Wild places are essential for the survival of other living beings, as well as for us. I will give you a tour of some of our wild places in Lanark County, and introduce a few of the special, wild species that live there. Driving along the highway, it is easy to forget that a forest or wetland over the next hill may have wild species that are every bit as amazing as those found in Africa or South America. The wilder parts of our county still harbour important wildlife species. Since these species don’t speak English, and don’t come to meetings, and don’t vote, it is easy for them to be overlooked. One of my tasks at this spring celebration is to talk on their behalf. I will have to be their representative.”

“The most important thing we can do for these species is to protect their homes, or speaking more precisely, their habitats. Cities, subdivisions, farmland and clear cuts are not places where most wild species can live. Among the remarkable species of Lanark County, a few of my personal favorites are the gray ratsnake, Blanding’s turtle, black-throated blue warbler, fishers, and gray tree frog. And let’s not forget the plants—some of these special plants include hackberry, walking fern, ginseng and Ram’s-head Lady-slipper. None of these will survive for future generations without the wild places in which they live. Although I will be emphasizing the importance of wild places for wild species, we should remember that it is not only wild species that need wild places. People do too. We have a deep need for wildness. We too need wild places, even if we sometimes have difficulty explaining why.”

When Dr. Keddy was younger he spent many hours canoeing on the Mississippi River and hiking in the surrounding forests. He is probably best known locally for his book Earth, Water Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County. Now in its second printing as a revised edition, this book is an easy-to-digest, delightful and informative sail through the surprising natural history and recent geological history of this area. “In my lifetime many of the places I once loved have been turned into subdivisions or carelessly logged. Species that I used to see are missing, or there are only a few individuals remaining where they were once abundant. We forget so soon. For example, people have already forgotten that Passenger Pigeons, now extinct, are recorded as having nested in Beckwith Township. Today species including chorus frogs, musk turtles, and Blanding’s turtles and even eels are in decline. Even populations of bull frogs and snapping turtles, which were once abundant along the Mississippi are far less common. Our challenge is to identify the causes of the declines and reverse them. The key in nearly all cases is to maintain the habitat that the species need.”

“It is not all bad news though. The county now has a scientifically justifiable and officially recognized list of significant wetlands and natural areas. The latter are called Areas of Natural Scientific Interest (ANSIs). I will show where these areas are in Lanark County and talk about a few of the biggest, including the Innisville Wetland Complex at the west end of Mississippi Lake and the Lanark Highlands Spillway Forest in the north part of the county. Some species are also recovering from past harm inflicted on them. Ospreys and bald eagles, for example, are now more common, since we took the step of banning DDT. Fishers and wolves, which are important wild predators, are recovering from near extermination. Areas like the Burnt Lands Alvar and the Purdon Orchid Bog are now officially protected.”

Several years ago Dr. Keddy returned to live in Lanark County but continues to do restoration related work for wild places elsewhere. In this talk though, he does not want to talk about alligators in the Everglades, or salmon in San Francisco. These sorts of species get lots of attention from residents of Florida and California. He wants to talk about our own wild species, the ones in our own county in particular, and the Ottawa Valley in general. These wild species are ambassadors for the wild habitats in which they live.

MVFN invites you to take a walk on the wild side and celebrate spring with others who care about wild places. Come to Spring Gathering 2011, Thursday May 19 at the Almonte Civitan Community Hall, 500 Almonte St. (just west of Highway 29), Almonte. A reception beginning at 6:00 pm will be followed by a banquet and Dr. Keddy’s presentation “Natural Faces of Wild Mississippi Places.” Tickets ($30) are available at Read’s Book Shop (130 Lansdowne Ave.) in Carleton Place, Nature Lover’s Bookshop (62 George St.) in Lanark and Mill Street Books  (52 Mill St.) in Almonte or by contacting MVFN’s Brenda Boyd (613-256-2706). For further information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at (613) 257-3089.

NOTE: Tickets must be purchased in advance by Friday May 13.

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Time to register for MVFN’s Thursday, May 20 Spring Gathering banquet and lecture—May 20, 2010. Tickets must be purchased in advance by May 14.  See details at end of articleAdirondack Park Comes to Lanark County!

by Cathy Keddy

Tahawus, Adirondack

Where is North America’s nearest and largest protected landscape? Perhaps the Everglades, or maybe Yellowstone National Park? No, not even close. They are much too small and distant. In fact, North America’s largest protected landscape is only a few hours drive from Lanark County. Not Algonquin Park, although at roughly 3 times the size of Lanark County it is indeed large and significant. However, it isn’t nearly as big as the Adirondacks, in the opposite direction, and just south across the St. Lawrence River in northern New York.

Double the size of Algonquin, the Adirondacks are easily eight times the size of all of Lanark County. Very big and near—just over the horizon, a vast reservoir of plants and animals already adapted to our northern climate. In fact, the Adirondacks are so close that many birds could spend the night in the Adirondack forests, and drop in the next day to visit us. The wood thrushes, rose- breasted grosbeaks and yellow-rumped warblers are already making their way north to Lanark County, and may right now be planning their last night of rest in the Adirondacks before dropping in to breed in our forests. Some may also carry seeds from their last meal to deposit here. It is entirely possible, therefore, that the Adirondacks and Lanark County are biologically linked. Did the beech trees of Lanark County spread slowly north after the ice age, or did they simply drop out of the sky as seeds in the crops of passenger pigeons? Yes, there are old records of passenger pigeons nesting south of Carleton Place, and beech seeds were one of their favoured foods. Of course, hunters exterminated passenger pigeons, so they are no longer carrying tree seeds north. But other birds may be taking up some of the slack.

A truly remarkable aspect of the Adirondacks is its similarities to Lanark County, and Algonquin Park. It is a large dome of hard rock, mostly gneiss and granite, of the same age and chemical composition as the rocks that underlie much of our county. Consequently, it is the headwaters for rivers. The forests have northern tree species like white pine, red oak, sugar maple, and hemlock. (Indeed, if you were dropped by helicopter on the shore of a small lake, you might not know whether you were in Algonquin, the Adirondacks, or northern Lanark County.) Even the bird calls and frog calls would be the same.

Early in its history, the Adirondacks experienced the same impacts as Lanark County. The area was logged and mined. Wildlife was trapped for felt hats, forests were harvested for potash bound for Europe and charcoal was exported for iron ore. Hemlock trees were stripped for tanning leather. By the mid 1800s, the wild landscape was beginning to show the negative impacts of human exploitation. Then, remarkably, in 1892, in what was then a cutting-edge environmental decision, the state of New York decreed that the forests of the Adirondacks would remain “forever wild.” Although much of the landscape had already been altered, the remainder, perhaps some 200,000 acres, remained intact, leaving one of the largest stands of old growth forest in eastern North America. So, if you want to see what Lanark County looked like in the really old days, drive south into New York State. Saranac Lake is accessible by highway, but some of the hills around it have never been cut. In contrast Algonquin was so heavily logged that old growth is rare.

Of course, not everyone has the time to drive to the Adirondacks, so the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists have gone one better. They are bringing the Adirondacks to Lanark County with Dr. Jerry Jenkins, a well known biologist who has spent 40 years exploring the park. Jenkins, Forest Issues Coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society, will speak at MVFN’s Spring Gathering 2010 being held May 20 in Carleton Place. Enjoy a banquet dinner beginning at 6 pm, and following the banquet, let Dr. Jenkins be your guide to the delights of the Adirondacks and their lessons for the future of Lanark County.

Spring Gathering 2010 will take place Thursday, May 20 at the Carleton Place Curling Club, 102 Patterson Crescent. Tickets ($20), which include a reception and banquet, are available by contacting Brenda Boyd (613-256-2706) in Almonte. Tickets must be purchased in advance by Friday May 14. They can also be purchased at Read’s Book Shop in Carleton Place or the Nature Lover’s Bookshop in Lanark. Or send a cheque to MVFN, Box 1617, Almonte, ON K0A 1A0 (must be received by Friday May 14), and your tickets can be picked up at the event.

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