Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

By Gretta Bradley

“Along the Snake Fence Way”, is not high art. It probably falls into the category of young adult literature really. It doesn’t require much of the reader. But the author, Vicki Branden’s use of a snake is intentional. If she had substituted cute baby pandas, our horror would have been absolute and it would have been a very different story. Not only would the story have veered into the ridiculous, but the author would have lost an opportunity to ask us to think about our relationship with the natural world. A boy in the story sits down by the fence to watch a snake basking on a rock in the weak spring sunshine admiring its beautiful markings and iridescent sheen.  As if a switch has been flipped, the boy is jarred out of his reverie with the arrival of older boys, rocks in hand, intent on “snake bashing.”  Now in dangerous social territory, the boy chooses to take a stand for the snake, and suffers for it at the hands of his bigger counterparts. Standing up for creatures that others deem as not worthy of concern is not for the faint of heart.

Dr. Anne Bell, Director of Conservation and Education for Ontario Nature, and guest speaker at the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist lecture series; “Naturally Special Places” spoke this evening on the topic “On Guard for Nature- Ontario Nature’s Fight to Uphold our Endangered Species Act”. Ontario Nature’s stated mission is “to protect wild species and wild spaces”.  Constant vigilance of the Province’s efforts to implement the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has occupied a significant part of the organization’s resources. Dr. Bell warned that, unfortunately, according to the 2015 report on Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy, progress to date is not encouraging.  There has been no improvement for more than 2/3rds of Ontario’s species at risk. Forest and wetlands along with 22% of Ontario’s species at risk are in decline and some of our rare ecosystems are without protection.

Dr. Bell pointed to poor implementation of the ESA as a contributing factor. The government ministry responsible for the ESA, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), has been cited in a recent report released by Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner (ECO), as just “going through the motions”.  The ECO called for meaningful enforcement of the ESA for the protection of our most vulnerable species.

Before launching into the main topic of her talk, Dr. Bell wanted us to know that going to court is a last resort for Ontario Nature. Typically, they fulfill their mission through conservation, education and public engagement. They own and manage 24 nature reserves. They promote citizen science by engaging hundreds of volunteers to gather information on Ontario species. They work with farmers, aggregate producers, and forestry companies etc. to promote sustainable business practices. Ontario Nature also engages youth through their Youth Summit for Biodiversity.

Dr. Bell pointed out that it is their role as environmental watchdog, promoting the creation of strong laws, policies and regulations, which sometimes takes Ontario Nature into the courtroom. In 2007, the Ontario government passed what would be the gold standard of legislation for the protection of endangered species, the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, in 2012, the government brought forward an omnibus budget bill that contained amendments that would significantly weaken the ESA. Mobilizing their Nature Network members and many other environmental groups resulted in the government deciding to remove the amendments from the 2012 budget bill.

The victory was short lived as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry circumvented the process that required the approval of the Ontario Legislature by putting forward a regulation under the ESA requiring Cabinet approval only.  The regulation hobbles the effectiveness and contradicts the very intent of a law passed by our elected representatives. Harmful industrial activities have exemptions from its provisions in the forestry, early mining exploration, aggregates, hydro, wind facilities, drainage works, infrastructure, and residential and commercial development sectors. Additionally, it sets a lower standard of protection and drastically reduces government oversight of activities harmful to vulnerable species.

Unwilling to stand on the sidelines, Ontario Nature, with CPAWS-Wildlands League, found themselves in court. The outcome they sought was to have the regulation deemed illegal and of no force and effect.  Ontario Nature’s lawyers would argue that a regulation couldn’t be inconsistent with the object and purpose of its enabling statute. The intent of the ESA is to protect and recover species at risk. The intent of the exemption regulation according to the MNRF appears to be increasing administrative efficiency and reducing burdens on businesses engaged in activities that might harm species at risk and their habitats.  Additionally, Ontario Nature argued that the Minister failed to fulfil a legal requirement to determine whether the regulation would have a significant adverse effect on each the 155 species that would be impacted by the regulation before recommending it to Cabinet.  In the end, the court agreed with the government’s arguments that the Minister did not need to consider impacts of the proposed regulation on individual species, and that the purpose of the Act included the promotion of economic development.

Bloodied but not down, Ontario Nature recently won the right to appeal the decision, something that has never been granted to any environmental group with respect to the ESA. The Ontario Court of Appeal is expected to hear the case spring or summer of 2016.

Not for the faint of heart.

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NOTE: To support conservation work for species-at-risk: consider becoming a member of Ontario Nature, or, write to Provincial and Federal MP’s about legislation for species-at-risk. 

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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.

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NOTE: featured photo by Joe Crowley: a Blanding’s Turtle, is THREATENED in Lanark County.  Another prominent at-risk species in Lanark County, is Rapids Clubtail dragonfly, ENDANGERED in Lanark County and found on the  Mississippi River in Mississippi Mills.  

submitted by Cheryl Morris for the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

On Thursday, November 19, 2015, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) will host the third presentation of this season’s lecture series, reflective of the theme “Naturally Special Places”. This event will be held in the Social Hall of Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte Ontario at 7:30 pm.

The guest speaker for the evening will be Dr. Anne Bell, Ph.D., Director of Conservation and Education for Ontario Nature. She has entitled her talk “On Guard For Nature—Ontario Nature’s Fight To Uphold our Endangered Species Act”. “Ontario’s naturally special places provide habitat for over 200 species at risk. These plants and animals and the places they rely on for survival are protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act (ESA)”, states Dr. Bell. At-risk species include the Blanding’s Turtle, Gray Ratsnake, Eastern Meadowlark, Whip-poor-will, Rapids Clubtail dragonfly, and the iconic Woodland Caribou.

When it was introduced by the Ontario government in 2007, the Endangered Species Act was considered the gold standard law for species protection in North America. However, in 2013, the province introduced a “regulation” which exempts major industries from the law’s protective requirements. “Major industries” include forestry, pits and quarries, mining, and hydro and residential development. In many cases, industries were given a free pass to kill endangered or threatened species and destroy their habitat, as long as the harm was “minimized”. “This is a disappointing decision for Ontario’s endangered and threatened wildlife”, stated Ecojustice lawyer Lara Tessaro. “The Endangered Species Act is intended to put species first—not to let their survival be balanced against competing industrial interests. That would tip the scale towards extinction.”

In an article submitted by Dr. Bell for Ontario Nature, she writes “Environmental protection is the key to a sustainable, prosperous future…MNR is proceeding with a “transformation” plan premised on weaker environmental standards and a dramatic reduction in government oversight of activities affecting our lakes, rivers, forests and wildlife…The government tells us we can’t afford to implement the ESA in the way it was intended. Yet what we really can’t afford is to sacrifice long-term economic, social and environmental health with short-term cost-cutting measures that undo important environmental protections.” The cost-cutting measures described by the MNR were preceded by severe budget cuts to MNR and Ministry of Environment. Since 1993, the ministries most responsible for managing and protecting ecosystem services—MNR and Ministry of Environment—had seen their budgets drop by 64%. They are the two most poorly funded ministries in Ontario.

In September 2015, the Ontario Court of Appeal granted Ontario Nature and Wildlands League the right to appeal the government regulation which would limit species protection by the ESA. The appeal will be argued by lawyers from Ecojustice, including Lara Tessaro, who states “The Court has signaled that our clients’ legal challenge to this regulation, which deprives endangered species of the law’s protection, is important to Ontarians”. During her presentation on November 19, Dr. Bell will explain the ins and outs of this legal challenge and provide an update on the case.

Please join MVFN for this very important presentation. Refreshments and discussion will follow the talk. There is a non-member fee of $5. For further information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair, Gretta Bradley at .

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Talking to Gaia, the Goddess of Earth

Lecture report by Jim Bendell

On Sept. 19th members of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists enjoyed a most memorable presentation “From our Backyards to the Boreal and Beyond” by Executive Director of Ontario Nature, Caroline Schultz, as a start to MVFN’s series Knowing and Caring Connects us with Nature. Ontario Nature is a large umbrella organization that identifies and protects wild species and spaces through conservation, education, research, and public engagement. This includes seeking funds and donations, enlisting volunteers, and taking action through: publications, public meetings, hard work, co-operating (when possible) with government and industry, lobbying governments, and taking court actions when wrong is done. The magazine “Ontario Nature” is its flagship publication. It is a charitable organization representing more than 30,000 members and supporters and 140 member groups (such as the MVFN) across Ontario. Moreover, the umbrella shares space with some 23 or more allied organizations. Staff in the divisions of Directors, Conservation and Science, Membership and Development, and Communications are all excellent in what they do and most have university degrees.

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Schultz 2013 lecture

 

Top:  Caroline Schultz receives book and thanks from President Cliff Bennett. 

Bottom: “Nature needs clubs like yours and your local action,” said Schultz with this slide representing the link between Ontario Nature and MVFN. “We need you to be part of the collective voice [for nature conservation]”. This is particularly true with the current battle over the Endangered Species Act. Photos Pauline Donaldson

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Caroline Schultz, Executive Director of Ontario Nature made a powerful presentation to MVFN. Photo Pauline Donaldson

Caroline comes from Arnprior in the Ottawa Valley and was welcomed back by many younger members of the Club. Ms. Schultz developed a deep love of nature along the seashores of County Cork and County Dublin in Ireland where she spent much of her childhood. She later returned to Canada to stay, earning a graduate degree in Ecology from the University of Toronto and a Masters of Management specializing in voluntary sector leadership. Employment in a number of resource firms and environmental organizations including Bird Life International helped relate learning to reality; a useful skill in her present mandate. Young, enthusiastic, personable, and an excellent speaker she and Ontario Nature offer much good knowledge and hope and deserve attention and support.

If Ms. Schultz is not Gaia, perhaps we can call her Mother Nature for that is what the evening was about. She gave an impressive overview of the many and complex aspects of Nature that I can present only briefly here. Nature supports all life and our welfare depends upon its supply. For example, our Boreal Forests are part of the lungs of the world where oxygen is released and carbon dioxide retained to give the air we breathe. Our notions of beauty and truth stem from nature, and our health depends upon it. Surely we should learn about, from, and care for Nature.

We are rich in nature in Ontario compared to Canada and the world. As examples, Ontario contains much of the fresh water and most of the Boreal Forest of the world. Virtually all areas are watered and produce: tundra, conifer and broad-leafed forest, wetland, and treed savannah. Each supports a large biodiversity of plants and animals although all are impacted by man.

Ontario Nature (ON) has worked to identify and inventory all species of wild life and their habitats, recognize special features, and flag those in decline and danger of extinction. A huge task! Examples are the second Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, and reaching 177,000 records for an Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. Recognizing that plants and animals, as ourselves, need an adequate home or habitat to survive, ON has worked continuously to provide an enlarge nature reserves especially for special places and sensitive species. They give needed protection, space, resources, and connectivity. By 2005, ON had worked with others to obtain and protect 2.4 million hectares in 378 new parks, helped block development on the Oak Ridges Moraine, and in the establishment of Ontario’s 720,000 hectare Greenbelt. All are high achievements of ongoing work to establish ecological connectivity across Ontario and north and south through the Algonquin to Adirondacks Corridor.

A major accomplishment in 2007 was the passage of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) declared the best in the world. The Act was to identify endangered species and within a restricted period of time implement management plans to sustain them. More good work was done in education, especially of young. Ontario Nature is also “standing up for migratory birds” which Schultz explained are being killed in mass numbers when they crash into tall buildings in Toronto, especially those with reflective glass walls. With Ecojustice, they have taken landlords to court to force them to take mitigating measures, which can reduce mortality by 80%.

While Gaia may be pleased with what has been done there is much that should concern all about the state of Mother Nature. First is climate change. Much of Ontario could become dry grassland and desert. An older threat is the explosive growth of human populations. Most destructive impacts on Nature are caused by us through loss of habitat, consumption, wastes, pollution and pesticides. Our Ecological Footprint shows what we take from nature and return as wastes for our rich lifestyle. Ontario has the 4th largest ecological footprint in the world, with Canada as a whole being 8th. India has a footprint 9% that of Canada! To support our way of life to all people would take 4 planet earths and increasing demand!

Our impact on Nature shows in many ways especially in the decline in abundance and extinction of plants and animals. Since the age of dinosaurs never has the rate of extinction been so high – about 1,000 times or more the natural rate! There are 200 species of plants and animals classified as endangered in Ontario. One is the magnificent Woodland Caribou of the Boreal Forest displaced by logging. Another the American Eel, once throughout southern Ontario, now runs are reduced almost 100% by dams.

Clearly our Nature is diminished and the Endangered Species Act offered hope of recovery. But, unexpectedly, our Liberal Government, in an omnibus bill has proposed sweeping changes in the act that will reduce and weaken its power to save species! Land owners will be exempt and exemptions more freely given. For example, forest operations may avoid environmental constraints for 5 years. According to Ms. Schultz “our environmental protections have been gutted and will hurt Ontario’s most vulnerable species and precious habitats – the wild species you love and wild spaces where you find peace”. Gordon Miller, our Provincial Environmental Commissioner has echoed Ms. Schultz’s outrage on CBC radio and in the Ottawa Citizen. He notes Crown Lands may go to private organizations! Remedial plans for the endangered Snapping Turtle have not left the shelf, while it is hunted with a limit of 2/day. Ontario Nature, along with two other groups is now taking the government to court for “gutting the Endangered Species Act.”

As concerned citizens and naturalists we must act in all ways possible to correct the wrongs of the Government. Shultz told the MVFN audience “Nature needs Clubs like yours and your local action. We value when the grass roots get involved in big issues because then Clubs can use them to fight local battles. We need you to be part of the collective voice.” Write to the Premier and the Minister of Natural Resources. Support Ms. Schultz, Ontario Nature: 214 King Street West, Suite 612, Toronto, ON, M5H 3S6, phone 1-800-440-2366,

Ms. Schultz changed the focus of her talk from aspects in general to what you and I can do to enjoy and work for nature. Get “Ontario Nature”; the magazine for nature. The publication provides spectacular photography and outstanding writing. It covers all aspects of nature with articles by experts, and snapshots of important events such as the recent decline of pollinators including honey and native bees. Many pages discuss how to lessen our ecological footprint and enjoy a fuller, healthier life. One example is to plant a natural garden and landscape to enhance biodiversity. Repeated studies show the shocking numbers of birds killed by free ranging house cats that should be kept indoors. Above all, join the MVFN or a similar group for more speakers like our Mother Nature, fun, friendship and many other good reasons. Call 613-256-6586 or Hope to see you at the next meeting! Jim Bendell.

 

 

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Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

September 6, 2013

Songbird Nursery Closing for the Winter—the Birds will be Here Soon!

Click to link to press story “Talking to Gaia, Goddess of Earth” written after the lecture  

The goldenrods and asters are turning our roadsides yellow and blue again. The grackles have already left, and the goldfinches are preparing to leave. The bears are fattening up on a bumper crop of acorns. Yes, it’s autumn. And one of the regular events of autumn is the start of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) new lecture series, this year entitled Knowing and Caring Connect Us With Nature.

MVFN is very fortunate to have an outstanding speaker to start the season. In her presentation, “From Our backyards to the Boreal and Beyond,” Caroline Schultz, executive director of Ontario Nature and conservation biologist, will speak about the enormous boreal forest (half of Ontario’s land area) which is just to our north, how it is connected to our backyards, and how our backyards are connected to nature beyond the boreal.

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Meet a woodland caribou in our boreal forest. Believe it or not, nature in your backyard is connected to nature in this vast forest region just north of us. Learn how at the inaugural lecture of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ upcoming lecture series Knowing and Caring Connect Us With Nature, September 19, 2013 (photo by Paul Tessier, iStock)

The boreal forest is the land of conifer forest, home of the woodland caribou, and a vast nursery for songbirds and waterfowl. Many of these visit Lanark County each spring, on their way north, and each autumn, on their way back south. Songbirds that breed on the very edge of the tree line near Hudson Bay may very well rest in a tree in your own backyard on their way back to the rain forest for the winter. As well, the boreal forest has vast wetlands—the Hudson Bay lowlands region is one of the ten largest wetlands in the world. Its extensive peatlands store massive amounts of carbon keeping it out of our atmosphere where it could do great damage to our climate. Its vast freshwater ecosystems play a major role in global hydrological cycles. Boreal forest conservation further ensures an abundance of wild forest and freshwater foods and sustainable livelihoods for northern residents.

Many of wild the boreal inhabitants are about to move south in the coming month. Not the polar bears or caribou of course. At least, no one in the field naturalists has yet seen flocks of polar bears flying south. But certainly most of the birds are on their way. Geese, grebes, loons, herons, cranes, grosbeaks and blackbirds will be passing through soon.

Thus our backyards matter—whether they are measured in square feet or square kilometers. Nature-friendly gardening and land stewardship can provide resting areas for migrating birds and can help pollinators such as native bees and butterflies. We can plant trees, protect our forests, leave the shoreline at the cottage natural, or plant native shrubs to replace lakeside lawns—there is something each of us can do to make Lanark County better for wildlife. The cumulative effects of such simple actions are very powerful when thousands of people do them. This will help to ensure that Lanark County not only keeps its natural beauty, but increases it in the future. Working to ensure that municipalities have robust natural heritage systems in their Official Plans and opening the doors to the wonders of nature, especially to our youth, are also vital for ensuring that we protect the biodiversity that sustains us.

But, our backyards are connected beyond the boreal! Everything we do here in Ontario has an impact beyond our borders. This ranges from the importance of sustaining vital migratory or breeding habitat for birds to minimizing our carbon footprint to sustaining our freshwater systems that are part of the global hydrological cycle. Everything is connected. Imagine, we have responsibilities as global environmental stewards and we should be proud of this. But Ontario has the fourth highest ecological footprint compared with 60 countries around the world. Canada has the eight highest. We need to earn the right to be proud as proactive environmental leaders.

Lanark County is a beautiful place to spend the year, but life is always more enjoyable when you know enough about your surroundings to appreciate them. Where else in the world could you live with enormous protected wetlands on the edge of town, great blue herons on the side of the river, hackberry trees lining the waterfalls, and large tracts of deciduous forest just outside the town? Sounds great. But just what is living in those wetlands and forests? Much more than just deer and bears. The theme of this year’s public talks is about exactly this— connecting with and appreciating our natural surroundings and understanding how they are linked to big picture nature conservation.

So how did Caroline fall in love with nature and come to connect with Ontario Nature? Discover this, know about nature in your backyard, care about the boreal forest, and forge connections to nature in distant places you may never visit by attending Caroline Schultz’s talk “From Our Backyards to the Boreal Forest and Beyond” at 7:30p.m., Thurs. Sept. 19, 2013, Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome ($5 fee for non-members). For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089.

Photo: Meet a woodland caribou in our boreal forest. Believe it or not, nature in your backyard is connected to nature in this vast forest region just north of us. Learn how at the inaugural lecture of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ upcoming lecture series Knowing and Caring Connect Us With Nature, September 19, 2013 (photo by Paul Tessier, iStock).

 

 

 

 

 

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