Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Endangered Species Act in Danger Caroline Schultz tells MVFN

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

Schultz lecture panorama

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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Earthworms: Whose Friends are They? presented by Paul Gray, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources

Opening a can of worms – Lecture report written by Linda Mosquin

As a gardener I have dug up many earthworms in our flower and vegetable gardens and have long considered the earthworm to be a friend, always marveling at its ability to break up, aerate and improve the soil. Or, as our Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist’s speaker Dr. Paul Gray of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources(OMNR) more largely described them, as “. . . ecological engineers famous for their ability to ingest and integrate soils through different layers, for their contribution to agricultural productivity, for their role as food for wildlife and for use by anglers as fish bait.” Many animals eat earthworms…. think crows, gulls, skunks, flickers, robins and others. In Ontario the business of exporting worms to the United States is valued at 110 million dollars a year and involves a migrant work force picking worms at night. And with agricultural fields and pastures in Ontario using more than 5 million hectares of soil, the earthworm would appear to be a seemingly benevolent creature.

3 Worm Press Story photo 2 (960x1280)

Indeed, the lowly earthworm helps the economy, but as Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) Paul Gray recently told an MVFN audience, the evolving earthworm story in North America is much more complex. He is co-author of the 2012 report: Implications of a Potential Range Expansion of Invasive Earthworms in Ontario’s Forested Ecosystems.

Indeed, the earthworm helps the economy, but as our speaker pointed out, with warmer climate change due to humans burning fossil fuels, the evolving earthworm story in Canada/North America is more complex and darker. Native Ontario earthworms, where they existed, are believed to have been eradicated with the Wisconsin glaciers 10,000 years ago and southern native species did not manage to re-colonize this area. Thus our forests developed in the absence of earthworms until they arrived with soils (for ballast) and plants brought here by European settlers. So at present 17 European non-natives and two North American (non-native to Ontario) earthworm species thrive in the province. Some of these earthworms are invasive and with our warming climate it is becoming more apparent that there is a potential for range expansion of these worms in Ontario’s forested ecosystems. Already much damage has been done to the forest habitat around the Great Lakes.

Gray presented a number of detailed charts depicting the warming trend for climate change in Ontario. The International Panel on Climate Change models show the warmest trends of between 9-10 degrees, in the northern latitudes, and 4-5 degrees in our area by the end of the century. Earthworms can be killed by freezing but they have developed systems to avoid this happening. As climate warms they will continue to move forward into our northern forests.

Earthworms are classified into three ecological groups, namely: endogeic, these are rich soil feeders, topsoil dwellers, have no pigmentation, make horizontal burrows, and are small (approx.7.5-12.5 cm). Epigeic earthworms are top-litter feeders and dwellers; they are pigmented, make no burrows and are the smallest (at 7.5cm). Anecic earthworms are larger (12.5-20 cm) earthworms which are litter and soil feeders and dwellers, dorsally pigmented, and make extensive permanent vertical burrows.

Given the different strata of the soil the different earthworms groups reside in and their burrowing habits, it is no surprise that the impact on forests from earthworms is greatest when all three kinds of earthworms are present. As they move into a forest one can see the edge of the healthy, rich, thick horizon zone meeting the edge of the ‘denuded’ soil caused by earthworms eating up much of the available organic material. Organic layers are lost, protozoa are eaten, micro-arthropod eggs are damaged and micro-fauna are preyed upon. Plant communities are weakened and often destroyed. Invasive earthworms do most damage to hardwood forests, such as those consisting of maple, basswood, red oak, poplar, or birch species. So a forest that once had a lush understory ends with a single species of native herb and essentially no tree seedlings. Over time (spreading 5 to ten meters a year) earthworms change the forest soils from a fungal to a bacterial dominated system which hastens the conversion of leaf litter to mineral compounds, starving the plants of organic nutrients. This change in soil eliminates seedlings, ferns, and wildflowers. There is evidence emerging that changes caused by alien earthworms can even eventually affect small mammal, bird and amphibian populations and increase the impacts of herbivores like white-tailed deer. Invasive plants such as buckthorn and mustard garlic can establish a roothold in a diminished ecosystem. These species reduce and destroy habitat for native species and are a serious threat to biodiversity and the health of our forests. Once established, earthworms are virtually impossible to eradicate.

Much of Paul Gray’s presentation on earthworms is based on American information since most of the research has been done there, although one of the best known books on earthworms, “The Earthworms (Lumbricidae and Sparganophilidae) of Ontario” (1977) was written by a Canadian, John W. Reynolds.

Gray described the findings from a multi-species invasion of earthworms at a site in Timmons he worked on in 2011. Nineteen species were identified at this site. Along with other researchers, he has developed a ranking system for the risk posed by these species as a preliminary ‘Invasion Index’ for earthworms in Ontario. Categories included in the ranking system are abundance, distribution, reproduction, transportability as bait, most northerly isotherm (temperature) and pH tolerance. Earthworms like a neutral pH but can exist in a wide range of acidic soil. As the soil becomes less acidic they will find it easier to establish themselves. The species were ranked low, medium or high for invasion potential. The full details of their findings are contained in the OMNR report released in 2012: “Implications of a Potential Range Expansion of Invasive Earthworms in Ontario’s Forested Ecosystems: A Preliminary Vulnerability Analysis” which Gray co-authored with others and which was released in 2012. The speaker had copies of this excellent report at the lecture and it is also available online at the OMNR website http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/en/Business/ClimateChange/Publication/STDPROD_092882.html.

How do earthworms travel into forested areas in Ontario? With human help of course! Fishermen dumping bait near forested areas, gardeners moving compost, road building, or ATV tire-treads or truck tire-treads which have adult worms and cocoons (egg cases), could all start an earthworm invasion into forested areas. There are some simple things you can do to prevent their further spread. For example, people should take unused fishing bait home and freeze the container for at least a week before discarding the contents, avoid dumping compost anywhere except in your own garden, and wash ATV or other soil-holding vehicle tires before transporting the vehicle. In Minnesota, where extensive research on earthworms has been done it is illegal to dump worm bait.

More research in Ontario on managing invasive earthworms, especially with our warming climate, would be useful. Regulation and education could help prevent alien earthworms from invading Ontario forests. Another route to scientific research that is very much supported by Gray is citizen science. He would be happy to help organize training and seek support for citizen groups that would like to become involved in collecting data about invasive earthworms. If you are interested in starting or joining such a group consider contacting Dr. Gray at . To help citizens become informed on earthworms there are various sites on the internet which offer additional information such as http://www.naturewatch.ca/english/wormwatch/ and http://www.nrri.umn.edu/worms/default.htm

 

3 Worm Press Story photo 1 (1280x960)

Paul Gray (right) of the Applied Research and Development Branch, OMNR, in lively discussion with MVFN President Ken Allison (left) and member Neil Carleton after his presentation on earthworms. Photo Pauline Donaldson

 

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Green Aliens in Lanark County

February 2012

Green alien plant invaders of natural habitats: a lecture report written by Pauline Donaldson

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) recently held the 5th lecture of their 2011-12 natural history lecture series in Almonte. ‘Green Aliens in Lanark County’ was presented by Mississippi Mills resident Ken Allison, an avid field naturalist and professional biologist who specializes in non-native invasive plant species. Allison has served on the Board of Directors for MVFN for more than a year and is currently President of MVFN.

Prominent on the second slide of Allison’s MVFN presentation were the words “Lanark County has been invaded!” Invaded by plants that is. Gazing at the typical picturesque road-side scene filled with a pleasing, colourful array of familiar mid-summer wild flowers I am shocked as one by one they are named as alien species . . . Reed Canarygrass, wild carrot, bird’s-foot trefoil. However, it is a relief to hear that, to Allison, this class of alien plant species is not a worry as they do no harm in natural areas. In fact some of these alien invaders of disturbed habitats are popular with insects. Spotted knapweed is covered in skipper butterflies in July. Others like coltsfoot are a beautiful sight in spring with yellow flowers and masses of green leaves.

Some aliens are most welcome and bring other world culture to Canada, for example coltsfoot which is much admired from ancient times as a heal all. Invasive plants that flourish near the roadside tend to be salt tolerant. More natives grow further from the road. Alien invasive plants which are common in lawns are white clover and common plantain. Some non-native plants only manage to be invasive in cultivated fields or gardens, for example common purslane or yellow wood-sorrel. There are other non-native species which sometimes tend to persist where they are planted e.g. the common lilac or orange day-lily, but they do not become invasive. So far so good, these alien inhabitants of disturbed habitats seem okay, but there are other classes of alien plant species which “we really need to worry about” says Allison.

The ones to worry about are certain non-native aggressive invaders of natural habitats, both terrestrial and aquatic. These ‘bad’ alien invasive plants tend to share a number of characteristics. Number 1, they have extra good seed dispersal mechanisms – think dandelion seeds, or buckthorn berries. Or they can grow up in a crack in the pavement. Also, they are able to take advantage of man-made disturbances and invade places where we have reduced or eliminated the competition. Often a non-native plant that becomes invasive was introduced as an ornamental. If the answer is yes to the following questions then the non-native plant probably has potential to be invasive: Does it kill or suppress surrounding plants? Is it a rapidly spreading groundcover? Is it low maintenance? Are its seeds spread by wind or water? Are the berries eaten by wildlife?

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Bladder companion is an alien plant which is common in disturbed habitats such as roadsides, where it does no harm. Photo Ken Allison

 

A ‘good’ example of a ‘bad’ alien plant invader of natural terrestrial habitats is European buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica). Allison considers this “the worst of the worst locally”. It is a shrub that is easy to find in October because it is the only one still with leaves. It is displacing native species because its’ stands produce dense shade. There are other non-native plant invaders of natural terrestrial habitats which really do not do much harm, for example the pretty Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum). An example of an invasive orchid is the broadleaf helleboreine which invades on moist soil. It is also not having any apparent impact. Even some of these invasive species have benefited local insects. Henry’s elfin butterflies have learned to lay their eggs on glossy buckthorn.

Aquatic environments are especially vulnerable to invasive plants. Animal non-native invaders such as zebra mussels, a small clam, are quite well known. However an invasive plant species that is causing problems is European frog’s bit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae). It is a free-floating aquatic plant with 3-petaled white flowers. This is a bad invader. It was brought in as an ornamental. Ducks and other waterfowl are probably partially responsible for its spread. It forms very dense floating mats which lead to a reduction of native plants and the dense growth out-competes other important plant and animal species for oxygen and nutrients in the water. Biological oxygen decrease is quite significant with frog’s bit. Another plant which has been a concern in wetland areas in the past was purple loosestrife. However, with bio-control measures in the form of two European beetle species which were released, this invader is becoming more civilized because the insects are keeping it down for now, but will this last? Common reed is another extremely aggressive non-native plant. Common reed loves ditches but it is unfortunately past worrying about. It is very invasive and out-competes all other native plants. It is still spreading in Eastern Ontario and the damage it does can be clearly seen nearby e.g. in the City of Montreal area. Another example of an invader of wetlands is Yellow flag (Iris pseudocorus).

 

Photo 1 European frog's-bit (962x721)

European frog’s bit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae) is an invasive free-floating aquatic plant with 3-petaled white flowers. It was brought in as an ornamental. In natural habitats it forms very dense floating mats leading to a reduction of native plants and animals as it depletes oxygen and nutrients. Photo Ken Allison

What can individuals do to stop the spread of invasive plants? Some obvious things to do include: Do not plant known invasive plants. Keep your land free of invasive plants. If you see something new, try to identify it. Often by the time it is identified it is beyond hope of eradication. As Allison says “you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”

Invasion by plants and animals is a natural process and helps explain their evolution and distribution. However, the speed and frequency of these invasions is now greatly increased because of the impact of man. An optimistic note is that most invaders prosper only in habitats greatly modified by man. The retention of large amounts of native vegetation and habitats for native plants and animals is the best bet to keeping the most [natural and beneficial species] our land and waters provide.”

Allison showed a simple but effective time-line illustrating the stages of invasion of aggressive non-native plants. Typically, when an invasive is first introduced it is not noticed. As time goes by it’s numbers increase and it becomes more widespread. During this time it is noticed by the public and at some point after this there comes a time when it is beyond hope of eradication. If we can move identification by the public sooner, then the shape of the graph can be changed, and perhaps measures can be taken earlier to eradicate the plants, before it is too late to stop their spreading.

Allison named for us the ‘Top 10 Terrestrial Invasive Plants’ to watch for in the future: Japanese Knotweed, Japanese barberry, Garlic Mustard (is moving and may already be here in fill), Norway Maple (widely planted here. It escaped in New York state), Himalayan Balsam (an Impatiens-like jewel weed but it is purple), Russian Olive (an ornamental; not much in Lanark County but in Kanata areas are filling in with Russian Olive. It has the potential to be a bad invasive but it needs moisture and a disturbed area), Giant Hogweed (in southwestern Ontario now), Pale Swallowwort (is moving west; not yet in Lanark), Plumeless Thistle (most of Eastern Ontario seems to be an epicentre for this one), Spotted Knapweed (a prohibited noxious weed seed under the Canadian Seeds Act and Regulations; it is like steel wire and very difficult to pull).

The ‘Top 5 Aquatic Invasive Plants’ which Allison worries could become invaders of aquatic habitat in future i.e. the ones to watch out for include: Flowering Rush (a species which is doing well in Ottawa/Great Lakes), Water Soldier (in the same family as Frog’s Bit; it is in the Trent system and is spreading. It came in from aquaria and OMNR is trying to stop it), Water Chestnuts (in the Ottawa system and bad in Quebec), Carolina Fanwort (is in the Trent system; it survives because it sinks to the bottom for the winter), Floating Heart (has a yellow, fringed petals).

So, do not plant non –native species, and if you see something new in your area, try to identify it. If it is a new or uncommon species you can contact speaker Ken Allison at or Lanark County wild plant expert David White may be interested in hearing about it. Is it one of the top 10 terrestrial or top 5 aquatic plants that may be moving into our area? Allison recommends the following references for plant identification: Plants of Lanark County, 2011 edition by David White and the website www.lanarkflora.com . Also Vascular Plants of the City of Ottawa, With the Identification of Significant Species a document by Dan Brunton – see http://ottawa.ca/calendar/ottawa/citycouncil/occ/2005/06-08/pec/AppendixA%20-%20OTTAWA%20FLORA%20(APR%2005).htm

 

 

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MVFN 2010/11 Lecture Series: Biodiversity and Vital Connections for Fauna, Flora and People

 

MVFN 2010/11 Lecture Series: Biodiversity and Vital Connections for Fauna, Flora and People

MVFN’s lecture series “Biodiversity and Vital Connections for Fauna, Flora and People” began September 2010.  A list of the excellent lectures which took place in the series may be found below. Our final presentation in the series will take place at our Annual Spring Gathering event Thursday, May 19, 2011. Full details for this lecture: “Natural Faces of Wild Mississippi Places” by Dr. Paul Keddy can be found in under UPCOMING EVENTS on the home page.

Please contact MVFN Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089 if you require further information on our lecture program. The final lecture of the series which will be part of Spring Gathering 2011 will take place at the Almonte Civitan Community Hall (see upcoming events postings for ticket information and other details). All regular MVFN lectures take place at  7:30 p.m. at the Almonte United Church Social Hall, 106 Elgin St. Almonte, Ontario. All welcome. There is a $5 fee for non-members. No charge for those 16 yrs or under.

Almonte Locator Map

Almonte Locator Map

Lectures which we have already enjoyed in the MVFN 2010/11 Lecture Series: Biodiversity and Vital Connections for Fauna, Flora and People are as follows:

September 2010: “Our Human Need For Wild Nature and Conserving its Incredible Diversity” (Baylor Johnson, St. Lawrence University)

October 2010: “Talking Turkey — It’s Wild” (Cathy Keddy, Ecologist)

November 2010: “Labrador’s Mealy Mountains….Canada’s Next National Park?” (Doug Harvey, New Park Acquisitions, Parks Canada)

January 2011: “Lanark County’s Leaping Lizards” (Briar Howes, Species at Risk, Parks Canada)

February 2011: “Searching for Essential Elements: What Makes Charleston Lake, Bon Echo and Sandbanks Parks Special” (David Bree, Chief Park Naturalist, Presqu’ile)

March 2011: “Canada’s Five Cent Animal: Our Beaver, Past and Present” (Natalia Rybczynski, Canadian Museum of Nature)

• April 2011: “The Lay of the Water Over Mississippi Lands” (Patricia Larkin, Environmental Educator, Nature Works Learning)

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Fragile Inheritance-an interesting new biodiversity project

Fragile Inheritance is a project being conducted by a local group from Oxford Station, Ontario in celebration of International Year of Biodiversity in 2010, in partnership with the Canadian Museum of Nature. You can read more about this interesting project at  www.fragileinheritance.org.

Also of interest is Aleta Karstad’s painting a day blog  including one painting done on MVFN’s first ever bioblitz at the Bell Property in September, 2009 – at www.karstaddailypaintings.blogspot.com/2009/09/vernal-pool-resting.html#links    This painting of ferns in a vernal pool, done during the bioblitz, was apparently part of a pilot project to get ready for her ‘painting a day’ project which is ongoing (since March 2010) to help fund the ’30 Years Later Expedition’ for the International Year of Biodiversity.

Aleta Karstads work provides spectacular examples of documenting with words and illustrations in ‘nature notebooks’ what we see in nature.

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