Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

2010 MVFN Spring Gathering – Adirondacks Come to Lanark County

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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Our lecture series Algonquin to Adirondacks: Big Picture Conservation series summary

Algonquin to Adirondacks: Big Picture Conservation

summary of series prepared by Pauline Donaldson for 2010 Whip-poor-will newsletter 

Our monthly lecture series is an important part of MVFN programming and for our audiences. This years series Algonquin to Adirondacks: Big Picture Conservation is now drawing to a close but has been quite a journey. Our speakers have addressed different aspects of ‘Big Picture Conservation’ from the concepts of conservation corridors, to large-scale biosphere reserves, to our own interaction with the landscape through time, and species which can act as sentinels for entire ecosystems.

The Algonquin to Adirondack (A2A) area is a natural corridor on Canadian Shield stretching 300 km from Algonquin Park to Adirondack State Park in New York. The vision of the A2A conservation connection requires us to consider protecting biodiversity and ecosystems on a broader scale than we were accustomed to thinking about. In our first lecture Emily Conger, President of the Adirondack to Algonquin Conservation Association (A2A) gave an introduction our lecture series. Conger explained that there is still much conservation potential in the corridor; with much poor agricultural land being abandoned, pioneer species are now returning in places. There is evidence species do move along the A2A corridor, the most famous being Alice the Moose. However there are challenges such the impacts of human activities in the busy St. Lawrence River area (the hardened shorelines of Howe Island being an example). Also, the fact that presently there are no parks in North America that are really large enough to be self-sufficient.

In our October lecture we enjoyed a virtual visit to Algonquin Park, at one end of the A2A conservation corridor. Senior Park Naturalist Justin Peters began with a thorough historical overview of the Park. Limitations to it’s conservation potential are clear. For example, there are only 50 years left for the Big Crow White Pine area because it needs natural fire to allow pines to grow. Secondly, he pointed out the park still supplies 45% of wood harvested in Central/Eastern Ontario. Is there the political will to reduce this? As for insights into the importance connectivity to conservation areas such as A2A for wildlife in Algonquin, Peters said it depends on the species. Grizzlies will wander off, while wolverines need almost as much space but will not cross roads. On the other hand, some black bear populations in the Bruce Penninsula have become isolated in pockets that are likely not large enough to sustain them. The Kirklands Warbler, which was extinct in the park has now been heard at the Petawawa base near the park, which he says is hopeful because there is potential Jack Pines habitat in the park which can be enhanced to bring this species back to the park. Interestingly, fishers, once eliminated in Eastern Ontario from all but Algonquin, are now returning, but genetic studies show they are mostly coming from Bancroft, Gatineau and the Adirondacks with very little input from Algnoquin.

The third lecture given by Don Ross of the 10000 Islands-Frontenac Arch UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserve (FABR) put into perspective the importance of this ecological region stretching from the St. Larwence River north to the southern tip of Lanark County. It is at the crossroads of the ancient granite north-south Frontenac Axis A2A link and the east-west Great Lakes Basin to Atlantic Ocean migration link. It has many microclimates and the greatest diversity of life in Eastern Ontario. FABR is a unique not-for-profit group partnering with a many other groups on a wide range of projects linking community values to conservation efforts. One example is interactive website developed for the public to record, map and photograph valuable natural features. The map includes part of Lanark County.

With our fourth lecture by historian Dr. Brian Osborne, our big picture expanded infinitely to encompass conservation issues through time and we were challenged to understand not only natural landscapes but proscapes and inscapes. In Shifting Perceptions of Nature -Dr. Brian Osbourne likened the natural landscape to a palimpsest or a document with multiple layers written over top with earlier layers still visible in some places. There were limitations the harsh natural landscape imposed on early settlers and in turn the impact of human activity is written on the landscape we see today. Inscapes are mental constructions of reality, e.g. in a well-known early painting of the Saguenay area the artist was able to articulate how people first saw their own country. Proscapes are what the future landscape is turning into and will be influenced by the workings of nostalgia, myth, fantasy, and local identity. Nature was ‘a home’ – to first peoples, but became at various times ‘a wilderness to be conquered’, ‘an icon’, ‘a commodity’, and ‘a resource’. In developing new pillars of sustainability he suggested that authenticity and complementarity to farming will be key. Growth should be not quantitative but smart and creative.

WIth our fifth lecture we took a break from the main concept with the wonderful presentation “Bioblitz Secrets of the Bell Bushlot Preserve’ by our own Tineke Kuiper, Tally Master of our successful MVFN Bioblitz 2009. An appropriate lecture as we held our first ever bioblitz and a relevant prelude to 2010 an International Year of Biodiversity.

Lectures 6 and 7 looked at indicator species and species at risk. In his presentation A Stitch in Time: Monitoring Indicator Species to Diagnose Ecosystem Vitality, Bill Crins explained that indicator species may not always be the ones you expect. No single indicator species is adequate. It depends on the habitat and the ecosystem. They need to be not too common and not too rare. Ideally they are things that don’t move (not large animals like Moose) and are habitat specialists. A good indicator is also easy to detect and measure, well known in terms of life history and ecological requirements, and it is helpful if it is colorful, big, charismatic or unusual in some way. Indicators are needed on a coarse and fine scale. Examples of good indicator species on a coarse scale could be eastern wolf and beaver, on a medium scale, lake sturgeon, ovenbird, whip-poor-will etc. and on a fine scale the walking plant, fen plants, pollinating insects. Other examples given were species which are good indicators in particular ecosystems e.g. for riparian corridors – ebony jewel wing, a damsel fly, for bedrock on soil – the walking fern, for a mature forest -lichens on mature wood, Lungwort for old growth forest, tawny cotton grass for fens vs. a different cotton grass for cedar swamps.

In Paula Norlock’s lecture Bringing Species back from the Brink: Some Good News, the good news is that the status of species such as peregrine falcons has improved. The other good news is that about 80 recovery teams are reviewing biology, habitat requirements and threats to improve the status of many species at risk in Ontario.

The other end of the A2A conservation connection is the Adirondacks, the largest protected space in all of North America. This area has surprising similarities to Lanark County as Cathy Keddy outlines in our front page story about our Spring Gathering 2010. The Adirondacks will be the topic of our final bonus lecture which will be presented by our keynote speaker Dr. Jerry Jenkins of the Wildlife Conservation Society, NY during our Spring Gathering event, 2010 May 20, 2010 in Carleton Place.


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A Stitch in Time: Monitoring Indicator Species to Diagnose Ecosystem Vitality

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

by Pauline Donaldson

A stitch in time: Monitoring indicator species, such as the Whip-poor-will, to diagnose ecosystem vitality

With spring just around the corner, I wonder how many of us will be startled again by the sudden haunting cry of the Whip-poor-will on a warm evening. As the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) Big Picture Conservation lecture series continues, the focus will be on indicator species—birds including the Whip-poor-will, and other diverse species—whose health is a touchstone for the health of entire communities of living things. For this lecture MVFN is pleased to welcome back Dr. William Crins, Senior Conservation Ecologist with the Parks & Protected Areas Policy Branch at OMNR, Peterborough. In 2006 Crins made a tremendous impression on MVFN members who continue to be inspired by his closing slide listing the “7 Things We Can Do” (for the natural world).

Bill Crins has devoted his career to the study of living things, specializing in the evolution and ecology of important grasses and sedges. In the early 70’s Dr. Crins worked as interpretive naturalist at Algonquin Park and later conducted biological inventories and assessments to develop the park’s Nature Reserve Zone system. As Senior Conservation Ecologist, he now applies his knowledge of conservation and biodiversity to projects such as Ontario’s Ecological Land Classification system, the development of old growth forest policy, and the inventory of Ontario’s habitat resources including Species at Risk habitat mapping guidelines.

What can we learn about entire ecosystems just by looking at select individual species? Interestingly, the answer is quite a lot, but the reasons are as complex as the physiology and lifecycles of the species themselves. For example, species such as frogs might be considered ‘indicator’ species because they are particularly sensitive to the quality of the water they are in, absorbing oxygen and pollutants through their skin. So monitoring their health provides us with an indication of the health of the entire aquatic ecosystem and this allows us to identify and solve problems before they become more serious. Also, certain ‘keystone’ species may be useful as indicator species because they play a pivotal role in the functioning of entire ecosystems—their absence would have major impacts on a broad range of species. The beaver is an example of a keystone species as is sugar maple. Species with special habitat requirements may also be good indicators of an ecosystem’s condition. Birds are particularly noted as indicators of overall environmental health. Aerial insect foragers, such as the Whip-poor-will, are in serious trouble in some areas.

Dr. Crins will explore what determines ecosystem vitality and how indicator species are used. Ideally a suite of indicator species would include species from different organism groups and could be used to measure vitality at different scales such as a woodlot, Algonquin Park, the Algonquin to Adirondack corridor, or even the entire deciduous forest region of North America. Examples of potentially good indicator species (e.g. Whip-poor-will, Lake Sturgeon) or guilds of species (e.g. pollinators) for eastern Ontario, i.e. that are easy to survey, are not too common or too rare, and which have particular life history features, will be presented.

To learn more about indicator species, what they reveal about the health of our ecosystems, and what we can do, attend MVFN’s March lecture. Dr. Crins’ presentation, “A Stitch in Time: Monitoring Indicator Species to Diagnose Ecosystem Vitality” will take place Thursday March 18, at 7:30 p.m., Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. For further details, please contact Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089, or visit

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Shifting Perceptions of Nature: The Two-way Mirror of Landscapes, Inscapes, and Proscapes


Alvar walk 2009

Press Release

Submitted by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

January 8, 2010

Reflections between local history and the natural landscape with Queen’s University Geographer/Historian

For the next lecture in the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) “Big Picture Conservation” series, guest speaker Dr. Brian Osborne takes us back to a time when people first began to put down roots in our region. A specialist in unfolding the fascinating history of Eastern Ontario, Dr. Osborne will hold up a two-way mirror to shed light on the interaction between the natural environment and human history. Professor Emeritus of Geography at Queen’s University, Osborne is also past-president of the Ontario Historical Society and the Kingston Historical Society, and advises agencies such as Parks Canada, the National Capital Commission, and the National Film Board.

Our natural environment is a template guiding local human history, from the paths taken by our ancestors in exploration, settlement and stewardship to the marks made on the urban and rural landscape by present day activities. The nature of past and present human activities reflects both the opportunities and harshness presented by the local natural environment, and, in turn, the state of our natural environment mirrors our activities. The rugged, billion-year-old bedrock of the Canadian Shield with its great forests and legacy of ancient glacial lakes, a diverse landscape crisscrossed by rivers and a mosaic of wetlands and uplands-our lives today are intimately connected to our natural heritage. To what extent is our history reflected in the landscape we view today?

To understand and appreciate the intimate relationship between our own lives and the diversity of the natural landscape, attend Professor Osborne’s presentation “Shifting Perceptions of Nature: The Two-way Mirror of Landscapes, Inscapes, and Proscapes” at MVFN’s next lecture, Thursday, January 21, 7:30 p.m., Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome with a $5 fee for non-MVFN members. For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089 or see MVFN’s website at

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The Biosphere Reserve Between Algonquin and the Adirondacks


Press Release

November 6, 2009

Big Picture Conservation from the perspective of the nearby 1000 Islands-Frontenac Arch UNESCO Designated Biosphere Reserve at next MVFN lecture

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) lecture series “Algonquin to Adirondacks (A2A): Big Picture Conservation” continues Thursday, November 19 with a lecture about the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve located south-west of us. The central theme of the A2A lecture series has been shifting our thinking about biodiversity protection to a broader, ‘bigger picture’ scale than we are accustomed to. During our October lecture we learned about Algonquin Park, the northern anchor of the A2A conservation corridor, from Park Naturalist Justin Peter. This month we are pleased to welcome Don Ross, Executive Director of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve (FABR) for a presentation on this special region located between Algonquin and the Adirondacks.

We are fortunate to live close to a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve such as the !000 Islands-Frontenac Arch, which is one of only fifteen biosphere reserves found in all of Canada (worldwide 553 biosphere reserves are found across 107 countries). The 2,700 square km of the Frontenac Arch biosphere reserve stretches from the St. Lawrence River north to the southern tip of Lanark County and includes over 70 of the 300 km of the Algonquin to Adirondacks conservation corridor. Here one finds the intersection of the broad and ancient Frontenac axis (the granite ridge and important wildlife corridor joining the northern Canadian Shield regions to the Adirondack Mountains) and the St. Lawrence Valley. At this significant crossroads of two significant migration routes for plants and animals, one finds the greatest diversity of living things in Eastern Canada!

The Frontanac Arch Biosphere Reserve organization is designed to meet one of the most challenging issues we face today: preservation of the diversity of plants, animals and micro-organisms in our living “biosphere” through maintenance of healthy natural systems, while, at the same time, meeting the material needs and aspirations of an increasing number of people. How can we reconcile conservation of natural resources with their sustainable use? Biosphere reserves were designed as tools to help reconcile and integrate conflicting interests and pressures that characterize land-use planning today.

How is the FABR fulfilling its goal to facilitate co-operative action toward a more sustainable way of life? Initiatives have included the development of self-guided canoe and kayak routes through the historic 1000 Islands, the Local Flavours Project, and the waterfront living and healthy shorelines program. Most recently, a project was initiated to develop key indicators of economic, environmental, social and cultural health in the biosphere region for use in monitoring the state-of-the-biosphere. Don Ross, Executive Director of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve, will tell us all about how this biosphere reserve works in his presentation “The Biosphere Reserve Between Algonquin and the Adirondacks.” What might we learn that we could apply to life in Lanark County? Find out at this MVFN lecture, 7:30 pm Thursday November 19 at the Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089.

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