Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

2013-14 Natural History Lecture Series

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The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ natural history lecture series provides an excellent opportunity to learn about the natural world of our local Mississippi Valley watershed.

You do not need to be an expert to enjoy these lectures, just a curiosity and fascination for the natural world. Lectures are held on the third Thursday of January-April and September-November at the Almonte United Church Social Hall at 106 Elgin St. in Almonte, Ontario. An 8th lecture presentation also takes place on the third Thursday of May (at the Almonte Civitan Hall or as announced) as part of our annual “Spring Gathering” event.

Details of upcoming lectures will be posted under upcoming events, and will be posted on our new calendar once the new website theme is launched.

The theme for this years’ 2013-2014 lecture series is “Knowing and Caring Connect us with Nature”

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When is a Raven not a Raven? Learn from Field Naturalists’ next lecture

When is a Raven not a Raven? Learn from Field Naturalists’ next lecture

By Cathy Keddy

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) 2013-2014 public lecture series, Knowing and Caring Connect Us with Nature, continues April 17 with its final presentation, “When is a Raven not a Raven?”. Anyone who possesses a curiosity or appreciation for wild nature will enjoy these lectures. Parents, teachers, cottagers, hunters, fishermen, canoeists, hikers, campers, artists, and seasoned field naturalists alike will find something to interest them as we explore Lanark County’s natural heritage and how best to protect it for future generations. Refreshments are offered at each lecture.

The speaker at MVFN’s next meeting will be Dr. Jeff Skevington, a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and an adjunct professor at both Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. Jeff is a taxonomist—someone who describes and classifies new species. Taxonomists classify and organize species in an orderly way which helps us to understand how they are related to one another. They also inform us about the key features of each species that help us identify them.

araripe Manakin photo Knudsen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Araripe Manakin—a spectacular new bird species discovered in NE Brazil and described in 1998. We have described 1.2 million species of living things, but millions more await discovery and description, many even in our back yards (photo courtesy Ketil Knudsen)

Jeff will take us into his world to explore just what is involved with discovering and describing new species. From field work to microscopes to DNA sequencing, the study of taxonomy (the science of naming organisms) and its related discipline, phylogenetics (the science of reconstructing the events that have led to the distribution and diversity of species), have changed a lot since the days of Darwin or Linnaeus. Despite hundreds of years of history, there remains a lot to be discovered and sorted out.

Did you know that over 1500 species of new birds have been added to the world list in just the last 20 years. That is not all. The number of discoveries in other groups such as insects is several orders of magnitude larger!

Consider the local scale—our own gardens or acreage. Believe it or not, even here there are still new species to discover. All observers of nature are well-positioned to contribute as citizen-scientists to the study of systematics (the general science of working out the relationships among organisms).

Find out how you can get involved and perhaps even name a species yourself, or better yet, have one named after you! Come to MVFN’s next lecture, “When is a Raven not a Raven?”, where Dr. Skevington will divulge this secret, Thursday April 17, 7:30pm at 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.

 

 

 

 

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Connecting Children to Nature—Topic of Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ Next Lecture

Press Release

March 7, 2014

Connecting Children to Nature—Topic of Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ Next Lecture

By Cathy Keddy

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) 2013-2014 public lecture series, Knowing and Caring Connect Us to Nature, continues March 20 with its 6th presentation, “Connecting Children to Nature: Urgency and Value.” Anyone who possesses a curiosity or appreciation for wild nature will enjoy these lectures. Parents, teachers, cottagers, hunters, fishermen, canoeists, hikers, campers, artists, and seasoned field naturalists alike will find something to interest them as we explore Lanark County’s natural heritage and how best to protect it for future generations. Refreshments are offered at each lecture.

Shawna Babcock of KidActive, a Renfrew-based non-profit organization, will present this lecture. KidAcitve encourages kids, teachers and parents to get outside more in our local, natural spaces to enhance learning opportunities and build physical activities and fun into children’s daily routines. Connecting children and their families with the outdoors fosters a positive relationship with the natural world and is a critical link for the sustainability of our environment and our society. See http://kidactive.ca/ for more background.

Every child needs access to natural spaces for their health, well-being, and success. Ontario Nature, a provincial natural heritage conservation organization, says that “health practitioners have long known that outdoor, nature-focused play and exploration are integral to the healthy development of any child. But a growing disconnect between young people and nature has hurt children’s collective health and well-being, contributing to increased rates of obesity. The disconnect has also decreased kids’ attention spans and mechanisms for coping with stress.” Under the leadership of the Back to Nature Network and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, a coalition of concerned organizations including Ontario Nature developed the recently-launched Ontario Children’s Outdoor Charter.

This Charter is aimed at reversing these alarming trends by getting children away from electronics and into nature. It encourages and enables children of all ages to explore their natural world. All young people have the right to discover nature and play outdoors, whether swimming in a lake, building an outdoor fort or hiking in a local park. Participating in nature-based activities not only improves the long-term health and well-being of young people, but also helps to instil a lifelong appreciation of nature. People who learn to love nature as children are more apt to help protect it later in life.

Opportunities for children to become acquainted with and develop a love for nature and natural areas are provided in our neighbourhood. For example, MVFN has a Young Naturalists program of indoor and outdoor adventures for kids ages 7-12 (http://mvfn.ca/?cat=614). The Macnamara Field Naturalists (Arnprior) also has a program for young naturalists (contact Alicia Salyi at ). Ontario Nature too has a program—Nature Guardians (different events geared for ages 5-18; http://www.ontarionature.org/connect/nature_guardians/index.php). In addition to these programs, there are some excellent online resources (check out http://www.incredibleworld.ca and http://onnaturemagazine.com/nature-notes).

Parents, teachers, community leaders and our youth…how can you afford to miss Shawna Babcock’s presentation, “Connecting Children to Nature: Urgency and Value,” at MVFN’s next meeting, Thursday March 20, 7:30pm at 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.

 

 

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Enjoy Field Naturalists’ Wet and Wild!

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

February 6, 2014

 Enjoy Field Naturalists’ Wet and Wild!

By Cathy Keddy

Watch Dr. Keddy’s MVFN “Wet and Wild” Presentation here on video

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) 2013-2014 public lecture series, Knowing and Caring Connect Us to Nature, continues February 20 with its 5th presentation, “Wet and Wild!” Anyone who possesses a curiosity or appreciation for wild nature will enjoy these lectures. Cottagers, hunters, fishermen, canoeists, hikers, campers, artists and seasoned field naturalists alike will find something to interest them as we explore what lives in Lanark County and how best to protect it for future generations. Refreshments are offered at each lecture.

Keddy photo a-f

Many wetland species, such as the ones in the photos above, are dependent upon annual flood pulses: (a) white ibis (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), (b) Mississippi gopher frog (M. Redmer), (c) dragonfly (C. Rubec), (d) tambaqui (M. Goulding), (e) furbish lousewort (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and (f ) Plymouth gentian (Paul Keddy).

At this upcoming meeting we will take a look on the wet side of Lanark County. Dr. Paul Keddy, a professor of ecology for over 30 years and author of Earth, Water, Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County, will give a presentation on wetland communities—the places you have to wear big boots. He has studied wetlands, forests and other upland communities of the Ottawa Valley, the Maritimes, and the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. Keddy has authored several prize-winning books on ecology and received a National Wetlands Award for Science Research. He has advised groups including The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and Earthjustice.

All life contains water. From distant space, Earth appears as a mosaic of blue and green, blue for water, green for plants. This talk will be about the connections between green and blue—wetlands. The surrounding uplands interact with the low wetlands. For example, amphibians, such as tree frogs, over-winter in the forest, while nutrients and runoff from the forest enter the wetland.

Wetlands have always influenced us. Early civilizations first arose along the edges of rivers in the fertile soils of floodplains. Wetlands continue to produce many benefits for humans—along with fertile soils for agriculture, they provide food including fish and waterbirds. Additionally, wetlands have other vital roles that are less obvious. They produce oxygen, store carbon, and process nitrogen. Of course, wetlands have also been a cause of human suffering, such as providing habitat for mosquitoes that carry malaria. And, for thousands of years, human cities in low areas have flooded during periods of high water. Philosophers and theologians may enquire how it is that one system can be both life-giving and death-dealing.

This promises to be an entertaining night—fish that breathe air and eat fruit, mosses that drown trees, plants that eat insects, and frogs that climb trees. We will also be introduced to the world’s largest wetlands, wetlands that perch on hillsides, wetlands that burn, and of course, wetlands that flood. Our neighbourhood wetlands and what we can do to conserve them will also be featured. Wetlands are one of the most productive habitats on Earth, and they support many kinds of life.

Signed copies of Dr. Keddy’s book on Lanark County’s natural heritage will be available for purchase at the meeting.

Hear about wet and go wild, at MVFN’s next lecture, “Wet and Wild,” where Dr. Keddy will describe the wonders of wetlands on Thursday, February 20, 7:30pm at 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.

 

 

 

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Natural Landscape Design Presentation

Are we doing enough to protect natural areas and wildlife that lives there?

By Tineke Kuiper

Many communities in Ontario, Canada, and around the world have realized that it is important to protect large natural areas across their landscape, for the long term, with some having had the foresight to start doing this a long time ago. Increased growth should ideally take place outside important core natural areas.

In Ontario, the first step toward the protection of such core natural areas considers key natural features such as provincially significant wetlands, significant woodlands, and areas of natural scientific interest that are identified by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR). Data on these features form the basis for making decisions about which are the core areas that should be protected. The next step ensures that important core natural areas are connected to each other through natural linkages, resulting in a Natural Heritage System (NHS) which benefits both nature and us. This is of great interest not only to naturalists, but also to anyone who enjoys the outdoors or who owns property that may include natural features such as wetlands and woodlands.

Perhaps it is time to consider an NHS for Mississippi Mills. To find out what our neighbour, the City of Ottawa, is doing in this regard, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists invited Dr. Nick Stow, ecologist and for the last five years senior planner for land use and natural systems at the City of Ottawa, to speak at their last lecture for 2013. He chose the title ‘Natural Landscape Design: the Art of the Possible,’ which perhaps reflects on the fact that for progress to be made one needs to be optimistic and there needs to be a good dose of political will. Dr. Stow did not disappoint us, as he gave a well structured overview to an audience of at least 60 people. Using many maps, he showed how Ottawa and its partner, the National Capital Commission, have protected important natural core areas.

Using Google Earth, Dr. Stow showed the overall Ottawa landscape, where we can see two interrelated domains. In some areas, human-dominated towns and villages stand out, with their associated agricultural areas and connecting roads. In predominantly rural areas, we can see tracts of forests and wetlands, which are the domain of wildlife. These natural areas provide many ecological benefits that humans depend on, such as clean water and oxygen. When they become more diverse, as a result of protection, these ecosystems are more stable, resilient, and provide a greater range of benefits. These areas are also of intrinsic and psychological value to us.

When we apply basic conservation principles across the landscape, we see that context is important, such as geological history and the continuum of human impacts. Scale is also critical in considering types of biodiversity and for coarse-or fine filter planning. In addition, island biogeography, landscape fragmentation, and connectivity need to be considered. For all of these reasons, decisions about developing an NHS are best made at the local level.

Overall, Ottawa is about 1/3 urban, 1/3 agriculture, and 1/3 natural area. There is about 30 per cent forest cover, eight per cent of which is interior forest (over 100 metres from the forest edge). Deep interior forest (even farther from the edge) is most important for the protection of rare species and their habitat. Because of extensive forest fragmentation, such areas are rare near towns. There is about 20 per cent wetland cover, some of which overlaps with the forest cover.

Across the landscape, Ottawa uses four Natural Heritage Designations, said Dr. Stow. The first is natural environmental areas, which are core rural natural landscapes. These are probably the most important reserve areas, and they usually include several key natural features. Examples include the Morris Island Conservation Area, the Burnt Lands Alvar (shared with Mississippi Mills), the Carp Ridge (very similar to our Wolf Grove and Pakenham wetland complexes), the South March Highlands, and the Richmond Fen. Some areas, such as Stoney Swamp and Mer Bleue are part of the Greenbelt Master Plan. Restricted uses apply to these natural environmental areas and development is limited to a single dwelling on an existing lot with road frontage. The second designation is provincially significant wetlands. The third is other rural natural features consisting mainly of woodlands. The last is urban natural features, which are core urban natural areas where no development or site alteration is allowed, and for which priorities for acquisition are subject to budget. The compilation of the various rural land uses becomes part of Schedule A of the Official Plan (OP) and forms the basis for the zoning bylaw, which governs every square foot of the city.

He explained that planning for the protection of natural areas involves several pieces of legislation. The overall vision for Ontario’s Land Use Planning System is provided by the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) under the Planning Act. This indicates, under section 2.1.2, the need to develop and maintain natural heritage systems that include linkages between natural areas. In the next few clauses, it also identifies the restrictions on development and site alteration in the various natural features and their adjacent lands.

As municipalities develop their OPs, their policies (Ottawa’s Natural Heritage policies are shown in their OP under 2.4.2) must be consistent with the PPS, or as dictated by the local situation and vision, and they can be better than these minimum requirements, which Ottawa has done in several cases. The Natural Heritage Manual of OMNR provides further detailed guidance on developing an NHS and on the interpretation of the PPS.

Dr. Stow indicated that the National Capital Commission is a major partner with Ottawa and has been responsible for the development of the Greenbelt Master Plan. In addition, the Nature Conservancy of Canada has partnered with Ottawa and has developed an Ottawa Valley Conservation Plan for the prioritization of lands to consider for conservation and protection. Of interest to us is that part of Mississippi Mills (south of the Pakenham wetland complex) is included in their plan, with several high priority areas indicated in our area, as well as in Ottawa west and Beckwith Township.

As a result of a court challenge by the Greenspace Alliance at the Ontario Municipal Board, the City of Ottawa was recently forced to move from a ‘features’ approach that considered only core natural areas to a ‘systems’ approach, said Dr. Stow. The PPS requires core natural areas to be connected through linkages, in order to integrate them into a fully functioning NHS. Together with their partners, or alone, it has been agreed that Ottawa will identify and map by 2014 existing and conceptual natural heritage linkages at a city-wide scale, including consideration of regional linkages outside the city boundaries.

He showed the various approaches that the city has used to determine the most appropriate locations for these one kilometre-wide linkages, based on a computerized assessment of resistance to movement cost for species across the landscape. Resistance varied from one for woodlands and wetlands, to 20 for lakes and rivers, and 80 to 100 for transportation roads and impervious settled areas.

He ended his talk by presenting a conceptual and integrated framework for stewardship. Part of this showed the need for a special stewardship fund targeted for the protection of sensitive lands, primarily in the rural areas. Such a fund could be used to support stewardship of rural land, for the purchase of conservation easements and, if needed, for the acquisition of critical properties. His last slide showed an example of the problems that can occur when there is no plan in place. As a result of poor development choices southeast of the Carp Ridge, important habitat was lost and a population of Blanding’s turtles became isolated and threatened in the South March Highlands. Both areas involved are natural environmental areas, but a way of reconnecting them is needed. This shows that a good dose of political will is needed when decisions that are important in the long term may, for some, be less popular in the short term.

He cited examples of decisions that have long-term benefits that Ottawa would like to implement: a ban on country lot subdivisions, the adoption of a site alteration bylaw, the implementation of natural linkages, a mineral aggregate resource review, and the acceptance of the overall framework.

 

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