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.

Schultz lecture Bennett

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

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.

Woodland Caribou-Tessier (1024x690)

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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