Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Turtles in a Perilous Time

Turtles in a Perilous Time
by Matt Ellerbeck

“Turtles have proved that they are one of time’s most successful survivors. They have been on this Earth for well over 200 million years. This means that they were here long before the mammals, before the birds, and even before the dinosaurs. They have managed to survive throughout the ages, while countless other species have disappeared around them. Today however, the turtle is living in a perilous time. Around 70% of the world’s turtle species are now listed on The World Conservation Union’s Redlist of threatened species. For some turtles it is already too late. Several turtle species have already gone extinct. Many more are being pushed to the brink of extinction . . .”


To read the entire article by Matt Ellerbeck please click here matt-ellerbeck-turtles1

NOTE: Matt Ellerbeck is a turtle advocate and conservationist based in Kingston, Ontario. His website on turtles is at


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MVFN’s recent lecture explored why turtles outlived the dinosaurs but are now in trouble in Ontario

David Seburn

Press Story
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
March 26, 2008
Submitted by Pauline Donaldson

MVFN’s recent lecture explored why turtles outlived the dinosaurs but are now in trouble in Ontario

Photo: David Seburn discusses local populations of Blanding’s turtles with a carapace after MVFN lecture. Photo by Howard Robinson

Ecological consultant David Seburn was guest speaker March 20th for the 6th lecture in Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) series “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges.” The lecture focused on Ontario’s turtles which Seburn describes as ‘endlessly fascinating’. As a species they have been around for so long they saw the dinosaurs go extinct! This is especially remarkable when one considers the relatively few species of turtles worldwide and only eight in Ontario.

The turtle’s shell, perhaps their best known and most unique feature, represents a serious biological limitation, Seburn explained. “They are enclosed in a little box so when they breathe they must compress their organs.” And when they need to pull in their head and limbs for defense, they have to hold their breath! Egg-laying is also a challenge. Not surprisingly the females tend to be larger than males to make room for eggs.

Seburn took the audience through the characteristics and distribution of Ontario’s eight turtle species and the conservation challenges they face. Interestingly, though loss and fragmentation of Ontario’s wetlands was one challenge highlighted, habitat protection did not dominate the discussion. Neither was the threat of global warming a major concern as we are at the northern limit for these reptiles’ successful egg hatching, so warmer temperatures could be beneficial. Why then, are six of Ontario’s eight turtles on the Canada’s ‘species at risk list’? As Seburn explained, Painted turtles and Snapping turtles are doing well. However the large Map turtle is of ‘special concern’ and the Spiny softshell, the Stinkpot, the Blanding’s and the Wood turtle are all considered ‘threatened’. The spotted turtle is in more serious trouble listed as ‘endangered’. It is rarely seen now.

Clues to the answer are the increasing adult mortality rate and the survival of eggs. Once turtles reach adulthood they can live a long time, and have the potential for a surprisingly long reproductive life combined with low rates of adult mortality. However, the natural success rate for eggs is so low that adult mortality must be kept at only 1-2% to maintain population stability. Unfortunately increasing adult mortality from road hazards has become a major problem when turtles travel on land to lay eggs or move to different food sources. The Blanding’s and Wood turtles are quite terrestrial and can travel 1-2 km to nest. Secondly, exacerbating a naturally low egg success rate is increasing predation from overpopulations of ‘subsidized’ predators such as raccoons in parks. Reaching more than 4 times regular rural numbers they can eat 100% of any turtle eggs in an area. Sadly sometimes the only warning sign a population is in trouble is it’s disappearance as all the adults eventually die off leaving no young.

Seburn made some suggestions to help conserve Ontario’s turtles. Short of closing down roads, municipalities can use drift fences or culverts to channel turtles across roads, and perhaps turtle crossing signs. Individuals can help turtles cross roads in the direction they were going (do not handle snapping turtles -lift them with a shovel). Large ‘ecopassages’ have been used in some places with great success in reducing mortality of a wide range of wildlife species. Recovery strategies for Ontario’s turtles also include research and population monitoring.

Info. from Seburn on identification and reporting turtle sightings has been posted on MVFN’s website (see Turtle Watch 2008 filed under Conservation). Turtle sightings can be reported locally to Mississippi Valley Conservation or to the Toronto Zoo Turtle Tally project by calling 416-392-5999.

‘Focus on Mammals’ by Glenn Desy (MNR) will be the last lecture in MVFN’s Conservation Challenges series, Thursday April 17th at 7:30 pm at the Almonte United Church Social Hall in Almonte. For more information, please contact Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or visit MVFN’s website at

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Friends of the Tay Watershed to host address by Jamie Fortune on Wetland Conservation

To Members and Friends of Friends of the Tay Watershed:

On Wednesday, February 13, the Friends of the Tay Watershed will host an address by Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) that we believe will be of considerable interest in our community.

DUC’s Regional Director for Ducks Unlimited, Jamie Fortune, will provide a presentation on that organization’s major wetland conservation program in this area – made possible in part through their large water-taking permits. In addition to being a leader in wetland preservation, DUC accounts for 98% of the water-taking permits in the Tay watershed alone.

This presentation is the second of our series, titled “Perspectives on Water”, organized to inform the community and promote discussion on selected issues concerning our water resources.

This session will take place at the Perth & District Collegiate Institute on Wednesday, February 13, at 7:30pm.

Further information on this event may be viewed at (or click on ‘Events’).

Thank you.

Friends of the Tay Watershed
P. O. Box 2065, 57 Foster St.
Perth, ON, K7H 3M9
(613) 264 0094

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Amazing Monarchs at MVFN

Jean Lauriault
Press Story
Amazing Monarchs at MVFN
January 24, 2008
by Sheila Edwards

A large crowd gathered January 17 for a Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) lecture on Monarchs presented by Jean Lauriault of the Canadian Museum of Nature. As one of Canada’s foremost Monarch experts and member of a tri-national committee for conservation of these animals, Lauriault knows Monarchs well. Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) have a very interesting life cycle, as short as 20 days, or 9 months long. During a hot summer the cycle is quick and thus more generations are born. From June to August, adults lay eggs on milkweed. In 3 to 15 days they hatch and there are 5 instars or molts of the caterpillar (larvae) taking up to 14 days, before the pupa or chrysalis (not cocoon) stage is reached. The adults emerge within 7-15 days and will live as little as 14 days or as long as 8-9 months for the late-season adults emerging in August. These are the adults which go into sexual diapause and begin the amazing migration south, remaining sterile until starting their return trip.

Monarch migration has always fascinated scientists, children, and nature lovers alike, but it wasn’t until 1975 that the site of their winter home in Mexico was discovered. As they leave Canada, Monarchs in Ontario gather at ‘staging’ areas to cross Lake Erie and Ontario. Then, covering distances of up to 100 km per day at heights of up to 1 km, they head to locations in southern US and remote areas in Mexico. Little is known about the stopover locations used during their trip, but upon arrival as many as 50 million butterflies may congregate within trees in a single hectare. They do not eat all winter but survive on stored Lipids. In March as the area gets drier, they mate and head north, with many stopping in Texas to lay their eggs and die, leaving the next generation to complete the return journey. Those arriving in Canada are the children of those that left in August.

It is hard enough to conserve a species that stays put, but conserving Monarchs, Lauriault noted, poses a ‘super challenge”, requiring the efforts of three countries. Concerns in Mexico include protecting the remote wooded area favoured by the Monarch, from illegal logging. When return migration commences clouds of butterflies fly low over the land and thousands/millions may be killed by vehicles. Important also are the stopover areas in the US, many not yet identified, where a generation may be raised in the spring, and where non-migrating Monarchs may also live.

What can we do here in Canada to conserve Monarchs? The staging areas in southern Ontario need continued protection. Secondly, Milkweed, the sole food of the caterpillar, is classified as a weed since it is toxic to cattle; action needs to be taken to remove this classification. A very aggressive invasive species that has gotten a strong foothold in Ontario is dog-strangling vine (Pale Swallowwort), also in the milkweed family. Adults can mistakenly lay their eggs on it, but the hatched caterpillars cannot eat this plants leaves. Dog-strangling vine should be eradicated whenever possible. Finally as Lauriault pointed out, the adult butterflies feed on nectar of various wild flowers and thus roadside flora need to be protected from mowing and herbicide application. On an up note, provide habitat by planting a butterfly garden, and enjoy!

To wrap up our evening, we presented Jean Lauriault with a Monarch T-shirt. He then drew a name for a second Monarch shirt, won by Teresa Peluso. Both shirts were donated by Neil Carleton, a local educator who often uses Monarchs for teaching biology and conservation in his classroom.

The next lecture in our series “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges” on Thursday, Feb 21st will be “Ontario’s Birds” presented by Cliff Bennett, an MVFN founding member and Ontario East Director for Ontario Nature. For more information please contact Program Chair Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or email . MVFNs Annual Winter Walk will take place February 17th. Learn about Winter Adaptations of Plants and Animals. For more information call Cliff Bennett at 613-256-5013 or refer to for information on either of these upcoming events.


1. Further information on butterflies can be found in The Butterflies of Canada by Layberry, Hall and Lafontaine, parts of which can be found on-line at

2. More information on dog-strangling vine may be found at, and

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Conservation Overview

Red Winged BlackbirdUpdate from Cliff Bennett, October 7, 2004

Dear MVFN members living in Mississippi Mills,

For almost three years now, I have participated on the steering committee for the creation of the Community Official Plan (COP) for the amalgamated town of Mississippi Mills. As a part of this process, I conducted a questionnaire at two regular MVFN meetings in the fall of 2001, asking what you felt the main issues were. Your answer was to

protect the natural environment,

protection of our groundwater and

protection of locally significant wetlands.

I have met with several groups of MVFN members and special advisors to flesh out wording on the above issues and have presented the results to the COP process. The first draft of the COP is now completed and is available for your perusal. You can get a copy from the municipal centre. Also, the local libraries have one and I think it is now on the town website ( Please get one, read it and pass me back your thoughts.

Meanwhile, here is my report on the draft and how successful I was in getting our issues recognized.

Coming up in October and November is a series of public input sessions on the new COP. You are most welcome to attend. The most important public input session for MVFN members is the one on Environment and Ground Water, Saturday, October 30, in the Old Almonte Town Hall. Mark it now on your calendar.

After the input sessions are completed, the committee will meet over Dec. Jan. to merge new ideas and corrections into the COP, leading to completion of the final draft which goes to Council for approval and then on to the Ontario Government for its input and approval. Please call me if you have any concerns or questions.

Protection of the Environment

I am pleased to report the Plan states wording for environmental protection in great abundance. The environment holds a whole section (3.1) of its own under Land Use Policies. Right in the first section, 1.1 of the Introduction under purpose of the Plan, words used are……..strengthen the environmental…………..fabric

and “The Plan presents a commitment to sustainable development and………..environmental protection

Entitled Environmental Land Use Policies (3.1), the Plan uses wording as follows “The protection of the environmental features, water resources and ecosystems………..are of central importance to the long term health and prosperity……..” “The challenge…………….is to act so that the integrity of the environment can be preserved………………..”

3.1.1, Goals and Objectives, states clearly “It is a goal of this plan to protect and enhance the quality of the environment and the long-term health of the ecosystem. All other goals should attempt to satisfy the environmental goal” In #10 of objectives, the Plan goes on to say “Establish clear policies……for situations ……..”which do not meet the environmental goals and actions of the Plan.”( I do wonder here whether the “clear policies” will be cast only to meet a way for developers to get around environmental goals of the Plan).

Concerns in this section:

1)The Plan uses many intangible words such as strengthen, commitment, protection, integrity, offer, etc. What do these words mean? How does the municipality measure these? Where are the rules governing the use of these words. The real proof of this and future Council commitment will be found in the Zoning By-Law which will accompany this Plan.

2)The Plan also uses many “weasel” words such as “attempt to”, which makes it too easy for a Council and/or a developer to find a way around environmental concerns.

Protection of our Groundwater

On this issue, we (MVFN) gained much success although several of our points were not included in the COP.

The Provincial Policy Statement  states:

2.4.1 The quality and quantity of ground water and surface water and the function of sensitive ground water recharge/discharge area, aquifers and headwaters will be protected or enhanced.

MVFN Recommendations (draft COP details in italics)

Identification and inventory

Identify and delineate size, quantity, quality and location of all aquifer systems including headwaters and sensitive ground water recharge/discharge areas within the boundaries of Mississippi Mills, as well as those shared with adjacent municipalities.The COP draft, under General Policies, 4.1, p.116, has a substantive paragraph on this matter to include all water resources in MM. It identifies three main approaches to Groundwater Protection; Identification and mapping; Watershed Planning and Site Specific Development Review Criteria. The exciting aspect of this policy is the treatment of the Policy as a Land Use issue. This brings the policy into an existing forum rather than creating a new one.

Conduct an inventory of all current users of groundwater and amounts used, related to each specific aquifer. Inventory shall be updated every five years.Although alluded to, the COP draft fails to mention the need for an inventory of all current major users of our ground water, related to specific aquifers nor does it mention any updating of such an inventory on a 5yr, basis.

Develop an agreed upon criteria for assessing sources of discharge/recharge areas on private property.Draft COP covers this adequately under 4.1.3, p.117 entitled Site Specific Development Criteria.

Protection and Management

New industrial, commercial and institutional development requiring use of ground water shall necessitate an environmental impact study (EIS).Accepted for over 50,000 litres per day.

Protect, through buffer zones, site plan controls and other control mechanisms, all groundwater ecosystems.Accepted

Conduct an assessment report on all potential and known threats affecting the health of groundwater, including cumulative impacts. This report shall be renewed every five years.This policy of MVFN’s was not included in the Draft. In earlier discussions, we felt strongly that it is very important.

Development activities and land uses which impact the land’s capacity to absorb rainwater into existing aquifer systems, shall be restricted.This policy was not included. In the Almonte Ward, storm water drainage policies in the new Draft, are necessary for there is not much room for absorption. However, on the fringes of the town, we are paving over the ground, preventing absorption into the aquifers.

Groundwater, as a renewable resource, must be managed sustainably. No extraction from an aquifer system shall be allowed which consumes groundwater at a greater rate than can be replenished by that system.This idea was not included in the draft COP. However, in 4.1.3 (i) p.118, any new development tapping into the aquifer, must demonstrate there is sufficient water for existing users. It does not have to demonstrate whether or not the system can adequately replenish itself. I would think it would be in a developer’s interests to ensure there was going to be enough water.

All development activities and land uses which may cause contamination of groundwater including recharge/discharge areas, shall be disallowed.In committee discussions, it was felt this was too strong a policy and that this issue is covered under the requirements for environmental impact studies.

No new extraction of groundwater activities shall be allowed unless applicant can prove such water taking will have no detrimental impact on existing uses.Covered above.

Private landowners impacted by enforcement of regulations concerning protection of groundwater and recharge/discharge areas shall be considered for compensation.This idea was not included. I will fight moreso, to get it included. The Plan rightly includes setbacks from sensitive areas. For instance, if a setback takes some agriculture land out of productions, the farmer should be compensated.

The municipality shall recognize and cooperate with landowners as stewards of their own environment.Well covered throughout the entire Draft COP

Locally Significant Wetlands

Recommendations from Preliminary Issues Report from MVFN.

This report was arrived at through a group meeting with representative from Ducks Unlimited, follow-up requests for comments from group members, Federation of Ontario Naturalists, Canadian Environmental Law Association, OMNR officials and members of MVFN plus research of relevant documents and publications.

Comments below are in italics.

Issue 3.1 statement 1

…………should we protect locally significant wetlands (LSW’s)?

1) It was a unanimous “yes”. MM should establish a policy of precaution-protection until adequate and informed data and science is available to better understand the function and value of wetlands locally and within a watershed context.

We were successful in including this protection in the Draft Plan. However, The Plan fails to take a precaution-protection approach and is only focussed on the present day situation.

2) The group felt we should make the first entry in the OP not too detailed but to build in triggers or flags that would show up in site-specific cases concerning LSW’ s.

A pro-active triggers and flags approach is not included in the Draft Plan.

3) Consultation, connectivity and education should be the main process used in protection of our wetlands.

No mention is made of this policy, especially education.

4) Locally Significant Wetlands (LSW’s) should be identified, through a classification process. The most significant ones should be on an initial list in the OP, with provision for additions at later dates though amendment to the OP.

Provision is made for this through MNR. However, there have been none done so far and cannot therefore be listed in The Plan. There is no mention of the establishment of an inventory of LSW’s in the Draft. Only that, when one is evaluated, it will be added to the Plan through an OP amendment. I will continue to press for a pre-assessment inventory.

5) Most locally significant wetlands (4-7) have already been identified by MNR. These should be our initial list entered in the OP.


6) Stewardship Council, field naturalists, Ducks Unlimited, local Fish and Game Clubs, landowners and EAC should be involved in the education process.

This should be stated in a LSW education policy.

7) A buffer zone should be mentioned but not defined except in definition section. Buffer requirements should be site specific as each case arises.

This amount of flexibility is not included in the Plan. Only a 30m setback unless this is not practicable.

8 ) At least initially, only permanent LSWs should be considered for listing.

This distinction is not mentioned.

9) Strong recognition of land owners as stewards should be registered in the OP.

Done, many times.

10) References must be made to other relevant Acts i.e.: Drainage, Riparian Rights etc.

Some are, in some places.

11) We should steer clear of the beavers issue and also temporary wetlands.


12) Paramount is recognition of importance of all wetlands in their role of protecting and enhancing the ground water.

Well stated in general policies.

13) Private landowners impacted by enforcement of regulations concerning LSWs should be considered for compensation where applicable

Not mentioned. I shall continue to press for this, especially where a setback takes land out of production.

14) As the natural heritage policy, as set forth in the PPS, allows for varying degrees of protection at the municipal level, MM should take a progressive approach and strive for the Pathfinder Policies level.

Was agreed upon in discussions but is not mentioned in this Draft.

15) As MM is divided almost in half between the Canadian Shield and St.Lawrence/Great Lakes Lowland significant areas, it is the recommendation of this report that the PPS concerning Canadian Shield wetlands be adopted for all of MM.

The Plan arbitrarily states protection will be the non-shield policies, and only in relation to PSW’s. I don’t think the Province will let us get away with that one. As you can see, we recommended Shield protection for all LSW’s.

16) Issues involving LSWs should be discussed with land owner groups on a continuing basis.

Should be included in an education policy section but isn’t.

17) MM must strive for broad public support on wetland policies implementation

Again, part of an education policy, which isn’t there.

General concerns

In general, The Plan seems to only protect and enhance the environmental values of locally significant wetlands in relation to development (, p.24). How do these wetlands get protected when development is not going on. For example, regular maintenance of roads, private dumping of garbage in the wrong place, spraying chemicals on the land etc.

Another example of this is in where the Draft suggests preserving vegetation along waterways and roadways on in connection to development. There are many other concerns about carss zones along watercourses besides development.


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