Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Ontario Nature “Along the Snake Fence Way”

By Gretta Bradley

“Along the Snake Fence Way”, is not high art. It probably falls into the category of young adult literature really. It doesn’t require much of the reader. But the author, Vicki Branden’s use of a snake is intentional. If she had substituted cute baby pandas, our horror would have been absolute and it would have been a very different story. Not only would the story have veered into the ridiculous, but the author would have lost an opportunity to ask us to think about our relationship with the natural world. A boy in the story sits down by the fence to watch a snake basking on a rock in the weak spring sunshine admiring its beautiful markings and iridescent sheen.  As if a switch has been flipped, the boy is jarred out of his reverie with the arrival of older boys, rocks in hand, intent on “snake bashing.”  Now in dangerous social territory, the boy chooses to take a stand for the snake, and suffers for it at the hands of his bigger counterparts. Standing up for creatures that others deem as not worthy of concern is not for the faint of heart.

Dr. Anne Bell, Director of Conservation and Education for Ontario Nature, and guest speaker at the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist lecture series; “Naturally Special Places” spoke this evening on the topic “On Guard for Nature- Ontario Nature’s Fight to Uphold our Endangered Species Act”. Ontario Nature’s stated mission is “to protect wild species and wild spaces”.  Constant vigilance of the Province’s efforts to implement the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has occupied a significant part of the organization’s resources. Dr. Bell warned that, unfortunately, according to the 2015 report on Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy, progress to date is not encouraging.  There has been no improvement for more than 2/3rds of Ontario’s species at risk. Forest and wetlands along with 22% of Ontario’s species at risk are in decline and some of our rare ecosystems are without protection.

Dr. Bell pointed to poor implementation of the ESA as a contributing factor. The government ministry responsible for the ESA, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), has been cited in a recent report released by Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner (ECO), as just “going through the motions”.  The ECO called for meaningful enforcement of the ESA for the protection of our most vulnerable species.

Before launching into the main topic of her talk, Dr. Bell wanted us to know that going to court is a last resort for Ontario Nature. Typically, they fulfill their mission through conservation, education and public engagement. They own and manage 24 nature reserves. They promote citizen science by engaging hundreds of volunteers to gather information on Ontario species. They work with farmers, aggregate producers, and forestry companies etc. to promote sustainable business practices. Ontario Nature also engages youth through their Youth Summit for Biodiversity.

Dr. Bell pointed out that it is their role as environmental watchdog, promoting the creation of strong laws, policies and regulations, which sometimes takes Ontario Nature into the courtroom. In 2007, the Ontario government passed what would be the gold standard of legislation for the protection of endangered species, the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, in 2012, the government brought forward an omnibus budget bill that contained amendments that would significantly weaken the ESA. Mobilizing their Nature Network members and many other environmental groups resulted in the government deciding to remove the amendments from the 2012 budget bill.

The victory was short lived as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry circumvented the process that required the approval of the Ontario Legislature by putting forward a regulation under the ESA requiring Cabinet approval only.  The regulation hobbles the effectiveness and contradicts the very intent of a law passed by our elected representatives. Harmful industrial activities have exemptions from its provisions in the forestry, early mining exploration, aggregates, hydro, wind facilities, drainage works, infrastructure, and residential and commercial development sectors. Additionally, it sets a lower standard of protection and drastically reduces government oversight of activities harmful to vulnerable species.

Unwilling to stand on the sidelines, Ontario Nature, with CPAWS-Wildlands League, found themselves in court. The outcome they sought was to have the regulation deemed illegal and of no force and effect.  Ontario Nature’s lawyers would argue that a regulation couldn’t be inconsistent with the object and purpose of its enabling statute. The intent of the ESA is to protect and recover species at risk. The intent of the exemption regulation according to the MNRF appears to be increasing administrative efficiency and reducing burdens on businesses engaged in activities that might harm species at risk and their habitats.  Additionally, Ontario Nature argued that the Minister failed to fulfil a legal requirement to determine whether the regulation would have a significant adverse effect on each the 155 species that would be impacted by the regulation before recommending it to Cabinet.  In the end, the court agreed with the government’s arguments that the Minister did not need to consider impacts of the proposed regulation on individual species, and that the purpose of the Act included the promotion of economic development.

Bloodied but not down, Ontario Nature recently won the right to appeal the decision, something that has never been granted to any environmental group with respect to the ESA. The Ontario Court of Appeal is expected to hear the case spring or summer of 2016.

Not for the faint of heart.

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NOTE: To support conservation work for species-at-risk: consider becoming a member of Ontario Nature, or, write to Provincial and Federal MP’s about legislation for species-at-risk. 

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Ontario Nature’s Battle for the Endangered Species Act

NOTE: featured photo by Joe Crowley: a Blanding’s Turtle, is THREATENED in Lanark County.  Another prominent at-risk species in Lanark County, is Rapids Clubtail dragonfly, ENDANGERED in Lanark County and found on the  Mississippi River in Mississippi Mills.  

submitted by Cheryl Morris for the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

On Thursday, November 19, 2015, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) will host the third presentation of this season’s lecture series, reflective of the theme “Naturally Special Places”. This event will be held in the Social Hall of Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte Ontario at 7:30 pm.

The guest speaker for the evening will be Dr. Anne Bell, Ph.D., Director of Conservation and Education for Ontario Nature. She has entitled her talk “On Guard For Nature—Ontario Nature’s Fight To Uphold our Endangered Species Act”. “Ontario’s naturally special places provide habitat for over 200 species at risk. These plants and animals and the places they rely on for survival are protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act (ESA)”, states Dr. Bell. At-risk species include the Blanding’s Turtle, Gray Ratsnake, Eastern Meadowlark, Whip-poor-will, Rapids Clubtail dragonfly, and the iconic Woodland Caribou.

When it was introduced by the Ontario government in 2007, the Endangered Species Act was considered the gold standard law for species protection in North America. However, in 2013, the province introduced a “regulation” which exempts major industries from the law’s protective requirements. “Major industries” include forestry, pits and quarries, mining, and hydro and residential development. In many cases, industries were given a free pass to kill endangered or threatened species and destroy their habitat, as long as the harm was “minimized”. “This is a disappointing decision for Ontario’s endangered and threatened wildlife”, stated Ecojustice lawyer Lara Tessaro. “The Endangered Species Act is intended to put species first—not to let their survival be balanced against competing industrial interests. That would tip the scale towards extinction.”

In an article submitted by Dr. Bell for Ontario Nature, she writes “Environmental protection is the key to a sustainable, prosperous future…MNR is proceeding with a “transformation” plan premised on weaker environmental standards and a dramatic reduction in government oversight of activities affecting our lakes, rivers, forests and wildlife…The government tells us we can’t afford to implement the ESA in the way it was intended. Yet what we really can’t afford is to sacrifice long-term economic, social and environmental health with short-term cost-cutting measures that undo important environmental protections.” The cost-cutting measures described by the MNR were preceded by severe budget cuts to MNR and Ministry of Environment. Since 1993, the ministries most responsible for managing and protecting ecosystem services—MNR and Ministry of Environment—had seen their budgets drop by 64%. They are the two most poorly funded ministries in Ontario.

In September 2015, the Ontario Court of Appeal granted Ontario Nature and Wildlands League the right to appeal the government regulation which would limit species protection by the ESA. The appeal will be argued by lawyers from Ecojustice, including Lara Tessaro, who states “The Court has signaled that our clients’ legal challenge to this regulation, which deprives endangered species of the law’s protection, is important to Ontarians”. During her presentation on November 19, Dr. Bell will explain the ins and outs of this legal challenge and provide an update on the case.

Please join MVFN for this very important presentation. Refreshments and discussion will follow the talk. There is a non-member fee of $5. For further information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair, Gretta Bradley at .

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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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Bringing Species Back from the Brink—Some Good News

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

April 9, 2010

By Cathy Keddy

Good News—Bringing Species Back From the Brink

As the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) Big Picture Conservation lecture series continues, the focus will be on some environmental good news—species once considered at risk and how they can be brought back from the brink. For this lecture MVFN is pleased to welcome Paula Norlock, Lanark County native and Species at Risk Biologist with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources’ Kemptville office.

We realize the best approach for species at risk is preventing species from falling into this category in the first place, through being good land stewards and caring about the natural world around us. However, species may become at risk due to a variety of underlying causes and combinations of factors such as peculiarities of their biology and habitat requirements, disease, habitat loss, pollution, land cover change, competition or hybridization with alien species, as well as our lack of awareness. Population trends for species at risk are often indicators of the condition of other species and reveal the health of our ecosystems as Bill Crins explained to MVFN in his February lecture “A Stitch in Time: Monitoring Indicator Species to Diagnose Ecosystem Vitality.”

But what can we do if we miss the prevention boat? We can take action to recover these species at risk— to arrest or reverse their decline by removing or reducing the underlying threats and thus improving the likelihood that they will persist in the wild.

The good news is that currently, about 80 recovery teams are reviewing biology, habitat requirements and threats to livelihood in an effort to improve the status of endangered and threatened species in the province. Recovery strategies have now been prepared for protection and restoration of the populations of 13 species including mammals (American Badger), birds (Peregrine Falcon, Barn Owl), fish (Redside Dace), turtles (Wood Turtle), salamanders (Jefferson Salamander) and plants (Deerberry, Eastern Flowering Dogwood, Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid, Engelmann’s Quillwort, Few-flowered Club-rush, Ogden’s Pondweed, Spotted Wintergreen). The good news continues. Some species such as the Red-shouldered Hawk and Southern Flying squirrel, formerly considered at risk, now seem to have more secure populations.

Ms. Norlock will lead us through the fortunes, misfortunes and prospects of a selection of species at risk. Arrive ready to learn about achievements and plans to recover more species from Paula’s presentation “Bringing Species Back from the Brink—Some Good News!”, and leave inspired. Attend this upcoming MVFN lecture Thursday April 15, at 7:30 p.m., Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome; $5 charge for non members. For further details, please contact Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089, or visit www.mvfn.ca.

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Species at Risk in Lanark County: What do we have to lose?

         

What do we have to lose? Discover Species at Risk in Lanark County at next MVFN Lecture

Thursday, Feb 19, 2009

MVFN Press Release

by Cathy Keddy

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) lecture series continues February 19th with biologist Marie-Andrée Carrière’s presentation “Discover Species at Risk in Lanark County”. This will be the fifth in MVFN’s lecture series From the Ground, Up: Celebrating the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ First 20 Years.

Ms. Carrière is a Species at Risk Biologist whose work with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources helps to ensure implementation of the Endangered Species Act through research, field inventories and working with various groups on recovery strategies for species at risk. She conducted graduate research work on two turtles at risk- the northern map turtle (special concern) and the stinkpot (musk) turtle (threatened). Both occur in Lanark County.

Over 500 native species are considered at risk in Canada. Among the provinces, Ontario is home to the greatest number of these species. Most species at risk (SAR) in Ontario are classed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern. Some of the species listed, such as the eastern elk and deepwater cisco, are extinct and already lost from the province. Ninety-four or about half of Ontario’s species at risk occur in the ecological area known as the “Mixed Forest” region, where Lanark County is found. Wildlife categories with the largest numbers of SARs include birds such as the barn owl of grasslands; plants such as butternut and juniper sedge, as well as the dwarf iris of alvars; fish including the redside dace of clear, cool streams; and reptiles such as the five-lined skink of fire barrens. There are also mollusks, lichens, insects (e.g. Monarch butterfly) and mammals of our region on the provincial SAR list. Protection for all of these treasured species was greatly enhanced in 2008 with the passage of the provincial Endangered Species Act. In addition, funding has become available for stewardship programs as well as species recovery and management plans.

With these resources, how can we contribute to conserving our SARs? Which species in Lanark County are at risk? How is a species listed? Bring your questions about species at risk to the next meeting of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists. Marie-Andrée Carrière will address Species at Risk in Lanark County. Join MVFN February 19, 7:30 pm., at Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte to learn more about species at risk. A $5 charge for non-members applies. Please contact Program Chair, Cathy Keddy (613-257-3089) for more information.

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