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To Rake or not to Rake: Here is one answer
Raking the leaves of autumn is an honoured Canadian pastime. But a fierce controversy erupted last week when a nature group (not Nature Canada!) urged Canadians not to rake their leaves. According to this group, leaving the leaves creates habitat for insects, birds and small mammals, and the decomposing leaves nourish the soil with nutrients as well.
Landscape companies disagreed with this recommendation, observing that massed layers of leaves covering lawns deprive emerging grass shoots of light resulting in patchy blotchy-looking lawns.
Both sides of the argument are right. Luckily, Nature Canada has a solution to this vexing problem.
On a dry autumn day, use your lawnmowerand run over the leaf-covered lawn. Preferably a push mower, but electrical and gas mowers clearly do the job as well! The leaves will be chopped up into much smaller bits for easier decomposition and incorporation into the soil; further the leafy bits will not block the sun from reaching grass shoots in the spring.
For those who really must pursue the autumn raking ritual, rake the leaves into your flower and vegetable gardens or under trees and bushes. Your tomatoes will be tastier and your viburnums more vivacious!
Feds reject Emergency Order for Orcas
Nature Canada is disappointed that the federal government has declined to issue an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act that nature groups are saying is needed to protect the endangered Southern Resident Orcas of British Columbia’s Salish Sea.
A November 1, 2018 order-in-council indicates that the government has already taken measures to assist recovery of these Orcas (e.g., monitoring ship noise, imposing a 200-metre buffer to keep marine vessels away from Orcas). This is certainly true; the problem is that they are not in themselves adequate to save these whales.
Nature Canada continues to believe that an emergency order is the most efficient way to coordinate and direct the work of federal departments such as Fisheries and Oceans, Transport Canada, Parks Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada that are working on saving the Orcas from extirpation.
Some key actions that must be taken to protect critical habitat in the Salish Sea include:
Restricting Chinook salmon fisheries in areas where these Orcas feed, and closing Chinook fishing on the Fraser River;
Enforcing the 200-meter buffer between marine vessels and Orcas and implementing better rules for whale-watching boats
Imposing a 10 knot speed limit on marine vessels and slowing down BC Ferries;
Reducing noise and disturbance for commercial vessels travelling in or near Orca foraging areas; and
Establishing the Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area.
Lets keep up the pressure: sign our petition and save the Southern Resident Orcas.
For more details on the work that Nature Canada is doing, please consult the following:
Who doesn’t love a beautiful dragonfly? The Olive Clubtail is a dragonfly in the clubtail family. The adults grow 50-69mm long, have widespread eyes and have a swollen abdomen (especially in males). Their wings are clear and the thorax (part of the body that bears the wings and the legs) is grey-green with broad, brown shoulder stripes and the black abdomen has a yellow mark. The Olive Clubtail lives in scattered populations throughout North America from British Columbia to Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Nevada and California.
As larvae, the Olive Clubtail burrow in the bottom of mud-or sand-bottomed rivers or streams. The larvae are aquatic predators and live for about two years in the bottom of the streams or lakes until emerging as adults. Their diet as larvae consists of bottom-dwelling invertebrates. The adult Olive Clubtail, unlike other dragonflies, eat a variety of small, flying insects.
In British Columbia, the adults fly from mid-July to mid-October, so that would be your chance to spot one! If you are a water lover, the males fly over open water, so keep an eye out if you are on the water during those months! The females may be seen laying her eggs on the surface of the water. For the rest of the time, the adults rest in shrub, trees, and sometimes perched on the ground.
The Olive Clubtail are facing threats to their habitat from river channeling. Urban, residential, transportation and marina developments as well as pollution from power boats and disturbance at popular swimming beaches are all having impact on larval survival. Introduced fish have altered the ecology of the Okanagan and Christina watersheds which are becoming the major predators for the larvae. The waters are facing many pollutants such as: land development, agriculture practices, storm water runoff, sewage systems, forestry and range activities, and pesticides (from the orchards and vineyards).
If you are a farmer, make sure you are not using any pesticides. That is the first way you can help! Also, if you regularly go camping or you spend a lot of time outdoors, make sure you are using environmentally friendly products. Do not purchase products that are harmful to the environment, as they may further hurt the Olive Clubtail’s chance at survival. Another way to help is becoming aware of the shores that the Olive Clubtail call home. Minimizing disturbance to these areas will help with successful reproduction (as there are less disturbances). Lastly, by learning about the Olive Clubtail and spreading the word about their imminent threats, you can play a huge part in the safety of the Olive Clubtail.
Jumpin’ around with the Ord’s Kangaroo Rat
I know you’re thinking that this rat must resemble that of the common rat we find on the street, but no, this rat is not in the family of the common rat. In fact, this rat jumps like a kangaroo! The Ord’s kangaroo rat is a nocturnal rodent, so unless you’re out very late, you’ll never see it! The kangaroo rat has very large hind legs and feet, and is mainly orange-brown with distinctive white markings, including stripes on the tail and its tufted tail accounts for more than half of its total length (260mm). As an adult, the Ord’s kangaroo rat will have a body mass of 69g, that’s less than 1 pound! Sadly, these rats have a life span of less than 1 year old. The average litter size is 3, but adult females may have up to 4 liters per year. Astoundingly, the average age for the first reproduction after birth is 47 days. The populations of the Ord’s Kangaroo rat is lowest in early spring as reproduction is constrained to the snow-free period.The Ord’s Kangaroo rat is found in Saskatchewan, Alberta and central Mexico. They require open, vegetated and sandy habitats to be able to hop around and to burrow. Canadian Ord’s Kangaroo rats are the only one of their kind to ‘hibernate’ in the winter when the ground is snow covered. When they sleep, it can last up to 17 hours and can occur about 70 times a winter. There are high death rates because of starvation, and freezing. But, they have been recorded outside in -19 degrees Celsius during snow free-periods. Their natural habitat consists of sand dunes, sand flats and sandy slopes of valleys in sand hill areas. But the sandy habitats are declining due to invasion of vegetation, climate change and human-land uses. Ord’s Kangaroo rats are territorial and defend burrows and underground food nests. The kangaroo rat is granivorous (only eats grains), but also eats other plants and insects. The biggest threats are loss of habitat. Also, since there have been more recent extreme seasonal fluctuations, it has affected population size. Most kangaroo rats travel less than 500m in their lifetime. It has even put the Canadian population at imminent risk of extinction. The kangaroo rat cannot live in areas were humans are, as it is a threat to them. They thrive best, when away from anything that can be an anthropogenic threat. Agricultural practices are also known to be a threat. The kangaroo rat possess unique characteristics, and they are useful for conserving prairie sand dunes, which are a declining habitat that many species depend on.If you appreciate the prairie ecosystem, and you see it in person, you will gain a deeper understanding of the habitat that these kangaroo rats live in. You will then wish to join the fight for these little kangaroo rats. Also, by visiting the prairies in person, or learning from online, you will be further equipped on the best ways to help. And if you spot an Ord’s kangaroo rat, contact someone! Lastly, share this information with your friends and family so that they can know all about the Ord's Kangaroo Rat!
Wildlife Wednesday with the West Virginia White
If you have never seen or heard of the West Virginia White before, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that it is in the butterfly family! This butterfly is small (only 3-4cm in wingspan) and is white. Its wings are translucent and on the underside they have veins with grey-brown scaling. While a caterpillar, it is yellow-green with a green stripe along each side. It is most commonly found in Quebec, Ontario (although more rarely), New England and Georgia.The habitat of the West Virginia White is in moist, deciduous woodlots. The butterfly requires a supply of toothwort in the forest (a small, spring-blooming plant) because that is the only food source for the larvae. As an adult, the West Virginia White needs flower nectar from toothworts. The male butterflies patrol slowly to locate females. Eggs are laid on undersides of host plant leaves. This butterfly is one of the first active in the spring and its flight period is quire short. Also, they fly only once per year. In Ontario, the flight period has been recorded from April 4 to June 13th.The West Virginia White has been listed as Special Concern which means that it require close attention because it can become endangered or threatened at any point. The butterfly is threatened mostly by garlic mustard which is an invasive species found in the forest. The butterflies often opt to lay their eggs on the garlic mustard instead of their host plant. Sadly, the larvae often do not survive when on garlic mustard.So, to help, if you have a garden or are near a forested area, make note of the garlic mustard and if possible, try to remove some. Every little bit helps! Also, do share this information with friends and family so that they can help save the West Virginia White!
Prancing with the Peary Caribou
Famously known to be Santa’s flying assistants, the reindeer, also known as caribou, are much closer to home than you think! Interestingly, the term reindeer (used in Eurasia) and caribou are used interchangeably. The Peary Caribou, a subspecies of caribou, and the smallest subspecies, are located in the Canadian Arctic, such as the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. To spot a Peary Caribou, look for a white body, with a slate back, and a grey stripe down the front of the legs. If it is a winter season, the slate back may turn a dingy brown, and some may look entirely white! The antlers are velvet and are slate-coloured instead of brown like deer and other caribou and, both the females and the males grow antlers!The Peary Caribou are integral components to the Inuit and Inuvialuit communities as they are not only a source of meat, but for many communities are important to the local economies. If you are lucky, you may even see traditional handcrafts that are sold in markets, and collected throughout not just Canada, but internationally.The habitat of the Peary Caribou is primarily treeless Arctic tundra. These regions are characterized as a polar desert with short, cool summers, and long, cold winters. The caribou has a broad diet and are versatile feeders, with diet varying seasonally. Since the Peary Caribou’s have dietary flexibility, the majority of their habitat is still available and has not been lost or fragmented by industrial and other human developments. You may ask yourself why the Peary Caribou is able to live in the Arctic environment and you are not (not as easily as these majestic creatures anyways). Well the reason is that they have adaptations that allow them to live there. They have compact body size for conserving heat; hooves that allow them to walk on and dig through wind-driven snow; and fur that helps them camouflage. The Peary Caribou are polygynous, living in small groups. They live approximately 15 years in the wild, with the cows producing their first offspring by 3 years old! The males average at 1.7 m in length and weigh 245 lbs! The female are much smaller, weighing 135 lbs.The species is facing threats from the changing climate, including increased intensity and frequency of severe weather events, which makes it difficult to search and hunt for food, and decreased extent and thickness of sea ice (causing shifts in migration). The other low-impact threats include hunting, energy production and mining, human intrusions from work activities, year-round military exercises, increases in traffic from snowmobiles, helicopters, and airplanes.The Peary Caribou is a Threatened species. That means that the species is likely to become endangered. So, this species has an excellent chance to recover and begin flourishing again if we help them now! I know you’re asking what you can do to help save this species. Well, by sharing this information with your friends and family, more people will know about the issues that the Peary Caribou is facing. With more people knowing about this species, that means there are that many more people that will want to help! But, if you are looking for something you can do right now, start by reducing your greenhouse gas emissions, and your personal footprint. That means Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!
The Greater Sage-Grouse
The Greater Sage-Grouse is an endangered bird that lives in the Alberta, Saskatchewan regions within Canada, and in the Western states for the United States of America. The bird was once found in the province of British Columbia but has been extirpated for over a century. This bird is brownish-gray, plump, chicken-like, with white patterning. It has a long spiky pointed black-and –white tail and a black belly.
The males can weigh about 4.5lbs, and the females about 2.2lbs. Surprisingly, this Grouse is the largest in North America!
The Greater Sage-Grouse lives in the prairies, but has been seeing terrible declines to their habitat within the last 10 years. The Greater-Sage Grouse is limited to its habitat because it prefers lower wet areas, where the young can forage for insects. Also, their diet heavily consists of sage leaves and buds, so they can only survive where the sagebrush is found. The degradation to their habitat can be linked to:
Conversion of habitat to farmland and intensive livestock grazing;
Oil and gas development near leks;
Oil and gas wells and associated pipelines destroying sagebrush habitats;
Drainage and irrigation projects: the development of dams, dugouts and reservoirs increased fourfold in southeastern Alberta between 1951 and 2001, meaning more than 80% of the Greater Sage-Grouse range was altered.
The ‘lek’ is the critical area needed for breeding, also acting as central hubs for the majority of their activities.
Luckily, in an unprecedented decision, the federal government, in 2013, announced that they would introduce an Emergency Protection Order to help save this prairie-dwelling Greater Sage-Grouse. This came after 2008, when public engagement and private consultations shed widespread awareness of the issues that this species is facing. This Emergency Protection Order plus the recently designated Protected Area of Govenlock, are two steps that are were much needed to help the Greater Sage-Grouse survive their habitat degradation, and begin to reproduce successfully again.
Govenlock is a region in southwest Saskatchewan where many of the species are found. Govenlock has recently become a designated area. This step was crucial in the designation of Govenlock as a National Wildlife Area. Govenlock’s luscious grasslands, the only suitable habitat for this bird, are now protected, and the Greater Sage-Grouse as a result!
The Emergency Order for the protection of the Greater-Sage Grouse was issued by the Minister of the Environment, backed by the Governor General in Council, based on the opinion that the Greater Sage-Grouse is facing imminent threat to its survival and recovery. Following this Emergency Protection Order, the following activities are now prohibited:
Killing or moving sagebrush plants, native grasses or native forbs in a legal subdivision or road allowance
Constructing and/or installing a fence in a legal subdivision or road allowance
Constructing a new road, or widening a road that is in the protected area
Operation of a facility, motor vehicle or machine that produces noise that exceeds 45 dB(A) (equivalent to the noise found in a library) at any given time between 1.5 hours before sunset to 1.5 hours after sunrise during the months of early April to end of May.
These prohibitions do not apply to people engaging in activities related to public safety or health, or to the health of animals and plants, and that are authorized under provincial law.
It is important to remember that just because we do not see this animal every day, that it matters just as much as any other species at risk. It is up to us to save the Greater Sage-Grouse by changing mankind’s destructive ways! Share this information with your friends and familyso that they can know the progress that has been made, and what they can do to help. The Greater Sage-Grouse would greatly benefit if each and every one of you reduced your ecological footprint.
Strengthening the Nature Network at the BC Nature Fall Meet
This Fall, members of Nature Canada staff traveled to the West Coast of Canada to meet with nature groups based out of British Columbia that were attending BC Nature’s Fall Meet in Kelowna. The intent of this trip was to strengthen the relationships between Nature Canada and the Nature Network partners, and enabled our Nature Network staff to learn more about Kelowna’s natural history and witness the wilderness and wildlife that these groups are working to protect.
It is difficult to single out one experience, interaction or moment as the highlight of this trip. There is incredible value to building and strengthening relationships in person that enable Canada to create a network, and join our voices to speak up for protection of nature from coast, to coast, to coast.
During BC Nature’s Fall Meeting, there were presentations touching upon a variety of topics, highlighting the important work being done to protect the natural spaces in and surrounding Kelowna. This work is crucial to preserving biodiversity and protecting wildlife and wilderness of British Columbia. The importance of this work became tangible during a field trip to Black Mountain/sntsk’il’ntən Regional Park which is home to deer, black bears and coyotes, among other species. This outdoor excursion was lead by the Central Okanagan Naturalists Club, and provided a view of world-renowned, and iconic Canadian landscape, Okanagan Lake.
The Nature Network’s goal is to strengthen nature groups across the country through support and increasing their public engagement, and the day following the BC Fall Meeting, they were able to do just that. Teagan, the Nature Network organizer responsible overseeing BC groups, and Nature Network Director Matt Price, held a workshop for 25 BC Nature groups on Engagement Organizing. This workshop aimed to provide insight into best practices for merging traditional campaign practices with modern technologies, and to ease the natural transition between the old and new methods of engagement.
The workshop introduced engagement organizing, touched upon building your club’s “pyramid”, presented various recruitment tactics such as social media, and finished with details on how to deepen engagement within your club. This workshop provided important engagement organizing information, but it was especially valuable to create a space for discussion and sharing among the groups. Of the experience, Christina and John Saremba from Burke Mountain Naturalists in Coquitlam BC said that;
We found The Engaging Organizations workshop to be interactive and engaging. The workshop provided us with a practical framework for enhancing the growth and building the succession of volunteers. Moreover, we gained valuable insights to how non-profit naturalist groups can improve engagement from the community and within our organization. We highly recommend this workshop to other non-profit groups.
NatureKids BC Harnesses the Power of Volunteers
How do you pull off nature programming in a couple dozen cities on a modest budget?You harness the power of volunteer leaders.NatureKids BC has blazed a trail by flipping the script. Most organizations use volunteers to support staff, but NatureKids BC uses staff to support volunteers.
“They are the bread and butter of what we do. They are what make things happen,” says Christina Chowaniec, who works with volunteer leaders at NatureKids BC.
The organization runs nature programming for kids and their families via its local clubs, numbering about 25 around BC. Each club is led by a pair of volunteer leaders, usually parents of younger kids. The clubs put on “explorer days” for families where they visit local nature areas and do fun activities together, sometimes with the help of local naturalists.
Club leaders have a lot of responsibility, and also a lot of autonomy. “They get to run things as they see fit,” says Christina. They are given an email account, a nature club manual, promotional materials, insurance coverage for events, and some assistance for events and regular check ins, but the rest is up to them. They recruit local participants and stage the events.
Christina likes to give orientations to new leaders over Skype so that they can see one another face to face. Club leaders also have their own Facebook group where they share best practices, and the organization puts on a couple of webinars each year to train on things like photography – how to capture great pictures of events.
Each club is supposed to have two volunteer leaders to share the responsibility and also to ensure some continuity over time. Leaders do leave, particularly if they are parents and their kids are ageing out, and Nature Kids BC does ask them to recruit their own replacements if at all possible.
It’s not all smooth sailing all the time. Leader recruitment and retention is an ongoing challenge, and moving into towns without clubs can be difficult if leaders aren’t emerging organically. So far, word of mouth has been the biggest way that new leaders enter the picture.
Overall, NatureKids BC is a great success story of an organization putting volunteer leaders front and centre in the delivery of its mission.
Edéhzhíe Indigenous Protected Area Established
Congratulations to the Deh Cho First Nation and federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna on their declaration of Edéhzhíe, a 14,250-square-kilometre plateau as an Indigenous Protected Area on October 11.
Located west of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, Edéhzhíe covers an area twice the size of Banff National Park with boreal forests and wetlands, and wildlife that includes caribou, moose, wolves and myriad songbirds. It also contains a portion of Mills Lake, which is a key habitat for various migratory birds, including 12 per cent of Canada's eastern population of Tundra swans. Edéhzhíe has been a place of cultural and spiritual significance for Indigenous people for generations, and likely for millennia.
Natural resource development will not be allowed in the Indigenous Protected Area, but there will likely be economic opportunities in the form of ecotourism and guardian jobs. Edéhzhíe will be managed through a partnership between the Dehcho and the federal government by a board of directors, a local Indigenous conservation group known as the Dehcho K’ehodi guardians, and the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Edéhzhíe is the first Indigenous Protected Area to be announced since the February 2018 federal budget included $1.3-billion for establishing protected areas and conserving species at risk. This declaration takes Canada a step closer to meeting our international Aichi Target commitment to protect 17 per cent of all lands and inland waters by 2020. Edéhzhíe would be formally recognized in federal law as a National Wildlife Area under the Canada Wildlife Act.
For more information of this designation, please read the following coverage: