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Joint Review Panels Declares Economy Trumps Environment
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Joint Review Panels Declares Economy Trumps Environment

[three_fourth]The long awaited Report of the Joint Review Panel on Shell Canada’s Jackpine Mine Expansion Project was released this week. Despite acknowledging that the project would cause significant and long-term adverse environmental impacts on biodiversity, wetlands, species at risk, migratory birds, wildlife, and indigenous culture, the Panel approved the project.  From the report: “The Panel also concludes that the Project, in combination with other existing, approved, and planned projects, would likely have significant adverse cumulative environmental effects on wetlands; traditional plant potential areas; old-growth forests; wetland-reliant species at risk and migratory birds; old-growth forest-reliant species at risk and migratory birds; caribou; biodiversity; and Aboriginal traditional land use (TLU), rights, and culture. Further, there is a lack of proposed mitigation measures that have proven to be effective with respect to identified significant adverse cumulative environmental effects.” However, in spite of the adverse effects for wildlife and people in the area, the Panel approved the project because of “significant economic benefits for the region, Alberta, and Canada.” Furthermore, the Panel considers these negative effects “to be justified and that the Project is in the public interest.” In October 2012, Nature Canada expressed its concerns to the Joint Review Panel noting in particular the threat of tailings ponds to migrating Whooping Cranes, the permanent loss of wetland and old growth habitat and its impact on many declining or threatened species of birds such as Olive-sided Flycatcher, Canada Warbler and Yellow Rail, and the lack of evidence that reclamation is effective in restoring biodiversity. For the Whooping Crane, a loss of just a few members of its population can have devastating effects. Due to its small population size, the Panel found there would be significant negative effects on the species if some birds were to mistake the project's tailings ponds for a safe place to land. The Panel also recognized that old-growth forest habitat has "high biodiversity value and that the loss of this habitat in the RSA will negatively affect wildlife that are old-growth forest specialists, many of which are species at risk (e.g., Canada warbler and woodland caribou)."  Only a few paragraphs of the Panel’s 413 page decision addressed or described the economic benefits that justify the project, while most of the Panel’s report describes how the project will result in severe and, in many cases, irreversible harm to the environment and indigenous cultures. Clearly the facts do not support the conclusion.    For the full report, please visit http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/document-eng.cfm?document=90874

[/three_fourth][one_fourth_last] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of a Whooping Crane Whooping Crane.[/caption] [/one_fourth_last]

BirdLife Global Congress Local Field Trips Results
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BirdLife Global Congress Local Field Trips Results

 
Nature Canada, in collaboration with our local partners the Ottawa Field Naturalists Club and the Club des Ornithologues de l'Outaouais, and our BirdLife Partner Bird Studies Canada, and thanks to the support of Swarovski Optik, a major sponsor of the Global Congress, provided field trip opportunities to hundreds of delegates from around the world at the BirdLife Global Congress held in Ottawa from June 18 to 22.  Trip participants were treated to great birds at three local hotspots: Gatineau Park, a large federally-owned park that connects the city of Gatineau and the Ottawa River corridor with the heavily forested Laurentian shield to the north; Mer Bleue, a large bog and wetland, owned also by the Federal Government's National Capital Commission, and Mud Lake Natural Area, an urban natural area along the Ottawa River within the Lac Deschenes- Ottawa River Important Bird Area.   Below are the lists of birds observed on the outings, as well as a few images of the enchanted participants.  We are grateful to the volunteer experts from the two local clubs who helped organize and led these outings including: Bob Cermack,Mark Gawn,Roy John, Bernie Ladouceur, Dave Moore, Rémy Poulin, René Séguin, Jen Spallin and Nina Stavlund from the Ottawa Field Naturalist Club, andRéal Bisson, Rodolphe Dubois , André Cloutier,Donald Dallaire, Garry McNulty, and Daniel Toussaint from le Club des Ornithologues de l'Outaouais.  I would also like to thank  Elizabeth Gammel, Justin Peter, Robert Alvo,  Carla Sbert, Monique Boivin, Colin Gaskell, Jody Alair, Sarah Kirkpatrick-Wahl, Rene Seguin, Linda Burr, Diane Lepage for their help with the crepuscular trip to Gatineau Park on June 18th, as well as the staff at Gatineau Park for their support for this outing. 
[separator headline="h2" title="Gatineau Park Outings BirdLife Global Congress June 19 to 21"]
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="400"]Birders in clearing in Gatineau Park Birders in clearing in Gatineau Park on June 21 photo by Ted Cheskey[/caption]
 [custom_table style="1"] [/custom_table]
19-Jun 20-Jun 21-Jun
Wood Duck x x x
Mallard x x
Hooded Merganser x x
Pied-billed Grebe x
American Bittern x x
Great Blue Heron x x
Green Heron x
Turkey Vulture x
Broad-winged Hawk x
Merlin x
Virginia Rail x
Spotted Sandpiper x x
Ring-billed Gull x x
Mourning Dove x x
Chimney Swift x
Belted Kingfisher x x x
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker x x x
Downy Woodpecker x x
Hairy Woodpecker x
Northern Flicker x x x
Pileated Woodpecker x x x
Eastern Wood-Pewee x x
Alder Flycatcher x x
Least Flycatcher x x x
Eastern Phoebe x x
Great Crested Flycatcher x x x
Eastern Kingbird x x x
Red-eyed Vireo x x x
Blue Jay x x
American Crow x x x
Common Raven x x x
Purple Martin x x
Tree Swallow x x x
Northern Rough-winged Swallow x
Barn Swallow x
Black-capped Chickadee x x x
Red-breasted Nuthatch x x
White-breasted Nuthatch x x x
Brown Creeper x
Winter Wren x
Marsh Wren x
Veery x x x
Wood Thrush x
American Robin x x x
Gray Catbird x
European Starling x
Cedar Waxwing x x x
Nashville Warbler x
Yellow Warbler x x x
Chestnut-sided Warbler x x
Black-throated Green Warbler x x
Yellow-rumped Warbler x
Blackburnian Warbler x x x
Pine Warbler x x x
Ovenbird x x x
Common Yellowthroat x x x
Chipping Sparrow x x x
Song Sparrow x x x
Swamp Sparrow x x x
White-throated Sparrow x x
Scarlet Tanager x x x
Rose-breasted Grosbeak x x
Northern Cardinal x
Red-winged Blackbird x x x
Common Grackle x x x
Brown-headed Cowbird x
Purple Finch x x x
American Goldfinch x x x
[/custom_table]
Totals:  68 species.
[separator headline="h2" title="Mer bleue Outings BirdLife Global Congress June 19 to 21"]
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="400"]Birders at Mer bleue Birders at Mer bleue on June 19th photo by Ted Cheskey[/caption] [custom_table style="1"] [/custom_table]
June 19 June 20 June 21
Canada Goose x x
Wood Duck x
Mallard x x
Common Merganser  x
Wild Turkey  x x
American Bitttern x
Great Blue Heron  x x
Green Heron x  x x
Red-tailed Hawk x
Virginia Rail x
Sandhill Crane x x
Ring-billed Gull x
Rock Pigeo x
Mourning Dove x x  x
Belted Kingfisher x
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker x x  x
Hairy Woodpecker x
Downy Woodpecker  x  x
Northern Flicker x x
Eastern Wood-Pewee x x
Alder Flycatcher  x x x
Eastern Phoebe x  x x
Great Crested Flycatcher x x x
Eastern Kingbird x x x
Red-eyed Vireo x x x
Blue Jay x x x
American Crow x x x
Tree Swallow x x x
Black-capped Chickadee x  x x
White-breasted Nuthatch x
Marsh Wren x x x
Eastern Bluebird x x
Veery x x x
Hermit Thursh x x x
Wood Thrush x
American Robin x x x
Gray Catbird x x x
Brown Thrasher x x
European Starling x
Cedar Waxwing x x x
Nashville Warbler x
Yellow Warbler x  x x
Chestnut-sided Warbler x x x
Yellow-rumped Warbler x x
Palm Warbler x x x
Black-and-white Warbler x x x
American Redstart x
Ovenbird x
Common Yellowthroat x x x
Chipping Sparrow x
Song Sparrow x x x
Lincoln's Sparrow x x x
Swamp Sparrow x x x
White-throated Sparrow x x x
Northern Cardinal x
Red-winged Blackbird x x x
Common Grackle x x x
Brown-headed Cowbird x
Baltimore Oriole x x
Purple Finch x x x
American Goldfinch x x x
Total: 61 species. [separator headline="h2" title="Mud Lake Outings BirdLife Global Congress June 19 to 21"] [custom_table style="1"] [/custom_table]
June 19 June 20 June 21
Canada Goose x x x
Wood Duck x x x
American Wigeon x
American Black Duck x x
Mallard x x x
Double-crested Cormorant x x
Great Blue Heron x x
Green Heron x x x
Black-crowned Night-Heron x x x
Osprey x
Ring-billed Gull x x x
Common Tern x
Rock Pigeon x
Great Horned Owl x x x
Chimney Swift x
Downy Woodpecker x x  x
Northern Flicker x
Eastern Wood-Pewee  x
Eastern Phoebe x
Great Crested Flycatcher x x x
Eastern Kingbird  x
Warbling Vireo x  x x
Red-eyed Vireo x x x
Blue Jay x
American Crow x x x
Common Raven x x x
Tree Swallow x x x
Black-capped Chickadee x x
White-breasted Nuthatch x x x
American Robin x x x
Gray Catbird x x x
European Starling x x x
Cedar Waxwing x x x
Ovenbird x x x
Black-and-white Warbler x x x
American Redstart x x x
Yellow Warbler x x x
Pine Warbler x
Chipping Sparrow x
Song Sparrow x x
Rose-breasted Grosbeak x
Northern Cardinal x  x
Red-winged Blackbrid x x x
Common Grackle x x x
Brown-headed Cowbird x x
Baltimore Oriole x x x
House Finch x
American Goldfinch x x
Total: 48 species.

Countries Across the Americas Unite to Save Grassland Birds
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Countries Across the Americas Unite to Save Grassland Birds

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="320"]Image of a Male Sage Grouse. Male Sage Grouse.
(photo courtesy of Gary Seib of Nature Saskatchewan)[/caption]

Yesterday, Nature Canada joined partners in Canada, USA, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay to develop an Americas-wide strategy to develop and support innovative initiatives to conserve and sustainably develop grasslands in the Western Hemisphere.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), less than 10% of our natural grasslands remain intact. One of our board members, Bob Peart, is the lead on the IUCN’s temperate grasslands conservation initiative (whose great work you can read about here).
Working with ranchers and focusing on the most critical grassland areas is the focus of this newly developed alliance. Payment for ecological services and certified natural grass-fed beef are two initiatives being contemplated as strategies for working with producers to conserve imperilled grassroots.
The State of Canada’s Birds report (forthcoming, this Thursday) identifies grasslands species (like Burrowing Owls and the Greater Sage Grouse) as the most threatened species in Canada.
It’s estimated that there are only 13 male Sage Grouse left in Alberta, with the province-wide population estimated at 30 birds, and only 42 males were counted at breeding grounds (called ‘leks’) in Saskatchewan in 2010. Scientists predict that the Sage Grouse could soon entirely disappear from Canada.
In contrast to the non-migratory Sage Grouse, many "Canadian" birds such as the Bobolink, Swainson's Hawk, Upland Sandpiper and Buff-breasted Sandpiper breed in Canada’s grasslands (during our summer) and migrate to grasslands in South America during non-breeding periods. This is why it’s essential to work with partners across the Western Hemisphere, from the Arctic to the tip of South America to protect the species that we share.
We’re very proud to bring together stakeholders and experts throughout the Americas to better safeguard one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems, and look forward to the rest of this year’s BirdLife International World Congress.

IBA Caretakers on James Bay, Canada: Moose River Estuary by Brett Hare
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IBA Caretakers on James Bay, Canada: Moose River Estuary by Brett Hare

[three_fourth]Moosonee, Ontario is a small municipality located near the mouth of the Moose River on the south-west corner of James Bay in Northern Ontario.  Moosonee is only accessible by plane or train, as there is no permanent road access to the community.  The town itself rests within the Hudson Bay Lowlands, which comprises one of the largest wetlands on Earth. Christina Nielsen has been a part of the Moosonee-Moose Factory community for over 15 years, and along with her husband Don Cheechoo, Vice Principal of the local high school in Moose Factory, have both become Caretakers for the Moose River Estuary IBA (Important Bird and Biodiversity Area). “We’re always on the river in the summertime,” explains Christina. “I was always interested in birding and the idea of conservation." The Moose River Estuary is part of the Moose Cree First Nation’s traditional territory which expands to the mouth of James Bay, covering hundreds of square kilometres of boreal forest and muskeg.  The IBA comprises both fresh and salt water bodies, blending land and water together to create a site that is beneficial for a wide range of migratory birds from shorebirds to waterfowl, by providing a natural environment that caters to a variety of ecological demands and niches.  Large congregations of geese during their spring and fall migration are a traditional staple in the diet of many Moose Cree families.   The seasons play a dramatic role on the accessibility of the site, from snowmobiling and snowshoeing in the winter across frozen rivers and lakes, to canoeing, boating, and traveling by helicopter or float plane during the summer months. “The estuary really defines the area,” Christina explained. “It’s not all land and it’s not all sea, it’s constantly changing. The seasons are dramatic, in the spring we’re anxious to see when the ice will breakup and in the fall when the rivers will freeze.” Since 2010, Nature Canada and the Moose Cree First Nations Lands and Resources Department have collaborated closely to raise awareness amongst the Moose Cree people of IBA’s and to engage the community in bird conservation.  The Moose Cree First Nation’s administrative offices are located just across the river from Moosonee on Moose Factory Island, though the traditional Moose Cree territory, also referred to as “homelands”, extends from Hearst, Ontario in the west to the Quebec border in the east, and from south of Highway 11 to points north of the Albany River, including much of the southern portion of James Bay.  Within this traditional territory are seven IBA’s, including the Moose River Estuary IBA. Christina’s family has spent a great deal of time interacting with the natural bounty that nature has provided them through the Estuary. “It’s a part of our family’s life, every weekend in the summer we’re out on the river,” she declares.  “There are so many different species of birds including eight species that are part of a new project they are involved in called: Avian Species at Risk in the Moose Cree Homelands.” The project includes the following species at risk: Rusty Blackbird, Common Nighthawk, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Red Knot, Short-eared Owl, and Yellow Rail, and two additional species of concern, the Hudsonian Godwit and the Marbled Godwit. One of the features that makes the site special for Christina and Don as Caretakers is the variety of birds they observe during the varying seasons.  The Moose River Estuary is part of a major migratory bird flyway, one of the key factors making this IBA an essential stopover site for many birds as they migrate north or south depending on the season.  Occasionally unexpected species turn up in their yard, which borders the Moose River.  Some of the most memorable for them include Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Mountain Bluebird, and Northern Cardinal, all well out of their normal ranges. A Facebook group (Moose River Estuary – IBA ON138) was created for the IBA to encourage community involvement and to promote awareness, contributing to the overall well-being of the community’s natural environment.  “I’m very pleased with the success of the Facebook page,” Christina explained.  As IBA Caretakers Christina and Don have increased awareness of the various bird species by promoting activities such as the Great Backyard Bird Count and re-initiating the Christmas Bird Count in Moosonee and Moose Factory.  Another project that Christina took part in was the collective purchase of sunflower seeds for many winter bird feeders, “we purchased 500 pounds of seeds and had the palette shipped by train from Cochrane to Moosonee before the CBC,” she laughed.  “Our group also conducted a Common Nighthawk observation study last August in conjunction with Moose Cree First Nation – Lands and Resources and NatureCanada.”  This year’s plans for the IBA include a few more boat trips towards the mouth of the Moose River, promoting the ASAR to the youth of the communities, and conducting Year 2 of the Common Nighthawk survey. [/three_fourth][one_fourth_last] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of an iced road Ice road in January between Moosonee and Moose Factory
Photo by Ted Cheskey[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of Moose River Estuary Aerial view of the Moose River Estuary. Photo by John M. Rickard.[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of a Northern Hawk Owl Northern Hawk Owl Photo by Ted Cheskey[/caption] [/one_fourth_last]

It has to be a sign as Eagle greets the Nishiyuu walkers
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It has to be a sign as Eagle greets the Nishiyuu walkers

[two_third]
The walkers had arrived, the singing and drumming stopped and a momentary calm and serenity fell over the crowd.  Heat from the throngs of humanity, and the energy from its kin below made the air buoyant, and the moment had come.  “It is time to reveal myself to them” said Eagle, and so it drifted from the clouds, crossing the sky above Parliament Hill in Ottawa.  There was a gasp from below as sharp-eyed hunters recognized the majestic bird and its significance.
I recognized the collective gasp and followed the direction of the gaze to see it for myself.  A Golden Eagle drifted across the sky.  There was no mistaking it.  The Eagle symbolizes great strength, courage and vision.  Remarkably these are the exact qualities of the Nishiyuu walkers, and the great movement that supported their quest.  I would like to believe that the Eagle’s appearance over the walkers and their thousands of supporters was a sign to the youth and the entire world that was bearing witness to their accomplishments. Speaking in their own Cree language, the walkers took turns sharing their thoughts to an attentive audience.  Some were overcome by emotions that one can only imagine after walking 1500 kilometres from Hudson’s Bay to Ottawa, through deep snow, minus 50 degrees temperatures, fatigue, injuries and hundreds of reasons to give up.  But they didn’t!  They pushed on, all of the way to Ottawa, because they had a rendezvous with a Golden Eagle on March 25, 2013. What I saw and heard today from the walkers touched me to the marrow.   I hope that their efforts, and the great solidarity it has generated turns out to be a redefining moment for Canada’s First Nations, and Canada as a Nation.   I hope the Journey of Nishiyuu  marks a change in direction in Canada from treating nature as a commodity to treating nature as our mother.  I know for me, this moment will always be an inspirational one, and for that I am most grateful to the walkers. [/two_third] [one_third_last] [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="320"]Image of Victoria Island Before coming to Parliament Hill, the walkers met up with many supporters including Chief Theresa Spence on Victoria Island. Photo Ted Cheskey[/caption] [/one_third_last]

Comet Pan-STARRS small but brilliant!
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Comet Pan-STARRS small but brilliant!

[two_third]A small but brilliant comet called Pan- STARRS is adorning the early evening sky, right at sunset and for a short time after.  To see it, you need a clear sky and a clear view to the west.  It is basically following the sun, on the exact same trajectory in the sky, and appears like a small airplane contrail, but with a distinctive angle and not the movement of a plane.  As the earth is rotating at 15 degrees an hour, it drops quickly below the horizon after sunset - leaving perhaps 20  minutes of viewing time.  Apparently the comet will be visible for another week or two.  Yesterday the comet had a straight-line contrail that was golden in colour.  Today the contrail was forked and spectacular, but I was too late to get a photo.  I had my 10 by 42 binoculars with me, and a spotting scope which helped as the comet dimmed near the horizon.    Comets are surely one of the most exciting natural phenomena to observe for anyone, as they are such rare occurrences.  Make sure you get out and watch this one.[/two_third] [one_third_last] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of a comet in the sky March 16, about 19H15 Eastern Daylight Savings time[/caption] [/one_third_last]

Cats eat billions of birds and mammals
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Cats eat billions of birds and mammals

Image of a cat
Domestic cats kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds, and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals annually in the United States, according to a paper published this week by Scott Loss, Tom Will and Pete Marra, in the journal Nature Communications.   The report points out that the large majority of these deaths are caused by cats without owners.  Reading this reminded me of  an experience I had while conducting field work for my Masters Thesis in the Grand River Forests between Cambridge and Paris, Ontario. I was conducting breeding bird surveys deep in the forest, probably a couple of kilometres from the nearest residence, and twice spotted cats perched high above the ground on tree branches, watching me like a bobcat would.   They were likely farm cats, or abandoned cats (it's not uncommon for people to dump an unwanted cat in the country) that had essentially become 'wild.' I also have a vivid childhood memory of my friend's cat catching a Barn Swallow.  Standing by his swimming pool, I watched adult swallows zipping through the air in pursuit of insects to feed their brood living in their garden shed.  I noticed the swallows changed their behaviour and started swooping low over something on the ground, which turned out to be my friend's cat. The cat was laying on its back, face up, watching the spectacle, as the swallows swooped closer and closer.  The cat flattened itself, compressing its body against the ground, as the swallows swooped closer, only a few metres from the entrance to the shed, and their nest.  Then suddenly, with lightning speed, the cat shot up a paw, batted a swallow from the air, and proceeded to grab it in its mouth and run away.  One less parent to feed the brood!   I stood there dumbfounded at what I had just witnessed - confused by my feelings of empathy for these graceful birds, and awestruck by the incredible hunting ability of the cat. Reading the recent report about cats' impact on wildlife is a sharp reminder that the problem has not gone away - but perhaps has gotten much worse.  We need to, and can do, more in our urban environments and rural environments to reduce our impacts on wildlife.  By and large, cats and birds simply do not get along. The most effective way to protect birds and other wildlife from cats is to keep your cat indoors. Keeping cats indoors not only helps prevent predation of birds and wildlife; it also reduces the spread of disease, unwanted reproduction, and prevents the cat from being struck by cars. If you must allow your cat to roam free, be sure to locate bird feeders in open areas where cats cannot ambush birds. Place guard fencing or other obstacles at the base of the feeder to make it harder for cats to climb feeders. Do the same around trees where you have nesting birds. Other ways to prevent cats preying on birds: [list]
  • Keep only as many pet cats as you can feed and care for. Make sure all your pets are spayed or neutered to prevent the birth of unwanted animals.
  • If you live on a farm, keep only as many free-roaming cats as you need to control rodents.
  • Remove garbage, pet food dishes and other sources of food that may attract stray cats to your yard
  • If you have an unwanted cat, do not abandon it in a rural area (or anywhere for that matter). Try to find a new owner or drop it off at a shelter.
[/list]  Finally, two relatively ineffective methods include: [list]
  • Putting bells on cats. Birds rarely respond in time to a bell, and often don’t even understand the significance of the sound.
  • Declawing cats. Even a declawed cat is a skilled predator, and some owners consider the practice to be cruel to the cat.
  • [/list]
 

Support the Appeal – No Turbines on Ostrander Point!
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Support the Appeal – No Turbines on Ostrander Point!

Prince Edward County Field Naturalists are appealing the decision of the Ontario Government to approve the construction and operation of a 9 turbine wind energy project on the Ostrander Point Crown land block. They need your support to cover the legal costs of this appeal to reverse this decision.  Ostrander Point has been described as one of the worst possible locations for a wind energy development in Ontario.  It is in the heart of the globally significant Prince Edward County South Shore Important Bird Area, minutes from the only National Wildlife Area in Canada recognized for its role in supporting landbird migration, on fragile wetland and rare alvar habitat in a provincial candidate Area of Natural and Scientific Interest, home to many provincially and nationally threatened species including Blanding's Turtle and Whip-poor-will, and on a major continental bird and bat highway only metres from the shoreline.  Birds literally pour through here in the spring and fall and use it both as a landing point after their spring migrations across Lake Ontario and a departure point after stopping over on the south shore to build up fat reserves to support their fall migration.  Tens of thousands of birds would be flying through the sweep of the turbine blades each year!   Please visit the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists Website, and demonstrate your support for this project with a donation! To have a glimpse of what this site is all about, and where one of the turbines will be located, check out this short video from a visit that I did last year. To see what Mr. Gordon Miller, the Ontario Environment Commissioner thinks about wind farms in IBAs, please watch this video

On Chief Spence’s Hunger Strike
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On Chief Spence’s Hunger Strike

The other day, my wife and I decided to deliver some left-over firewood from summer camping trips to the First Nations camp on Victoria Island, just west of Parliament Hill in Ottawa.  Chief Theresa Spence, from the Attawapiskat First Nation has been on a hunger strike, and living in the large Teepee behind the palisade on the island, to draw attention to the plight of her community.   
 
The long access road from the Chaudière bridge passes beneath the Portage bridge, terminating in a turning circle and parking lot in front of the palisade.  The entrance to the palisade was covered with plastic tarps, but there was a large pile of firewood just outside, onto which we added our small contribution.  As we started moving back to the car, the window of one of the vehicles in the parking lot descended, and a woman shouted a loud and hearty “thank you so much!”  That acknowledgment meant a lot to us.
 
Several years ago, I visited Attawapiskat for a few days on either side of a two-week canoe trip to survey birds along the Ekwan River for the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas.  My memories of Attawapiskat are still vivid.  Four of us arrived in the community with a day of lay-over before a float plane was to drop us a couple of hundred kilometres inland on a calm section of the river.    We spent much of the next day scrambling to find canoes and procure equipment that we have been told would be prearranged.  We literally were checking people’s yards for canoes, and then knocking on their doors to negotiate rental use.   Many individuals in the community were wonderfully helpful and generous to us. 
 
That positive spirit stood in stark contrast to the despairing poverty in evidence all around us.  Most buildings were in various states of disrepair.  Many, perhaps most buildings were also covered with graffiti – not ‘street art,’ but vulgar slurs mainly targeting young women in the community.  “So and so is a ….”  So and so does ….”   I felt nauseated every time I walked past one of these insults, and could not imagine the humiliation that some people had to constantly deal with.  
 
As we waited for our plane to arrive on the dock and take us deep into the wilderness, kids wandered by asking for food.  I was reminded of a visit to an extremely poor area of Central America where I had similar experiences.   My impression was of a community that had lost control, where many, perhaps most people lived in poverty, in shame, with hunger and without hope.    
 
When I hear of the problems in Attawapiskat and in other First Nations, I can understand why leaders, such as Chief Spence, would take desperate measures to reach out for help.  The problems that they face must seem insurmountable.   Yet, beneath the suffering in the community are a proud people, connected to the land, desperate to protect and restore their culture and claim their rights.
 
A few years ago, Canada signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  We were one of the very last countries to sign on and did so reluctantly.  That declaration basically recognizes that indigenous peoples have rights to self-determination.  In part that means that activities on their traditional territories and use of their knowledge require their free prior and informed consent.  This is an extremely important concept, one that  Nature Canada believes in.  
 
Chief Spence’s hunger strike is strongly associated with the Idle No More movement.  This movement is, in part, in response to the federal government’s two omnibus budget bills (C-38 and C-45) that eviscerated many of Canada’s environmental laws, and removes many of the checks and balances that protect both the environment and indigenous peoples, whose cultures are closely tied to nature, from unfettered resource exploitation.  
 
Nature Canada has joined First Nations and environmental, recreation and grassroots groups, including BC Assembly of First Nations, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and Idle No More,  in opposing the federal government’s controversial attacks on environmental protection laws.
 
One step to addressing the issues in Attawapiskat, and the Idle No More concerns is taking the UNDRIP to heart and operationalizing its 46 articles as much as possible.  We should be doing this as individuals, as organizations, and businesses, and as governments.  In our search for solutions, this seems to me to be an obvious step to take.
 
Next, we need to begin the long, difficult work of undoing the damage that the omnibus bills have inflicted on nature and democracy in Canada. There is much work to do.

Award-winning author/ornithologist Dr. Bridget Stutchbury featured on CBC’s Canada Writes
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Award-winning author/ornithologist Dr. Bridget Stutchbury featured on CBC’s Canada Writes

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="213"]Loggerhead Shrike Loggerhead Shrike, also known as
the "Butcher Bird." photo by Larry Kirtley[/caption] Dr. Stutchbury's Silence of the Songbirds, published in 2007 by HarperCollins Canada succeeded in raising the level of consciousness and concern around the myriad of factors impacting our songbird populations, many of which can be traced back to our individual choices.  Her latest short story describes her first up-close encounter with the "Butcher Bird," one of the most endangered species in Canada.  This story is a reminder to us to remain vigilant in protecting our country's laws to protect species at risk, which are currently under siege.

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