Imperiled Species of the Ottawa River Watershed

This blog was written by Sean Feagan.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is currently conducting public engagement for the Ottawa River Watershed Study. This study aims to gather information about how best to protect, manage, and conserve the watershed, in part through public consultation.

Ottawa River Watershed

The Ottawa River Watershed covers an immense area across two provinces (Ontario and Quebec), and has vast importance to the people, economy, and history of Canada. In addition, the Ottawa River Watershed contains an exceptional array of flora and fauna. These species inhabit the aquatic environments of the Ottawa River and associated tributaries, as well as surrounding terrestrial habitats, which include a diversity of wetlands and extensive forests.

While the Ottawa River Watershed still contains many pristine areas, particularly upriver, it has experienced an extensive history of intense industrial activity, including logging extraction, dam construction for hydroelectric generation, and pulp and paper milling. Additionally, much of the land area of the watershed, particularly downstream, has been altered for agricultural activity and industrial development. Given these impacts, many of the species contained within the watershed have declined or become otherwise imperiled.

Here are a few examples of the over thirty species at risk within the watershed:

Perhaps the most threatened species within the watershed is the American eel, which has declined by up to 98%, mainly as a result of river damming along the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers. There are ongoing efforts to help the species recover within the watershed, including the catch and release of over 400 eels into the Ottawa River last summer to facilitate their movement. While ladder and bypass systems have been installed at some of the dams along the Ottawa, many others feature no mitigation measures to facilitate eel movement. While the Government of Ontario has released a recovery strategy for the species, and other

Spotted Turtle, photo by Helmy Oved.

conservation efforts are underway, the long-term persistence of the American eel is in serious peril.

The Ottawa River Watershed supports a diverse assemblage of fascinating turtle species. The eight species of turtle inhabit a diversity of habitats within the Ottawa River and associated tributaries, as well as neighboring wetlands. Seven species are considered at risk, including the spotted turtle spotted turtle

(Endangered), the Blanding’s turtle, stinkpot turtle, spiny softshell turtle, and wood turtle (each federally listed as Threatened), as well as the snapping turtle and north mapping turtle (both listed as Special Concern). Recovery planning for these species is underway, but they continue to be threatened by accidental mortality from roads, poaching, and habitat loss.

The Ottawa River Watershed also supports a rich avifauna.

Least bittern, photo by Steve Arena.

Perhaps one of the strangest bird species in the watershed is the least bittern, which is a member of heron family, listed federally as Threatened. It is one of the smallest herons in the world, as it typically measures from about 28 to 36 cm in length, weighing up to around 100 g. The species is elusive, as it is highly secretive, possesses excellent camouflage, and freezes in place when altered of potential danger. The species usually inhabits cattail marshes, many of which have been destroyed or altered for development and agriculture. Many of the confirmed breeding sites that remain in Canada exist within the Ottawa River Watershed in Ontario.

Kirtland’s Warbler, photo by Joel Trick.

The diverse forests of the Ottawa River Watershed supports a rich community of songbirds, including many species of North American wood warblers. One of the rarest species in North America, the Kirtland’s warbler, has two confirmed records of nesting in Canada, within the Ottawa River Watershed near Petawawa, Ontario. As part of its federal recovery strategy, critical habitat for this species has been identified at a few select sites within Renfrew County. Other imperiled warbler species contained within the watershed include the spectacular cerulean warbler (Endangered), and the Canada warbler (Threatened).

It is clear that the Ottawa River Watershed possess a spectacular array of wildlife and plant species, many of which are imperiled. If you would like to voice your opinion regarding the value and conservation of these species within the watershed, participate in the Ottawa River Watershed Study online at Placespeak, or participate in an upcoming meeting on March 1st, held in Gatineau, QC.

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