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Green Tips for St. Patrick’s Day
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Green Tips for St. Patrick’s Day

Every year, March 17th has become a day where we all dress in green, put on green plastic beads and buttons and go to the pub to drink green beer. As exciting as this holiday is for some, it also brings with it a lot of waste. From plastic decorations to “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” t-shirts that are worn once and then discarded, there isn’t much green that goes with this holiday. This is why this year try to embrace being green year round, not just on St. Patrick’s Day.

Here are five Tips for how to have a truly green St. Patrick’s Day!


1. Get Outside

There isn’t anything greener than being outside in nature. It may not look so green yet with so much snow on the ground, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any benefits from taking a walk outside. Connecting with nature has proven to reduce stress, minimize depression, increase happiness, and overall increase one’s wellbeing and overall health. It is also a great way to learn more about the flora and fauna that are around you and appreciate the beauty of it all!

2. Eat Green

Eating green isn’t just about eating salads all day. It’s about eating sustainably, buying locally, reducing food waste, and reducing your carbon footprint. Eating green requires eating more fruits and vegetables, and reducing meat consumption, as well as buying free-range and organic meat products when available.

3. Use Green Transportation

If you are going out to celebrate, consider taking public transportation, carpooling with friends, or even walking! This will help you minimize, or even eliminate the carbon emissions incurred from transportation.

4. Say No to Plastics & Single-use items

Avoid buying plastic decorations such as green beads, glittered leprechaun top hats, plastic drinkware and plastic drink straws! Most of us will only use these decorations for one year and then throw them away. To avoid plastic waste, consider choosing decorations made from cloth, paper, metal, or glass, and keep reusing your decorations instead of throwing them out! Putting up more green plants into your home can also add a bit of St. Patrick’s Day magic and purify your home at the same time!

5. Choose Sustainable Beers

When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day, you really can’t avoid beer, particularly the green beer. This year, why not opt for an eco-friendly beer option, rather than the artificially dyed green beer you can see offered everywhere. A good option is to get your beer from a local brewery that uses natural ingredients. This in turn reduces the carbon footprint of your beer, so you can have a nice drink and feel like you are doing your part to help the environment. Choosing organic or eco-friendly beer also has much less of an impact on the environment than regular beer by producing less carbon emissions and using energy and water more efficiently in the brewing process.

Whether you try all these tips this year, or just one, hopefully these tips help you enjoy St. Patrick’s Day while making the day a little bit greener than usual!

The Plains Bison: No Buffalo
© Kim Toews
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The Plains Bison: No Buffalo

The males are called bulls, the calves are called red dogs, and some people call them all buffalo, but that's where science and language collide. Despite often being used interchangeably, bison and buffalo are completely different animals! There is some debate about why this confusion is so common, but the only real species of buffalo are native to either Asia or Africa and have evolved accordingly. The plains bison, scientifically named Bison bison bison, weighs about 1600 pounds if male, while the females weigh about 1000 pounds. Despite these whopping measurements, however, the plains bison is actually the smallest bison species! As a result of various protection laws enacted, the plains bison population in Canada has increased by more than 35% since 2004. Currently, plains bison in Canada can be found in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Of these bison, however, the only wild populations live in BC and Saskatchewan. Although they have made the plains of North America their home, plains bison are not native to the region either. The bison that live there today originated from Asia and began to migrate thousands of years ago through Siberia, undergoing multiple stages of evolution before becoming the modern plains bison. [caption id="attachment_49019" align="alignleft" width="435"] © Richard Main[/caption] So what's the issue? The plains bison is listed as a threatened species according to their most recent COSEWIC assessment. On the surface, the fact that their population has increased by such a large percentage seems like it would be great news. It is, and it certainly represents strides in the right direction, but prior to the expansion of the fur trade and European settlement, there were approximately 30 million bison across the continent. This is in stark contrast to the current estimated North American population which is significantly smaller than 1 million  over 95% of which is for commercial purposes. Having such a small fraction of their population in the wild brings with it another threat which may be forgotten about: a weakened gene pool. As a population decreases in size it loses members who would have been able to contribute to genetic diversity, which creates a stronger, healthier, and more viable population as it increases. In the event that the population were to become even smaller, their lack of genetic diversity would be a major problem for plains bison in the future.   So what can we do? While they currently have a COSEWIC listing, plains bison are currently unlisted under SARA, a decision made in part due to the protections they already receive living within national parks & considerations for the economic health of the bison industry. It is important to become better acquainted with the nuance behind situations such as these to better protect the plains bison. To take a more direct approach, supporting charity and research organizations focusing on the well-being of plains bison is a great help with an immediate impact.

Destination Nature! Embrace nature this Spring Break
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Destination Nature! Embrace nature this Spring Break

It’s March in Canada and much of the country is still covered in snow. The good news is the sun is warmer and spring is right around the corner. It’s also when most kids get a week off school. Why not make Nature your destination this Spring Break? While the kids may want to reach for their tablets or video games, too much screen time is having a negative impact on children’s physical, mental and social health. As a parent, it can feel overwhelming to try and navigate a healthy relationship between your children and screens. Start by creating a screen time schedule for your family – that includes parents too! During the screen-free times, plan time for nature. Round up a few friends and plan a nature trip together. It can be as simple as exploring a nearby nature trail. Connecting children to nature helps get kids away from screens and learn about the beauty of nature right where they live. Here are a few ways you can discover and explore nature during the break!

  1. Explore local nature trails in your community – gather a group of friends and go for a nature hike. Discover the winter birds that do not migrate or turn your hike into a scavenger hunt and see how many things you can discover!
  2. Embrace winter activities – go snowshoeing or skiing and enjoy winter in its warmer months.
  3. Visit a Sugar Bush – bundle up and spend the day at a sugar bush enjoying maple season. Many places offer sleigh rides, pancakes, and who can resist maple taffy on snow?!
  4. Go camping – there are many cabins that offer winter camping. Nestle in nature and enjoy time together with your family.
  5. Spring festival – many communities across Canada host spring festivals or events. Check out the listings in your region.
Not only do we feel happier when we spend time in nature, it’s good for us too! Spending time in nature promotes physical activity, creativity and boosts your mood; it also helps to reduce stress and anxiety. When children spend time outside in nature, they find opportunities to learn, explore, discover and understand the natural environment. And it helps to build a strong connection and lifelong love and appreciation of the natural world. Enjoy time with your family over Spring Break, and hopefully it includes time spent in nature! Read our TIP SHEET for more ways to reduce screen time and get into nature.

March Calendar Image: Silver Fox Kit
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March Calendar Image: Silver Fox Kit

Don’t be fooled by its name. The Silver Fox is the exact same species as the Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes. The main difference being colour. Where a red fox has a coppery tone to its fur, the silver fox, while there is a lot of variations in the colour (some being completely black and others mostly silver) is mostly black with silver showing through on the top of its fur. It is estimated that silver foxes make up about 10% of the Vulpes vulpes population. On average, silver fox adults can weigh anywhere between 5 to 7 kilograms. Measured from head to tail, they can reach up to a meter long. Their striking silver pelts are very highly valued for their colouring and this has resulted in silver fox farming, where they are raised specifically for profit off their pelts.

Where is the Silver Fox found?

The silver fox, along with the red fox, is one of the world’s most scattered species from the Order Carnivora (these are mammals that are carnivorous and have teeth). From North America, Asia and Europe to Australia, these foxes are able to thrive in many environments varying in temperature and habitat. But similar to the red fox, the silver fox has to owe some of its success and dispersion to humans who brought them from England for the sport of hunting. The silver fox lives about 3 years in the wild, where they remain very independent. They will often store their food, in order to save it for a rainy day. These omnivores indulge in both meat from rodents or rabbits to plants such as berries. This flexibility is what has allowed the silver fox to thrive throughout the years and across many continents.

Lifespan

The silver fox’s mating season varies depending on their location in the world. Usually occurring in January or February, female foxes, or vixens, can mate with multiple males before deciding on one that she will breed with annually. Silver foxes do not always choose to mate with other silver foxes, and so they may often mate with red foxes. The gestation period is just under 2 months, with the average number of kits per birth at around 5. It takes 2 weeks until they will open their eyes and another 3 weeks to leave the dens that they were born in. The family stays closely knit until the Fall season. By this point, the kits have reached maturity at 10 months old and will set out to find their own place.  

Good news for a rare prairie lizard — New conservation area created at Manitoba’s Canadian forces base Shilo
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Good news for a rare prairie lizard — New conservation area created at Manitoba’s Canadian forces base Shilo

The Governments of Canada and Manitoba have announced that they plan to work together to protect nature at Canadian Forces Base Shilo. The announcement represents a new approach – where Environment Canada and the Department of National Defence (DND) are working together to identify the conservation potential of lands on a military base. It’s a new way to think about nature protection, and Nature Canada salutes the effort. It’s an approach we want to see provide long-term protection for the 17 at-risk species that live on the base. As you’d expect, many parts of Canadian Forces Base Shilo in southwestern Manitoba are busy areas with vehicles, buildings and foot traffic. Fortunately, other areas on the base remain natural mixed-grass habitat, and it is in these undisturbed areas that endangered species like the Prairie Skink (the province’s only lizard) make their home. The federal government evaluated the area and as of March 7, 2019, with DND’s support, it has been designated an “Other Effective area-based Conservation Measure” or OECM. The new status recognizes the site as being managed in a way to conserve biodiversity and it means the land can be counted towards Canada’s target to protect 17 per cent of terrestrial areas and inland water by 2020. While the OECM status is new for a military base, it’s not the first time there have been conservation efforts on such lands. In 2003, Nature Canada was part of a push to have 458 square kilometres of CFB Suffield in southeastern Alberta set aside as the Suffield National Wildlife Area. Thursday’s announcement recognizes the biodiversity value of 21,138 hectares of CFB Shilo – tho unlike Suffield, the commitment to protection is not necessarily permanent. The government backgrounder notes the OECM status can be removed at any time if the future land use is not compatible with conservation. Nature Canada welcomes new possibilities for expanding protected areas such as on CFB Shilo. We look forward to seeing how the process can result in effective and long-term protection for nature under international conservation guidelines.

To protect other critical areas in Canada, like the South Okanagan Similkameen, click here!

Government announces official protection for the Banc-des-Américains
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Government announces official protection for the Banc-des-Américains

Nature Canada is pleased to share some fin-tastic news: the Banc-des-Américains on Quebec’s east coast is now officially protected habitat for whales, fish and other marine life. On Wednesday, the regulations for the newest marine protected area were officially made into law under Canada’s Oceans Act. That means an additional 1,000 km2 (0.02%) of Canada’s ocean habitat will have long-term protection, bringing us a step closer the goal of protecting 10 per cent of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2020. Located in the far eastern tip of Quebec - on the Gaspé Peninsula - the Banc-des-Américains is a unique habitat on Canada’s east coast.

The bank stretches off the coast underwater, where the Gaspé and Chaleur Bay currents meet. The combination of unique rock formations, along with rich nutrients brought in by the currents, supports an unusually rich population of sea life.

 

The abundance of fish and crustaceans found here (including herring and krill) makes it an valuable feeding ground for big marine mammals like the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale and the Blue Whale.

Nature Canada especially applauds that the regulations prohibit oil and gas activities, discharge of sewage and release of grey water from large vessels throughout the entire area. Designating protected areas helps safeguard habitat and biodiversity. We need effective protections like this and we hope for similar results for protection of the Laurentian Whale Passage. The creation of the Banc-des-Américains marine protected area was a cooperative effort between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Quebec government. Important consultations also took place with the Mi’gmaq First Nation of Gespeg, Gesgapegiag and Listuguj as well as fishing associations, local communities and conservation organizations. Together we can make a difference for Canada’s wildlife! *The photo at top of page supplied by Gee Pena/Creative Commons 2.0.

North Atlantic Right Whales: The Right Way
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North Atlantic Right Whales: The Right Way

What do you get when you multiply a Tyrannosaurus Rex by eight? At about 65,000 kilograms you get roughly the weight of one North Pacific Right Whale! These massive sea creatures are aquatic mammals, but despite their need to come up for air they're able to dive for as long as 60 minutes! Such large animals tend to have higher energy requirements than most others and North Atlantic Right Whales are no exception. On any given day the carnivorous whales can eat up to 2500 kilograms worth of food. Like many animals, the whales’ migration habits are based on climate. They will often head south in the winter (their calving season) for their preferred breeding conditions. The whales live throughout the North of the Atlantic Ocean, mainly concentrated on Canadian and US coasts. Despite their frequent migration, certain conditions are considered optimal for the whales to live in. Thus far, two regions with such conditions (called critical habitats) have been named for them in Canada: the Bay of Fundy and the Roseway Basin. Following the vast declines (and eventual extirpation) of these whales from Western Europe, whalers made their way to Canada in search of more. After their arrival in the 1500s, the North Atlantic Right Whale's name was given by whalers who determined them to be the ‘right’ whales to hunt. Being the ‘right’ whale for centuries took its toll on North Atlantic Right Whale populations. Among other features, their blubber and oil made them attractive targets, with whalers pushing them to near extinction in the 1900s. This excessive hunting eventually led to a hunting ban in 1935. [caption id="attachment_48823" align="alignnone" width="1024"] © Alan Woodhouse[/caption] So what's the issue? Although international protection and hunting bans have addressed the threat of over-hunting, they still face several other types of danger. Large ships and fishing equipment are have been problematic as the whales' size and lack of speed make it more difficult to avoid such obstacles. Furthermore, their birth rate is inefficient as a solution, as the females are now only giving birth every 9 years, with their window only lasting approximately 28 years. This inefficiency is compounded by the fact that the population is already very small. As a result of these issues and the history of over-hunting, the whales' SARA and COSEWIC statuses have them listed as an endangered species.  What can we do? Currently, a Recovery Strategy has been put in place by the Government of Canada to help rebuild right whale populations. Supporting government projects such as this one is critical to bringing their population back to stable numbers. Reporting sightings and emergencies is also very important to help scientists keep track of what's going on. In our day-to-day it can be difficult to budget much time to so many causes, so supporting NGOs' research or action efforts is a great way to get personally involved and getting more acquainted with the SARA species profile to learn more is a great start.

Saving Our Swallows – A Conservation Internship
Barn Swallow
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Saving Our Swallows – A Conservation Internship

Aerial Insectivores (birds who eat insets while flying, including swallows) are the species of birds that are declining the fastest in Canada[1]. Over the past few months, I have had the privilege to work with Ted Cheskey, the Naturalist Director at Nature Canada, as a practicum student through my program at Carleton University.  Although I have worked on other projects, the focus of my work at Nature Canada is the Save Our Swallows (SOS) initiative.  This initiative, which is supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, aims to mobilize specific communities for the conservation and recovery of Ontario’s declining swallow populations.  To this end, I have been tasked with developing methods to identify and delineate bird roosts in Ontario, using weather radar. The purpose of this is to give us the ability to remotely monitor the size of roosts in Ontario, and create a database with the approximate size of birds dating back to the early 2000’s.

Figure 1. Graph showing the population trends of birds, aerial insectivores shown in pink. (State of Canada's Birds, 2012).

WSR-88D radar is a series of weather stations operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which covers the contiguous United States.  However, we are only interested in four main sites: Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit and Fort Drum.  These four sites allow to identify roots from Windsor to beyond Kingston, with the largest roost located on Walpole Island. In order to identify the roosts, we look for tell tale shapes that we have dubbed the “donut” or a semi-circle.

Figure 2. Screenshot of a roost signature, showing the "donut" signature over Walpole Island.

These shapes appear best in the morning between 05:45 and 07:00 when the birds are leaving their roosts for the day. Information on how to access, download and visualize radar data is coming soon! By improving out ability to identify roosts remotely, it is our hope that we will be able to increase the understanding surrounding where and when swallows roost to advance conservation efforts in this regard. If you are interested in this subject, please feel free to check out our Save Our Swallows initiative here.
[1] www.stateofcanadasbirds.org/results_national_indicators.jsp

The Polar Bear: Rider of Icebergs
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The Polar Bear: Rider of Icebergs

Legendary commercial actor, close friend of Santa Claus, and explorer of the North, the Polar Bear is nothing if not the symbol of Arctic life. Their Latin name, Ursus maritimus, translates to sea bear and provides great insight into how they live. As apex predators, polar bears spend lots of time hunting in and around Arctic waters for their prey, their favourite of which is the ringed seal. Polar bears are recognisable by their white coat and their large size. Males tend to weigh between 350-600 kilograms while females will weigh between 150-290 kilograms, both can be over 10 feet tall when standing. Their bodies are made to withstand all the cold that the Arctic climate has to offer, as their two layers of fur and thick layer of blubber offer them more than enough warmth to survive – sometimes even too much warmth for the summers! Apart from the big screen, polar bears live across the Arctic region, particularly in five countries: Canada, the US, Greenland, Russia, and Norway. As such, polar bears represent history for many peoples across the Arctic. For millennia, various indigenous groups have counted on polar bears as key contributors to their ways of life. They are still hunted today as part of their long-held traditions, but the process is very monitored and respectful of the prey. Nearly every part of a polar bear is used by the hunters, whether for weather-appropriate clothing or for calorie-rich meals. Many regulations have been imposed on the hunters, serving to protect polar bear populations from being threatened by direct human action. So what’s the issue? According to both SARA and COSEWIC, polar bears are a species of special concern. Although effective in curtailing over-hunting, the regulations do not address the main threat polar bears face; climate change. Polar bears rely on sea ice as their habitat. This has historically worked very well for them as it allows them plenty of room for hunting, but lately, with rising global temperatures as a result of climate change, living on the ice has become more trying for them. Different polar bear populations face different challenges, but among the most threatened are those living in regions of Seasonal Ice and Polar Basin Divergent Ice. The existence of Seasonal Ice, as the name suggests, is dependent on the season as it melts in the summer and begin to return in the fall. When the ice melts it leaves polar bears unable to hunt, forcing them into a fast. Fasting is not new to them, but the duration of the melt is getting much longer than it used to be, making it more challenging for polar bears to fast through longer summers. For Polar Basin Divergent Ice regions the challenges are similar. The sea ice builds up near shores and will retract from the shores as it melts in the warmer months. Climate change accelerates this process and melts more of the ice near the shore. This forces the bears to either go back to land where they would have to fast or swimming further out in search of more ice.  What can we do? The most important thing we can do to keep polar bears safe is to support environmental initiatives in government. Making green choices from the top-down is essential to fighting climate change on a macro scale, and the best way to do this is to stay informed on the issues along with the candidates who advocate for them. On a more personal level, supporting polar bear charities or conservation organisations goes a long way in furthering research, and making eco-friendly decisions in our daily lives can push others to follow suit.

Making things right: Protections for Right Whales on Canada’s east coast
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Making things right: Protections for Right Whales on Canada’s east coast

On Feb. 7 2019, Federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced new rules to try and protect Atlantic Right Whales on Canada's east coast. They include mandatory speed restrictions for large vessels, temporary fisheries closures, mandatory reporting of all lost gear and mandatory gear marking to be phased in by 2020. The new measures are meant to protect migrating whales, who risk entanglement in gear and collision with fast moving ships. [caption id="attachment_48738" align="aligncenter" width="600"] A photo of the Southern Right Whale. Northern populations of the Right Whale are critically endangered. Photo/Brian Skerry[/caption]

A deadly year

While there's plenty of food in Canadian waters, there is also danger. In 2017 - around the same time many Canadian families were prepping for Canada 150 road trips - Atlantic Right Whales off the coast of southern United States were preparing for their own trip. Every year, the population makes the long journey north to the rich feeding grounds in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. Sadly, in 2017, it wasn't a holiday for many of our marine visitors. That year 12 Atlantic Right Whales found dead in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. Collision with boats and entanglement in fishing gear are two deadly hazards facing the whales, in an area that is both a important migratory passage and a busy shipping area. The species are critically endangered, with only around 450 left.

Busy waters

Right Whales aren't the only ones making their way up the coast. Canada's maritime waters are a busy place in the summer. Over 20 species of marine mammals come home to the Laurentian Channel - also known as the Laurentian Whale Passage - for summer and fall feeding. Those species include Leatherback Turtles, Humpback Whales, Minke Whales, Fin Whales, Blue Whales and Belugas. Some of these species, including the Right Whale, are tracked by Dalhousie University in the On Alert for Whales project, which also shows fishery closures and current protected areas. Real-time whale tracking can help the government introduce temporary speed restrictions and closures when a whale is spotted in the area. Along with Right Whales, the map also has historical sightings of Sei Whales, Humpback Whales, Blue Whales and Fin Whales. [caption id="attachment_48721" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Click the screenshot to go to an interactive Whale Tracking map.[/caption]

Want to help?

Nature Canada is glad to see the government paying close attention to the future of this critically endangered species. Of course, there’s also more to be done. The map above shows protected areas in green. The government has already recognized the Laurentian Channel - also known as the Laurentian Whale Passage - as an important ecological area worth protection. We're asking the government to make the area a full Marine Protected Area that prioritizes the lives of wildlife like Right Whales, Leatherback Turtles and Northern Wolffish. Time to make waves. If you haven’t already, please consider signing our petition to make the Laurentian Whale Passage a Marine Protected Area.

Want to Help?

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