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Women for Nature – Elizabeth Kilvert
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Women for Nature – Elizabeth Kilvert

Featuring Women for Nature member and business owner of The Unrefined Olive, Elizabeth Kilvert. Written by fellow Women for Nature member Sharolyn Mathieu Vettese.

Sharolyn:You are currently the successful business owner of The Unrefined Olive stores in Ottawa, but you came from a diverse background of international development studies, natural history museums, marine biology, organic agriculture, sustainable fisheries, and Environment Canada.  How did such a diverse experience coalesce to sell olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and specialty foods?

Elizabeth: I have always had a passion for food but I wanted my business to be rooted in my core values as well. I wanted to sell products that were sustainable, nutritious, delicious, fair and equitable to the farmer; and food that was not harmful to the environment.

Elizabeth Kilvert

I was working for Environment Canada when I took the leap six years ago. I was passionate about that too; but when you see government policy contravening with what you hold dear, how can you work for an institution that doesn’t resonate with what you believe in. When you go into business for yourself, you can align your beliefs and values with your actions. 

S: And now you’re really enjoying what you’re doing.

E:I do.  I feel very enriched by my business.  It reflects my values of giving, sustainability, biodiversity, and compassion; and we are fortunate because these are also the types of customers we attract. I also get to engage with individuals and organizations in our community. People are looking for more transparency when buying products and they are looking for sustainable business practices.

S: How do you include sustainability in your business practice?

E: We use recycled paper packaging, almost no plastics, and a local potter makes our dishware. Our furnishings are made from ash wood from trees that were felled by the Emerald Ash Borer beetle.

S:  Why was it important for you to have "unrefined” in your store’s name? What were you trying to tell your customers?

E: Unrefined means unprocessed, which is better in the food world. We only carry Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil and never an olive oil over a year old. All of our olive oils are third party tested and I have done training to recognize taste profiles and faults in olive oil.

S: What is the added value?

E: Studies have shown that up to 75% of olive oil is rancid, expired, and blended with other nut and seed oils. Olives are a stone fruit, like a peach, and should be pressed when at a certain ripeness and ideally within hours of picking. When the olives are too ripe or have been sitting around too long before they go to the mill; the oil that is made smells and tastes awful.

S: Should we care about our food in terms of how it is grown, and processed before we eat it?

E: Absolutely.  Look at the rates of diseases like obesity, diabetes, and cancer. We are a society full of inflammatory diseases as well. When we invest in good food we invest in our health, sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, and a sound economy. We also satiate ourselves without snacking and lead healthier lives. Health and nutrition go together and should be a major investment of our monetary budgets. Food can promote healing and disease prevention. It is also the way we socialize, comfort ourselves, entertain, and express ourselves. Good quality ingredients are as different as eating a grocery tomato in January and a freshly picked one from the garden in the summer.  It’s a completely different experience.

S: Why is it worthwhile to buy quality food as a consumer?

E: We all choose where we want to put our money.  Investing in Farmers Markets, local shops, local producers, farmers, butchers, bakers, and cheese makers [...] is investing in sound agricultural practices, food that is nutritious, and producers who are employing people locally.  You are voting for a sustainable economy. 

S:How did you come to appreciate Nature? 

E: I’m from Halifax. I grew up on a dead end street surrounded by a lake. There was also a bog and a stream. I grew up being outside, paddling canoes, and catching frogs. It was always a struggle to get us kids inside.  My parents were also active outside. We would go cross-country skiing, skating, walking in the woods, hiking, spending lots of time on the beach; and they were big gardeners.

S: Why did you choose to become a "Woman for Nature"

 E: I spend the majority of my time working in, and on, my business; in the food world, with my business community, with my industry, and with organizations in the community where I live and beyond. I have always taken a multi-disciplinary approach and wanted to connect with a broader circle of academics, politicians, artists, business and non-governmental leaders in the environmental and biodiversity field. I also want to connect and demonstrate how small business has a role to play in leadership through best practices, the social economy, and industry standards in the environmental and biodiversity realm. That is why I chose to become a Woman for Nature.

Federal Government Fails Endangered Orcas
Photo by Nicole Peshy, an Orca hunting a Sea Lion.
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Federal Government Fails Endangered Orcas

Threats to the endangered Southern Resident Orcas associated with marine vessels are set to increase with the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The Ministers of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada have an opportunity to protect the Southern Resident Orca population from such threats by declaring an Emergency Order under the Species at Risk Act.

The Audit on Marine Mammals

Julie Gelfand, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to the Parliament of Canada conducted an audit to determine whether Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Environment and Climate Change Canada, Parks Canada and Transport Canada adequately protected marine mammals in waters under the jurisdiction of the federal government from threats posed by marine vessels and commercial fishing during the period of 1 January 2012 and 1 June 2018. The Commissioner’s report was released October 2, 2018 and is available here: Report 2 – Protecting Marine Mammals. To summarize her official report, the Commissioner found that relevant federal authorities had not fully applied existing policies and tools to manage threats to marine mammals that stem from commercial fishing and marine vessels. Threats from commercial fishing include entanglements, bycatch, depletion of food sources such as salmon, noise and disturbance, oil spills and collisions with marine vessels. Risks posed by underwater noise and disturbance from marine vessels, collisions and oil spills could impede the recovery or speed the decline of marine mammal populations.

Species at Risk Management

The Commissioner also found that for 11 out of 14 marine mammal species listed as endangered or threatened under the Species at Risk Act, DFO could not demonstrate that it had implemented management measures to reduce threats from commercial fishing and marine vessels. Thus, the Commissioner found that management tools have not been used to protect marine mammals until the situation became severe.

Southern Resident Orcas

The plight of British Columbia’s Southern Resident Orcas demonstrate the impact of delaying management measures. While the Southern Resident Orca was listed as endangered in 2003, an Action Plan was not finalized until 2017. The Commissioner’s report found that DFO only began to implement management measures to address threats to the Southern Resident Orcas in 2017 and 2018. The Southern Resident Orcas are currently experiencing fatalities due to strikes with marine vessels and stress from noise and disturbance caused by marine shipping vessels. Both of these threats would intensify with increased marine shipping traffic associated with the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion.

To read recent coverage of this topic, consult the following

Swimming with Species – Orcas
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Swimming with Species – Orcas

Today’s species is the Orca!

Orcas, also known as Killer Whales, are among the best-known marine animals. They are iconic mammals of Canada’s wildlife, and hold an important symbolism among the Native communities. Orcas are super easy to identify with their unique tuxedo-like colouration and white “eye” patches. Since they live in all five oceans, we can find them to the east, west, and north of Canada! Now, we really should call them Orcas because “killer whales” is quite misleading. You see, Orcas are the largest members of the dolphin family, (not whales)! By large, we’re talking males up to 9 meters long and weigh 6 to 9 thousand kilograms, that’s 7-10 tons! Females are a bit smaller, and are about 7 meters long and 4 to 7 thousand kilos (5-7 tons). [caption id="attachment_38463" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Photo by Nicole Peshy, an Orca hunting a Sea Lion.[/caption]   Like most members of the dolphin family, Orcas are highly social. They live in groups called a pod which can consist of 10 to 40 related individuals. Research has found that there are different “types” of pods, for which scientists have used to classify and identify groups of Orcas. These are; Northern and Southern Resident type, Northern and Southern Transient type, and Offshore type. Differences between types can be subtle such as variations in vocal patterns and dorsal fin shapes, or more pronounced such as their preferred diet. Offshore and Residents Orcas will feed predominantly on fish; schooling fish for the Offshores, and coastal fish and squid for the Resident Orcas. Transient pods, on the other hand, feed almost exclusively on other marine mammals. Speaking of food, Orcas got their nicknames, killer whales, from their hunting strategy. Orcas are apex predators, or top predators of the oceans, and hunt in packs, quite fiercely. When a pod isn’t hunting, they spend time socializing with each other. They’ll travel, rest, explore, and play together. The most famous play behaviour is called breaching; when they dived out of the water’s surface into the air with leaps and twirls. In essence, they need to breach to come to the surface for respiration, but, they do so with fantastic style! Orcas aren’t the only ones though, most whales and dolphins perform these jumps, twirls and tail slaps. In addition, Orcas communicate with echolocation, which mean the use of sound waves to locate and identify objects within their surroundings. This helps them navigate for foraging and just for an Orca to tell another Orca their location. Orcas have long lifespans! They can live up 40-50 years old. However, females tend to live longer and can reach up to 80 years of age. Both females and males reach sexual maturity in their “teens” being 12-17 years old. Pods of different families will find one another to mate with. This keeps their genetic make-up stronger, versus if they were to inbreed. The gestation period is a little more than a year with 17 months. Babies are born with the same colouration as adults, so they really do look like miniature versions of their mother! [caption id="attachment_38462" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Photo by Eileen Redding[/caption] As social animals, offspring need their mother and pod members to learn behaviours, feed, and be safe from predators. It takes about a year before a baby is weaned, therefore it is crucial that mom and baby stay together during this time. If a baby gets lost, or gets separated from their mom, they will have a high chance of dying, not knowing how to survive on their own. Once weaned, the offspring stays with its natal pod for life. Orcas intrigue scientists with their complex behaviours. They are still so much to learn about them since scientists have only be able to conduct studies close to shores, and/or in captivity. Not only are parenting behaviours observed among pods, but pod members have been observed to teach younger members foraging and hunting skills. Pods of different “types” developed their own “dialect” for whistles, calls, and clicks, which is passed on to their offspring! But most fascinating is their ability to mourn. For example, when a baby dies, a mother will carry the body for days until she has “moved on”. This has been called a “Tour of Grief”. According to the ICUN, there is insufficient data to conclude a species assessment status other than “Data Deficient (DD)”. However, Orcas are still victims to many threats, most of them human-related. For one, commercial fisheries contribute to increased accidental net entrapment and decreased prey availability to native wildlife. Oil spills and toxic build-up via human waste affects all large species like Orcas, because toxins will accumulate in dangerous amounts within their fat cells. In addition, just as there are more cars on the roads, there are more ships asea. We don’t think of it; however, water traffic affects water acoustics, which then effects echolocation for Orcas and all other species that use this method of communication! Fortunately, they are people who do not take the threat of Orcas’ disappearance lightly. Conservation organizations like Nature Canada are pressing governments to urge the continuation of research projects, recovery plans, and imply more wildlife protection. Do you want to help out but think “oh well I’m just one person, right?” Wrong! You can help! Every step counts. Become more aware of what you’re buying and try to buy environmentally friendly items. Support sites such as Nature Canada that educate the public about our endangered species and provide guides to good stewardships. Participate in Orca educational programs with your provincial wildlife organizations. And lastly, spread the word! Post, share, and tweet about saving orcas. References: http://naturecanada.ca/what-we-do/naturevoice/endangered-species/know-our-species/orca/ http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15421/0 https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Orcinus_orca/ https://bc.ctvnews.ca/orca-s-tour-of-grief-over-after-carrying-dead-calf-for-nearly-3-weeks-1.4049902  

A Walk in the Park, and the Importance of Protected Areas
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A Walk in the Park, and the Importance of Protected Areas

Growing up in Toronto, where the city seems to slowly creep ever farther over the landscape, parks provided the perfect green haven away from the concrete jungle. It’s where I saw my first moose, learned how to canoe, and, most importantly, where I first connected with nature. Over the next twenty years, I would realize how far-reaching the positive effects these parks would have, not only on me, but on the national conservation of our wilderness. [caption id="attachment_38437" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario.[/caption] While inspiring me to enter into the field of biology, these parks also gave me my first scientific job - working as a student naturalist. Here, the park shifted from being a playground to a teacher. In the park, we ran a variety of programs including guided hikes celebrating the overlooked plants of the understory and pond explorations where families caught darting aquatic invertebrates. They would peer through foggy glass at these wonderful and freaky creatures from the deep, eyes wide with wonder. Kids would go running back to their campsites to share all the amazing things that they had learned with their family and friends, allowing the knowledge to grow and gain a life of its own. We had some kids return in future years who were inspired to create their own “Interpretive Centres” full of antlers, rocks, and anything they were lucky enough to scrounge up back at home.  It was surreal to know that these park educational programs could form an intricate understanding between the public and nature. It was here that I realized that a park is a place of inspiration, where future generations can learn more about the natural world. Parks aren’t just refugia for humans however. Of course, they are also a home to a beautifully diverse range of species. These areas act as a haven to maintain pristine environments which, in turn, allows wildlife to thrive in peace. After graduating from university, I had the opportunity to delve into this realm wherein I worked on a variety of biomonitoring projects in parks across the country. Some of these projects were hands-off, including using motion-sensing trail cameras and timed audio-recorders to track species remotely throughout the landscape. These tools allowed us to non-invasively capture the shy and elusive critters in the area and gives us insight into their behaviours and habitat preferences. [caption id="attachment_38436" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Snug Harbour in Gros More National Park, Newfoundland.[/caption] For example, at Blue Lake Provincial Park, this system allowed scientists to discover the presence of the Olive-sided Flycatcher, a species-at-risk within Ontario. Other research projects were species-specific. For example, in Gros Morne National Park, scientists set up a fish fence every year in the park’s streams to monitor Atlantic salmon populations. These counts allow them to track the population trends and actively manage this declining species. Over time, I realized that the list of research conducted in our parks goes on for miles, from vegetation monitoring to species re-introductions. Through this vast array of scientific work, we are expanding our understanding of these ecosystems which consequently allows us to better preserve the many species that call our protected areas home. [gallery columns="4" link="none" size="medium" ids="38670,38668,38673,38675"] What I’ve learned through my life spent in parks is that they are wildly complex. From inspiring people to appreciate and learn more about the great outdoors, to actively managing species-at-risk, our parks play a huge role in ensuring that the landscapes and wildlife we enjoy today are still here for future generations. Parks are living organisms, acting as playgrounds, teachers, and scientists. They fill up our imaginations and hearts, transporting us from the confines of the city into vast and untamed landscapes. These parks are so much more than what meets the eye, you only need to take the time to get out there and then you can begin to appreciate and explore. Parks have helped shape who I am today, and I am excited for what else they will teach millions of other Canadians in the years to come. The author drew her inspiration for this post from her time spent as a naturalist for Ontario Parks at Blue Lake Provincial Park.

Greening the Federal Budget (Once Again in 2019!)
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Greening the Federal Budget (Once Again in 2019!)

The Green Budget Coalition (GBC) had a huge win this past February when the 2018 federal budget included $1.3 billion over five years for protected areas establishment and species at risk conservation. Congratulations to Finance Minister Morneau and Prime Minister Trudeau, who made this major investment in nature possible. GBC is back again this year with recommendations for the 2019 federal budget. The GBC team of advocates representing environment and nature groups as diverse as Greenpeace and Ducks Unlimited fanned out across Ottawa in late September to meet with Cabinet Ministers including Minister Morneau and Environment and Climate Change Minister McKenna, parliamentarians including opposition members of Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office, and senior civil servants from various departments and agencies. The GBC’s priority recommendations for Budget 2019 include measures to support sustainable agriculture, tackle toxics and pesticides (such as NeoNics!), phase out fossil fuel subsidies, improve management of fresh water, and conserve the biodiversity and health of Canada’s oceans.  For example, GBC recommends $117 million per year for five years to Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC) to:

  • conserve on-farm biodiversity, protect soils and water degradation, loss and pollution, and increase climate resilience;
  • accelerate development and adoption of best environmentally sustainable practices through research and development; and
  • prevent food losses and waste.
GBC recommends a further $114.5 million in 2019 (ramping up in subsequent years) to improve pesticides regulations and manage next-generation chemicals.  An important complementary GBC recommendation for Nature Canada is for $25 million per year over five years to support conservation of birds and their habitats within and beyond our borders. Details of the recommendations can be found here. You can support a greener federal budget by contacting the Prime  Minister’s Office, Finance Minister Morneau or your Member of Parliament. Representing one million Canadians through 20 member groups, the Green Budget Coalition has been greening federal budgets for 20 years working out of Nature Canada’s Ottawa offices.

September Calendar Image : Spirit Island
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September Calendar Image : Spirit Island

This blog was written by Anne-Marie Macloughlin for the September 2018 calendar image of Spirit Island in Jasper National Park, which was shot by photographer Bill Settle. For many of us born outside of Canada, the Rocky Mountain vista as seen from the vantage point of postcard-perfect Maligne Lake is the archetypal Canadian landscape. Part of Jasper National Park, Canada’s largest at over 11,000 square kilometres and a UNESCO heritage site, the aqua lake with it’s other-worldly hue (a result of rock-flour from the glaciers) is what comes to mind when imagining the Rocky Mountains. The park is home to a staggering amount of wildlife, close to 70 different species whose survival depends on the park remaining protected. Three large glaciers loom over Maligne, the name translating to “Wicked” in French, possibly attributed to the turbulence of the spring runoff into the Maligne River which would have been treacherous to navigate for early explorers. Hard to reconcile such a negative connotation with the soul-stirring beauty of Maligne, the original indigenous name of “Chaba Imne” (Beaver Lake) more in keeping with the mythology of the surroundings, perhaps. And emerging into the lake like a mirage is Spirit island.   What is known as a tied island, Spirit Island is attached to the mainland by a slim spit of land, the iconic landscape globally familiar, used by Kodak Photographic in 1960 in a display in New York’s Grand Central Terminal to show-off colour photography. Depending on the season and water levels, Spirit Island can be cut off from the mainland if the Spring runoff from melting snow is significant. Accessibility in general is limited, tours by boat a popular option for visitors to the park, some of them affording an extended stay on the island to explore and fully appreciate the natural beauty. The island sits in a box canyon, a flat-bottomed lake surrounded by vertical walls of glacier with late afternoon in the summer an optimal time for photo opps, some tours even led by a professional photographer to capture the perfect image. With much of Canada’s history containing significant elements of indigenous lore, Spirit Island is no exception. A place of significance to the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, it’s easy to understand the connection early settlers to the region felt with the power of nature in spite of its potentially harsh conditions (the average daily low in January a frigid -17.8C). According to First Nations mythology, the name comes from the story of two young lovers. A modern-day Romeo and Juliet, they belonged to warring tribes and used the island for their forbidden trysts. The young girl finally confessed to her father, one of the tribes’ chiefs, and he banned her from ever returning to the island. Her heartbroken lover continued to return to Spirit Island over the years, hoping to see her again. Sadly, she never went back and he eventually died on the island, his spirit wandering there for eternity. Ghost stories aside, Spirit Island and its surrounding park remains a popular go-to for tourists and nature lovers. With more green spaces diminishing in the name of urbanisation, development and the bottom line, protecting these sacred spaces is even more important than ever. UNESCO has an information monitoring system that provides data on the state of conservation of world heritage sites and the threats they face and Nature Canada, the country’s oldest nature conservation charity, has over the last 75 years helped protect over 63 million acres of parks and wildlife areas in Canada. As important as conservation is for the non-human park dwellers, we humans are deeply affected by our surroundings; recent studies are seeking to prove that exposure to nature improves mental, physical and emotional health. As Edward O. Wilson hypothesises in his book “Biophilia” (Wilson, 1984) we have a tendency to seek connections with nature and other living things. The haunting beauty of Spirit Island seems like a good place to start.

References

Creating A Nature Network: From Coast, to Coast, to Coast
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Creating A Nature Network: From Coast, to Coast, to Coast

Canada is famous for its incredible natural landscapes and the multitude of wild species that call it home. From coast to coast to coast, our country boasts millions of plant and animal species that are admired by Canadians in all provinces and territories, and attracts nature lovers from around the world. Unfortunately, nature in Canada is under threat. Over 50 percent of wildlife species are in decline, and the health of our iconic landscapes is no better. To help protect our natural environments and wildlife species, we need to foster our passion, and unite our voices for what we all have in common, nature in Canada. Blue Jay Photo by Bill McMullen. At Nature Canada, we are excited to launch our newest program, the Nature Network. This program intends to create a network that unites nature organizations from across the country while also providing the necessary support to these organizations with their public engagement work. In creating this network, we intend to reinforce the incredible work that nature groups across the country are already doing every day. By creating a network of organizations that are able to successfully engage the public the nature community will be able to create impactful and lasting change for wildlife areas, and species, in Canada. We have created a toolkit for nature groups to support their engagement practices as well as a small grants fund (by invitation) for those groups related to Important Bird Areas. The complimentary tools available include a guide to engagement organizing practices, a quarterly e-newsletter featuring stories of nature groups trying various engagement tactics, webinars, and in-depth coaching. This program aims to unite advocates to defend important areas and species, and will be spearheaded by Nature Canada’s two Nature Network Organizers, Hannah Dean and Teagan Yaremchuk.

Trans Mountain Decision a Win for Endangered Orcas – But They Still Need Your Help!
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Trans Mountain Decision a Win for Endangered Orcas – But They Still Need Your Help!

This blog post was written by Andrea Lesperance, a Student-at-Law for Nature Canada. On August 30, 2018 the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) quashed the federal government’s approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project, saying the National Energy Board (NEB) review of the project failed to consider the impact of an increase in oil tanker traffic in the Salish Sea on the Southern Resident Killer Whales and that the government did not engage in sufficient consultation with Indigenous peoples impacted by the project. Nature Canada previously intervened in the NEB’s assessment of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion. In 2015, before NEB hearings on the Project began, Nature Canada filed a motion with the NEB to compel full and adequate responses by Kinder Morgan on the risk of harm to birds from an oil tanker spill and the resilience of bird populations to recover from an oil spill. Further, Nature Canada objected to the NEB’s elimination of cross-examination, arguing that this would compromise the NEB’s ability to access evidence on the project’s contribution to the public interest.

Tsleil-Waututh Nation v. Canada (Attorney General), 2018 FCA 153

In Tsleil-Waututh Nation v. Canada (Attorney General), 2018 FCA 153 the FCA found that the NEB unjustifiably excluded Project-related shipping from the definition of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project. The FCA also found that this exclusion resulted in a failure to fulfill obligations under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) with respect to the Southern Resident Killer Whales. The NEB had found that “the operation of Project-related marine vessels is likely to result in significant adverse effects to the Southern resident killer whale.” In addition, the NEB found that “the increase in marine vessel traffic associated with the Project is likely to result in significant adverse effects on the traditional Aboriginal use associated with the Southern resident killer whale.” However, having excluded Project-related marine shipping from the Project’s definition and concluding that SARA protections did not apply, the NEB concluded that the Project was not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.

Significant Adverse Environmental Effects on Southern Resident Killer Whales

The Southern Resident Killer Whales are currently experiencing stress from noise and disturbance from marine shipping and whale-watching boats. At issue in the Tsleil-Waututh Nation v. Canada (Attorney General) case was the Project’s impact on the Southern Resident Killer Whales and their use by Indigenous peoples. In reference to marine mammals and the Southern Resident Killer Whales, the NEB found:
  • Underwater noise from marine vessels related to the Trans Mountain Pipeline would be long-term and would result in sensory disturbances to marine mammals;
  • Project-related marine vessels have the potential to strike a marine mammals, which would result in death or other effects;
  • The increase in Project-related marine traffic would contribute to cumulative risk of marine mammal vessel strikes;
  • The Southern resident killer whale population has crossed a threshold where any additional adverse environmental effects would be considered significant;
  • The current level of vessel traffic in the regional study area and the predicted future increase of vessel traffic in that area, even excluding Project-related marine vessels, “have a would increase the pressure on the Southern resident killer whale population.”
Nature Canada and our supporters are demanding that the federal government take action to ensure that projects such as the Trans Mountain Pipeline and its associated tanker traffic do not wipe out the endangered Southern Resident Orcas. We are calling on the federal government to issue an Emergency Order under the Species at Risk Act which would:
  • Restrict Chinook salmon fisheries in areas where the Orcas feed;
  • Enforce the 200 m buffer between marine vessels and Orcas and speed restrictions on vessels;
  • Reduce noise and disturbance for commercial vessels in Orca foraging areas; and
  • Project critical habitat, including the Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area.
 

The Biggest Global Bird Event of the Year: International Ornithological Congress Vancouver
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The Biggest Global Bird Event of the Year: International Ornithological Congress Vancouver

[caption id="attachment_36273" align="alignleft" width="150"]Ted Cheskey, click for contact information Ted Cheskey, Naturalist Director.[/caption] Ted Cheskey, Naturalist Director of Nature Canada attended the 27th International Ornithological Congress in late August, in Vancouver with about 2000 other delegates from around the world.  The congress was organized by the International Ornithological Union and co-hosted by Bird Studies Canada (BSC), Nature Canada’s co-partner in BirdLife International.  Here is a first person account of the week-long event.

Canadian Migration Monitoring Network - Friday

Many other national and international bird partnerships organized meetings around the IOC to take advantage of their supporters travelling there and being the same place at the same time.  The Canadian Migration Monitoring Network, the network of bird observatories across Canada, did just this, and organized their biannual meeting on Vancouver Island just prior to the Congress.  I arrived on Friday morning at Vancouver airport, and quickly travelled to Vancouver Island where I joined the CMMN meeting.  Many of the CMMN organizations are part of Nature Canada’s Cats and Birds partnership, and are also part of the Canadian Nature Network.  Nature Canada’s recent priority of helping small organizations (like bird observatories) become stronger through “engagement organizing” is something that interests several of them.   I shared a new resource that Nature Canada has created on engagement organizing as part of my participation in the meeting.  A highlight of this meeting for me was attending Dr. David Bird’s talk about the use of drones in ornithological research.  Dr. Bird is also well known as an advocate for the Canada Jay to be recognized as Canada’s official bird.

Delta tour - Saturday

[caption id="attachment_38310" align="alignright" width="368"] Anne Murrary talks about Boundary Bay.[/caption] BSC organized a bus tour of the Fraser Delta for about 40 participants representing a wide range of interest groups sharing interest in protecting the Delta.  We made four stops to experience key habitats and issues.  At each stop an expert provided a commentary on a major issue for participants. For example, Anne Murray, past Nature Canada Board member and author of two books on Boundary Bay, shared her thoughts on the history of and challenges faced in this biologically rich section of the Delta.  Roger Emsley of BC Nature talked of his campaign to stop a major expansion of the container shipping terminal at Robert’s Bank that threatens habitat which supports hundreds of thousands of Western Sandpipers and other species.  At another stop, we visited a farm, where the farmer, whose barn was home for the Endangered Barn Owl, lamented about how rodenticides used on some farms in the Delta are gradually killing off the Barn Owls.  This trip painted a rich portrait of this remarkable area and the incredibly complex issues and relationship affecting it.  Nature Canada is calling for protection of the Delta and a re-invigorated version of the Fraser Delta Management Plan.

Partners In Flight all-day session - Monday

Partners in Flight (PIF) is a network of organizations throughout the Western Hemisphere engaged in all aspects of landbird conservation from science, research, planning, and policy development, to land management, monitoring, education, and outreach. PIF’s mission is: “keeping common birds common and helping species at risk through voluntary partnerships”. To halt and reverse bird population declines before they are listed as threatened or endangered is a cost effective and common sense business model for the future.  As many PIF partners were attending the IOC, this “side event” was organized to bring PIF partners together to share international conservation initiatives.  Many of the participants were from Latin American countries with which Canada shares the same birds (they breed in Canada and spend their non-breeding season in Latin America).  Nature Canada works with PIF partners on the Canada Warbler International Conservation Initiative among other initiatives.

Congress Official Opening – Monday

Organizers of the Congress including a rich mix of culture, art and science, and twinned the Congress with their week-long inaugural Vancouver International Birding Festival.  The festival included outings throughout the region for visitors, and pre and post Congress outings for the delegates.   Official remarks were made by dignitaries, including newly minted Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honorable Jonathan Wilkinson, the Provincial Minister of the Environment for British Columbia, the Honorable George Heyman, and Dr. Lucia Liu Severinghaus, President of the International Ornithologists Union.  After two inspiring speeches by the respective Ministers, Dr. Severinghaus took the stage and lamented how she wished that the same thoughtfulness, inspiration and commitment to environmental protections and bird conservation expressed by the Ministers’ speeches needed to be brought back to her country, and those of most of the other delegates that lack positive political leadership on the environment.  This was indeed a moment when I felt proud to be Canadian!

Canada Night - Tuesday

Canada Night celebrated Canada, and some of the people who have made great contributions to bird science and bird conservation.  The featured event was a speech by renowned Canadian author, Margaret Atwood.  Ms Atwood talked about the many issues that impact birds, naturally including roaming cats. She gave a humorous introduction to her graphic novel series Angel Catbird, which aims to raise awareness and motivate positive action on the issue of cat predation on birds.  Listen to an excerpt of her talk by clicking here.  This was another proud moment for me – to be Canadian and to be part of the Nature Canada campaign that was kick-started by Ms Atwood to Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives. [caption id="attachment_38312" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Margaret Atwood in cat ears and bird wings delivers power messages on solutions to bird predation by cats in her unique style[/caption]

Canada Warbler International Conservation Initiative (CWICI) - Wednesday

Nature Canada has been involved in efforts to recover the population of Canada Warbler since 2013.  We host the CWICI website on behalf of the partnership and have contributed significantly to this initiative.  I presented to a room of 30 scientists and conservationists, the history of the CWICI.  The international effort to develop a range-wide integrated conservation plan for this threatened species is nearly complete.  At the session, we focused mainly on the challenges on its non-breeding grounds, the majority of which are between 800 and 2000 metres along the northern Andes from Venezuela to Colombia.  That is where the main threat to Canada Warbler is thought to exist.  Dr. Anna Gonzales, who very recently received her PhD in part for her work establishing the connectivity between breeding grounds and wintering grounds, provided a summary of her findings for the group.  We had a lively discussion on the value of promoting shade-grown coffee in Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America to support the Canada Warbler, and other species with which it shares this habitat. In Canada, Balzac’s and Birds and Beans are two retailers who sell certified, bird-friendly coffee.  Nature Canada staff drink only Bird-friendly coffee in the workplace.

Poster on Horned Grebe - Thursday

In 2015, while conducting surveys led by Nature Canada along Charlton Island in the territory of the Cree Nation [caption id="attachment_38311" align="alignright" width="300"] Figure 2 Myself with Editor of the Birds of Nunavut, Anthony Gaston with my poster[/caption] of Waskaganish, in Southeastern James Bay, Marc-Antoine Montpetit, our crack birder, found a family of Horned Grebes, including adults and two young, in a beaver pond just back from the shore.  He went on to find three other families over the next several days on other beaver ponds.  That discovery represents a significant range expansion of the species at risk.  The nearest confirmed breeding is over 700 kilometres to the west and about 1300 to the east.  I was able to present this story in the form of a poster at the IOC, during one of the poster sessions.  The way that works, is that I put my poster up for three days, and had to stand in front of it for 90 minutes on Thursday afternoon to engage interested passersby.  We are always grateful to work with the Cree communities around James Bay.  One of the unexpected benefits of this work, largely focused on shorebirds, is the discover of threatened species in places where they were previously unknown.

Stewardship Roundtable

The final event in which I participated was called the Stewardship Roundtable, organized by the BC Stewardship Centre and BSC.  The Roundtable consisted of a series of 90 minutes sessions, that included a panel of experts presenting, followed by an open discussion on significant bird conservation issues of interest locally and beyond.  This Roundtable was also open to the public and attracted many people who were not attending the Congress.  Our Cats and Birds Program Manager Sarah Cooper and I were panelists with three other cats and birds experts on one of the first sessions on stewardship solutions to this difficult problem.   We had a lively but polite discussion that included the participation of Dr. Pete Marra, Director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre.  After that session, went immediate to a second panel, this time under the theme of agriculture and birds.  One of my fellow panelists was Dr. Christy Morrissey, of the University of Saskatchewan.  Dr. Morrissey is a world expert on the impact of neonics on birds and other wildlife, though she largely steered clear of the issue in the session. My presentation was on the relationship between trends in agriculture in Canada and trends in bird populations. [caption id="attachment_38309" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Agriculture and Birds panelists including Dr. Morrissey on far left and me, third from the left[/caption]

A final word

Most of this post is about the events I participated in, mainly as a presenter. But one of the reasons why there is enormous value in these types of conferences is the casual and formal conversations with colleagues, friends and potential partners that take place every day at this type of event.  On that level, the meeting was extremely rich, and I am grateful to Nature Canada for supporting my participation, and to Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson for supporting Sarah Cooper’s participation.
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Richelle Martin: Environmental Advocate & 2018 Recipient for the Charles Labatiuk Scholarship Award
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Richelle Martin: Environmental Advocate & 2018 Recipient for the Charles Labatiuk Scholarship Award

Richelle Martin is the 2018 recipient of the Charles Labatiuk Scholarship Award, and this fall, will be pursuing a Law Degree at the University of Ottawa. With this degree, Richelle hopes to use law as a tool to have a more meaningful impact in the field, and to strengthen her ability as an environmental advocate. While pursuing this degree is her first foray into the world of environmental law, Richelle’s journey as an environmental advocate is well underway. Having worked with the Nature Trust of New-Brunswick for the past six years, Richelle has been actively using her voice to protect nature in Canada for some time. In her position at the Nature Trust, she was responsible for the management of 50 nature preserves across the Province and the facilitation of community involvement in volunteer land stewardship. From there, the conservation of nature and diversity of living things became the driving force for the path that she has chosen in life. Her passion for nature is something that strengthened through Richelle’s professional endeavors, but that was innate to her at a very young age. Richelle notes that, having grown up in rural Eastern Canada, “a connection to nature could be easily fostered from a young age. Spring was signaled by the call of spring peepers, summers were spent camping and swimming in the lake, fall brought colourful hardwood forest canopies, and winter meant skating in the backyard pond. I have always admired the extreme changes of seasons where I live and the ability of nature to adapt and thrive.” She notes that, as she has grown up, her admiration for the nature that surrounds us has grown in tandem with her appreciation for everything it does for us. Putting it quite plainly, she shares that, “the food and water that nourish us, the air we breathe, our mental wellbeing, our economy, and the survival of species all depend on intact natural systems. As self-aware citizens of the Earth, it is our responsibility to be stewards of it.” [caption id="attachment_38281" align="alignleft" width="257"] Richelle on Spednic Lake, New Brunswick.[/caption] Richelle noted how important this scholarship was, and how it is a key piece of the puzzle to help finance her education, and remain an active environmental advocate. This support will award her with more time to become involved in volunteer work and activities in environmental law, applying what she is learning to the conservation of nature in Canada. Looking beyond her next few years of studies, Richelle hopes to use her degree to work with both NGOs and government to develop stronger environmental laws and policies that protect biodiversity and ensure future generations’ access to a healthy environment. She also shared that she sees herself as an educator, with part of her role as a lawyer being to educate the public on their rights, and in empowering grassroots community organizations and people with the power of the law. By empowering grassroots community groups and people, we will be able to use the power of the law to better hold law breakers accountable for harm to the environment.


Richelle extends her thanks to the Labatiuk family for their generous scholarship, which supports people who aim to protect and conserve nature in Canada.

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