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Another omnibus bill further weakens nature protection

Another omnibus bill further weakens nature protection

A second omnibus bill, C-45, was tabled yesterday by the federal government, picking up where last spring’s budget bill left off, furthering eliminating environmental protections, and removing hurdles for projects like Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. Late yesterday, several major conservation groups, including Nature Canada, issued the following statement:
Once again, the federal government is proposing to make significant changes to environmental legislation without proper democratic debate, according to many of Canada’s leading environmental organizations. Instead, these changes are contained in a sweeping omnibus budget bill. Canadians concerned about protecting the air, water, soil and natural ecosystems that support all of us -- and our economy -- are doubly troubled, both by the end-run around democratic process and the potential for even more pollution and destruction of critical habitat. The bill includes proposed changes to laws protecting fish and navigable waters, preventing harm from hazardous waste and governing the shipping industry. We will be reviewing these changes in more detail in the coming days to determine what impact they could have on environmental protection. We note many of these pieces of legislation were also changed by the omnibus bill in the spring. Changing the same bill twice in one year underlines the value of debating specific bills, through appropriate committees—the jobs our MPs are elected to do. There is no need to subvert our legislative process in this manner, which only serves to heighten fears that already-weakened laws will get weaker still.
The groups issuing this statement are: Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, Environmental Defence, Equiterre, Greenpeace, Nature Canada, Pembina Institute, Sierra Club Canada, West Coast Environmental Law, and WWF Canada. Go to the Black Out Speak Out campaign Facebook page for updates.

Our recommendations for responsible renewable energy development in Ontario

Our recommendations for responsible renewable energy development in Ontario

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="320"]Image of Wind Turbines Photo by Ted Cheskey[/caption] The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is currently reviewing how the Province’s Crown Lands should be managed for renewable energy development including wind, solar and hydro.  Last week we submitted comments, with Ontario Nature, on the Government’s proposed new policies. Clear direction is certainly needed when it comes to how Crown land – which represents 87% of the province’s total area – will be used to advance responsible renewable energy development. As the province makes that all-important shift to renewable forms of energy production, it needs to consider the following principles: 1.    Ontario’s responsibility to protect biodiversity. We all know how critical it is that we address the growing climate crisis. At the same time, this shouldn't come at the expense of wildlife populations, especially species at risk. Maintaining functioning, interconnected ecosystems  is essential for mitigating the effects of climate change on Ontario’s wild species.   2.    The need to protect Important Bird Areas and other migratory corridors for birds and bats. IBAs represent the most vital places on earth for birds, yet poorly placed wind projects, for example, can harm bird populations already in decline. The European Union strictly regulates most IBAs as so-called Special Protected Areas – in Ontario, IBAs on Crown land should be off-limits for development. 3.    The importance of respecting local community planning. Any policy must ensure that decisions about renewable energy projects are undertaken in consideration of local community planning, regionally-based planning, and with the informed consent of First Nations.

Would you pay to reduce bird collisions with buildings?

Would you pay to reduce bird collisions with buildings?

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="320"]Image of an ovenbird The Ovenbird which breeds across much of Canada's forested regions is a common victim of window strikes during its migration to and from Central America and the Caribbean.[/caption]

The State of Canada's Birds Report 2012 alerted us to the sobering fact that 44% of our species have declined over the last 40 years, and overall there is a 12% decline in the numbers of birds around us. Many of our migratory songbirds are experiencing significant population declines. 
Recent research from Environment Canada has confirmed that collisions of birds with homes, cottages and buildings is a major source of mortality. What are your thoughts on this issue? Would you retrofit your own home's windows to incorporate bird-friendly features, such as ultra violet light reflecting materials that are visible to birds, for example? 
A graduate student from Simon Fraser University is asking this question, and would like your help in understanding what people are thinking and doing. Are you doing something yourself? Would you personally invest in a solution? Do you feel that this issue is insignificant from your perspective?   
I encourage you to complete this survey and contribute to the understanding of peoples' attitudes toward these questions and the feasibility of finding solutions.

Waskaganish – mouth of the Rupert

Waskaganish – mouth of the Rupert

[two_third] One hundred kilometres of gravel road extends west from kilometre 237 of the James Bay highway, ending about a kilometre from the mouth the Rupert River, where it empties into Rupert Bay in the Cree community of Waskaganish.  Much of its water load is diverted far upstream into giant reservoirs formed behind Hydro Quebec's massive dams that outflow into the East Main and La Grande Rivers. We arrived in Waskaganish yesterday, after a two day drive from Gatineau Quebec.   Today we had a productive meeting with Waskaganish First Nation Chief Gordon Blackned, one of the Band councillors, and staff from the First Nation and the Cree Trappers Association, to discuss Important Bird Areas and explore common interests.  While Boatwain Bay to the north of the mouth of Rupert Bay is the nearest IBA, there is considerable interest in assessing other areas in Rupert Bay to determine if they meet the IBA criteria.  Travelling with me are Aurelie Bourbeau-Lemieux, biologist with the Cree Regional Authority, and Sophie Gallais of Nature Quebec.  Through the support of Ivey Foundation, and the in-kind support of the Cree Regional Authority, we are in the early stages of promoting the IBA program in Cree communities along James Bay in Quebec.  We hope to use IBAs to raise awareness about birds, and develop collaborative projects similar to those that we are undertaking in collaboration with the Moose Cree in Moose Factory and Moosonee.  Weather permitting, we will venture out onto Rupert Bay tomorrow, to visit a potential IBA site.  More to come![/two_third] [one_third_last] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Sophie Gallais, Jean Baptiste Loon and Aurelie Boubeau-Lemieux Sophie Gallais, Jean Baptiste Loon and Aurelie Boubeau-Lemieux[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of a Bohemian Waxwing Bohemian Waxwing near kilometre 200, James Bay highway
photo Ted Cheskey[/caption] [/one_third_last]

Greetings from the Fifth North American Ornithological Conference

Greetings from the Fifth North American Ornithological Conference

Ted at NAOC Vancouver 2012 Well over 1000 people from the western hemisphere are gathered on the campus of the University of British Colunbia to discuss, debate and present new ideas and science on their passion - birds. The North American Ornithological Meetings are creating a buzz in this part of the country.  With over 700 presentations and even more posters, as well as symposia on topics ranging from conservation priorities for Canada's birds to long distance seed transport and cache selection by Clarke's Nutcracker, the program is loaded with quantity.  Graduate students presenting summaries of their theses, long term researchers sharing findings, new technologies being explained and challenged, in short, basically everything about birds is being talked about. During today's poster sessions, I learned about a program to put wire mesh caps over the outvents from outdoor latrines to prevent owl deaths, an exciting Caribbean birding trail, the recent discovery of large numbers of Piping Plovers overwintering in the Bahamas, and a Columbian effort to establish a long-term bird monitoring station in the Darien. During the sessions, I learned about the latest take on window collisions as a source of mortality for birds, several projects in Canada's boreal region to better understand the impacts of forestry and energy extraction activities on bird populations, biases in geolocators, and preconstruction assessments of offshore wind energy projects near Rhode Island. Many colleagues from Bird Studies Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, Canadian Migration Monitoring Network, and many other organizations in Canada and abroad are present here.  There is a real buzz, and energy in the air.  I am grateful to be here representing Nature Canada.  I'll update about more experiences later this week.

Canada’s Grassland Birds Face Declining Populations

Canada’s Grassland Birds Face Declining Populations

The Greater Sage-grouse is on the brink of extinction in Canada. This iconic prairie bird, known for its spectacular mating dance, will likely vanish if emergency measures are not put in place to protect its grassland and sagebrush habitat. Unfortunately, the Sage-grouse is not alone. It’s one of many grassland bird species that have been declining over the past four decades. In a recent report co-published by Nature Canada, the plight of Canada’s grassland birds is placed in the context of changing agricultural practices, urban development and international conservation challenges to bring to light the need for concerted efforts to save grassland birds and their habitat before it’s too late.
The report, The State of Canada’s Birds 2012, draws on 40 years of data and summarizes the status of Canada’s bird populations for eight regions, including the boreal forest, prairies, Arctic and oceans. It’s the result of a collaborative effort between the National Bird Conservation Initiative in Canada (NABCI-Canada), and it highlights numerous changes to bird populations in Canada since the 1970s.The report found that grassland birds including Longspurs, Meadowlarks, Sprague’s pipit, Greater Sage-grouse and others, have declined by 50% due largely to a loss of habitat. Grassland bird populations are dwindling as high-intensity farming practices like wetland drainage, conversion of pastureland to cropland and over-grazing remove and degrade grassland and wetland habitat that supports grassland bird populations in the Canadian prairies and Lower Great Lakes – St. Lawrence regions.
In addition to those factors, increasing water use by cities, construction of roads and buildings that fragment habitat, and fire suppression near towns and cities compound the problem of disappearing grassland and wetland habitat. Climate change is also an emerging threat. The predicted increase in droughts for the prairies will have severe consequences for birds and humans.
However, there are significant conservation opportunities for Canadians to ensure healthy bird populations and healthy ecosystems.
So what can be done to reverse this trend?
[separator headline="h2" title="Bird-friendly Farming"]
It might come as a surprise to some that maintaining healthy populations of birds in the Canadian prairies can be compatible with agricultural practices that form the basis of the region’s economy and culture.  But according to the State of Canada’s Birds report, there are conservation opportunities – as well as challenges – present in the relationship between ranchers and naturalists.
In the prairies, there is a need to expand farming practices that are compatible with birds. Many grassland birds – from Meadowlarks to Loggerhead Shrikes – benefit from appropriate livestock grazing to maintain their preferred habitat.
Here are a few more bird-friendly farming practices:
  • No-till farming
  • Planting cover crops such as pasture and hay that prevent soil erosion and provide nesting cover for some grassland birds
  • Reducing pesticide use
  • Delay of haying until after young birds fledge
  • Maintenance and re-establishment of hedgerows
An example of well-managed native grassland habitat can be found in the “community pastures” or PFRA (Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration) pastures in the prairie provinces. These pastures are vital to the survival of 31 species at risk, including some of Canada’s most endangered birds. But with the recent passing of Bill C-38, this critical habitat will no longer be managed by the federal government but instead be handed over to the provinces, which will likely sell the land to the highest bidder. As a result, grassland birds and other wildlife that depend on a healthy network of PFRAs face losing the protection and maintenance formerly provided by the federal government. This is an issue that conservationists will need to watch closely as the hand-over gets underway.
[separator headline="h2" title="Buy Bird-friendly products"]
It has been shown that consumer choices can make a positive impact on forest birds through their choice in coffee. Shade grown coffee conserves bird habitat while sun grown coffee does not. In a similar way, some South American countries can support grassland bird habitat conservation by purchasing ‘bird certified’ beef from ranches that employ bird-friendly practices.
While bird-friendly practices are one part of the solution, the report also highlights the need for urban development to progress in a direction that conserves as much grassland habitat as possible and avoids key areas for birds.
[separator headline="h2" title="Extend Protections Beyond Our Borders"]
The greatest threat for migratory grassland bird species like Swainson’s Hawk is loss of habitat both inside and outside Canada. Swainson’s Hawk over-winters in the pampas and cerrado of the Southern Cone of South America, which faces ongoing habitat loss – grasslands are increasingly being converted to agriculture, plantations or urban settlements. Effective conservation of grassland migratory bird species that Canada shares with countries throughout the Americas, requires international cooperation that ensures the needs of these birds are addressed at all phases of their life cycles.
[/two_third] [one_third_last] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of a Greater Sage-grouse The Greater Sage-grouse faces extinction due to habitat loss[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="240"]Image of a Swainson's hawk Swainson's hawk is losing habitat in its over-wintering sites in South America.[/caption] [/one_third_last]

It’s out! The first ever report on the State of Canada’s Birds

It’s out! The first ever report on the State of Canada’s Birds

[two_third] This morning Nature Canada and the other members of NABCI-Canada (the North American Bird Conservation Initiative) released a first-of-its-kind report on the state of Canada’s birds – and if you’re at all interested in how our nation’s birds are doing, you’ll want to take a look.

The report, called simply The State of Canada’s Birds 2012, draws on 40 years of data, much of which comes from volunteer citizen scientists through programs like the Christmas Bird Count and the Breeding Bird Survey.  It summarizes the status of Canada’s bird populations for eight regions, including the boreal forest, prairies, Arctic and oceans.  The report presents indices of bird populations over the 40 year period that show  trends for characteristic birds in each region, as well as specific groups of species of particular interest or concern.  The report also offers solutions, identifying the most significant conservation opportunities for Canadians to ensure healthy bird populations and healthy ecosystems.
So how are Canada’s birds doing?
We found that there are fewer birds now than in the seventies – on average, Canadian bird populations have declined by 12%. Some species are doing well, while others are declining. Grassland birds, migratory shorebirds and aerial insectivores (birds that catch insects in flight) are all on the decline -- by more than 40%, on average, and some individual species in these groups have decreased by more than 90%.
Other species have increased as a result of successful conservation efforts. The ban on pesticides in the 1970s has helped raptors like the Peregrine Falcon, Osprey and Bald Eagle recover from what was likely a low point in their populations around 1970. Effective management of wetlands and hunting has aided waterfowl, like ducks and geese.
The report also describes how ‘our’ birds are, in fact, shared with other countries.  Only 22% of the 451 species that regularly breed in Canada, stay in Canada for the winter.  33% over-winter in the USA, 23% in Mexico, Central American and the Caribbean, 15% in South America and 7% in Europe, Asia or on the open oceans.  An alarming trend for these migratory species is that the further they go, the worse they are doing.  Birds migrating to only the United States have declined about 5%.  Those whose destination is South America have declined over 60% whereas birds that stay in Canada over the winter have increased by about 50%.
Overall, more species are decreasing (44% of species in Canada) than increasing (33%). But one thing this multi-decade report makes clear: we – that is, people – have tremendous influence over how birds fare. Where conservation is applied, it works. And where inaction, or even harmful action, occurs, bird numbers drop.  We have specific agreement in place with regard to wetlands and waterfowl with the United States of America that have resulted in concerted bi-national efforts to jointly manage waterfowl populations and conserve wetlands.  This has benefited other species that also depend upon the same types of habitats.   Hopefully we can learn from this positive experience and apply similar principles to protecting all birds.
Conserving Canada’s birds requires concerted efforts by all sectors of society, including individuals, corporations, non-government organizations and governments, both in Canada and internationally. It’s important that we take up this responsibility. Birds aren’t merely one of the most familiar and beloved animal types on Earth; birds are also one of the best indicators of ecosystem health. Changes in bird populations signal changes in the ecosystems we depend on for vital environmental services such as food, clean air and water.
This report is a measurable indicator of how well we are fulfilling our shared responsibility as stewards of our nation's wildlife and wilderness areas. Clearly there is much we can and must do to ensure we have healthy ecosystems for years to come, and this report provides a path to do so.
[/two_third] [one_third_last] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of Red Knots Red Knots, one of many shorebird species in trouble[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of a Canada Goose Canada Goose, one of many waterfowl species increasing[/caption] [/one_third_last]

New book explores how Toronto-centric planning has been bad for much of Ontario

New book explores how Toronto-centric planning has been bad for much of Ontario

I was born in Toronto, and grew up in its shadow in the small bedroom community of Milton, that today is Canada's fastest growing city.   Don't get me wrong.  I do admire Toronto's multiculturalism, its neighbourhoods, its music scene and vibrancy.  However, I've seen Toronto swallow up the cities and towns around it and become the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), only somewhat bridled by the natural boundaries of Lake Ontario, the Niagara Escarpment (which continues to provide it with aggregate), and the Oak Ridges Moraine.
Now I live in Gatineau and work in Ottawa, but the Toronto-centric media makes one forget that Ontario is a big province with many distinctive cultures and ecologies.  I can also see the result of Toronto centrism in planning and policy in Ontario.  So I was very interested to see this new book was coming out that explores this issue, edited by distinguished Professor and Geographer Gordon Nelson, with many familiar names on the list of contributors.    In his own words, Dr. Nelson describes the book in this way.
"Beyond the Global City, Understanding and Planning for the Diversity of Ontario is a reaction against the Toronto centred approach that Ontario has used in developing the province with often damaging consequences for biodiversity, wetlands, the coasts and environment generally as well as local economies and communities. Chapters on the many near forgotten regions of Ontario - including those on Carolinian Canada, Peterborough, Ottawa, Kingston and the Islands, Huron County, Muskoka - Georgian Bay and the North - are written by knowledgeable local authors. The book describes the distinguishing ecological and other characteristics of the regions and their individual planning needs which are frequently not being met by top down Toronto-centred planning. The book calls for a strengthening of regional planning and a more locally effective approach to conservation and development. This is an informative and valuable read for naturalists. It gives the big picture behind many local and regional environmental and related issues and calls for more locally based planning to address them."
I see expressions of the book's thesis in the way the Province has rolled out its Renewable Energy Act.   While good in theory, in practice, one consequence of the centralized decision making that is a key part of the Act, is the removal of important checks and balances with regard to siting decisions, that should be part of a rational decision making (planning) process.  Diminishing local imput and knowledge results in projects being built (e.g. Wolfe Island), or proposed (e.g. Ostrander Point, Amherst Island) in inappropriate places where they will most certainly offset their green dividends with a high cost to wildlife and biodiversity.
I look forward to reading Beyond the Global City, and to gaining new insights into the consequences of Toronto-centric planning on Ontario's culture and ecology.

May Snowy Owls in Southern Saskatchewan

May Snowy Owls in Southern Saskatchewan

In early to mid May, while some of us were gearing up for the arrival of warblers and flycatchers, southern Saskatchewan was suffering snow storms and wintery weather.  Perhaps it was to make the dozen or more Snowy Owls on Reed and Chaplin Lakes Important Bird Areas between Moose Jaw and Swift Current, feel at home!   This spring, large numbers of this Arctic owl could be observed on Reed and Chaplin - as many as 25 in a day!   Lori Wilson, Caretaker for the Reed Lake IBA, provided the photo, click to enlarge.

Thank you Salvadora

Thank you Salvadora

Ometepe Island Nicaragua and Cabot Head, Bruce Peninsula Canada  have lots in common and lots to share thanks in part to Salvadora Morales.  Salvadora, a Nicaraguan biologist and bird specialist currently working for Fauna and Flora International in Managua, just returned to her home country after spending 19 days in Canada thanks to the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory (BPBO).   BPBO runs a migration monitoring station to track bird populations moving over the Bruce Peninsula every spring and fall. Approximately 40 species of birds monitored at BPBO's Cabot Head field station on the eastern tip of the Bruce peninsula spend their winters in Nicaragua, and many more pass through Nicaragua, the largest of Central American countries, on their ways further south.
Included in this list are familiar and less familiar species such as Blue-winged Teal, Osprey, Turkey Vulture, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Ovenbird, Prothonotory Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Eastern Meadowlark, etc.
In 2003/4, BPBO began collaborating with a Nicaraguan conservation group to support the monitoring of birds in Nicaragua and efforts to conserve bird habitat. Salvadora has been the driving force of this partnership from the Nicaraguan side from the beginning.  She was coordinating the Monitoring Avian Over-wintering Survivorship (MoSI) program in all of Central America at the time.
In 2009, Salvadora was instrumental in helping plan a trip to Nicaragua by 12 BPBO members, led by myself and current BPBO President Rod Steinacher.  She also acted as guide on a few of our outings.
In 2010 and 2011, BPBO hosted two young Nicaraguan ornithologist/educators who were working for Salvadora on Ometepe Island, for 25 days of training at it Cabot Head Field Station.
2010 – Thanks largely to Salvadora's efforts, Ometepe Island in Nicaragua was accorded World Biosphere Reserve Status (just as the Niagara Escarpment has).
2011 – A linking exchange project is initiative between a school on Ometepe Island and a school in Tobermory.
May 4, 2012 BPBO brings Salvadora to Canada to visit the Research Station, meet the students and teachers and the school, further develop the linking schools projects, and participate in her first Birdathon.
May 22, 2012  Salvadora visits Ottawa, participates in an Ottawa Field Naturalist outing at Mud Lake Conservation Area, and makes two presentions on: bird conservation issues in Nicaragua to staff at Environment Canada, hosted by EC's International bird program staff. and on ecotourism (birding) opportunties in Nicaragua (particularly Ometepe Island) to Ottawa Field Naturalists Bird Study Group.
This project has raised awareness in both countries about our shared species of birds and built an appreciation for our cultures.  To conserve Canada’s birds, we must work closely in partnership with people in the countries where "our" birds spend their non-breeding seasons - which amounts to most of their lives!
Nicaragua is the largest Central American country with over 710 known species of birds but also the highest rates of deforestation, and many economic, political and social challenges.  Nicaraguans are strong and proud people who have had more than their share of suffering.  Most of the country is safe and its potential as an ecotourism destination is only starting to be developed.
Supporting international efforts to conserve our birds is tremedously important.  The imminent State of Canada's Birds Report will tell us that 78% of Canada's bird species migrate out of Canada every year.  The data will also reveal as troubling finding: the further they go, the worse they fare.
Here are a few things that we can do as individuals to support our birds outside of Canada:
  • support a conservation groups working in Latin America and the Caribbean
  •  support Canadian bird observatories working in latin America and the Caribbean
  •  use our shared species to connect to communities in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • purchase bird-friendly organic shade-grown coffee from Central America
  •  spend your tourist dollars on sustainable ecotourism opportunities such as planning a vacation that includes a stay on Ometepe Island and supports the ecologically sustainable tourism activities there.
Images and figures:
1. Loation of Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory and Nicaragua (stars)
2. Salvadora with students on Ometepe Island 3. Salvadora on Ottawa Field Naturalists field trip
[/two_third] [one_third_last]Image of North and South America Image of children Image of hikers[/one_third_last]

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