By Jessica Sutton
Jessica Sutton is a 2nd-year University of Ottawa student in Environmental Studies and Biology. This fall, Jessica is volunteering with the OFNC through the Community Service Learning (CSL) program.
Report from the 2014 Youth Summit
The November monthly meeting kicked off with a presentation by Emma Kirke and Emily Pollington – two youth from the Ottawa-Gatineau area who attended the 2014 Ontario Nature Youth Summit in September. The OFNC sponsored Emma and Emily to attend this yearly event that brings together Ontario youth interested in biodiversity and sustainability. The theme for this year’s summit was “Community Action”.
Emma and Emily talked about the various workshops they participated in:
- Reptile and amphibian ramble – a workshop to try out the Ontario Reptile/Amphibian Atlas Program. The program helps users identify reptiles and amphibians, and users can contribute pictures and sighting details to the atlas.
- How to ‘be the change’ – a workshop about personal and community changes that can be made to better the environment.
- Becoming a hero for sustainability – a workshop about communication and leadership, how to step up and take action on environmental issues, and what to expect with these initiatives.
Other workshops included Ontario’s birds of prey, DIY terrarium, Medicinal plants of Ontario (with an Aboriginal elder instructor), and a Pollinator and pesticide debate about whether or not neonicotinoids should be banned. Since attending the Youth Summit, Emily has applied for a position on the Ontario Youth Nature Council, and Emma has become more active within her school’s Eco-Club. Congratulations to Emma and Emily on a successful summit – the club looks forward to sponsoring local youth to attend next year’s summit.
The Conservation Plan for the Ottawa Valley
Gary Bell, who works for the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), then gave a captivating presentation on NCC’s conservation goals for the Ottawa Valley and how these goals are to be accomplished. In the fall of 2013, the NCC completed a Natural Area Conservation Plan (NACP) for the Ottawa Valley, in collaboration with a number of partners including the City of Ottawa, the National Capital Commission, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. The new Ottawa Valley NACP plan incorporates a broad area of the Ottawa Valley in both Ontario and Quebec, from approximately Deep River in the west to Hawkesbury in the east. The NACP sets priorities within a 5-year timeframe.
The biggest issue in determining land conservation priorities is first identifying land that will have the greatest conservation impact if protected. This requires a detailed understanding of the species diversity in an area, as well as its vulnerability to threats such as development and invasive species. To determine which areas to prioritize for protection through acquisition, large datasets for the Ottawa Valley were compiled. Based on specific factors (e.g., size of natural area, species diversity and significance, connectivity, invasive species, etc.), all natural areas in the Ottawa Valley were evaluated to identify primary and secondary priorities. Primary priority lands will now focus interest of potential partner organizations for purchase and protection activity.
The Ottawa Valley is rich, with large areas of forests and wetlands. Within the valley, certain rare ecosystem types have been selected as priorities for conservation focus. These include ecosystem types occurring on shallow limestone, including karst and alvar ecosystems. Large core natural areas have also been highlighted as high priorities for conservation.
Gary highlighted some specific priority areas within the Ottawa Valley that have been selected as conservation targets by the NCC in the NACP. Some of these are already well known to OFNC members as high-quality natural areas.
- Alfred Bog – The majority of this large, provincially significant wetland is owned by Ontario Parks and the NCC. During the 1980s and 1990s, the OFNC played a major role in raising funds and public support to purchase and conserve about 95% of the bog. Some remaining privately owned areas are of high priority for protection by NCC.
- Burnt Lands Alvar – There is a high abundance of rare species at this well-known alvar. Much of the alvar is owned by the NCC and managed by Ontario Parks. Remaining areas are conservation priorities for NCC.
- Wolf Grove – This large natural area in eastern Lanark County has a unique association of plant species and provincially significant wetlands. The NCC currently owns a 91-hectare property at Wolf Grove, and the eventual goal is to transform it into much larger protected area, of perhaps up to 500 hectares.
- Plantagenet Cave System – East of Ottawa (off of Old Highway 17), this natural area is home to many rare species and ancient cedars. The area is close to a limestone escarpment and contains the largest sinkhole in Ontario. An asphalt plant is currently being proposed in this area. Many of local residents and property-owners support the area being protected. Some are donating their property.
- Ottawa Valley Caves (Gervais Caves property) – This newly purchased property consists of freshwater, underwater caves that are connected to the Ottawa River. There is immense diversity in these caves: 53 known fish species, and 13 freshwater mussel species are found in pools throughout the caves. One of the most interesting aspects of the Ottawa Valley Caves is the presence of Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), a species at risk. NCC’s recent purchase of this property was made possible by an OFNC donation of funds from the bequest of Violetta Czasak, an OFNC member who passed away last year.
Overall, the 5-year goals of the NCC are to establish 500 hectares of high priority land in the Ottawa Valley, assist partners in acquiring key lands, and promote partnerships to enhance habitat connection and conservation. To accomplish these goals, the NCC will be promoting science-based site planning, improving our knowledge of key ecosystems, and lastly, raising a whopping $3.8 million.
Hearing about the conservation work of the NCC, especially at a local scale, was very inspirational. Generous and thoughtful donors are helping to conserve and protect many important areas. The OFNC is very proud to play a role in this important work, so that high priority conservation lands may be protected forever.