Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Word About Whales ...

No, no whales at the wetlands, but here is a distressing bit of news, and it's something that I need to share. I imagine that, like me, you believed the moratorium on commercial whaling was effectively protecting the world's whale populations from being decimated for profit.

Turns out the opposite is true—the number of whales being commercially hunted has actually gone up since 1986, not down. This has led to the concept of an "arrangement" that would allow some commercial whale hunting, since the moratorium doesn't appear to be working.

A good idea, or a really bad compromise? Would the three countries that simply refuse to acknowledge the moratorium even respect the notion of quotas? Call me cynical, but I think that would be highly unlikely. Where there's money to be made ...

Anyway, check out the Time article and see what you think. Either way, it seems to me that the whales will still be the losers in this latest "war."

Maybe the best way to end this post is with the words of Joanna Macy, from her Bestiary:

Dive me deep, brother whale, in this time we have left. Deep in our mother ocean where once I swam, gilled and finned. The salt from those early seas still runs in my tears. Tears are too meagre now. Give me a song ... a song for a sadness too vast for my heart, for a rage too wild for my throat.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

We Are The Rocks Dancing...

This is a line from Thinking Like a Mountain, Towards a Council of All Beings, written by John Seed, Joanna Macy, Pat Fleming, and the "father" of the Deep Ecology Movement, Arne Naess. It is a book about ritual and prayer and healing, not only for an ailing planet but for the ailing soul, because those of us who care deeply about our planet's environmental well-being and mourn the loss of wild habitat and the extinction of species due to human folly and ignorance often endure despair and a loss of hope.

It is also a call to move beyond just thinking about nature and to start feeling what it must be like to be another species. "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it," said the Harper Lee character, Atticus Finch.

Well, this takes it a step further, shall we say. We are asked to put ourselves into the skin of "the others" with whom we share this planet; for example, the Swift Fox, the Bowhead Whale, the Peary Caribou, the Mountain Plover, the Lake Erie Water Snake and the Leatherback Turtle, as well as howler monkeys, hummingbirds, bottle-nosed dolphins, curlews and condors, yes, even the lichen, the weeds, the leaves and the rocks.

"In Geneva, the international tally of endangered species, kept up to date in loose leaf volumes, is becoming too heavy to lift. Where do we now record the passing of life? What funerals or farewells are appropriate?"

If we can inhabit their world in our imagination for only a few moments, perhaps we can feel reconnected to something bigger—and grander—than ourselves. We need to leave our human egos at the proverbial door.

"I find I incorporate gneiss, coal, long-threaded moss, fruits, grains, esculent roots. And am stuccoed with quadrupeds and birds all over" wrote Whitman.

The premise of Deep Ecology is that we are not isolated from nature but very much a part of it. In fact, we are Nature. One and indivisible from it. We're just another mammal here on Planet Earth.

Modern man has suffered a serious disconnect from this fact, this reality. The very real effect of this disconnect is the environmental crisis in which we find ourselves. We have big brains and wield the power, and so we have dominated the earth, but we have behaved with such careless disregard and ignorance that now even we are in peril. The Native way has been the wisest, perhaps, as their spirituality and cosmology have remained deeply respectful and connected to the earth.

Deep Ecology is not just about recycling, reusing and reducing, although these are important activities that deep ecologists engage in. Deep Ecology is about changing one's entire attitude and way of perceiving the world. It is about re-connecting with the world and realizing our role in the great scheme of things. It's about recognizing that we are not separate beings, divorced from nature.

Now, humankind is just as threatened by imminent extinction as the other species. We are just one more species that will not make it if we fail to be wise, right now, at this point in time. So given that we have this consciousness, which is surely itself a product of nature, having emerged and evolved according to the same laws as everything else, we must now use it to make a lasting change, a change that will save our planet, ourselves.

Only we can do this. Yes, we must use our intellects to do the practical work that needs to be done. And there is much work to be done. But today, on Earth Day, feel the connectedness in your bones...

Don't just say, "I am protecting the rainforest."

Be the rainforest.

Awaken your mind to a new way of being in the world.

Remember this: that every atom in your body existed before organic life emerged 4000 million years ago. We share this in common with "them," the other living species of this planet. We are atom, we are mineral, we are water, we are the elements … we are the rocks dancing.

To learn more about Deep Ecology today, please follow the link at the bottom of the blog.

Quoted text above is from Thinking Like A Mountain.

Revel in the joy of being alive today and here on Planet Earth.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Walk in a Carolinian Woods

On the eve of Earth Day 2010, I'd like to draw your attention to Canada's disappearing Carolinian forest. Did you know that a full 80 percent of this precious natural heritage has already been destroyed?

What is a Carolinian forest? For those of us lucky enough to live in southwestern Ontario, we know that we are "in it." This low-lying region of the Ontario peninsula, enclosed by lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron, is the same, continuous vegetation zone that stretches across the eastern half of the United States. There are regional differences, of course, and the "borders" of this zone are hard to determine precisely, but this vast region is generally defined by the predominance of deciduous trees. Conifers are found too, but the broad-leaved deciduous trees far outnumber the conifers, which characterize the boreal forests and the mixed forests to the north of us. In other words, the forests people tend to think of when they think of Canada.

In truth, we should really use the term "Eastern Deciduous Forest" to describe this zone. How the name "Carolinian" came into use is a fascinating story in itself, and you can read the full history of it at Carolinian Canada. But whatever you want to call it, this most southerly corner of Canada is unique. Carolinian Canada is also very small. Altogether, it represents less than one-quarter of one percent of the total land mass of this country.

Yet despite its small size, it is an area rich in species variety. Found here are more rare species of plants and animals than in any other region of Canada. Parks Canada gives us a glimpse of this astonishing variety:

"There are over 70 species of trees alone. Nowhere else in Canada are there more species of reptiles (27) and amphibians (20). The zone is also home to 50 species of spiders and insects not found elsewhere in Canada. Acadian flycatchers, Carolina wrens, blue-gray gnatcatchers, red-bellied woodpeckers, and yellow-breasted chats are at the northern limit of their breeding range. But many Canadians call the Carolinian zone home, too. As a result, much of the land has been cleared for cities and used as farm land."

I started this post with a bleak statistic. Let it stand as a reminder and a call to action. This unique and special part of Canada is in danger of disappearing entirely because what remains of it is scattered and disconnected, and continues to be threatened by ill-informed, shortsighted development.

We must do all that we can to preserve what is left of our natural heritage. I believe that if we understand how truly precious, rare and unique this region is, we will not only be enchanted by it—yes, these are enchanting woods, worthy of wonder and respect!—we will be inspired to act, painfully aware of what will be lost if we do not.

I love deserts and I love mountains. The islands of the Caribbean, the west coast of Canada and the landscape of New Mexico have all lured me and captured my imagination with their beauty. But when I dream of Home, it is southwestern Ontario. And when I dream of southwestern Ontario, I see my lush, green deciduous trees, their broad leaves swaying in the summer breeze, their immense, sheltering beauty extending over shores, streams and creeks and hugging the quiet, off-the-beaten-path rural roads of my childhood.

Turn up the volume and enjoy! The footage below was filmed at White's Wetland in July of 2009. Just another lovely summer's day in the woods. And to learn more about the Deciduous Eastern Forest Zone, please visit Carolinian Canada.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More Thoughts on Earth Day

It seems to me that many people associate Earth Day only with climate change and global warming issues. That's too bad, because while world leaders, scientists and citizens debate and argue over the stats, the planet's environmental health coughs and sputters along, wild habitat is being bulldozed and levelled, wetlands drained for development, and more precious species are ending up on endangered lists or lost to us forever.

Earth Day is more than the global warming debate. It's about celebrating this beautiful planet and engaging in efforts to save it on many fronts. And we can each do our part. Don't let the naysayers discourage you. Do what you can. Find something in the natural world that you love and then say—yes—I want to protect that! I want to save that! It can be a tree or an entire woodlot, or a species that you feel passionately about.

What do you love? What fascinates you?

Elephants? Moose? Polar bears? Brown bears? Butterflies? Sumatran tigers? Turtles? Frogs? Warblers? Wrens? Snakes? Salamanders? Owls? Orangutans?

What do you feel passionately about?

Your neighbourhood ravine? A marsh you have visited? A national park? A wildlife sanctuary you saw on the news? The oceans? The Amazon?

It's all important and it all matters. You just need to (a) really care about something and then (b) stand up and be counted.

This week, support what you love about Planet Earth with your actions, your energy, your voice and, where necessary, your dollars.

That’s Earth Day. People everywhere doing something good for the planet.

And believing that change is possible.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Trees Are Coming!

We love trees! In fact, the more the merrier. And this year, there will be even more trees at White's Wetland.

We are committed to good stewardship of the land, and that includes reforestation. Reforestation is good for a number of reasons. Of course, it's really important to make sure that the plants and shrubs native to this area, which are part of our natural heritage, have a chance to regain territory and flourish. But trees also maintain a healthy watershed. The Kettle Creek Conservation Authority is working hard to make this happen. Every year since 2001 KCCA has been planting Carolinian and native tree and shrub species in the watershed. To date, more than 400 acres have been reforested in the KCCA watershed, or, in other words, 100,000 trees a year!

This year, White's Wetland is getting in on the act. Some time very soon, once the soil is dry enough and ready, KCCA tree planters will be planting some 1200 to 1500 trees here! Very exciting.

Among the species we have chosen to plant are the Kentucky Coffee Tree (which is an endangered species), Honey Locust, Tulip Tree (deciduous), and Tamarack (coniferous).

I'll blog more about the full "palette" of trees that will be planted as planting day approaches, and about the Carolinian zone in general too, but it is gratifying to know that so many of the original growth Carolinian trees are going to be reintroduced to White's Wetland.

I will keep you posted with the progress and hope to have pictures—even video—of this momentous event.

To learn more about KCCA's reforestation project, please visit their website. Lots of great information there as well about the importance of a healthy watershed.

To learn more about the endangered Kentucky Coffee Tree, check out the ROM site.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What Makes a Healthy Wetland?

There is no one definition that describes a healthy wetland because of the vast diversity of wetland types. However, wetland health can be determined, to a degree, by simply observing and becoming familiar with what is "normal" for your wetland.

We can get very technical and talk about a wetland's structure and function, such as its water quality, soil condition, carrying capacity, surface and ground water storage, sediment retention, nutrient cycling, biomass production, reduction of erosion and purification of water. I am not an environmentalist or a scientist. I am just beginning to learn about the science myself.

What I can talk about is the observation of returning species, and the variety and depth of those species, which is telling us a great deal about the health of White's Wetlands. "Species composition" and "food web support" are terms that we could use to describe these visual observations. What I am really saying is "biodiversity" and "the food chain."

We are seeing species return, creatures that we have not seen for a number of years. The most recent arrival is the muskrat. The muskrat is a natural inhabitant of shallow wetlands, where they feed primarily on aquatic plants, such as cattails, arrowheads and duckweeds. They occasionally eat crayfish, snails, mussels, frogs, insects and slow-moving fish. We have not had muskrat in the wetlands for many years. The reasons for this could be numerous. However, the fact that the muskrat is here does mean that they are finding the food they need to sustain themselves.

This is also their breeding season, so there may be young soon. Since we do have snapping turtles, this could pose a problem later in the season, as the turtles move from their winter home, down the creek and into the pond, where they generally tend to spend their summers, basking in the open, warm water and under a hot sun. Snapping turtles have been known to take young muskrat, so they are potential predators.

We can observe the changing species composition over the spring and summer.

The creek is also populated with suckers this year, and quite an abundance of them too, which is all good because these fish are bottom feeders and do an excellent job of keeping the water clean and clear. They're Mother Nature's clean-up crew!

From songbirds and insects to the larger predators, we are seeing more and more evidence that this is truly becoming a habitat that can cope and manage, a self-sustaining ecosystem that will regulate itself internally with the vegetation and animal life required to maintain balance and biodiversity.

Quite a precious thing, really.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Trees ...

...make good homes. A black squirrel lives in this old maple on the property. He's a bit camera shy, however.

More about trees in the coming days, as we count down to Earth Day and to a very special event at White's Wetland.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Countdown to Earth Day 2010

April 22 is Earth Day, but let's make every day Earth Day. As Walt Whitman wrote, "Love the earth and sun and the animals..."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Wildlife Week at the Wetland

It's Friday, but it's still National Wildlife Week in Canada! So get out there and walk for wildlife this weekend. The Canadian Wildlife Federation is trying to get everyone to "clock some kilometres" for wildlife. So rather than me re-explaining everything, just visit their website to learn more. Walk for Wildlife officially kicked off during National Wildlife Week and will end on May 22, International Day of Biodiversity.

Visit the Canadian Wildlife Federation. As they say, "Nature is coming alive again. Migrating birds are returning home. Trees are beginning to bud, animals are coming out of hibernation, and spring flowers are beginning to bloom."

And I think it has finally stopped raining. Or snowing. Or whatever that was. So there's no excuse!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wildlife Week at the Wetland: Deer!

Spotted yesterday: "our" deer family on the move!

Did you know that white-tailed deer are relative newcomers to much of the range they now occupy in Canada? Long ago, when the first Europeans were exploring this land, this graceful mammal was found only in the most southerly parts of Canada—such as our own southern Ontario region—but not beyond Lake Nipissing to the north. The current range of the white-tailed deer in Canada is quite extensive.

What caused this change in range? Probably a combination of events, but high on the list most likely is the extent of human settlement in southern Canada, pushing deep into every corner of southwestern Ontario and pushing the deer range farther north.

Over time, southern Ontario has become increasingly urbanized, further reducing deer habitat. However, it is still possible to see them in our southern Ontario woods and bush areas. Still, between winter food shortages and the continual loss of habitat, the white-tailed deer, while having greatly expanded its overall range, has also experienced declines in population levels.

There are sixteen sub-species of white-tailed deer in North America. Only three of these species live in Canada.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hey! It's National Wildlife Week!

Yes! All week long! And I'll be "blogging from the bog" every day this week, but in terms of wildlife, it's been very quiet here despite the fine weather and the sunshine. No sightings or observations of note. In fact, only the mallards have been making a daily appearance on the pond. But the natural world is coming to life and it's a beautiful thing.

What can you do for National Wildlife Week? Well, one of the most important things we can all do is teach our kids to appreciate/love nature. Education is the key. But not just the facts and the figures. Get out there — hike, walk, explore, learn as you go. Experiencing the natural world firsthand is the surest way of falling in love with it.

Find out what activities and events are going on in your local area to celebrate wildlife week. Even museums and science centres are getting involved, so Toronto, no need to feel left out of the fun — it's Nature Month at the ROM this April.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

It's National Wildlife Week: April 4 - 10, 2010

Did you know that National Wildlife Week has been celebrated annually since 1947?

The National Wildlife Week Act was drawn up as a memorial to Jack Miner, in recognition of his outstanding conservation efforts. When the Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on April 18th, 1947, it passed without one dissenting vote. As a matter of fact, it was the first time since Canada's confederation that a Bill was passed unanimously.

That just goes to show you that parliamentarians can set partisan politics aside now and then to agree on something that matters.

While Jack Miner would be thrilled to know that we have been recognizing National Wildlife Week each year, I am not so sure he would be happy about our track record on species protection and habitat conservation. We need to do better, because Canada has far too many species on the endangered list already.

So if "we" all agreed once long ago that a national week to raise awareness for wildlife conservation was a great idea, just maybe we can get everyone to agree again, especially during the International Year of Biodiversity.

So, all in unison now, everyone say it and mean it …