Keeping an Eye on the Big Picture
When we observe environmental problems showing up at the beach, such as excessive algae washing ashore, or beaches posted due to high bacteria, we find that often these problems originate beyond the local beach area. Some of these issues are compounded by the state of our watersheds. The Lake Huron watershed covers roughly 134,000 square kilometres. Since European settlement of the Lake Huron region, the watershed has undergone significant changes, particularly south of the Bruce Peninsula, and along southern Georgian Bay. Forest cover, for instance, has been reduced from an estimated pre-settlement extent of 90% to around 18%, and as low as 6% in some of Huron's river systems.
When some experts make general statements about the health of Lake Huron, they may proclaim that the Lake Huron watershed has an impressive forest cover of 60%. This number is true when looking at the whole Lake Huron watershed; however, most of this forest cover exists in northern Ontario. Stating that the Lake Huron watershed has a 60% forest cover, as if to imply that the state of the Lake Huron landscape is in pretty good shape, misrepresents what is happening regionally to the Lake.
The diagram below illustrates the Lake Huron watershed's current land cover. Green represents forest cover, yellow shows agricultural lands and red is urban areas. The lands south of the Bruce Peninsula and Georgian Bay have become highly dominated by agricultural lands. The historical removal of forests and wetlands, and extensive land drainage has sped up the way water runs off the land and into Lake Huron.
Forests, wetlands and other natural systems act as sponges, holding back water and slowly releasing it into our rivers and lake. The removal of these systems for agriculture and development has changed the landscape so that water moves much more quickly through the watersheds. Extensive field tiling and stormwater drainage has increased water discharge even further. Faster moving water influences soil erosion rates, and can move pollutants off the land and into our waterways. The relative lack of forest and wetland cover in southwestern Ontario corresponds with the relative lack of buffering capacity, or natural ability to filter pollutants from surface water runoff. Efforts to restore buffering capacity by planting or protecting native plants adjacent to our waterways will help contribute to quality improvement and ecosystem health.
A number of groups along the Lake Huron coast are taking up the challenge of restoring native plant life to our coastline and watersheds. An example is the Pine River Watershed Improvement Network, working south of Kincardine. This grassroots organization continues to implement action-oriented projects aimed at improving water quality in the Pine River watershed, in part by re-instating some of the natural biodiversity that has been lost.
The Lower Maitland Stewardship Group near Goderich is a similar grassroots organization focused on protecting the biodiversity of the Lower Maitland watershed. Its members participate in clean-ups, education and awareness programs, and landowner engagement.
Friends of Sauble Beach is a group of local citizens who have undertaken major restoration works of their dune grassland ecosystems. This group of volunteers has raised well over $150,000 to implement measures to protect a globally rare environment.
Local Conservation Authorities are working on ‘priority watersheds,’ small watersheds draining into Lake Huron in need of some specialized care. A lot of this work involves cottagers and farmers uniting in the common cause of water quality improvement.
There are many more groups in the Lake Huron watershed undertaking similar acts of good work to help protect Lake Huron's biodiversity. While they act locally, taken collectively, these groups are creating positive change for the entire Lake Huron watershed. There is much more work to do, but the involvement of individuals and community groups will be the game changer, as far as improving the health of our environment.
If you're not already involved, consider participating with a local environmental grassroots organization in your area. You can also support the work of the Coastal Centre and its stewardship planning and restoration initiatives along the coast.
Some environmental issues may seem overwhelming, but it's like eating an elephant...take one bite at a time!
(article by Geoff Peach, Coastal Resources Manager)
More than 90 per cent of birds in Canada are migratory. You can help ensure they have a safe journey through your neighbourhood by following these 10 easy steps:
(Source: Nature Canada)
"Is the Coast Clear?" Conference
The 9th Biennial Conference on Lake Huron's Coastal Environment hosted by the Coastal Centre.
- Rein in your pets. Leash dogs in natural areas, and keep beaches dog-free in the breeding season. Keep cats indoors in the spring and fall and belled throughout the year.
- Throw old bread away. Stale baked goods are prone to mould, and fill a bird’s belly without meeting its nutritional needs. Mould can kill waterfowl. Instead of feeding old bread to the birds, offer dry seed, grains or fruits instead.
- Put waste in its place. Birds become entangled in plastic bags, fishing line and other garbage, resulting in injury, strangulation or easy predation. Consider volunteering at one of our beach clean-ups to clean up some of this debris. Call us for times and locations (226) 421-3029 or follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter to get updates on clean-up events..
- Place stickers, decals or strips of colour on your windows as unbroken reflections baffle birds, causing them to fly into the glass.
- Drive carefully, especially in rural areas. Roadside birds take flight at an angle—possibly straight into your vehicle’s path—so slow down.
- Cap your chimneys, dryer vents and sewer sanitary stacks. Wire mesh will keep birds from roosting.
- Provide a water source. Bird baths need only be an inch or two deep and have a shallow slope. If you have cats that prowl the neighbourhood, it's best to mount the bath on a pedestal. Bird baths should be cleaned once a week with a stiff brush.
- Plant Native plants. They provide shelter, places to raise young, and food sources. Good choices include aspen, willow, hollyhock, sunflowers, pussy willow, clover, bachelor’s buttons, bee balm, butterfly bush, marigolds, globe thistle, and Shasta daisy.
- Don’t use herbicides on your lawn. Not only is the resulting monoculture duller than birding at high noon, these poisons get ingested into the food chain and washed into the waterways. If it says “-cide” on your weed remedy, avoid it.
- Get the lead out. Sinkers cause acute or chronic lead poisoning of thousands of birds in Canada each year. Use non-toxic alternatives
Date: Friday, May 27, 2016
Location: Unifor Family Education Centre, Port Elgin
Cost: $60 per person ($40 per student)
Conference Sponsored by:
Time Well Spent
This month includes an extra day, being leap year. What do you do with all that extra time? Why not spend a fragment of this time bonanza by making a donation to the Coastal Centre. While you’re doing that, we’ll be spending an extra day this year improving the health of Lake Huron’s coast. For both you and us, it’s time well spent.
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