David Bree (Senior Natural Heritage Leader, Presqu’ile Provincial Park)
Why do Parks Matter? Unfortunately that is becoming an increasingly pertinent question in an age where screen time outweighs nature time on a regular basis.
Working in a park, I can answer that question in a number of ways. The most obvious perhaps is that parks provide protection for a great many habitats, which in turn provide space and resources for the animals and plants of the province to function in a normal fashion. This is in essence the definition of biodiversity, a whole bunch of things living and interconnecting in a complex web. This is a bit of a catch word these days, but maintaining a high biodiversity in our world has been shown to make for a more robust and healthy environment. And a healthy environment is integral to our survival – it supplies our air, our water and our food, just to name the most obvious and crucial elements of life. While to me this is a compelling and obvious argument, it has become sterile to many ears that have been bombarded by warnings of environmental doom and gloom all their lives. After a while people just don’t hear.
The sights and sounds of spring are upon us and that means planning your next trip to your favourite provincial park. In order to preserve the delicate ecosystems that make our parks so incredibly beautiful and bountiful, we all have a part to play.
The consequences of disturbing these ecosystems could be catastrophic, today and for future generations.
As people around the world prepare to celebrate Earth Day on April 22, Ontarians have everything they need right in their own backyard. With more than 330 provincial parks covering 8.2 million hectares of parkland, Ontario is a veritable playground for all things fun and environmental.
Here are five ways you can enjoy the spirit of Earth Day in April and throughout the year:
By: Corina Brdar, Southeast Zone Ecologist, Ontario Parks
There is some cutting edge research on preemie health and survival taking place in Ontario Parks. The “preemie” babies in question are Blanding’s turtles –a species at risk in Ontario. Each year the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre (KTTC) in Peterborough takes in injured (or sadly, dead) female Blanding’s turtles and rescues their eggs. Injured turtles treated at this unique animal hospital are “induced” to release their eggs using oxytocin, just like an expectant mom would be. The eggs are hatched at the centre and raised until they are 2 years old.
Growing up, I spent quite a bit of my time wandering through the woods, and exploring – looking at flowers, flipping logs, catching insects and watching them in a clear bucket – the type of thing many children do. As I worked my way through university, I realized that there was more to nature than being a naturalist and as I begun to be exposed to wildlife biology I realized that this was the path I wanted to follow. When I headed off to graduate school, and was offered the opportunity to take the lead on a project involving reptile and amphibian conservation in Presqu’ile Provincial Park, in addition to my mammal work, I was thrilled. For someone as interested in conserving the biodiversity that I grew up loving, reptiles and amphibians couldn’t have been a better fit – they are after all, two of the most imperiled groups of animals on the entire planet! Reptiles and amphibians are two of the most diverse classes of animals in the world. Sadly however, they are also experiencing among the fastest extinction rates on the planet.
Government agencies of both Ontario and Quebec, as well as hydropower producers, Canadian Wildlife Federation, the Algonquin’s of Ontario, and other stakeholders are working together to restore the American eel (Anguilla rostrate) within its historic range in Ontario waters. Earlier this summer, over 400 juvenile eels (yellow eel) were collected from the eel-ladder at Hydro-Quebec’s Beauharnois Generating Station in Quebec and released in the Ottawa River at Voyageur Provincial Park. This marked the first assisted passage of American eel into the Ottawa River, and the beginning of a long journey to help restore populations of eel in the Ottawa River Watershed.
Facilitating scientific research is one of the four objectives of Ontario’s Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act. This advances our learning about protected areas and enhances Ontario Parks’ ability to maintain ecological integrity. Much of this research is conducted by universities and graduate students. In the last two years Ontario Parks has received over 300 applications to conduct research in parks.
A PhD biology student from Queen’s University has made an important discovery that could inspire the manufacturing industry worldwide to better understand the long-term environmental damage to lakes and other bodies of water, caused by emissions that cause acid rain. The impacts of acid rain were first noticed early on at one of Ontario’s most famous provincial parks – Killarney.
Alexander Wilson wrote that “while visiting friends in New England, sitting in the kitchen suddenly the sky became dark, there was no light in the room, and a rumbling noise grew louder, I was certain it was a tornado”. When his friends saw how frightened he was, they exclaimed, “Oh, it’s only the pigeons flying overhead”.
With fossil records dating back to 100,000 years before present and once believed to be the most abundant land bird in North America, with a population of 3-5 billion, how does the passenger pigeon become extinct within 40 years of decline?
The next time you take your kids or grandkids for a trek through your favourite Ontario provincial park, stay on the lookout for salamanders. Some of these wondrous little amphibians are on the endangered species list so if you see one skulking through your park, snap a selfie and send it to Ontario Nature, or download a free app at ontarionature.org/atlas. Your scientific discovery could help scientists understand more about why these fascinating creatures are disappearing.
According to a study done by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, amphibians such as salamanders, frogs and toads are experiencing one of the biggest declines globally. In fact, 41 percent of amphibians worldwide are endangered or threatened, including here in Ontario.