A Little Toolkit For Confronting Climate Inaction

2019 was heralded as the year that ended climate change denialism. Enter a new era, where we must face a new threat: inaction on climate change.

Just over a week ago I published a short writeup on my twitter feed explaining how an enormous fountain in our town was an outsised contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in our city. This was due to the sheer volume of electicity used to power the monstrous pumps that spewed a steady stream of water 6 stories into the air.

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Stay Tuned, Steward’s Notes Will Be Back After This Short Break

The past two years of writing for Steward’s Notes has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Those of you who follow and comment and send me such pleasant emails really make this project a lot of fun, and it is much appreciated! As some of you may know, I have been in the process of writing a master’s thesis: Polycentric Models for Urban Greenspace Management. I am desperately trying to finish writing in the coming month, and I really need to set this project (Steward’s Notes) aside for a little bit. I miss you lots and I really can’t wait to come back! I have lots of exciting plans for the months and years ahead and I can’t wait for you all to take part. However I really need to hit the pause button for a little bit. Make sure you don’t miss the return by subscribing below! Thank you all for your understanding and I’ll likely see you in the new year!

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To fill the time, why not check out some of the most popular content of all time!

A Subwatershed Plan for Harper Creek

Harper Creek is arguably one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in Peterborough. On September 23rd Peterborough City Council approved the transfer of funds to complete a subwatershed plan for Harper Creek. This is an exciting opportunity to explore how future impacts on the sensitive local environment will be mitigated. The RFP includes several items that will ensure that both the built and natural environment will be protected.

Some of the most exciting proposals include identification and analysis of the natural environment and its sensitivity. This is particularly exciting as the extent of the Harper Park Wetlands has never been assessed since the upgrade of the wetland to a provincially significant status. Additionally an analysis of cumulative impact of the built environment on the natural environment will be addressed. This is especially important as the impacts of surrounding developments on Harper Creek although purported to be small have created significant changes on the local environment when added all together.

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Note: All of this would not have been possible without the amazing leadership of Kim Zippel on who worked on the ad hoc committee who set the objectives of this study. Congratulations Kim.

Comments on Peterborough’s Draft Natural Heritage Plan

Recently the city of Peterborough released their draft official plan for public comment. The official plan will guide the development of the city for the next several years and council cycles and provide some certainty to members of the public about how the city will develop over the next couple decades. The official plan is divided up into several sections, the one that I am personally most interested in is the Natural Heritage System. The natural heritage system is made up of all of the natural areas in our city, and the connecting features between them. This section includes a map of all identified features in our city, as well as a section of policy that will determine how these areas are regulated and managed. Over the past several years several people including myself have taken part in stakeholder meetings that will help determine the contents of the official plan before it is presented to council to vote on. With the release of the official plan, I have a couple comments and suggestions for the policy portion of the official plan.

In the draft plan. Natural areas designations are divided into “levels” to signify their importance and degree of protection. Under this system unevaluated wetlands are not defined under any level of protection. I would encourage the city to evaluate all wetlands within the city limits and re-evaluate wetlands within the city limits to further understand their boundaries and functions. Currently, although Harper Creek wetlands are designated as provincially significant there has been no effort to evaluate or update the wetland boundary. As a result several developments have had significant negative impact on the wetland function including flooding nearby neighbors.

Harper Creek Wetlands

The draft plan makes mention of the requirement to conduct environmental impact studies on new developments. I would encourage the city to lay out the exact requirements for an EIS as several other municipalities in Ontario do. In addition, the plan should encourage or development proponents to consult with municipal staff or our new environmental advisory committee. The environmental advisory committee will be an excellent resource for our city, so we should put them to work! This is a common practice and one need only look as far as the region of Durham to find an example.

Citizen’s being great natural stewards!

Finally I would encourage the city to experiment with new ways in which citizens might become involved in the identification, protection and monitoring of natural heritage functions within our city. The city of Peterborough is home to one of the greatest concentrations of environmental knowledge in Ontario, and it would be a disappointment to not put that resource to use. Formally recognizing the role that citizen science and stewardship plays in protecting and enhancing our natural areas!

The draft plan is a great first step, let’s make this plan something we can all be proud of!

The Endangered Bird Above Peterborough’s Downtown

Next time you’re in downtown Peterborough, look up and there’s a good chance you’ll see one of Canada’s endangered species. The chimney swift is a bird that lives entirely on the wing, only landing to rest in its roost, often a chimney. Before European settlement, chimney swifts made their homes in large hollow trees that were common before the landscape was cleared for agriculture. Chimneys made a suitable replacement for their roosts, hence their name. Here in Peterborough, we have even erected a chimney swift “tower” in Beavermead Park to provide them with some additional habitat.

A chimney swift tower in Beavermead, Park Peterborough, Ontario 2019

Often confused for a swallow, chimney swifts can be identified by their high pitched chirping as they erratically pursue insects above the downtown. They will generally forage within 1/2 km of their roost but sometimes as much as 6 km.

This year, several field naturalists including myself have identified chimney swifts in areas far beyond their typical range in Peterborough’s downtown, so I have started collecting sightings of chimney swifts around Peterborough. Send me your sightings on twitter @StewardsNotes or using the contact form. I’ll be sure to add your sighting promptly! (Special shout out to Alexandra Anderson for all the great sightings!)

If you’re interested in monitoring chimney swifts in greater detail join Bird Studies Canada on their Swift Watch I assure you it is a relaxing way to spend several evenings!

Your Next Bird List Could Have a Big Impact!

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If you don’t know about ebird you should! It is one of the most widespread global citizen science projects in existence that helps track the migration an population of birds worldwide. To participate simply create an account on the website or app and go out to a nearby hotspot to start birding. Every species you are able to identify helps increase our collective knowledge of bird movements worldwide. Plus it is a great way to brush up your own birding skills. Peterborough and area has one of the most active Ebird communities I am aware of. We have as many active participants as the entire city of Toronto! Even still there are some gaps in the map that should be filled in. With the summer birding season upon us, let me make a few suggestions about how your next bird list could have an outsized impact.

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Where to Find Spring Wildflowers in Peterborough

With spring finally showing up on our doorstep I thought I’d share some of my favorite wildflower hotspots in Peterborough! The spring wildflowers are incredibly diverse with some early ones quite delicate such as hepatica, or incredibly showy such as the iconic trillium, it’s difficult to pick a favorite. (If I did pick a favorite it would be Bloodroot) There are many places to find them in and around Peterborough, but some places are better than others. Most species seem to prefer upland deciduous forests. By appearing before the tree canopy fills in, they are able to soak up the sunlight before disappearing until next year. Many of these flower species are also pollinated by one of the less known pollinators: the humble ant. So if you want to find some spring wildflowers, look no further than this list.

1. Fleming College Trails

Trillium on the Forest Floor

The lands surrounding Fleming College in the south west corner of the city make for perfect wildflower viewing. Some years the forest floor is blanketed with trilliums in a way that I have never seen elsewhere. Many of the other spring wildflowers such as hepatica, bloodroot, and trout lillys are present.

2. Burnham Woods

A “Towering” Mayapple

Probably the best place in Peterborough to see spring wildflowers is Burnham Woods. The old growth deciduous forest makes perfect setting to see all of the spring classics. Blue Cohosh, Mayapples, and Bellwort are all visible along the paths through the forest. Look close to the forest floor and you might even be able to find a violet or two.

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3. Lady Eaton Drumlin at Trent

Jack in the Pulpit

Again, this is perfect habitat for Spring wildflowers, parking is easy at Trent now that school is out for the summer, and it is also quite accessible by bus! Access the drumlin by walking up the slope behind Lady Eaton College at the university. You’ll be astounded by the diversity of wildflowers that are present at the top of the hill. In some of the low lying areas around the hill you can find another spring classic… the showy marsh marigold.

Hopefully this inspires you to get out and explore the best that Peterborough has to offer! Subscribe to Steward’s Notes to get more tips about nature spots in Peterborough or follow on Facebook or Twitter.

Reflections on a Year of Steward’s Notes

This year I’ll be celebrating 2 years of writing Steward’s Notes. This week I’ll be celebrating a year of taking it more seriously and a nomination for an award! When I started writing Steward’s notes in 2017 I was just starting a Masters of Sustainability Studies at Trent University, part of my job as a student was to reflect on our regular colloquium events on Trent’s internal communications tool “Blackboard”. These reflections were meant to be presented in a blog format visible to other students in our program. Unfortunately people who are not students of the program were not able to access the reflections of some of the brilliant minds in my program. In an effort to tie my studies closer to the community I started writing my own blog on Sustainability and Environmentalism in Peterborough. (Initially I included some other content, but that has since migrated to another site) I believe the interest in this blog reflects a real desire in the Peterborough community to hear real grounded stories on environmental issues, where people can and are making a real difference in our city. I also believe that this has been an excellent opportunity to share the diversity of life and nature in our own back yards.

Working with some Fleming Students to complete a baseline documentation of environmental conditions in Harper Park.

For myself this blog has been an opportunity for catharsis, when the issues of the day frustrate me, I like to write about how I might act to solve them. The name Steward’s Notes comes from my desire to take real concrete action to care for the land we live on and to do the best that we can when we can. I have a fondness for the term stewardship, it conjures a picture of one’s labour being reflected in the places and people they care about. I believe that others appreciate the work that I have done and have used it for inspiration to take their own actions.

Reflecting on the stories that I have written over the past year, I see that the most popular stories are ones that share the hidden beauty of our home, or those that promote real action that people can take (And one April fools joke). I think that in a period of political disenfranchisement, being shown a way forward is an act of empowerment that people can latch onto. In a recent interview someone described to me how for their organization, moving forward was the only option and that banging heads against a wall is a pointless exercise. In a land where we enjoy the privilege of freedoms that we have, it is possible to take advantage of a world of opportunities for caring and stewardship before we need to start pushing boundaries (Not that we shouldn’t push boundaries). I was recently reminded of this by a good friend, and it goes to show that sometimes being forced to refocus can have incredible effects. I like to think that in my own little way, Steward’s Notes is an outside beacon encouraging people to refocus when they get lost in the details of environmentalism, sustainability and stewardship.

One of my favorite images of our beautiful landscape, taken within the city limits of Peterborough. Beauty and nature is in our back yard.

As a final note, I’ll say that I’ve discovered that the three (or four) pillar approach to sustainability makes for good and engaging content in addition to being much more holistic way of viewing the world. Much of the most popular content I’ve written in the past year has been when I have made a conscious effort to consider an issue from all environmental, economic and social perspectives (I’m still not entirely sure how to separate culture from social in the four-pillar approach). Logically this makes sense, since you could expect that readership would have some vested interest in viewing any particular issue from their pillar of expertise. Mostly I view the world through an environmental lens, but it is a useful tool to remind me to leave my comfort zone and consider other ways of thinking and being.

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An additional fun little tidbit I’ll share is that according to my internal analytics, the large majority of my readership has a love of dogs. Not sure what this says about the blog, but as a bit of a dog person myself, I’ll take it.

This New Sticker Drives Doug Ford Nuts

With the newly legislated carbon tax propaganda stickers, here at steward’s notes I decided to tell the real story (according to the Nobel prize winner this year)! These vinyl die cut stickers can be placed “at your discretion” anywhere you choose! Share with your friends and relatives! Head on over to the shop page and I’ll get your stickers in the mail ASAP. Profits will be donated to environmental charities in Ontario.

Its no secret, placing a price on carbon is the most simple and effective way to lower carbon emissions. Even Stephen Harper agreed while he was Prime Minister. The current plan is not perfect, but it is better than anything proposed by the Federal or Provincial Conservatives. This bumper sticker is nothing but a statement of the objective truth.

Sorry for the clickbait 🙂

Steward’s Notes Celebrates Successful Bid to Replace Simcoe St. Parking Garage

Today Steward’s Notes is pleased to announce a successful bid to replace the Simcoe St. parking garage with a natural outdoor park! This will provide an excellent opportunity to bring daylight back to Jackson Creek and create outdoor space for the downtown community! After working with municipal counterparts it was agreed that the parking garage was underutilized and should be replaced with a showcase of Peterborough’s Natural heritage and beauty! Once again daylight will shine on Jackson Creek for the first time since the 1960s. The multi-million dollar contract will enable the total removal of the parking garage and subsequent replacement with outdoor greenspace. The bus terminal will be relocated to the King St. Parking Garage once construction begins. The benefits of this park promise to be immesurable and include:

  • Health Benefits for Nearby Residents
  • Reduced Urban Heat Island
  • Improvements to Water Quality in Jackson Creek
  • Improved Capacity to prevent major flooding
  • Opportunities to fall for an April Fools Joke!

Explore the possibilities with this exciting new project on May 11th with Dylan Radcliffe as he leads a Jane’s Walk exploring the river as it meanders hidden through Downtown Peterborough!