Category: Environment

Is Your Neighborhood The Hottest In Peterborough?

On August 15th 2021 it was 23.9°C at the Peterborough Municipal Airport. By all respects, an average summer temperature. If you looked at a thermometer outside your house though, it might paint a much different picture. In the downtown core and areas along Lansdowne St. temperatures reached as high as 40°C. This represents over 15°C temperature difference! What is happening and how can it be stopped?

The urban heat island is a phenomenon we’ve long known about. It occurs when natural land cover such as forest or meadows are replaced with surfaces that retain heat such as asphalt, concrete or pavement. These surfaces then radiate the heat back out into the local environment, warming the surrounding area. The effect can increase the cost of heating, and put elderly or other vulnerable citizens at risk of heat stroke, and even death.

The urban heat island effect often puts the most vulnerable populations at risk. Some of Peterborough’s lowest income census areas have the highest recorded temperatures. You’ll notice on the map that areas directly south and north of the downtown which are characteristic as lower income neighborhoods, have some of the highest recorded temperatures, while some of Peterborough’s more affluent neighborhoods have much lower recorded temperatures.

Image #1 characterizes a neighborhood south of downtown. Census Canada considers between 35% and 43% of the population to be low income. This neighborhood is one of the hottest in Peterborough, coming in at a 15°C temperature deviation. Meanwhile Monaghan Ward represented in image #2 only recorded a 5°C temperature deviation. It is clear that land cover and tree canopy have a huge impact on temperature deviation. With the additional pressure of climate change, these deviations are likely to become more pronounced over time.

What can be done about urban heat though? Luckily we have some solutions! Planting trees is once again, a major winner in this regard. Not only does tree planting decrease average temperatures, it can lower heating and cooling bills year round for residents, overall a huge win for the climate. Removing asphalt and other “high heat” surfaces can also benefit neighborhoods, replacing asphalt with grass is even a viable solution for combating urban heat. Depave projects around the country have made major inroads in this regard, and perhaps focusing on lower income neighborhoods could have an additional impact.

In all, reducing the urban heat island effect gives us one more incentive to restore ecosystems, plant trees, and protect our natural areas. Perhaps years from now, when you look at the thermometer outside your house, it may more accurately reflect the temperature across our city.

Data provided by USGS through LANDSAT 8.

Earth Day Project 2021: An Autonomous Seed Planting Drone for Environmental Restoration

Back in 2014 I had just graduated from my environmental science degree and was eager to start a career in the environmental sector. I had more ideas than time back then, which is obvious from the notes that I was keeping. Fast forward to 2020, I had just completed my masters in sustainability studies, am looking for work, and there is a province wide lockdown. Despite languishing for most of the year, I figured with the time that the lockdown afforded me, I could try to create something epic. I dusted off my old notebooks, and decided this project was worth my time.

It has become increasingly clear that conservation is no longer enough when it comes to our current biodiversity crisis. We need active environmental restoration to solve the problems we are facing as a society. I wanted to create a tool that could scale to produce results for huge environmental restoration projects and be accessible for people and organizations for a reasonable cost.

For the past 4 months I’ve put in hundreds of hours to produce the Aspen. Its a fully autonomous drone capable of quickly broadcasting seed across large areas. The broadcasting wheel is interchangeable allowing users to spread up to 2.5kg of various seed types including treated tree seed, tallgrass, wildflower, clover and anything else you can imagine! (Edit: The Hopper in the video is a small one for testing) The drone is controlled by a base station that uploads a flight plan to the drone. Once the drone is ready, it takes off and completes the flight plan fully autonomously, spreading seed as it goes. The base station is capable of controlling multiple drones simultaneously, opening up possibilities for multiple drones to work in tandem to cover a huge area for restoration projects.

Broadcasting seed is never going to replace planting trees directly, but there are several methods for treating seed to increase their success rate that I have been researching. The University of Alberta has created an interesting seed coating that seems to increase the success rate of tree seeds to as high as 70%. This is definitely something that I would like to experiment with, as it may also assist with even broadcasting of the seed.

There’s still testing to carry out, and some refining to complete the design, but it is a working prototype ready to be put to the test. Please watch the video and let me know what you think! If you or your organization would like to work together to test the drone out on your project or a portion of your project, please let me know and I’m sure we can come up with an arrangement!

Also, if you or your organization are looking for a talented employee capable of making huge projects like this a reality, please reach out and lets have a conversation!

Bonus FAQ: I don’t understand, but several people have all asked “how high does it go?” Lets just say, I’m not going to test it out, but in theory it could ascend at 2m/s for 20 minutes. That works out to about 2.4km in altitude. At that point it would crash to the ground, probably never to be seen again.

What Might a Nature Based Recovery Look Like in the Kawarthas?

In 2020 the coronavirus devastated economies, put millions of people out of work, all at a time of global climate and ecological crisis. 2020 was also the year we entered into the UN’s Decade on Restoration that aims to “prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide”. No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, you can agree that one way or another, we are in a time of crisis. A term that has been tossed around over the past year as a way out of the crisis is “a nature based recovery”.

Nature based recoveries are not a new idea, we can look to the past for models on what it might look like, putting millions of people to work while restoring our natural environments. One of the most ambitious conservation projects of all time was the Civilian Conservation Corps. Over the course of the program it employed nearly 3 million Americans while planting over 3,000,000,000 (Billion!) trees. A version of this program has been resurrected by the incoming Biden administration and is expected to present a plan within the next several months. It will be exciting to see it take shape over the coming years.

Embed from Getty Images

Closer to home, we can look to similar projects that helped employ masses of Canadians while enhancing our natural environment. Following the Guelph Conference and the subsequent establishment of the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority there was a resolution to seek any practical project that would employ civilians in the post war era. The Ganaraska region had become a dustbowl due to the high rates of erosion caused by rampant deforestation and the underlying sandy soils easily being swept away by wind or rain. Restoring the Ganaraska Watershed seemed like an obvious candidate for the project. Over the next several years the Ganaraska Authority reforested over 10,000 acres of land while employing thousands of unemployed Canadians.

The benefits of these programs have extended far into the future. Today the Ganaraska watershed is a popular outdoor tourism destination, and is no longer subject to the destructive flooding it once was. Indeed, a University of Oregon study found that for every million dollars invested in watershed restoration it resulted in 16 new or sustained jobs and up to 2.5 million dollars in total economic activitiy. There are very few public sector investments that have rates of return that scale in a similar fashion.

Locally, what might a project of this scale look like that could employ many people while creating enormous ecological benefit? One such project that comes to mind is the Kawarthas Naturally Connected. The KNC is a natural heritage system plan developed over the past decade that aims to provide a linked network of conservation corridors across the Kawarthas. Perhaps a project that restores a ecological corridor from the Oak Ridges Moraine or Rice Lake in the south to the Kawartha Lakes in the north could be a great starting point? As an added benefit, perhaps a multi-day hiking trail could follow the corridor similar to the way the Ontario Waterfront Trail is used as a platform for restoring coastal ecosystems along the great lakes shoreline.

History has demonstrated that these environmental projects can have an enormous environmental and social benefit, hopefully our recovery can help lead to a sustainable future for everyone. The Kawarthas is a leader in environmental expertise and stewardship, if anyone can accomplish a nature based recovery, it is us! In 2016, the UN designated Peterborough a Regional Centre of Expertise for sustainability, lets put that designation to use and carry out a decade of restoration.

Protected Peterborough?

Snippet of Protected Areas Map

Over the past several years I’ve been asked by several people, “how much of Peterborough is protected?” Its not a straightforward question to answer; between overlapping jurisdictions, policies and laws and the ways in which they are enforced the area of protection in the city limits changes. Recently Debbie Jenkins reached out to me with a proposal to produce a map that attempted to finally answer the question How much of Peterborough is Protected?

I first needed to decide what I would consider as a “protected area” in Peterborough. There are several regulations that do not necessarily act as protections for ecological purposes, but have ecological implications. Meanwhile regulations such as the 120m setback for wetlands are technically required by legislation, but rarely adhered to. I decided to take a qualitative two tier approach to my assessment.

Tier 2 protections were generally identified as areas that have some degree of protection, yet are generally ignored, circumvented, or have limited significance. Examples:

  • 120m setback from Provincially Significant Wetlands although technically required by provinical legislation, are rarely enforced on new building developments.
  • Alterations to Shorelines and Watercourses Regulations technically prohibits construction within the regulated areas adjacent to wetlands and watercourses, although the conservation authority is generally willing and able to provide exceptions to this rule.

Tier 1 protections were identified as areas with significant hurdles to development, and in my experience are generally spared within development applications. Exceptions to these rules are rarely granted (not never granted). Examples:

  • Within 30m from Provinically Significant Wetlands I can only think of limited examples in the past decade where this limit has not been enforced.
  • Parks Canada Land this land is federally protected and I consider unlikely to be developed.
  • City Parks generally city parks are not developed within the city of Peterborough, in large part due to public outcry and what I consider to be “cultural” protections.

This map is far from perfect and includes several approximations, however it should paint an accurate picture of “protected areas” within the city of Peterborough. It will be interesting to see when the official plan is released how this map might change. Advocating for nature has been a huge part of how many of the protected areas in our city have gained and maintained their status, and I hope this map paints an excellent picture of how that work has pieced together.

Learning from Spring Wildflowers, and how We Bring Them Back

Every year myself and many others eagerly await the arrival of the ephemeral spring wildflowers. In the past few days I’ve been out scouting for them around Peterborough, and it appears they will be in full bloom soon! In Peterborough it is possible to see these ephemeral forest flowers in Burnham Woods, the Trent Nature areas, the Fleming College Property, and some places in Jackson Park. When visiting these places, be sure to tread carefully and take nothing but photographs.

Being more than just photogenic and beautiful to look at, early spring wildflowers can be an excellent indicator of forest health. These early wildflowers support insects and pollinators of many different varieties. Notably, many of these spring wildflowers are pollinated by various ant species, instead of other flying insects. A good reminder to not forget about ants as an important pollinator in our ecosystems! Beyond pollinators, many larger animals rely on these plants as a source of forage. Many spring flowers produce fruit, and leaves that forest animals will feast upon.

These flower species are often sensitive to environmental changes and human activity, which also makes them an early indicator of a declining forest health. Changes in the water cycle due to nearby construction, trampling of plants by humans, and invasive species can all have an impact on the health of these wildflower and forest communities.

Here in Peterborough’s Jackson park, these spring wildflowers are few and far between. The forest has experienced many of the impacts mentioned above, and trampling of the forest floor has reduced the chances of their revival to a minimum. It does not need to be this way, communities in other parts of the province have created simple and effective ways of managing the human impact on the forest ecology.

In urban forests, often the forest undergrowth becomes trampled by people walking through the forest. The trampling of the undergrowth results in a decline of flowers, and the remaining flowers are often picked by visitors. In London Ontario, along the Thames River the Garden Club of London had an elegant and beautiful solution to this problem. Last year I visited their woodland garden to explore this oasis in the middle of their city. By strategically placing fencing throughout the forest and adding pathways where people frequently passed through the forest, the woodland garden was able to revive the local forest ecology while still providing opportunities for visitors to pass through the forest and marvel at the beautiful flowers.

Urban forests, although not pristine, do not need to be resigned to an eternity of ecological degradation through human use. With some tender care the Garden Club of London shows us how some careful planning can bring back the wildflowers for all of us to enjoy. It is my personal hope that in the coming years we can bring the flowers and pollinators back into Peterborough’s own Jackson Park.

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Self Isolation Bioblitz: Wrapup!

Hello Bioblitzers! Hope you are all keeping healthy and well these days. We’re quite lucky that here in Peterborough that our parks and greenspaces have remained open to the public. When I’ve been out and about in our local parks, I’ve been pleased to see nearly everyone respecting social distancing protocols. Hopefully the Self-Isolation Bioblitz we held on March 28th helped keep everyone’s spirits high, and perhaps inspired some of you to participate an citizen science in other ways. Over the past week Jenn Baici produced some excellent charts to share with you as a summary of the bioblitz results!

Numbers of observations and species in each category. Jenn Baici (2020)

Scouterderyck ended the bioblitz with the most species sighted (45) and the most total observations (64). The most common species sighted was the American Robin (27), Eastern Grey Squirrel (17), and Black Capped Chickadee (17). I was personally quite excited to see that there were even sightings of fish that were included during the event! By my best guess, well over 100 people participated. Thanks everyone for making this even a huge success! Explore the summary charts below or head on over to the project page to check out the raw data!

Stay up to date with environmental news, events and stories by subscribing to the Stewards Notes newsletter. Also be sure to follow @StewardsNotes on Twitter and Facebook.

Again, special thanks to Jenn Baici for producing all of the graphics for this wrap up article. Jenn is a graduate student at Trent University studying studying the behaviour and social structure of eastern wild turkeys. To learn more about Jenn’s research you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter at @jennbaici

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How to Observe Hundreds of Species in Your Backyard

I’m going to let you in on a little secret… I didn’t grow up a naturalist. In fact, I wouldn’t have ever dreamed about calling myself a naturalist until my mid-twenties. My main priorities as a teen were to be a top 50 competitive Age of Empires II player and to become a chef. I was successful in both of those pursuits; before retiring.

I’d always enjoyed nature, but I’d have been hard pressed to identify more than 10 bird species. But herein lies my secret, since I started on this journey relatively recently I still remember learning to observe. I’m no master naturalist (In fact I’m probably more of a geographer), but I thought I’d share some tips for how to find as many things as possible in your backyard!

This weekend Peterborough will be having its first ever backyard bioblitz. But some of you may be thinking “nothing lives in my backyard” and that my friends is where you are wrong! Some backyards are more diverse than others, but no doubt, there is life out there waiting to be discovered! I’ll share a few pointers to get you started, but remember to use all your senses, intuitions and you’ll have success!

1. Don’t Dismiss Anything

When you’re making your observations, it is easy to dismiss things as “not important” because they are so common or familiar. Be sure to include everything you see! Grey squirrels are common and easy to ignore, but make sure you include the common things when making your list. You’ll be amazed at the number of species you can already identify if you include everything!

2. Look On Things

It’s easy to look at a tree, identify it and move along. Don’t forget that trees are an excellent source of habitat for a multitude of species. The bark can provide crevices for beetles or lichens to hide in, birds build nests on the branches, or chipmunks build dens among the roots. Remember to look carefully at everything and think to yourself if there are good hiding places for things big and small.

3. Look Under Things

Underneath rocks and rotting logs is home to some of the greatest discoveries you might find! Snakes often hide under warm rocks to capture some of their heat. Salamanders and frogs will be found under rotting logs as moist hiding place. Beetles make their homes in an abundance of different types of cover. Be sure to leave no stone unturned!

4. Focus

Pick a spot, any spot. Sit down. Look in front of you. REALLY look in front of you. Breathe. Look again. Do you see it? A small snow drop hidden in the mud, emerging just in time for you to see it. I’m sure you’ll be amazed what you can find when you look closely. If you don’t know what it is, take a picture and share it on iNaturalist, we’ll see if we can identify it for you! When you really get down into the weeds, you’ll be amazed what you can find!

5. Look Up! Way Up!

Look up into the trees, there’s all sorts of life waiting to be discovered. Among the tops of the trees you might see a squirrel’s drey, a nesting bird or if you’re lucky maybe even a porcupine! Look even further into the sky, what do you see? Perhaps some passing Canadian Geese, or a Gull. Make sure to include everything you see!

6. Come Back Later

Many species of animals enjoy coming out at different times of day so make sure to come back in the morning afternoon and evening to see what different species you can find. Don’t forget to check in at different temperatures. Many species of insects are sensitive to temperature fluctuations, so come back at the warmest part of the day to see what else you can find.

Hopefully these tips help you get started on your journey to discover as many species as you can in your backyard! Don’t forget to log your sightings in one of the many citizen science applications! This March 28th, you can practice with the rest of Peterborough during the first ever backyard bioblitz!

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Peterborough Self Isolation Backyard Bioblitz! March 28th

This spring while we are all in self isolation it’s important to remember that exposure to nature can be a great way to reduce your stress levels. That’s why on March 28th Steward’s Notes will be holding Peterborough’s first ever self-isolation backyard bioblitz! Be a citizen scientist, make the world a better place, and feel good while you do it. With the spring migration in full swing and plants emerging from the winter, now has never been a better time to be a naturalist!

How To Participate:

On March 28th make sure you have iNaturalist installed on your smartphone or tablet and go out into your backyard, watch from your window or look under your couch for as many different species of animals and plants as you can find. (It is also possible to submit sightings using your computer) With spring in full swing, there should be plenty of opportunity to see birds, plants and insects of all types! You can learn to use iNaturalist here. I’d recommend submitting a few sightings of wildlife before the big day!

Prizes:

We will be offering a prizes for the most observations, so be sure to submit your sightings early and often over the course of the day. Also, share your photos on social media using #ptboBYBB (Peterborough Backyard BioBlitz) We’ll also award a prize for the best photo posted online!

Sign Up and Learn More:

You can sign up for the project at the above link. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email using the contact form and I will get back to you ASAP. Alternatively, you can communicate using the iNaturalist project page.

Four Ways To Be A Citizen Scientist Without Leaving Your Home

Around Ontario and the globe many people will soon likely be confined to their living quarters for many days or weeks. Even at home, there are still plenty of opportunities to help make the world a better place. Citizen science has revolutionized the way we do conservation and restoration work around the globe, and you can contribute to the movement from the comfort (Or quarantine) of your home! It can be fun for kids too! With the spring arriving fast (along with all the migrating creatures!), there’s never been a better time to learn to be a citizen scientist.

Citizen Science: “The collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project” – Oxford Dictionary

There is no need for you to be an expert on any particular topic, you just need to be willing to learn. There are a multitude of resources out there to help you on your citizen science journey, and hopefully this article can be your starting point.

New: Join the Peterborough Great Backyard Self-Isolation Bioblitz!

For Kids:

For kids and students who are burgeoning environmental scientists may I suggest you create a worksheet or workbook that records the date and time you spot the plant or animal, the weather, who spotted it, where you spotted it and any other special notes. Notes might include that the animal was building a nest, or that the plant was the first to emerge, anything that might be special about your sighting. If you have a printer at home download and print the attached worksheet to track your sightings! If you want to use one of the below citizen science programs, may I suggest starting with Journey North. It is an easy and intuitive website to use for beginners.

Journey North

Website: https://journeynorth.org

A spring peeper emerging in the spring time. Near Guelph Ontario – DR

Journey north is a citizen science tool for tracking the migration and emergence of creatures and plants in North America. It is incredibly easy to participate and you might already have the skills to take part! On the projects page they are tracking the migration of American Robins, Monarch Butterflies, Earthworms, and frogs to name a few. If you are a beginning citizen science this is a great place to start! This website is probably a great way to get the kids involved in tracking different species. With the spring on its way, this is an excellent project to get involved with.

eBird

Website: https://ebird.org

A Pilleated Woodpecker in the Spring at Kawartha Highlands – DR

eBird is one of the world’s largest citizen science communities. Using their smartphone application or their website, you can submit all of your bird sightings. These sightings can be used to track bird migrations declines or increases in species numbers as well as the availability of food. To participate from home all you need to do is look out your window and try to identify as many birds as you can! If you need help learning to identify birds Merlin Bird ID is a great and intuitive tool to learn how. I personally started using ebird nearly 5 years ago and I found it was a great way to learn how to identify birds while contribution to the knowledge of our local bird populations. I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn how many different bird species you can already identify!

iNaturalist

Website: https://www.inaturalist.org/

Crayfish disturbed by the spring flooding adjacent to Jackson Creek – DR

iNaturalist is another excellent tool for participating in citizen science. This global community is dedicated to the identification of all living things big and small. The sightings submitted by naturalists have been used for things like planning large conservation projects or making better decisions around municipal planning. Many bioblitzes are organized using this website. Any skill level is encouraged to participate, and sightings are often verified by an expert. If you have difficulty identifying creatures, you can use the accompanying app Seek by iNaturalist. With projects like “Never Home Alone: The Wild Life of Homes” you don’t even need to go outside!

EDD Maps

Website: https://www.eddmaps.org/ontario/

A welcome sight in the springtime, although it is an invasive plant! – DR

If invasive species get you excited, then look no further than EDDMaps! EDDMaps tracks the distribution of invasive plants, animals, diseases, and insects. This information can be used to plan response efforts for controlling or eradicating invasive species. They provide a multitude of resources on their website for identifying invasives in your neighborhood or back yard. There are over 3,100 species they are tracking so there are sure to be some in your area! When you’re done identifying invasives in your neighborhood or back yard you can plan a stewardship project to remove them and replace with native plants!

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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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