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Steward's Notes

Environment, Making and Everything in Between

Get the Peterborough Natural Heritage T-Shirt!

In a recent blog article I published the Natural Heritage System map of Peterborough in metro map format. Now you can show your natural Peterborough Pride in t-shirt form! Order yours today from Kawartha Local. Makes a perfect gift for your naturalist dad on fathers day. (June 17th, thank me later 🙂 )

Rob, the owner of Kawartha Local was instrumental in pulling this project together. Even if you’re not interested in this t-shirt, check out his shop full of awesome Peterborough swag!

Should Peterborough Profit from Environmental Degradation?

In any democracy, as administrations change so do their priorities. In the case of environmental management, it often is the case that a single administration is capable of undoing decades of work to protect natural spaces. In Peterborough, the last several years have been marked with conflict around how our administration has approved countless measures to degrade the wetlands, creeks, and forests that are valued by humans and wildlife alike. With work commencing on the policy portion of the official plan, now is our chance to shape policy that will discourage environmentally destructive behavior by our city.

Harper Creek regulated to the side of the road by urban development. (2018)

There are many proponents of environmental degradation, one of the more obvious ones are real estate developers. Many real estate developers across the province have realized that it is not in their best interest to destroy the things that make these places desirable to live. Others in Peterborough have yet to catch up. Based on the sheer scale that they operate it is possible for them to have an outsized environmental impact on our city’s natural spaces. The approach thus far to prevent development within sensitive environmental areas has been to set a limit or buffer around each sensitive area and declare that no development should take place within these areas. Unfortunately, this has not been enough for the city to stop granting approvals that violate this policy.

One of the major drivers of development approvals for municipalities is development charges. Approvals for construction often come with a fee that is paid to the city. Therefore, the more development that a city approves, the greater access they have to funds. As an example, a recent apartment complex approved with a 20m setback from a provincially significant wetland (PSW) in Peterborough (100m beyond Otonabee Region Conservation Authority policies.) The development charges for the property are $12,910 per unit, totaling $555,130.00 raised for the city. When cash strapped city councils approve development, it is no wonder that when the environment comes into question a nice half a million dollar payout wins out.

The “conservation community” currently under construction at the edge of Peterborough.

I would propose that as part of the natural heritage system the following policy should be put in place:

“The city shall not collect development charges for site plans approved within 120m from provincially significant wetlands, 30m from permanent water bodies, or within areas identified as part of the natural heritage system”

This removes the cash incentive for approving development within environmentally sensitive areas. The other option that may be more appealing to some would be to offer developers a discount on development charges if properties that they are developing contain environmentally sensitive features providing a discount based on the area that is occupied. It by no means prevents developments from happening in this area, but it at least removes the dollar sign distraction from clouding the vision of our city council.

Night of the Salamanders (And Newt)

This past week the Peterborough Field Naturalists and the Kawartha Land Trust hosted the 4th annual salamander night at the Ingelton Wells property. Despite the rain it was incredibly well attended. By the end of the night we catalogued 3 different species of salamanders on the property and a couple more on the way home! If you’re interested in salamanders and other excellent field trips in the Kawarthas and beyond, definitely consider becoming a member of the Peterborough Field Naturalists!

If you want to stay up to date with interesting naturalist news in the region be sure to sign up to the Steward’s Notes Monthly Newsletter

3D Printing Peterborough Watersheds

Within the sphere of 3D printing there are a plethora of examples of how to print topographic maps. Much of this interest comes from the reproduction of topographies from popular video games or modeling significant landscape features such as mountains or canyons. The standard format has been to display these models using arbitrary or aesthetically pleasing boundaries, often a square or a circle (or even puzzle pieces)

One of the primary motivators for my acquisition of a 3D printer was the ability to reproduce landscapes with the natural watershed boundaries that already exist. This turned out to be a much more daunting task than I had initially anticipated, however I think the results were well worth it! Now that I have started to refine my techniques, I hope to be able to reproduce interesting watershed topographies for all of Peterborough and beyond!

The Mississippi River model as seen from the air (US Army Corps of Engineers, 2006)

Watershed models have a long history in the management of water resources. The US Army Corps of Engineers produced a gigantic scale model of the Mississippi basin to assist in flood prediction and management long before computers were able to complete the task. Even today, physical models are able to produce results that computers are unable reliably recreate. Perhaps with the refinement of 3D printing technologies we will once again see the models that assisted our resource planning in the past reemerge as a common element of our watershed planning future.

This Is Why Jackson Creek Matters

This spring so far has not given us much in the way of precipitation, but that’s not to say that we can’t see our surrounding environment hard at work. In Peterborough we have a long history of flooding in our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Looking at old maps of Peterborough, it is easy to see why this is the case. When the area was first settled 200 years ago, Jackson Creek meandered through a wetland located where the downtown currently resides. The river still carries memories with it, when the downtown flooded in 2004 the path of the stream passed through buildings and shops in much the same way as it did in times gone by. (more…)

Stewards Notes Now Airing Live

Last week I had the opportunity to show Hayden Watters from CBC the natural heritage system map of Peterborough. I had never intended the popularity of the map to take off in the way it did, I simply needed a visual aide. Follow us around the city as we explore the different “transit stops” along the different transit lines. If you’re interested in the interview or want to learn more, head on over to CBC Ontario Morning and check it out. The interview starts at 12:22.

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Peterborough’s Natural Heritage System Metro

One of the obvious metaphors for a natural heritage system is a road or subway network for species that aren’t humans. Just as you require pathways to to work each morning, species need a pathway to move from their homes to their feeding grounds, water, and breeding areas. As a fun little project I decided to create a fictional metro system for all of our feathered, furry and slippery friends in the city. Each of the metro lines correspond with a real corridor that may be used by foxes, birds, snakes, and others to move between the core natural areas in our city. When we discuss the protection of our nature areas, we must not forget the metro system that connects these important natural spaces.

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Building Turtle Habitats in Jack’s Marsh

In Ontario and Canada there is a plethora of funding opportunities for protecting species at risk. Grants from the Federal, Provinical governments and NGOs assist organizations in protecting species at risk across a wide range of habitat types. Turtles are among some of the most threatened species in the province, and the Northumberland Land Trust is working to protect them. Unfortunately we don’t know what turtle species are out there on our properties.

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Cross Country Skiing in Harper Park

With all of the snow we have received in the last several weeks there is now a plethora of options in the Peterborough Area when it comes to cross country skiing. If you’re looking for more of a back-country experience, look no further than Harper Park. On February 11th we cut a trail through the park and conditions are ripe for an excellent skiing adventure! To access the park you can leave your vehicle on the side of the road and ski in on the trail marked on this map! Be sure to share your adventure on the Harper Park facebook page or @harperparkptbo on twitter.

Happy Skiing!

The 88th Peterborough Christmas Bird Count

This year nearly 80 members of the Peterborough naturalist community coordinated our 66th annual Christmas bird count. The count happened in December, but I’m only now writing about it since I have caught up from the holidays.

There have been lots of recaps and personal accounts in the newspaper and people’s blogs, but I thought there would be no harm in adding my story to the stack.

After finally meeting up with our group we made our way down to the area surrounding the Peterborough airport. It was a slow start to the morning, only making out some starlings and chickadees on the horizon. It was to be expected, the temperature was below 30 degrees. We made our way down the the Otonabee river and teased some red-bellied woodpeckers out of the silver maple swamp. It was one of the most beautiful mornings I’ve ever seen on the Otonabee, steam coming off the river and the sun sparkling in the ice that had formed on the tree branches. (more…)