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Steward's Notes

Environment, Making and Everything in Between

Coyotes of Peterborough

As a follow up to the impromptu citizen science project that took place in November and December, I’ve created a map for everyone’s enjoyment and so you can all see the results! It was a lot of fun taking in everyone’s input and creating something together. This mini project has given me some ideas for fun projects in the future, but for now, enjoy this map and let me know what you think!

Stewards Notes Talks Natural Heritage on Pints and Politics

While you’re in for the weekend relaxing before the holidays begin in earnest, why not check out this weeks episode of Pints and Politics. Bill Templeman, Ben Wolfe, Ian Attridge, and myself all sat down to discuss our city’s important natural heritage and how we might plan for a more ecological future. Check out the podcast from the link below and let us know what you think!

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Despite Lack of Provincial Leadership Dianne Saxe Offers a Vision for Way Forward

Its difficult to envy the position that Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe finds herself in every day. Her role as an independent commissioner of the legislature is to oversee Ontario’s ministries through an environmental lens and to administer the Environmental Bill of Rights. Throughout her tenure as the ECO she has issued dozens of reports critical of government activities and responses to pollution, environmental degradation, and planning. Just last week she released the annual ECO report detailing worrying trends in Ontario regarding wetlands, woodlands, water and wildlife. The report seems to have fallen on deaf ears at the legislature. Even worse, funding for the ECO office was cut nearly immediately following the release of the report.

It was a coincidence that that very day here in Peterborough we were fortunate enough to be joined by Dianne Saxe to discuss the protected areas shortfall that the province is facing in meeting our Aichi target 11 goals to protect 17% of Canada’s landmass for conservation y 2020. Currently Ontario sits at 10.4% protected area which is less than the global average of 14.5%. The response from Doug Ford and the CPC cacus has been that it was an agreement signed federally (by Stephen Harper), so it isn’t his problem.

Peterborough citizens making a difference!

Near the beginning of her presentation, Dianne offered examples of how leadership from cities, towns and other low tier governments is creating real change in the absence of higher leadership on environmental issues. South of the border, the “We Are Still In” coalition is on track to meet their Paris climate targets representing a constituency of over half of American Citizens an an economy of 6.2 trillion USD.

Now that the City of Peterborough has elected a council that may take environmental issues seriously, it may be time to discuss how our city may reach out to others to meet climate, water or protected area targets in the absence of provincial leadership. Perhaps our council and the engaged and eager citizens of our city can step forward as a leader in Ontario to create a vision for the future of not just our city, but the province as a whole. Organizations such as the Kawartha Land Trust, GreenUP, and The Nature Conservancy have all demonstrated the real change that can happen from the ground up when we decide to work together, lets hope that we can find an ally in our new city council.

Dianne Saxe may have a difficult road ahead as the environmental commissioner, and it may be difficult to be the harbinger of bad news but my respect for her comes from her ability to offer real solutions to the large problems that we face. I’ve trusted her advice since she took office and regardless of what happens, she will continue to be an invaluable asset for the people of Ontario.

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Travel the Coyote Parkway

For the past 50+ years the city of Peterborough has been debating the creation of the parkway on top of some of the greenest spaces and most widely used trails in our city. You may be surprised to hear that this space has become another different transportation corridor in our city. Coyotes roughly appear to be traveling from through our city along this corridor. You may recall the map produced earlier this year detailing Peterborough’s natural heritage system in the form of a metro map, this is a prime example of how wildlife moves around our city.

Get your sighting featured on the map by using the tag #PtboCoyote on twitter or typing a comment below.

On November 13th @SarahDeeth from CHEX news posed the question on twitter if people had been noticing greater numbers of coyotes within the city limits. People were eager to share the approximate locations of their sightings across the city. I realized that this would be an interesting dataset, and quickly went to work assembling everybody’s sightings into a single map. The results were surprising! You can see the live map below!

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Incredibly the Coyotes seem to be using the parkway corridor to travel around the city. Sightings from the north end all the way to medical drive indicate active populations roaming the area. Neighborhoods in Monaghan Ward seem to have active populations surrounding the golf course. I can also personally corroborate an active population within and around Harper Park. It is equally interesting where there are an absence of coyote sightings. Almost no sightings have taken place in the areas on the East Bank sandwiched between the Canal and the Otonabee River. My guess is that it is a relatively highly populated area that lacks easy escape routes, so coyotes avoid the east bank.

Peterborough Natural Areas Atlas

With the fall colours upon us, there is no time like the present to get out and enjoy what Peterborough’s natural areas have to offer. Over the course of the winter I will be working on an updated version of the Natural Areas atlas for people to enjoy next spring! In the meantime, why not head over to the downloads page and get a copy for yourself? The atlas covers some of the most interesting natural areas within the city limits and has some suggested walking trails marked on the map. Make sure to share your wildlife sightings on iNaturalist, ebird, reptile and amphibian atlas or some other citizen science program! Bring a friend and I’ll see you on the trail!

Jackson Creek Pollution Update

Today I received word from City Councillor Henry Clarke stating that a sediment fence had failed on the site of the Lilly Lake Subdivision and that as he wrote the email they were working to repair it. With another rain storm headed our way I decided to go up and have a look at the work as it was being completed. I walked up the Jackson Creek Trail through the park. As I walked along the trail I noticed that giant sheets of mud had been left next to the trail from all of the water that had flowed through the site.

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Sheets of mud deposited along Jackson Creek Trail

I ascended the slope out of the river valley to notice the first spot where the erosion fencing had failed. Across the huge swath of property there was nothing but bare soil. No erosion control had been implemented on site.

I continued further along the southern boundary of the property, the mud was thick and deep, more than once I stumbled and fell. Just as I was about to leave, I noticed where a huge swath of grass leading into the river valley had been washed out by water. I approached and discovered  one of the largest erosion scars that I have ever seen.

The silt fencing had totally failed and you could see that possibly hundreds of tonnes of sediment had escaped the property and flowed down the valley into Jackson Creek. P_20181009_182132

I’m disappointed that this hasn’t been dealt with. Fish are currently spawning and this could lead to a massive kill of the eggs this year. In the mud I didn’t see any evidence that any humans had actually investigated since the last storm. I’ll be taking more action in the coming days and I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

See How The Lilly Lake Subdivision is Impacting our Waterways

This past week my partner alerted me to the fact that things in Jackson Creek looked a little off. “Like chocolate milk” is how she described it. I’ve seen rivers that looked like chocolate milk before, but never Jackson Creek. I decided to go have a look to see what was causing the phenomenon. First I went down to the creek near the entrance into Jackson Park. Indeed the water was murky with silt and mud.

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Murky water like this is bad for fish and other aquatic organisms. It can suffocate fish, decrease light reaching into the water to allow plants to grow and can mean increased nutrients will lead to algae blooms and decreased oxygen concentrations.

After discovering the milky water that had found its way into creek I wanted to see what the water looked like upstream of any housing developments. I drove outside of town to see what the water looked like where the river crosses under Ackinson Road.

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Sure enough the water was clear and crisp. Some tannins were in the water that gave the water a “tea like” appearance. This is a natural phenomenon and no immediate cause for concern. It was obvious that there was something along the banks of Jackson Creek that was causing the pollution in the area.

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Flowing into a small tributary along the North side of the housing development on Lilly Lake road was one of the most egregious cases of poor sediment control. Along the slopes of the new construction, huge gullies of sediment had been carved out of the embankments and sediment was pouring into a failed stormwater pond to be deposited in Jackson Creek.

I’m not sure what how to fix this situation, city council is consistently unwilling to take action on these issues, Peterborough is home to several failed stormwater ponds. And it seems like the problem is not getting better any time soon. Perhaps a new city council will be willing to make the changes required to ensure the continued health and wellbeing of our waterways, and ultimately our community as a whole.

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.

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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