Friday, March 30, 2012

green cover versus grey ashphalt...(Ottawa)

Vert Design in Ottawa consulted on a very interesting Urban Forest project in Ottawa: New Edinburgh Urban Forest Inventory and Plan

Scope of Work:
Urban Planning and Neighbourhood Design

Project Description: The New Edinburgh Urban Forest Inventory and Plan was undertaken to illustrate the curent voids within the neighbourhood's urban forest and recommends areas for future plantings. A public awareness campaign including community newspaper articles, a public information session and a neighbourhood tree planting day is ongoing to encourage plantings on private property. Strategic discussions regarding prospective sites managed by the municipal and federal governments is also being undertaken to establish priorities for forestation of those areas of special significance.

Trees can provide so much to an urban setting. They are not only aesthetic, they also provide shade and green cover (helping to lower the urban heat island), increase biodiversity, absorb carbon dioxide, retain water at the same time lessening storm water runoff and even improve water quality.

* Image from the City of Ottawa website.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

our disposable trash and the wildlife that gets caught

Last month Furbearer Defenders wrote a post about the issue of skunks getting their head caught in the drainage holes of dumpsters. This week I also found some links to skunks who had gotten their head trapped in various jars and cups.

"It's not unusual for skunks to get their heads stuck in random objects — they are easily attracted to food smells and because their heads are triangular in shape, it is easy for them to push through narrow openings." (CBC Skunk Story)

"Skunks won’t spray you if they can’t see you, so it’s not a risk to grab the cup and pull it off. Skunks are nearsighted. They see the world in slow-moving blobs. Simon said the trick is to move slowly and speak in soft, soothing tones to the skunk - they stomp their feet before they spray.

The best way consumers can prevent a similar skunk emergency is to thoroughly rinse and cut up containers before discarding/disposal: Raccoons get their heads stuck in peanut butter jars, birds get caught in 6-pack can holders and trash poses other risks for wildlife, said Simon. (New Haven Register Skunk Story)

What a good reminder of how we can help wildlife:
- wash and clean all recyclables well before they are put out in recycling bin
- cut and/or crush all plastic so that it can't get trapped around an animal
- keep all garbage will secured and in a pail with lid
- put out garbage/recyclables the day of collection so that nocturnal animals can't get at your containers
- if you see garbage on the street, in ditches or parks pick it up and dispose of it safely
- if possible don't use disposable cups at all (especially ones with rounded lid & large hole on top!)
- the upside down Yoplait yogurt containers (in the U.S.) are especially dangerous for skunks.

The wildlife will thank you!


*All skunks pictured in this post were rescued and jars, cups removed.

News Reports:

- Animal Rescue - Brewster Police

- Stuck Skunk - KTLA

- Birdwatchers Save a Life

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Toronto's Biodiversity Booklet Series

Since 2009 the City of Toronto has been working on different booklets that showcase the biodiversity found in the region. With each booklet focusing on a different flora or fauna (birds, mammals, trees, etc.), a great series has been built to familiarize the citizens of Toronto with their "non-human" neighbours.

From the website:
Imagine a Toronto with flourishing natural habitats and an urban environment made safe for a great diversity of wildlife species. Envision a city whose residents treasure their daily encounters with the remarkable and inspiring world of nature, and the variety of plants and animals who share this world. Take pride in a Toronto that aspires to be a world leader in the development of urban initiatives that will be critical to the preservation of our flora and fauna.

... It is hoped that despite the severe biodiversity loss due to massive urbanization, pollution, invasive species, habitat loss and climate change, the Biodiversity Booklet Series will help to re-connect people with the natural world, and raise awareness of the seriousness that biodiversity loss represents and how it affects them directly. The Series will help cultivate a sense of stewardship in residents; inform the City of the current state of local biodiversity and how current City policies, procedures and operations can be enhanced, altered or revised in order to help mitigate local biodiversity loss.
The Reptile and Amphibian Booklet was released last June (2011) by Julia Phillips. Check out the complete series here: Toronto's Biodiversity Series

Monday, March 19, 2012

the birds and the bees (Guelph)

Guelph is creating the first Pollinator Park in Canada. It is located on the grounds of the old Eastview Landfill site.

From the City of Guelph website: The former landfill site is north-west of Eastview Rd and Watson Pkwy N. where 45 of the total 81 hectares had been land-filled. The plan includes a pollinators park and preservation of wetlands, and sports fields on the non land-filled portions of the site.
They have implemented a 1.5 hectare demonstration project to test and monitor this proposal (as there are many constraints with landfill sites). And the City of Gatineau and Fleurir Gatineau might be considering creating a similar initiative in the capital city.

If you want to know how this initiative got started, there is a powerpoint presentation (in pdf) online at the University of Guelph's website. They were one of the initial funders of the proposal. In it they discuss how important it is to have a Champion at the City level and for this project Guelph City Councillor Vicki Beard was that "powerful proponent".

ICLEI Canada has a great summary of this project as one of their Case Studies in the Cities and Biodiversity Series found here: ICLEI LAB.

2015 update on this Guelph project here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

tree top breeding

In Ottawa, there was a peregrine falcon nest directly across from our director's office on the 18th floor. The building across had no windows at that height and just this amazing ledge that was perfect for the bird. Sometimes we would see a pair of them circling on the other side of the building where the city opened up to LeBreton Flats and the river.

I started thinking about this bird today, at the end of our Wildlife Observation class. For our field observations, we had wandered around the (small) Scotch Pine Plantation on campus and saw over ten large (2-feet wide) nests way up in the tops of the trees. In the first semester, one of the teachers gave us an overview of the "activity" on campus. He told us that there are Cooper's Hawks and Barred Owls nesting in the Scotch Pines, there are Ruffed Grouse in the southeast corner in the woods (part of which is a cedar stand close to the river) and that students/faculty have also spotted Great Horned Owls and Osprey close by in the back fields and even Bufflehead visiting during their migration. I've even heard that some students have seen dead mice hanging on thorns (which is a sign there is a Shrike around).

So to investigate the larger nests in the Scotch Pines, I found the Cornell's Lab of Ornithology with some information on the Cooper's Hawk nests:
Nests are piles of sticks roughly 27 inches in diameter and 6-17 inches high with a cup-shaped depression in the middle, 8 inches across and 4 inches deep. The cup is lined with bark flakes and, sometimes, green twigs.

Cooper’s Hawks build nests in pines, oaks, Douglas-firs, beeches, spruces, and other tree species, often on flat ground rather than hillsides, and in dense woods. Nests are typically 25-50 feet high, often about two-thirds of the way up the tree in a crotch or on a horizontal branch.
This website also indicates that the Cooper's Hawk has easily adapted to our urban and suburban developments. So this is definitely a possibility! We did see and hear an American Kestrel today also but they nest in cavities (and do take to nest boxes just in case you want to build one!).

I have heard that crows will take over large abandoned nests and Barred Owls will use abandoned nests also (they preferred cavities though). We just received a handout on snag trees and important nesting trees for our Forestry Measurement class but unfortunately it's at school - it actually helps you identify which type of raptor built the next depending on the materials, the location and the height of the nest.

We'll learn more tomorrow - so stay tuned!

P.S. Check out my latest "urban wild" nature blog: Wild. Here. (2016 update)

Monday, March 5, 2012

it's a froggy life!

Just found out about this project from the Toronto Zoo website:

"Just Add Water is a U.K. national campaign to encourage the public to dig wildlife ponds, especially in urban environments. In some areas this can counteract the enormous loss of countryside ponds in recent years, and help local frogs, newts and other wildlife flourish.

One third of ponds are thought to have disappeared in the last fifty years or so and of those that remain more than 80% are thought to be in 'poor' or 'very poor' condition.

This has had an enormous impact on wildlife, particularly amphibians. Your efforts locally can make a big difference."

What a great idea!!! Check out the details including tons of info on how to build your pond here: Just Add Water!

The Canadian Wildlife Federation has also teamed up with The Pond Clinic here in Canada to create a promotional video to show how a water garden can be certified as Backyard Habitat.

And here's a great summary of key tips for your pond: Oak Leaf Gardening - Aquatic Life.

And don't forget that Save the Frog day is April 29th 2012!!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Urban Aviary in New York City

Wow - love this! Found on the Trend Hunter website:


The Urban Aviary may be the world’s only skyscraper designed exclusively for birds. New York-based Stone Architects designed the Urban Aviary as a way to save the Big Apple’s birds from an untimely death caused by the city’s skyscrapers.

According to Stone Architects, many birds meet their demise by mistaking the glass windows of big buildings for actual sky. The birds run smack into these windows and either die instant or become severely crippled. The Urban Aviary would solve this problem by giving birds a safe building to fly into. The aviary would be located in Central Park and would be outfitted with running water and natural vegetation to allow birds to nest in a safe and unobtrusive spot. City birds may be an annoying nuisance to some, but they should be saved as their presence helps keep the urban ecosystem in balance.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Biodiversity, Habitats and Ecosystem Health (Ottawa)

Ottawa's "Choosing Our Future" initiative is an ongoing process to help shape the national capital region's long term sustainability principals and goals. It is a joint initiative between the two cities and the NCC that was commenced in 2009 with foundation papers written on eleven different components. Since then they have consulted with the public through charettes, online media and workshops organized by the Canadian Biodiversity Institute. Along with the public input there are also baseline reports, green papers on sustainability, long-term reports from the city's committees and risk assessment reports.

One of the areas that is being discussed is biodiversity, habitats and ecosystem health. You can read that foundation paper prepared by HB Lanarc here: Choosing Our Future website. This paper discusses the current status, issues and trends, potential impacts, current responses, and indicators and best practices. My one issue with this report is that while it recognizes the importance of being within walking distance of some green space (park, pathway, etc.) and in Ottawa most people are within a 5-10 minute walk (something that other cities are trying to achieve) the report focuses mainly on the larger systems - the greenbelt, the Gatineau Park, etc.

My hope for urban biodiversity is that every corner, square and alley is seen as an opportunity to increase biodiversity. Montreal has introduced green alleys into the city, Paris considers every building front in terms of its potential for nesting habitat and Washington D.C. is renown for its urban green roof habitat (which is a haven for migrating birds). The City of Toronto is fortunate to have the FLAP program in its city, while London is hoping to plant a million more trees in the next 10 years and Vancouver is creating habitat for mason bees. These are the types of actions that create a strong, healthy biodiversive system in a city. It's not just about increasing green space.

Did you know that the City of Ottawa has done an Urban Natural Areas Environmental Evaluation Study? It was completed in 2006 and it "identified natural features in the urban area regardless of planning status, ownership or landowner intentions. A total of 192 natural areas, including woodlands, wetlands and valleylands, were identified in the urban area for study. Field investigations were carried out in 2003 and 2005 at 177 of these natural areas." This is great baseline data for the City and should help in determining key areas to save, protect and/or enhance. Even city parks and bike paths should be looked at in terms of what biodiversity it supports (I haven't reviewed the study to see what spaces they surveyed.) And to create a truly healthy network, both green spaces and corridors that link the spaces are key.

As a next step in the Choosing Our Future initiative, a report was presented to Council on February 14th and can be found here: Report to City of Ottawa Environmental Committee and Council. This report was divided into three long-range plans which "are designed to help ensure that the City of Ottawa and Canada’s Capital Region remain prosperous and that its residents enjoy a high quality of life for generations to come. (The) report highlights a number of significant project milestones achieved since 2009, key reference materials developed, including the 2011 Sustainability Baseline that provides a current snapshot of our sustainability as a region, and the consultation and engagement activities that have been used to inform and finalize these plans. The plans are proposed to be put into practice through various means described in the implementation section of this report. For the City of Ottawa, this includes activities related to the Corporate Planning Framework, strategic planning, near-term actions, catalysts projects, risk prevention and mitigation, sustainability self assessment, sustainability at the neighbourhood level, and reporting on progress."

People are questioning how the recommendations in this report will be put into action. It has some broad reaching goals but no teeth behind them such as : supporter new farmers and celebrate food. It's like a dream wish without any feet firmly planted in the ground.

Here's some of what they have for Water, Green and Natural Systems

· Improve the resiliency of urban watersheds;

· Continue to conserve large natural areas and strengthen connections between them;

· Continue to build a greenspace network in villages and urban areas;

· Promote habitat restoration and species recovery; and

· Control the spread of invasive species.

It'll be interesting to see what comes forth after this, from all three governing bodies. For the City, directions for next steps will come after City Council's approval and then staff can start working on actual plans. Stay tuned!

2014 Update: This project ended up "on the shelf".  I spoke with one of the city's employees and she told me that nothing ended up being incorporated into any of the city's practices or programs.  Such an unfortunate thing!

P.S.  Check out my latest "urban wild" nature blog: Wild. Here.(2016 update)