Tag Archives: Conservation

The Return of Wildlife: Wetland Restoration at Conservation Halton

Written by: Karlee May, Digital Media Coordinator, with contributions from Chelsea McIsaac, Watershed Restoration Technician

Wildlife is coming back. Volunteers and staff of Conservation Halton were busy this past fall restoring protected wetlands. We need to protect our wetlands because healthy wetlands are resilient in the face of climate change and development. Staff at Conservation Halton  are dedicated to preserving and protecting our natural heritage through shoreline planting, wetland planting, and building fish habitat on our protected wetlands like Kelso Quarry Lake.

This past autumn the Watershed Restoration team and volunteers worked together on four separate occasions to restore wetlands in order to encourage biodiversity to thrive.

Their efforts are already paying off! An Eastern Newt, in eft stage, was recently spotted by staff on the shoreline of Kelso Quarry Lake. Newts aren’t necessarily an indicator species, but they are a healthy sign of high quality water. Newts breathe through their skin which means that newts will not thrive in a less-than-ideal wetland environment.

At Kelso Quarry Lake, Conservation Halton staff and volunteers have been busy building fish habitat structures. A natural lake, in this area, would have features such as fallen trees, stumps, branches, and leaves within the lake and on the shoreline. Since Kelso Quarry Lake isn’t a naturally formed lake, we have to introduce those missing features, in the form of habitats, into the lake. The habitat structures, built by volunteers and staff, will provide places where spawning fish can lay their eggs, and juvenile fish can hatch. Thirty volunteers came out to create the structures by building log cribs out of cedar logs, brush, and Christmas trees. Instead of letting  Christmas trees go to waste, we put them back into use in nature. The log cribs are stood up vertically. This placement is necessary to provide different heights for different fish uses. We will install the structures at a later date near areas where fish spawn.

Did you know a ‘shoal’ is a collection of rocks and sand where fish lay their eggs?

Volunteers also planted 1300 trees and shrubs on the Kelso Quarry Lake shoreline. Trees provide cover and also keep the temperature of the water cool. The trees help more wildlife than just the fish taking cover in the water. Other wildlife will hide from predators under the tree branches, and drink from the water. The trees also naturally support the food chain. Invertebrates eat on the fallen leaves and twigs and then the fish feast on the invertebrates. Shoreline vegetation is so important and supports the overall health of the ecosystem.

Shoreline planting, and fish habitats are not the only measures to restore the wetlands. The wetlands need aquatic plants to feed and shelter juvenile fish, and other critters like the Eastern Newt. Before the volunteers and staff planted the wetland with over 3000 aquatic plants, the wetland was dominated by an invasive and aggressive species: the Common Reed (also known as phragmities). It was a monoculture, and monocultures are bad news for biodiversity. Now the wetland has ten different native species. We used a special matting made of coconut fiber to hold the plants in place during the winter. Not only does the matting provide the plants with stability, the coconut fiber is biodegradable and will decompose over time. It was amongst these plantings that staff discovered the Eastern Newt mere months after the wetland was planted.

There are profound and real benefits to wetland restoration, especially in the face of climate change. By taking care of our wetlands, they will take care of us. Wetlands absorb the water from severe storms and are a major component of the groundwater system: the fresh water we drink and use every day.  Clean, high quality water affects Eastern Newts, and us.

Thank you to the wonderful volunteers and staff who work so hard to restore our wetlands.

Funding for this project has been provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada

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Filed under Community & Outreach, Focus on Conservation, Nature's Spaces

Become a Citizen Scientist With Us


Written by: Karlee May, Digital Media Coordinator, with contributions from Cory Harris, Water Resources Engineer

Conduct a scientific study in your own backyard. By setting up a rain gauge on your property, you can measure the precipitation throughout the year. Gardeners will love being able to see how the rain affects their gardens; farmers will be able to better predict when rain falls on the crops, and landowners will develop a greater awareness of the environment they live in. If you set up a rain gauge, you can also participate in a large data collection, data that even we use here at Conservation Halton. The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is a non-profit organization that collects and provides high quality weather and precipitation (rain, hail and snow) data through a network of volunteers. As a volunteer, you’re directly contributing to a public information resource for education, science, and policy. It’s participation through precipitation!

Local volunteers, like yourself, set up rain gauges, and the gauges are connected to the CoCoRahs network. Measurements are taken using these rain gauges and the precipitation information is entered into a large database of a network of rain gauges on the web. By setting up your own rain gauge, the data you collect will be made available online to all members of the public and is presented in a map or table format. You’ll immediately be able to see the measurements and trends online! Similarly, the data that others enter is also shared and made available to you. Eventually, the data collected through the network will likely be used in important studies related to climate change. It’s crowd-sourcing the collection of precipitation information for the benefit of all.

Conservation Halton supplements our rainfall data with the data collected from these rain gauges. The more rain gauges out there in the watershed, the more information we can use for our storm models. Engineers are better able to predict the impacts on the wetlands, creeks and flood prone areas within the watershed. The original rain gauge network we built was based on the assumption that the most severe storms we would be forecasting for would be hurricanes. Because of climate change, we’re now seeing a difference in the types of storms in the watershed. Storms previously dispersed across a broader area; but, now the data shows that storms have become more convective in nature. More storms of a convective nature mean that rainfall is more localized and intense, and harder to predict. Having a higher density of gauges in the area allows us to record more rainfall data to confirm and assess the spatial distribution, and also the severity of various storms.

Staff at Conservation Halton set up a rain gauge this past week. Families, Teachers: this is a great way to connect education and the environment! Students and children will learn every time it rains, and develop a greater awareness of the environment and weather patterns. They’re also truly contributing to a growing body of data with real-life implications.

Learn more about the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network at this link here: http://www.cocorahs.org/

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Protecting Jefferson Salamander made Burlington a Conservation Hero



Written by:  Norm Miller, Communications Advisor, Conservation Halton

The first year it happened, it was a big deal. How big? It was a national media story with organizations like the Huffington Post, Maclean’s, Global TV, Burlington Post, CBC Radio and Television, Toronto Star, all talking about it. It was even mentioned on David Suzuki’s Facebook page.

Four years later it may not get the same attention, but it’s still a big deal for a little creature, the endangered Jefferson Salamander. What happened was the City of Burlington (at the suggestion of Conservation Halton) made the decision to completely close King Road to all traffic from the base of the Niagara Escarpment to Mountain Brow Road.

The closure, which usually lasts for three weeks, allows the endangered Jefferson Salamander safe passage during its annual migration to lay eggs. Adult salamanders migrate to their breeding ponds in mid-March or early April during wet rainy nights. They show strong affinity for their birth pond and can be very determined to reach it, often crossing busy roads.

A voluntary road closure was put into place for 2011, but road mortality surveys conducted by Conservation Halton indicated it was not effective. Conservation Halton recommended a complete road closure for 2012, the City implemented the closure and there was no salamander mortality as a result.

The City of Burlington was presented with the Stewardship Award at the 2012 Conservation Halton Awards for its bold step to undertake a full closure of King Road during the critical breeding period.  The cooperative partnership between Burlington and Conservation Halton bolstered public support for species at risk protection and provided a model for other municipalities to follow.

This year’s closure was from March 25 to April 15 and while it may not get as much attention, it still is a very significant conservation measure which assists in the protection and recovery of the Jefferson Salamander population in Canada.

About Conservation Halton Awards

The Conservation Halton Awards annually recognize environmental heroes in our watershed who have worked hard to protect, preserve, or enhance our environment. This year’s awards will be presented on Tuesday, June 23 in the evening at the Milton Centre for the Arts.

If you know a Conservation Hero, you can nominate them for a Conservation Halton Award by clicking here. No act of green is too small … or too big! The Awards deadline is May 15, 2015 and the categories are:

  • Citizen
  • Citizen (Youth)
  • Community
  • Corporate
  • Education (Individual)
  • Education (Group or School)
  • Media / Blogger
  • Stewardship

Jefferson Salamander

About the Jefferson Salamander

In Canada, the Jefferson Salamander is found in Southern Ontario in select areas of deciduous forest, mostly along the Niagara Escarpment. Forested areas in Burlington provide the necessary breeding habitat required by this species.

Jefferson Salamanders spend the winter underground. As the weather warms up and the spring rains begin, the salamanders emerge and migrate to breed in temporary ponds formed by run-off, laying their eggs in clumps attached to underwater vegetation. By late summer, the larvae lose their gills and leave the pond to head into the surrounding forests.


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Looking for a Free Native Tree for your School Grounds?

Written by: Sasha Benevides, Festival Coordinator

Calling Primary and Secondary Schools in the Halton Watershed!  Our School Ground Greening Program is looking for participants to receive a free native tree from Conservation Halton.

Not only are these trees a beautiful addition to your school grounds, they help us to increase forest cover and green space within the watershed for students and the community to enjoy.


A happy tree our team planted, mulched and protected with a tree cage to prevent any damage 🙂

How Schools Can Participate:

  1. Contact us at schoolgroundgreening@hrca.on.ca to get in touch with one of our friendly staff
  2. Contact your area supervisor to notify them of the proposed planting to make sure the new tree won’t interfere with any scheduled changes to the grounds
  3. Contact Ontario 1-Call (http://on1call.com/ or 1-800-400-2255) at least a week prior to our visit to make sure that there are no underground facilities that could interfere with the planting

Program Details

Plantings are carried out at the end of May and June and make for a great outdoor activity for classes or eco-clubs (the whole process takes between 1-2 hours). Pending availability, staff may also conduct a site visit at your request, should schools need guidance on tree and site selection.

Looking to plan a larger School Ground Greening project? We allow schools to purchase additional native trees/plants at a cost, using our discounted prices.

Interested in getting students involved? Our staff welcomes student participation, and love to share information about the importance of trees and the environment with booked groups and provide an anti-vandalism cage to help prolong the tree’s life and help it get established.

Pauline Johnson in Burlington

Benefits to Greening your Grounds

Students spend roughly 25% of their school day outdoors. Creating a naturalized school yard supports emotional and physical health to the local environment and school community. Improving local air quality, preventing erosion, and creating shade for students. School Grounds Greening also gives students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a natural environment, providing a calming space which has been linked to decreased anxiety and stress.

Photos from previous year’s projects:

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Taking Care of Your Tree and the Importance of Mulch

Like most plants, our donated trees will need to be watered the day of planting and about 1-2 times a week (if there is no rain) following our visit. If you’re worried about your tree getting enough water, feel free to use a rain gauge, or have the students monitor rain fall and extend the planting into a fun educational activity.

Oh, and don’t forget the mulch! Mulch is usually made up of decaying leaves, bark or compost that you spread around or over plants to build or insulate soil. Mulch helps trees to:

  • Retain moisture around its roots (very important during a drought)
  • Reduce the effects of soil compaction and protects the tree from lawn mower damage

Mulching isn’t just for new trees; it’s great for any tree on your grounds. Conservation Halton can provide contacts for the school to arrange free or inexpensive loads of mulch delivered right to the school, should you need it.

If you are a school in the Halton watershed looking for an environmental project at NO COST, please send an email or call us at 905-336-1158 EXT. 2329 or 2251 for more information on our School Ground Greening program.

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RAINWATER ONLY: Recognition for Trout Unlimited Canada’s Yellow Fish Road program.

 Written by: Robert Leone, Festival and Community Outreach Assistant

In celebration for the 19th annual World Wetlands Day on February 2nd, event organizers have challenged youth from around the globe to promote wise management of wetlands by raising awareness on the vital benefits afforded to us by these complex and threatened landscapes.

This year, dozens of youth groups in Halton Region will meet that challenge through their participation in Trout Unlimited Canada’s Yellow Fish Road program. Yellow Fish Road is a nation-wide environmental outreach initiative that raises awareness about the interconnected nature of our watershed, and the impacts of pollution entering urban storm drains. By visiting their local storm water catch basins, students of Yellow Fish Road map how fertilizers, salts, and motor oil from our yards, sidewalks, and roadways wash into local water courses untreated and degrade the health of the water we, and so many other species, depend on.

What I love about this program is that it communicates the valuable role urban creeks and wetlands play in the collection and purification of water. The program also empowers youth to share this information with friends, family, and the wider public. When participants paint yellow fish with the words “RAINWATER ONLY” beside storm drains, they become water stewards. The yellow fish remind neighbours that hazardous household substances such as paint, pool chemicals, and detergents do not belong in the storm sewer system. Volunteers also hand-out fish-shaped brochures to nearby households. The brochures inform residents of the rationale behind Yellow Fish Road, and also provides directions on  proper disposal of hazardous materials.

Who can participate?

We encourage everybody to participate.  This program is perfect for community youth groups, individual classes, and small camps.

Why youth?

Young people are often recognized as drivers of change.  Youth have a growing interest in environmental issues, are creative, tech savvy, and communicate ideas to friends and family members with contagious enthusiasm. By educating today’s youth about water stewardship we trigger a ripple effect that can turn the tide on how we manage our most precious resource: water.

How can I participate in Yellow Fish Road?

Conservation Halton is a proud partner of Trout Unlimited Canada’s Yellow Fish Road program.  For more information on how you can get involved please contact us.




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The Four-toed Salamander: A Rare Sighting in Conservation Halton

Written by: Yves Scholten, Planning Ecologist

Have you ever seen a salamander? You probably have since they are everywhere. Well, maybe not everywhere, but they are common critters in our forests and wetlands. Since they are shy and prefer to hide in the dead leaves and rotting logs of our forest floors, they are mostly unseen.  Salamanders are a significant link in the ecosystem. They prey on small worms, slugs, spiders, mites and insects, and then larger animals like birds, mammals and snakes prey on them. Many people are acquainted with the small Red-backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus), a common species in healthy woodlands in Ontario. Conservation Halton ecologists were completely surprised, however, to find a very unusual kind of salamander in Halton in October.

 Four-toed Salamanders have a black-spotted white belly.

Four-toed Salamanders have a black-spotted white belly. Photo by Yves Scholten.

It appears to be a Red-backed Salamander–until you look very closely.  Its back has a scaly texture and its belly is as spotted as a Dalmatian: it certainly isn’t a Red-backed Salamander. This is a Four-toed Salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum). These small (usually less than 10 cm long) amphibians are part of a family of salamanders called Plethodontids. Plethodontids don’t have lungs! They breathe exclusively through their moist skin. This family of salamanders prefer wetlands that are boggy and mossy with sphagnum.

Halton region’s first Four-Toed Salamander reported in 34 years.

Halton region’s first Four-Toed Salamander reported in 34 years. Photo by Yves Scholten.

Ecologists don’t think Four-toed Salamanders are rare, but they are rarely seen. It’s difficult to observe Four-toed Salamanders because they live underground in burrows around the wetlands. In 1980 was the last time a Four-toed Salamander was identified in Halton and reported to the Ontario Herpetofaunal Survey. This is a rare find indeed.

Four-toed Salamanders may curl up defensively when scared.

Four-toed Salamanders may curl up defensively when scared. Photo by Yves Scholten.

“What a funny name for them”, you might think (especially if you already know that all salamanders have only four toes – on their front feet, at least). What sets this species apart is that they only have four toes on their hind feet as well, where most salamanders have five toes on each hind foot. Like other woodland salamanders, a Four-toed salamander drops its tail if it feels threatened (by a predator, for example), and regenerates a new one. The “broken” tail will keep twitching and squirming to distract the predator while the salamander escapes to safety. Biologists try not to scare them into dropping their tail, especially late in the season, since the tail is full of fat and nutrient stores that help the salamander get through the winter. Another defense Four-toed Salamanders have is to curl into a tight little doughnut when they feel threatened making themselves as little as possible.

Conservation Halton staff work to protect the habitats of these and other species of salamanders in this region, including the Endangered Jefferson’s Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum).

If you observe reptiles and amphibians in Halton, you can report them to Conservation Halton or the Ontario Nature Reptile and Amphibian Atlas (they also have an app for your smart phone).

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Saving the Honey Bee at Kelso Conservation Area

Written by: Simon Holden, Manager – Programs and Services


bee and tree

Saving the bees!

A few weeks back we discovered a honey bee hive in a hollowed out tree near one of our mountain bike trails.  It also happened to be located right next a new trail feature we were installing so we needed to do something about it. Extermination seemed like the easy answer, but knowing a little bit about the current plight of honey bees: it didn’t seem like the right solution.


Instead we contacted a beekeeper through the Ontario Beekeepers Association who was able to come out and take a look.


In order to have any chance of extracting the bees, we would need to cut down the tree. Fortunately the tree had been damaged in the ice storm last winter, and would need to come down at some point anyway. Some good came out of the ice storm!  Even with the tree down, it wasn’t a guarantee that the beekeeper would find the queen, and lure the bees away. It was still worth a try.


After some expert (and some might say scary with all the bees flying around) chainsaw work by Rob and Jeff, we were able to fell the tree and cut it in to chunks. Paul was able to help us move the tree chunks with the tractor to a new location: not too far away but far enough off the trail that it no longer posed a hazard to our trail users.


I just had a quick update from Les, the beekeeper and thought you might be interested.


He was out yesterday to check on the logs in their new location and was lucky enough to spot the queen while he was here! He installed a box above the logs, placed some of the combs, and the queen in there.  He was back again today and the box is now almost full!  Activity around the original site (where we cut the tree down) is almost nil and he speculates almost all of the bees have found their new home.  He’s going to leave it a few more days until we see some cooler weather, and then come to remove his box along with all of the bees.


Thanks for everyone’s assistance with this!  It’s a small victory but I think we definitely did the right thing here.


For more information about Conservation Halton and our Natural Spaces, please visit our website at conservationhalton.ca.

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