Tag Archives: Ecology

Wildlife Fencing: Road Ecology in Milton

Written by: Richard Baxter, Terrestrial Planning Ecologist

Roads endanger wildlife and human life. Wildlife collisions, especially involving larger animals, damage our vehicles, and can also injure and sometimes kill us. Since wildlife corridors are cut off by impending urban sprawl and criss-crossing networks of cement and pavement, wildlife have no other choice but to make use of our highways. Driving to work in the morning now means we share the road with turtles, raccoons, and deer.  Not only are wildlife collisions occasionally fatal, but they are also costly. Every year, nearly 40 million dollars in property damages from 14,000 wildlife collisions happens in Ontario alone. How do we balance a burgeoning human population, and subsequent development, with environmental impacts?  How do we reduce costs to the environment, damage to property, and avoidable mortality?  The answer to these questions is ‘Road Ecology’–an evolving field that studies the interactions of wildlife and the environment with our roads.

Previously in Ontario, little thought was given to environmental or wildlife impacts when designing and building roads. However, as both human populations and the knowledge of our impacts increase, so do our opportunities for better road design. This has led to research into low-cost, but highly effective solutions to mitigate impacts to and from wildlife. A variety of strategies have been developed that can be employed, depending on a given situation. Each situation will have a unique set of circumstances that must be considered: What wildlife species are most abundant in a location? Are there wetlands surrounding the road? Is there an abundant local deer population frequently crossing the road?

Roads can be attractive to certain wildlife species. Snapping turtles often use gravel road shoulders to nest, and snakes are attracted to warm surfaces for regulation of body temperature. On the other hand, roads cause avoidance effects in some wildlife; some forest birds will not cross large openings, and a forest fragmented by roads deeply impacts their living space. Many of us have seen dead turtles and snakes on roads, and it is well documented that forest birds are less abundant where woodlots have been fragmented and reduced in size, often partly due to the effects of roads.

Bullfrog on the road

Bullfrog on the road

The building and use of roads leads to fragmentation of natural areas, interruption of wildlife migratory routes, and direct mortality to wildlife though collisions with vehicles. Depending on the species of wildlife involved and their life history characteristics, road mortality can have major impacts on local populations: especially vulnerable populations are the herptiles like turtles, snakes, frogs and salamanders. Since development significantly impacts migrations of local wildlife, wildlife resort to crossing our roadways, and can occasionally become an unwitting cause of human mortality; for example when collisions occur with larger animals like deer, or when drivers lose control reacting to an animal on the road.


Within Halton Region and the GTA, the pace of development has been high in recent years, with several residential and industrial developments springing up and some major road extensions and reroutes being planned and constructed. This has spurred cooperation between agencies (local Municipal and Regional planning authorities, Conservation Authorities and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) to incorporate road design elements that are more wildlife friendly in priority areas. Indeed, several of these local agencies are actively engaged in road ecology studies and development of strategies to reduce impacts. Local planning policy updates have been implemented in Halton Region, that include the development of a Natural Heritage System (under Regional Official Plan Amendment  38) with an emphasis on maintaining connectivity and linkages in the landscape, and the Town of Oakville is developing a Road Ecology Strategy. Conservation Halton is also actively collecting data on various culverts and bridges in the watershed and how they relate to wildlife crossing.

Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtle

Depending on a given sites specifications, we can recommend several low-cost but effective methods to mitigate wildlife collisions, and reduce environmental impacts. These can include signage to alert motorists to vulnerable species on certain stretches of road; wildlife fencing (both to exclude wildlife from dangerous areas and to guide wildlife to a safer crossing site); and specially designed culverts and bridges; these mitigations are often applied in combination. In certain cases a road can be seasonally closed to allow for wildlife migrations. A local example of this is King Road in Burlington, which has been annually closed to traffic in the spring since 2012 to allow the Endangered Jefferson’s Salamander to complete its migration to breeding ponds. Though the design and implementation of these mitigations is a relatively new thing in Ontario, they have been employed in other areas for several years, for example Banff, Alberta and several European countries.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You can see a recent, and local example of specially designed culverts and wildlife exclusion fencing in our watershed off of Tremaine Road and Main Street on the west side of Milton. The wildlife fencing guides herptiles and smaller mammals like raccoons away from potential high traffic zones and into crossing culverts, and larger culverts with guiding walls and dry banks are present to provide passageways for bigger wildlife species like deer and coyotes. In fact, we observed raccoon droppings in a crossing culvert during a recent site inspection. This exciting observation shows us that animals are already using the wildlife culverts—even while the culverts and fencing are still under construction. Future study and monitoring of these mitigation efforts will be important in determining their effectiveness. Our hope is that resourceful and easy to enact solutions like special culverts and fencing will protect our natural heritage, and balance the needs of wildlife and us.



Leave a comment

Filed under Nature's Spaces

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).

Leave a comment

Filed under Nature's Spaces

World Water Day – March 22 2012

By Beth Anne Fischer, Halton Children’s Water Festival and Volunteer Coordinator


2010 Pineview pic2

In celebration of Canada Water Week and International World Water Day (March 22) W.H. Morden Public School in Oakville is implementing the Stream of Dreams program. From March 19 – 22 all the students in the school will learn about ways to protect water and paint a wooden “dream fish.”

These fish, which were cut and diligently prepared by the grade seven and eight students will be installed on the school’s fence in a decorative mural. The mural will serve as a reminder to the students and the broader community to take care of water for the benefit of human health and all creatures that depend on aquatic ecosystems.

2010 St. Andrew pic2

Stream of Dreams teaches students about where the water in our homes comes from, where it goes after we use it and the hidden pathway from storm drains to creeks/lakes. Most students (and many adults) do not know that the water that goes down the storm drain (the square grate on the road) goes directly into waterways without being treated. This can cause problems as many people commonly dump items down the storm drain that are harmful to our ecosystems and water quality.

Some of the items doing damange to our water ways:
– Soapy water
– Motor oil
– Pool water
– Sand
– Paint water
– Cooking oil
– Garbage
– Cleaning chemicals

Take some time on Thursday March 22 to learn how to properly dispose of these contaminates, celebrate water and reflect on the vital role it plays in all or our lives!

Learn More:

For more information on the Stream of Dreams or other education programs that Conservation Halton offers, click here.


Filed under Community & Outreach

An Afternoon with Jenny Chan

Jenny strikes a pose like a pro in plaid at Crawford Lake. Photo by Robin Ashton.

By Rafay Agha, Interactive Media Writer, Conservation Halton.

Jenny Chan’s usual perky self is slowed down this sunny August afternoon. It’s her last day with Conservation Halton for the summer and she has a cold. Other people would have called in sick and taken a long weekend, but Jenny isn’t other people. While starting this interview, a grotesque Black Horse Fly lands on the peeling park bench. I react with an audible “ew,” and while Jenny oohs and aahs over how cute it is. She has always been an outdoorsy person, even involved with the Bronte Creek Education Project in high school.

Her penchant for this creepy crawly has everything to do with her being a University of Waterloo grad in Environment and Resource Studies as well as the hours she has spent conducting fieldwork with Nigel Finney, Natural Heritage Ecologist with Conservation Halton.

Jenny is a familiar face around the halls of CH. In 2009, Jenny was involved with a research project as part of a summer position which she discovered via the Conservation Ontario website. “What a great opportunity to expand on what I learnt in school,” she laments. This year she worked with the ecology department again, but as a Species at Risk Assistant with a municipal and provincial mandate towards species such as Eastern Flowering Dogwood.

She lists a leap of self-confidence in regard to fieldwork and becoming BFFs with the Trimble, a laser positioning device, as her biggest accomplishments this summer. When asked about her long-term career aspirations, Jenny threw her head back and chortles: “Kinda ambiguous. I like fieldwork but more into NGOs & social services. Ideally, I would like to help make conservation authorities more to accessible to a greater diversity of people.”

Jenny’s Pet Peeve: People with bad public transit etiquette and bad bike etiquette.

Jenny’s Book Club would include: Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

1 Comment

Filed under Community & Outreach

Forests: The Lungs of the Planet

Mount Nemo
Mount Nemo Conservation area
By Norm Miller, Communications Advisor | Conservation Halton

Many of us know that forests and trees are important to us, but have you ever stopped and thought about all the benefits they provide? Sure, forests are a place to walk your dog, and the colours look incredible in the fall, but what are the  other benefits?

Forests provide a home for wildlife and help maintain our biodiversity, clean our water and the air we breathe, as well as other indispensable environmental benefits. The United Nations declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests (IYF) to help reinforce the importance of forests. Celebrations are taking place around the world, including here in the Conservation Halton (CH) watershed, for people to consider the role forests play in our everyday lives.

Forests are the lungs of the earth providing invaluable air and water filtration services. Trees replenish our oxygen and filter out air pollution, including potentially harmful things – like carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) and sulphur dioxide – which are known to cause health concerns for us. Trees are vital for the water we drink, help cool our cities and towns, and are home to many species of plants, birds and other wildlife.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Nature's Spaces

Back from the Brink: The Shrike Recovery Project at Mountsberg

The Shrike recovery project is aiming to bring this endangered species back

Conservation Halton and our project partners have embarked on a very exciting project this spring, one that aims to bring an endangered species back from the edge of extinction. We are starting the Shrike Recovery Project at Mountsberg Raptor Centre to help bring the endangered Eastern Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicanus migrans) back from the edge of extinction in Canada.

To do this, we will be building a captive breeding facility so we can stabilize the population by releasing captive-bred Loggerhead Shrike hatchlings into the wild starting in 2012. Currently facing a continent-wide decline, Eastern Loggerhead Shrikes are already locally extinct in Quebec and New Brunswick. Without intervention, this bird, a raptor-like songbird native to our community, will likely no longer be found in the wild in Ontario.

This spring, Conservation Halton started building a captive breeding facility at the Mountsberg Conservation Area. In late summer, we will receive six breeding pairs of shrikes. They will spend the winter at the facility and breed in May of 2012, after which time we hope to release shrike hatchlings into the wild at locations across the province.

You can help ensure the success of this project, and bring the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike back from the brink, by making a donation to the Conservation Halton Foundation. The project’s fundraising goal is $125,000 and to date we’ve raised over $100,000. We’re almost there, and you can help us reach our goal.

To make your donation to the Mountsberg Shrike Project, call the Foundation at (905) 336-1158 extension 255, or you can make your gift online through www.Canadahelps.org– keyword Conservation Halton Foundation.

Conservation Halton is partnering with the Canadian Wildlife Service, the Toronto Zoo, Wildlife Preservation Canada and the Shrike Recovery Program to house and breed Eastern Loggerhead Shrikes.

About the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike

Named for its disproportionately larger, or “logger” head, the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike is a medium-sized grey and white songbird, slightly smaller than a robin with black on the wings and tail and a black raccoon-like “mask” across its eyes. It is the only truly predatory songbird, using its slightly hooked beak to dispatch mice, voles, grasshoppers, beetles and other small prey. It is also unusual in the way it stores its food on thorns and barbed wire because it lacks strong talons or claws for grasping the prey it has killed. Originally the range of the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike extended from
Manitoba to New Brunswick and as far south as northeastern Texas, western North Carolina and Maryland. Today,
Eastern Loggerhead Shrikes are found in small isolated pockets in Manitoba and Ontario.

Leave a comment

Filed under Nature's Spaces