Tag Archives: Halton

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Chimney Swifts – An Avian Species at Risk Found in Halton: Volunteer for Halton SwiftWatch!

Written by: Emily Dobson, Halton Regional SwiftWatch Coordinator

Living in Halton, an incredible phenomenon happens at night in the spring; you just have to know where to look. If you happen to be out as the sun is setting, perhaps strolling in the older section of town, dozens of soaring birds high in the sky may catch your attention. If you’re patient you may notice them circling in the air, gathering close together in an intricate and social dance. Suddenly, as a group they descend, disappearing one by one down the chimney flue of an old church, school or residence.

These birds are chimney swifts, a species at risk that has declined by 95% since 1968 (COSEWIC 2007).

Chimney Swifts

Figure 1. Chimney swifts (above) soaring overhead, and (below) descending into a chimney to roost for the night. Photo credit: Halton SwiftWatch Volunteer

Chimney Swifts

Bird Studies Canada is conducting a long-term monitoring program, called SwiftWatch, with the goal of raising awareness, monitoring known roosts, and finding new roost sites. The 2015 National Roost Monitoring Program is a continent-wide effort to study this species. If you would like to volunteer, you will be assigned to a known roost site in Halton that’s easy for you to get to, and will spend one to four evenings monitoring it for bird activity. This year, monitoring will be taking place May 20, 24, 28 and June 1. If you are interested in volunteering with the Halton SwiftWatch Program, or if you think you’ve seen a chimney swift or found a roost site, and would like to know more, please contact Emily Dobson.

We will also be having several Swift Night Out events, which provide a chance for families, community members, biologist, and naturalists to enjoy the spectacular evening display of swifts. If you’re interested in joining us, please bring a lawn chair, camera, and binoculars and RSVP with Emily for more information. These will be taking place on the following days:

  • Acton: Monday, May 18, 2015 from 8-9:15PM
  • Milton: Saturday, May 23, 2015 from 8-9:15PM
  • Oakville: Thursday, June 4, 2015 from 8-9:15PM
  • Oakville: Monday, August 10, 2015 from 8-9:15PM

There are several possible reasons for the decline of this species:

  • Habitat loss: Chimney swifts have historically roosted and nested in old growth trees, which have been significantly reduced. In urban areas, roosting more commonly occurs in chimneys, however these are increasingly being capped, lined or removed, to dissuade other creatures like raccoons from wreaking havoc and making noise, or being entirely removed due to disuse resulting in loss of habitat.
  • Food availability: Chimney swifts are aerial insectivores, meaning they catch their prey while flying. Reduced insect availability can greatly impact their survival.
  • Climate change: Mortality along their migration route and during the breeding season can occur due to climate change that affects the timing of insect emergence, reducing the availability of food sources.

Over the past three years, Bird Studies Canada has been monitoring population numbers during the spring migration in Halton to understand changes and trends which will help to inform a species recovery strategy. With the help of Conservation Halton staff and a very dedicated team of volunteers, we have found some interesting results.

Figure 2 shows the total number of swifts recorded in each town, based on the maximum number at each roost during the spring migration. New roosts were located in Acton and Georgetown, while in Oakville and Burlington, some chimneys have been capped, removed, or were not monitored, possibly contributing to lower counts.

Figure 2. Peak number of swifts during the spring migration. 

Figure 3 shows the proportion of habitat types used by chimney swifts in Halton. Schools are the most commonly used, and also house the two largest known roost sites in the region.

Figure 3. Halton chimney swift habitat by building (2014).

Figure 3. Halton chimney swift habitat by building (2014). 

Figure 4 further explores changes in roosting over the last three years at the largest known sites in the region. In Burlington and Oakville, numbers of swifts were at their highest in 2013, with lower numbers observed in 2014, possibly due to mortality or relocation to more desirable habitat, while in Milton, the number of birds has remained fairly constant.

Figure 4. Change in swift numbers at specific roost sites

Of particular concern is the state of the Oakville roost, a derelict high school that provides habitat for the largest number of swifts in the Halton Region. The building has fallen into disrepair, with mold, rot and rodent issues. The related structural issues mean the building could become a safety hazard in the coming years. Additionally, the central location make the lot a prime development opportunity. Artificial chimneys have had little success in Ontario for a variety of reasons. However, with planning and community and government support, it would be wonderful to erect an artificial chimney prior to the removal of the existing structures, which may enable the birds to transition to the new habitat.

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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.

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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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Enjoy Winter Indoors: Make a DIY Snow Globe

Winter Snow Globes

Written by: Karlee May, Digital Media Coordinator

When you’re snowed in, unable to make it out for a walk in a Winter Wonderland like Halton Parks, make Winter happen indoors. (No shovelling required!) The above Winter themed snow globes are easy and cheap to make! Now that the children are home for the winter holidays, why not involve them in decorating the house for the season? These snow globes would look beautiful as centre pieces on the dinner table, or decorating the mantel piece.

materialsYou will need:

  • Mason Jars
  • Fluffy Cotton (Find the fake snow at the dollar store!)
  • Spray paint in metallic colours
  • Winter themed dollar store figurines
  • Pretty tree figurines
  • Glitter for a little something extra!

Step One: Use either the gold or silver spray paint and cover the dollar store figurines. Only spray paint in a well ventilated area.

mason jar

Step Two: Line the bottom of a mason jar with the cotton snow. (You can also use epsom salts as a snow layer).

Step Three: Arrange the figurines inside the mason jar to your taste. We found our snow layer was too thick, so we thinned out the snow and then arranged the figurines on top.

Step Four: Add a little fancy! We sprinkled silver and gold glitter over the snow.

Step Five: Step back and admire your handiwork!

Once you’ve arranged your beautiful snow globe, check out the events at the parks. Bundle up and venture outside for winter fun on a sleigh ride through Mountsberg, feeding the Chickadees at Hilton Falls, or snowshoeing at Crawford Lake!

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Into the Woods for Learning at Halton Forest Festival

By: Sasha Benevides, Festival Coordinator

Forest Festival

“Let Nature be your teacher.” – William Wordsworth

We’re pretty sure the famous English poet didn’t have the Halton Forest Festival in mind when he wrote those words. But we think if he came to the festival he would agree that’s what happens.

Conservation Halton staged its third annual Halton Forest Festival at Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area from October 6 to 9. The four day Educational event saw 1,325 Grade 6 and 7 students immerse themselves in the beautiful landscape of Rattlesnake Point. And we mean immersed, as all 24 activities took place in a spectacular outdoor classroom with the students surrounded by trees, forests and the picturesque Niagara Escarpment!

Forest Festival 2014 outdoor classroom

All activities complement in-class learning with curriculum-linked outdoor, experiential education that covers one of six festival themes, Biodiversity and Species at Risk; Climate Change; Forest Ecosystems and Interactions; Forest Resources; Stewardship and Conservation; and Urban Forestry.

Students could be digging in the soil to learn how its layers are created, or taking a hike along the Niagara Escarpment to understand more about its formation.

The Halton Forest Festival also featured two Public Days, which were on Saturday, October 4 and Sunday, October 5 during the first weekend of Conservation Halton’s popular Fall into Nature Festival.

The Public Days featured a lumberjack show, children’s activities, bird house building, archery, as well as guided hikes through the amazing forest at Rattlesnake Point. To find more information on the Forest Festival Public Days, including all the activities, visit http://www.haltonforestfestival.ca/publicday.

Forest Festival 2014 tree climbing

The Halton Forest Festival is supported by a multi-year grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The Ontario Trillium Foundation is an agency of the Government of Ontario and for more information on the Foundation, please visit the website at, http://www.otf.ca.

The Halton Forest Festival also receives support from businesses and organizations in the community. The organizing committee would like to thank the following:

Old-Growth  – Cogeco, David Schaefer Engineering, Halton Region

Forest  – Mattamy Homes

Tree  – Aird & Berlis LLP, Baker & McKenzie LLP, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, Town of Halton Hills, Hydro One, Town of Oakville, Stantec, Thomson Rogers

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Stream Team Visits Hamilton Harbour

By: Elizabeth Wren, Halton Children’s Festival and Volunteer Coordinator with Conservation Halton.

Our Stream Team got together a few weeks ago to learn a little more about our watershed. We had a fabulous talk from Nathan Murray, Conservation Halton’s enforcement officer who talked about common violations such as the filling in of wetlands and selling illegal fill to landowners who get stuck with huge bills for the clean-up and remediation! What an eye-opener. I only wish we had more time to spend with Nathan.

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In the afternoon we made our way down south from our office in north Burlington…all the way to the Burlington Waterfront and met up with John Hall, the Remedial Action Plan Coordinator for Hamilton Harbour. What exactly does he do you ask? Just about everything to do with the harbour, which we had a glimpse of on our tour. John took us around the bay providing a great deal of history about the harbour and current issues that we are dealing with.

Hamilton Harbour is an interesting mix of recreational trails, wildlife sanctuaries and heavy industry. It is also one of the most contaminated sites in the Great Lakes Basin mainly due to the pressures of being a heavily populated area.  The good news in all of this is that this area has been identified and there are a number of committed, passionate people working to improve the health of the bay…and it is working! With collaboration from groups such as RBG, BARC and RAP John has resulted in a successful fish way leading into Cootes Paradise, one of the largest wetlands in the area and a popular spawning ground for Carp. By keeping the carp  out the surrounding wetlands have had a chance to recover and are starting to resemble their previous naturalized states.  This is some world class work we are witnessing in action!

At the end of the day our staff left more educated about local environmental issues and confident that we can make a difference working with the local community by sharing our stories and most of all our hope for a better environment.

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Are you prepared?

This week in Canada is Emergency Preparedness Week, a time to think about getting prepared for something we hope never happens. The time you take to get prepared will be invaluable should you and your family experience a major disaster, be it weather-related or other causes.

Kelso Reservoir

Kelso Reservoir

There have been severe weather events in our community in recent years, but generally the effects are localized and fairly short-term. But you don’t have to go very far back, or very far away, to see the impacts of severe weather, the flooding in Muskoka in April is just one recent example. This week, while we are being reminded to get prepared, they are on alert for flooding and forest fires in other parts of Canada.

Many people in the watershed become familiar with Conservation Halton through our recreation and education programs. They have gone hiking or camping at a conservation area, or perhaps their children have taken a field trip to Crawford Lake or a maple syrup program.

Perhaps not as well known is that Conservation Halton provides a water control and flood warning program to reduce the risk of property damage and loss of life due to flooding. These flood messages help safeguard the public from risk around creeks and streams that can be filled with dangerous, fast-moving water during heavy storms.

Conservation Halton is responsible for the maintenance and operation of four major dams (Kelso, Hilton Falls, Scotch Block and Mountsberg dams) and 12.5 kilometers of flood control channels (Sixteen Mile Creek through Milton, Morrison-Wedgewood diversion in Oakville and the Rambo-Hager diversion in Burlington).

When flooding is possible or about to occur, Conservation Halton issues flood messages to municipal emergency management officials, school boards, police and EMS as well as the media. The municipal officials then take action to warn local residents.

You can learn more about Conservation Halton’s Water Control and Flood Warning Program by clicking below or watching the Conservation Halton Minute video:

The month of May marks Emergency Preparedness Week. This annual designation provides a time to highlight the role that your local government plays in emergency management including public education, preparedness, planning, practice and partnerships. In the event of an emergency, responders are on the scene dealing with the impact of the event. For this reason, it is important for everyone to consider the actions they can take now to mitigate the impact on themselves and their loved ones and be prepared to assume responsibility for their own care and well-being for the first 72 hours.

The Government of Canada website, http://www.getprepared.ca, includes information, tips, links, checklists, videos and more to help you get prepared. Conservation Halton’s Watershed municipal partners also have some helpful emergency preparedness information:

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