Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Polination Guelph 2015 Symposium: Lessons learned.

This weekend, the Pollinator Paradise Project team headed out to Pollination Guelph’s annual Symposium in Guelph. What a treat!
Victoria MacPhail Co-Chair, gave the audience an overview of the work Pollinator Guelph (PG) is doing, including remediation, planting habitat, installing “Bee condos,” their work at Wellington Hospice (palliative care) removing turf and planting pollinator plants, planting along the Trans Canada Trail, the Arboretum at University of Guelph and other locations across their city. PG plans to do more around advocacy with the Ontario Pollinator Health Strategy.

We learned about the sex life of plants in Ontario with Dr. Brendan Larson (University of Ontario). Basically, “Pollination is plant sex,” Larson joked. There’s seduction, which works both ways. The pollinators are attracted to the plants, but the plants are seducing the pollinators too!
There are also the plants that self sex (to fertilize or not to fertilize). The advantage is that there is no need for pollinators; the disadvantage? Inbreeding. Then there are the plants that switch gender—like the woodland fern.
We heard a great presentation from April Nix, a planner at the City of Guelph entitled “Supporting Biodiversity—Guelph’s Natural Heritage System” and how local bio-diversity, meadow and pollinator patches are supported and are part of the city’s policy through their Official Plan. It also includes wildlife habitat, woodlands, and more recently more linkages, connectivity, “which speaks to how the thinking has changed over time—much more integrated,” Nix pointed out. City Council adopted the plan in 2010.
Protecting the linkages and connecting with groundwater, wide range of objectives for the Natural Heritage System, not only trees, but also how can we include meadow habitat, patch side, open country breeding birds, monarchs, foraging-meadows, long term protection of the city. One strategy is to focus on one species and in doing so, it benefits other species too.  “Critical function zones” recognize hwer the different systems are meeting dynamic areas serving a host of different functions contiguously –so swamp, wetland, meadowlands etc.

The Guelph Official Plan is clear about how to include pollinators and hearing about it made us want to dash home and dust of Hamilton’s official plan and demand that it be immediately updated. Other elements Nix covered that are part of the plan included wildlife management, invasive species (when they review applications they have policies that say “we want you to use native plants” etc), stewardship and monitoring—recognizing that it needs to be city wide and how do we measure and share these activities, working with partners to do better inventory of what we know etc).

Lauren Selby (Ontario NativeScape) gave a great talk called Roadsides for Pollinators, the idea being how can we change current road practices towards creating habitat for small animals birds, pollinators and looking at the opportunities to expand Native Prairie Grass (NPG) into our landscape as they have done along Highway 40 Prairie Passage in Lambton On. So it is not only about looking at ditches, drains, wildlife management utility corridors but also roads. They have chosen the monarch as the target species as their flagship. It was exciting to learn that this critical habitat needed for many species (grassland birds are in deep trouble for example, due to lack of habitat) and let’s stop with the “lawn mentality” “European grass” commitment that is useless for the purposes of pollinator health (and water quality health besides!).

Selby outlined the benefits to road managers of going NPG. These include living snow fences (stops the snow), controls noxious weeds and reduces roadside management. What are we waiting for, I ask you? They are now partnering with St. Clair Township (City of Sarnia) to do more of these projects.
Selby concluded that we need to show municipalities that we can change road practices and we can do this by sharing case studies of best practices.
She directed us to a study down in Iowa looking at whether promoting habitat along roadsides increased species richness and abundance and it did—5 times for butterflies for example.

Bee the voice of Pollinators

Anne Bell from Ontario Nature spoke next.  She gave an overview of what the Youth Council at ON Nature has been up to. 18 of the 50 young people across Ontario who are the voice behind the work on pollinators were in the room with us.  We thought it a pity that they were not actually given voice to tell us about the project (they were not on the agenda!!). It was not until the video created by the youth group failed to play and the audience suggested that the youth come to the podium and share their story, did we hear first hand what they have been doing (more posts to come on this).

“People love bees!” Bell told us. The response to the Environmental Bill of Rights posting concerning putting restrictions on neonics use was an overwhelming 50,000 comments; “I’ve never seen these numbers before.”

Bell gave tips on how to frame the issue of bee and pollinator protection in a way that we can be heard. For example, broaden the issue to include not only pollination health but also food security issues, know your facts, choose your words carefully, network and build bridges, provide an outlet so people can speak for the bees—example sign something postcard campaign. The youth council designed the postcard and delivered to Queen’s Park.