Sunday, January 31, 2016

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Friends of Rosebough Creek (Greensville): Creating Paradise in Their Neck of the Woods.

Guest post by Greensville resident Nancy Henley, Chef, teacher and food writer at Tree House Kitchen. Nancy has formed a small group called Friends of Rosebough Creek with her two neighbours, Lorraine Moir, a specialist in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and founding Board Member for Trees For Hamilton, and Neal Bonnor, an environmental data analyst and Provincial Officer with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and founding member of Stewards of Cootes Watershed.

Picture playing with a little paper sail boat and setting it down in Rosebough Creek near a park in Greensville. Follow it in your mind’s eye as it meanders under and over farms and neighbour’s backyards...pooling into stormwater management wetlands and under roads and into the rare eco-zone of Carolinian forests...past some of the most biologically diverse natural areas in the whole world...joining waterfalls of the internationally recognized Niagara Escarpment and coursing down streams…coursing though provincially significant Cootes Paradise wetlands and around places of commerce and industry...ending up in Hamilton Harbour--the bay at the western tip of Lake Ontario of the greatest lakes in the world. What a journey!

Like dowsing rods to groundwater - we are a small group of 3 Dundas (Greensville) neighbours bent on raising awareness in our little area about the importance of stewarding the magical life-sustaining flow of water and fostering its ecological health.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Neonics Update.

“The fundamental flaw of both the EPA and the PMRA reports (and the whole regulatory system in both countries) is that conclusions are based on registrant submitted data.” Susan Chan, pollination biologist, Farms at Work.

Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) recently released a preliminary report indicating that at least one type of neonic-treated seeds poses few risks to bees…honey bees, that is.
Imidacloprid is being reviewed (it is one of five others neonics. Clothianidin, Thiamethoxam, Dinotefuran, Acetamiprid and Thiacloprid will all get reviewed at a later date) and here is what the PMRA says about this very widely used pesticide:
The residue levels in crop pollen and nectar resulting from seed treatment uses are typically below levels expected to pose a risk to bees at both the individual bee and colony levels. 
For other applications such as foliar applications (on leaves of crops), potential risk from foliar application varies with application timing. Current label restrictions aid in minimizing risk. In soil applications, a potential risk to bees was identified for some soil treatments. Read more here. 

PMRA is evaluating Imidacloprid in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the States. EPA’s press release indicates that imidacloprid potentially poses risk to hives when the pesticide comes in contact with certain crops that attract pollinators.

I was searching the internet for opinions on the EPA review and found this in Mother Jones. Here’s a quote from an article:
The EPA's long-awaited assessment focused on how one of the most prominent neonics—Bayer's imidacloprid—affects bees. The report card was so dire that the EPA"could potentially take action" to "restrict or limit the use" of the chemical by the end of this year, an agency spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. 
 Reviewing dozens of studies from independent and industry-funded researchers, the EPA's risk-assessment team established that when bees encounter imidacloprid at levels above 25 parts per billion—a common level for neonics in farm fields—they suffer harm. "These effects include decreases in pollinators as well as less honey produced," the EPA's press release states.
The crops most likely to expose honeybees to harmful levels of imidacloprid are cotton and citrus, while "corn and leafy vegetables either do not produce nectar or have residues below the EPA identified level."
It continues:
Meanwhile, the fact that the EPA says imidacloprid-treated corn likely doesn't harm bees sounds comforting, but as the same USGS chart shows, corn gets little or no imidacloprid. (It gets huge amounts of another neonic, clothianidin, whose EPA risk assessment hasn't been released yet.)
The biggest imidacloprid-treated crop of all is soybeans, and soy remains an information black hole. The EPA assessment notes that soybeans are "attractive to bees via pollen and nectar," meaning they could expose bees to dangerous levels of imidacloprid, but data on how much of the pesticide shows up in soybeans' pollen and nectar are "unavailable," both from Bayer and from independent researchers. Oops.  Read full report here.  
I checked in with pollination biologist, Susan Chan of Farms At Work. Susan agrees that the PMRA has taken a very strange stance on the imidacloprid issue, “often making definitive statements about lack of risk with no data to hand.”

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Winston Churchill Secondary School and Us

“What can a kid do in an hour that will have a positive impact on their neighbourhood?” asks Joachim Vallentin, tech teacher at Sir. Winston Churchill Secondary School. “That’s the kind of partnership we are looking for, where kids can walk through their hood and say, ‘I did that.’”

In Joachim’s opinion, the regular kid is more interested in pop culture and most youth are not engaged in the conversations around environment and climate change—it’s just not marketed towards this age group. “The question is how do you get 14-18 year olds interested? It’s their world today, not in the future,” Joachim says.

Joachim believes that it is his responsibility to take the learning out of the classroom and into the community, “so that the kids have hands-on opportunities to positively impact the environment.” That’s why he is excited to be partnering with the Pollinator Paradise Project (PPP). With the support of a very dynamic, forward thinking principal at the helm (Wanda Bielak), Joachim approached Jen Baker with the PPP about the possibility of his grade 10/11 students building bee boxes for the community.

Since the school doesn’t have funds, the idea was for the students to improve the design of the bee box that the PPP is currently using. It’s a simple action at the local level that has definite impact.

 “Our students are looking for projects that are meaningful. So we are looking for opportunities for personal skill development,” Joachim says. The kinds of skills they are looking to develop include marketable and entrepreneurial skills, leading to post secondary pathways to environment, construction, landscape, botany biology and so on.  

The PPP bought the wood for 80 bee box kits, plus some of themselves. The students then figured out detailed measurements, cut and processed the kits (un-assembled and labelled, much like you see with IKEA products), treating the assignment like they would a contract from a real life client.

Great partnership

“It’s a great partnership and it’s just beginning,” Joachim enthuses (and so do we at PPP). “The PPP can supply the school with the challenge of promoting native species in our city and neighbourhood.”

Looking ahead to the spring, the school has two plots (owned by the school board) beside their parking lot and they will be planting natural gardens on these sites. There is mention of the students making seed balls for sale. Since they have a large number of Aboriginal students at the school, they plan to encourage a first nation’s garden as well.

As well, the school is looking to do more projects with community partners through the tech program. Fortunately for Winston Churchill school, they are located in a prime location, right in the middle of it all; a buzz of activity is going on in the McQuesten neighbourhood hub, including the McQuesten Urban Farm—which is still in planning stages. Joachim reports that there is very active engagement across sectors. For example an architectural company is looking at the idea of planting a foraging garden to engage the local aboriginal population in salve-making.

The McQuestenYouth Opportunities Creators is a group that is focusing on jobs for youth and as the local high school in McQuesten,Winston Churchill is working with them to encourage their youth to participate in the urban farm, landscaping, agri-business, construction, and so on.

Since this neighbourhood is one in which generations of kids grow up and stay, having their own families, Joachim is envisioning the times when his students will be able to walk down the street, see the projects they helped develop and say, “I had a small impact.”