Published in thespec.com. March 22, 2019.
Spring is just around the corner and of course, with the warmer weather comes an explosion of growing things, evidence of lovely nature. Except, there’s the issue of invasive species getting the upper hand, proliferating in our natural areas, our trails and forests, our lakes, our rivers, and at home, our yards.
Invasive species are plants, animals, aquatic life and micro-organisms that are introduced outside of their natural environment and threaten local biodiversity (variety of life). They harm what are delicately balanced eco-systems, already under great stress from other factors like sprawl and pollution. They outcompete native species. They are pervasive, they move aggressively, they are hard to get rid of once they establish themselves. Invasive species are now considered only second to habitat loss as the highest threat to biodiversity.
But what about the natural evolution argument? Survival of the fittest? To find answers, I turn to Lesley McDonell, ecologist with the Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) to get an understanding of exactly why letting invasives become our biodiversity is deadly.
Lesley describes a scenario, where at the grocery store, there are only five different things that are available for purchase, maybe one or two are available in the spring, one or two in the summer and one or two in the fall. Now put this in the context of a natural area where we get our ecosystem services. If invasives are natural evolution, they tend to dominate the landscape, reducing biodiversity and resiliency: “So a fall forest turns yellow all at the same time and thanks to invasives. No more mosaic of colours.”
It’s worse for the animal or insect consumer. “It goes to the forest to get pollen or food in the spring after hibernating or migrating, but that forest has lost the plant that it used to eat or use,” Lesley continues.
Now Lesley asks us to imagine what would happen if we only had three of four tree species and an invasive insect came that could kill three of them, further reducing our biodiversity. Think about what we stand to lose when a part of the web of life disappears: “I think sometimes, things are too interconnected for us to realize and plan for,” Lesley muses.
How did they get here?
Invasives are either brought to a city intentionally or by accident, like when seeds hitch a ride on clothing when people travel. Lesley points to the nursery industry as a major culprit of how invasives are arriving in Hamilton: “There are many invasive plant species sold by the horticultural industry that the public can purchase,” she says, giving examples such as Giant Hogweed, which was originally sold in nurseries for its beauty, that is, its large leaves and flower head and Japanese Knotweed, “also sold because it has pretty flowers and looks like bamboo.” Japanese Barberry and burning bush are two invasive species still sold in nurseries today. These species escape into natural areas and wreak havoc. According to Lesley, our shipping ports are another pathway of entry. “Zebra mussels came in the ships ballast water whereas Emerald Ash Borer likely arrived in shipping pallets from overseas,” she says. “Others, such as Common Buckthorn, have been here for a long time, promoted in the past as a hedgerow for farmers and Garlic Mustard was a pioneering food plant because it is edible so early in the spring.”
What can we do to curb them or stop them?
Lesley advices that the public familiarizes itself with these harmful species; learn the common ones. In Hamilton, these include Garlic Mustard, Dog-strangling vine, Common Buckthorn, Purple Loosestrife, Multiflora Rose, Periwinkle, Black Locust, and Norway Maple, to name some of the top offenders. When gardening, do not throw unwanted plant material and cuttings into your local parks, woodlot, forest or in a natural area.
“Usually, your unwanted plants contain invasive species and these lower the biodiversity of the forest or natural area,” Lesley says.
Neither should they go in the green bin or brown compost bags. Rather, Lesley recommends putting unwanted plants, if you know they are invasive, in garbage bags and leaving the bags in the sun to dry for up a week to two weeks before throwing them out. If you want to remove invasives from your property, she suggests contacting your local Conservation Authority or a professional company, because, “sometimes just cutting them down can make the problem worse, or it does not kill the plant completely.”
In removing invasive species, consider the plant. For example, Lesley says early spring is the best time to pull Garlic Mustard, before it flowers or seeds, whereas this would not be the ideal time to tackle Phragmites: “It does make it hard for control because it is so variable, but targeting the species at the best time can save money and ensure you are successful.”
When buying plants for your garden, try and buy native plant species where you can. Encourage the City to use native tree species in our parks and as street trees.
While Ontario has an Invasive Species Strategy, the City of Hamilton has yet to develop one.
This article was written for thespec.com feb.2016 by B. Ekoko
I am not a gardener. I wish I were. I delight in the notion of a lush and beautiful garden; vegetables at hand for the picking and fresh flowers to gather for the dinner table. Alas! The actual getting outside and messing around in the dirt, I have yet to negotiate. Luckily, my fellow has planted some trees on our property and we mark Black-eyed Susans, goldenrod and milkweed — nature, undeterred, does her thing. For me, however, there always seems to be something more pressing to attend to and year after year the idea of gardening remains verdant only in my mind, flourishing no further.
Until now. This year, I mean business. This is the year where my flight of fancy becomes reality and I put seed to soil — native plant seeds to be more precise.
Because here's the thing: I have something bigger than my own pleasure to motivate me. Me, planting a native garden is for a grander cause — a question of badly needed habitat for pollinators.
Blogging for the Hamilton Pollinators Paradise Project has really driven it home: Pollinators need our help. We know the problems: Not only honey bees but also our solitary native bees (over 400 kinds in Ontario) and other pollinators such as Monarch butterflies and other beneficial insects and small birds are on the decline in a big way. It's neonicotinoids (pesticide), it's habitat loss, it's climate change.
All the while, about 75 per cent of all flowering plants depend on pollinators to move pollen grains from plant to plant.
With one out of every three bites of food dependent on pollinators, we absolutely need these little critters for healthy plants, full harvests (and chocolate)!
"What I find exciting about helping pollinators is this is a conservation issue we can actually help with — something that makes an obvious difference." That's Jen Baker, Hamilton Naturalists Club and project manager for the Pollinators Paradise Project (in partnership with Environment Hamilton). "You can't say that very often about other world problems."
We can do something about habitat right here, literally in our back yards or even with a plain, old flower pot. Planting increases the number of species and diversity — encouraging our neck of the woods to become as biodiverse as possible.
That's what the goal of the project is: to create a "pollinator corridor" of native plants that will provide food and shelter for pollinators across the City of Hamilton.
What a vision! It's also bringing nature back through our urban spaces, which is thrilling, because we all need that connection with the marvels of nature.
Since its launch two years ago, the project has being educating the public about the importance of protecting habitat, building bee boxes through workshops and planting native species sites. The group works with community volunteers at the Hamilton Victory Gardens, North Hamilton Community Health Centre, City of Hamilton, Adopt-a-Park groups (the Pipeline Trail in Crown Point is one such example) and a number of schools such as Hess Street Elementary School and Winston Churchill Secondary School. There's a free certification program to celebrate those home pollinator patches planted by local residents. The group continues to reach out to the community to further the goal of a pollinator city.
Politicians for Pollinators
Jen's vision is ambitious. This year, she will be furthering the conversation around roadside habitat since pollinators and birds benefit from wide swaths of habitat in which to shelter, feed and breed (not forgetting that roadside planting saves money by decreasing the need to plow and mow, etc.). An excellent Ontario example is the 69-hectare tall grass prairie habitat that has been established along Highway 40.
As well, as the planting season draws nearer, Jen also plans to encourage city councillors to pledge to support pollinator conservation and habitat enhancement in their wards.
The Pollinator Paradise project will be at Seedy Saturday this weekend, giving away resources and handmade seed balls (little clay balls impregnated with wildflower seeds — excellent for guerrilla gardening in wild places) and so will I. I'll be filling my little basket with native plant seeds, getting a head start on growing these into plants, and when the spring comes around — I'll be ready.
Learn more about the Pollinator Paradise Project here: www.hamiltonpollinatorparadise.org/
The author is a Hamilton freelance writer. Follow Beatrice on twitter @BeatriceEkoko.
This piece was written by Carolyn Zanchetta, for thespec.com Feb 2019
In the depth of winter, Hamilton is cold and grey, and getting outside feels like an insurmountable task. Winter might not evoke scenes of living nature or vibrant wildlife, but there is still so much alive and active when we look around and appreciate the subtle beauty.
Bright red cardinals flit from tree to tree, competing with blue jays and juncos for space at the feeder. Nuthatches and chickadees call back and forth from the forest. Without leaves obscuring tree branches, this is one of the best times to spot owls, with the particular delight of visiting snowy owls around Windermere Basin and the Beach. Hear coyotes yipping near the escarpment, see squirrels sprinting along power lines, watch fish swim under the ice in Cootes Paradise. Deer freeze, watching you cautiously from the trail. Lichen colourfully coats the trees along the street as the snow piles up. The large variety of evergreens provides ample habitat for the sparrows that fluff their feathers to stay warm; these majestic trees are a glimmer of hope for the coming spring. A plethora of diversity that we never see contributes even more than we could know to our ecosystems, and even our health.
Biodiversity is the variety of life, within a region, or throughout the types of habitat in the area, and also within the genetics of a species. A healthy ecosystem, a healthy city or a healthy species is diverse and resilient, able to adapt to change and overcome. Aside from the inherent value of nature, we humans rely on biodiversity for ecosystem services such as capturing carbon from the air, filtering stormwater as well as economic services like building materials and crop pollination, and health services including air filtration, medicinal resources, food production and recreation.
But this essential variety of life is at risk, in our city and throughout the world. Everywhere, species populations are declining. Habitat loss, pollution, climate change and invasive species all threaten the flora and fauna that live alongside us.
As the Hamilton Naturalists' Club celebrates a century of protecting nature, there is a renewed focus on conserving and enhancing our city's biodiversity. Once we all know the threats, we need to work together to improve the state of nature. Biodiversity needs to be a mainstream word. When we are preparing our gardens in the spring, let us keep biodiversity in mind. All of us, from the single potted flower on an apartment balcony to the city's vast parks and gardens, can do our part to help. Remember biodiversity as you plant native species and get a handle on the invasives that threaten.
Let's remember biodiversity during every construction project, incorporating it into urban design. Let's be aware of how we fragment habitat, and what we can do to connect the pieces. Now is the time to tell your ward councillor that, like many other cities across Canada, Hamilton needs to develop a Biodiversity Action Plan that guides our biodiversity conservation, planning and management activities today and for the well-being of future generations.
Carolyn Zanchetta is stewardship and education co-ordinator for The Hamilton Naturalists’ Club. Go to hamiltonnature.org for a full list of upcoming events, where you can also join or get involved.
This article was written for thespec.com in April 2018 (B. Ekoko).
Biological diversity, or biodiversity--the variety of life on earth and its interdependence--matters. Deeply. Desperately. Urgently. Even for those of us who spend most of our days in front of computers, the only nature we see being photos that we like on instagram.
Why is biodiversity so important?
Diversity makes living things adaptable--and we need all the adaptability we can get, given projected increases in extreme weather events, coupled with fragmented ecosystems, habitat loss and destruction, diseases, and a host of other ills that are becoming our daily reality.
Biodiversity is the health of the planet: it is literally life. But biodiversity is declining globally at such an alarming rate that scientists are calling this “biological annihilation” of wildlife in recent decades a sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history, with millions of species being lost for ever. Some are saying the crisis surpasses even climate change.
Rapidly disappearing biodiversity means we are actively weakening our resiliency (including our food security). With loss of biodiversity comes loss of genetic diversity, which means fewer kinds in a given group that can handle the changes and still thrive--so we are basically diminishing chances at adaptability. Very, very bad. Because wildlife populations are declining so fast, there’s talk of safeguarding space for nature with proposals from groups like Nature Needs Half https://natureneedshalf.org/ to make 50% of the planet a nature reserve.
Some scientists are proposing integrated patterns of wildlife areas and linkages so that species can move throughout these, tracking preferred temperatures as the planet warms over the next 100 years, and preserving genetic diversity between populations.
What to do? So how do we create and support more biodiversity here at home in our neighbourhoods, in our cities, provinces and country? First off, educate ourselves. Who is doing what?
Canada has a biodiversity strategy
Canada has set Biodiversity Goals and Targets for 2020. Our national goals and targets support the global Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 in accordance with commitments under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
Provincially, Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy, 2011 is the guiding framework for coordinating the conservation of our province’s rich variety of life and ecosystems. Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy includes commitments to report on the State of Ontario’s Biodiversity and on progress in achieving Ontario's 15 Biodiversity Targets every 5 years.
But we are lagging behind the 2020 target miserably. We can't even protect 17% of the nation’s natural heritage. This seriously sucks. To this end, Ontario Nature has started a campaign to change this called the Protected Places Declaration inviting residents to sign.
Cities (where most of us live) have tremendous potential to do good. Scientists are asking us to look at the peripheries of our cities in particular, where there are opportunities to enhance biodiversity. From the Atlas of the End of the World, “'Cities are generally preoccupied with their commercial and cultural centers whereas----they now need to look to their peripheries, for it is there that nature and culture are at loggerheads and it is there that the long-term environmental health of a city will be largely determined.”
Many cities are developing their own biodiversity strategies. For example, Toronto’s Biodiversity Strategy has been in the works officially since September, 2015. The City-lead draft is going before the City's Parks and Environment Committee (a Standing Committee that reports to Council) in May of 2018. The Strategy pulls together under one umbrella, several different initiatives including green infrastructure like green roofs, and is a high level strategy, bringing together a more concerted effort, and a preliminary list that focus on habitat, function (example pollination), Taxa (like the Bees of Toronto publication and species).
Toronto’s pollinator protection strategy (a section of the Biodiversity Strategy) is going to the City’s parks and environment committee this April for consideration.
Calgary has a 10-year biodiversity strategic plan since 2015 as well as a biodiversity policy, and the City of Guelph has a natural heritage action plan to die for, with its 36 action items.
Hamilton Get into it! We need a biodiversity strategy too.
The Hamilton Pollinator Paradise Project (building an uninterrupted pollinator corridor across the city of Hamilton) has actively began looking into what a strategy for Hamilton could look like so stay tuned by following the project.
It’s also important for all of us to do our bit. As residents, homeowners, businesses, institutions, we all have a role to play today, and in leaving something decent behind for future generations. From seed saving to planting habitat there is something that every single person can do.This spring, plant some precious trees and wildflowers for nature. Let your elected leaders know that you care. They should too.