A Climate of Violence

What caused the little ice age? Many factors of course, but one study suggests that the devastating loss of life wrought by Europeans invading the Americas may have tipped the balance

How does Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage to the New World relate to the “frost fair” held on a frozen River Thames in London in 1683-84? A startling new study says the voyage led to the freeze, at least, in part. It’s the PhD work of geographer Alexander Koch of University College London, published in January in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

icebergThe speedy rise of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere from the moment the first steam engines started burning fossil fuels in about 1750 is well documented. The concentration has risen from 280 parts per million in the atmosphere then to 410 now. Before that steady rise began, the concentration was stable for thousands of years. That is, except for a period between 1550 and 1650, when it fell by about 10 parts per million (ppm). Why did levels drop?

Amazingly, Koch traces it to Columbus and his voyage to the Americas in 1492. It was then, in claiming the lands for Spain, that Columbus unleashed the savage and sweeping colonization of two entire continents.

Before Europeans arrived, the Americas were home to an estimated 55 million people, comparable to the 70 million to 88 million who lived in Europe at the time. These Indigenous Americans formed complex societies spread across what is now Canada, the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and south into Inca lands and Amazonia. Their societies were complex. People who lived in what we call Mexico built complicated interconnected canals and sophisticated irrigation systems. The Inca built terraces across the slopes of the Andes to grow food. The peoples of southern North America harnessed the floods to grow their crops. Among the foodstuffs they grew were rice, cassava, chili peppers, maize, quinoa, cacao and fruit.

Then came Columbus and an unending trail of other Europeans with their livestock, those cauldrons of epidemics then unknown in the Americas: smallpox, measles, influenza, bubonic plague, diphtheria, typhus, cholera, malaria. It added up to genocide. In the Caribbean alone, the first European entry point, the population fell from about four million to a scant 22,000 by 1570, a drop of 99 per cent. In the Inca territories, just 670,000 of nine million were left by 1620, a drop of 93 per cent. A century after Columbus arrived, nine in 10 Indigenous inhabitants of the Americas were dead, on average.

WHEN COLUMBUS FOUND THE “NEW WORLD,” DID HE USHER IN THE LITTLE ICE AGE? IS 1492 THE START OF ANTHROPOCENE?

It meant that whole societies that had relied on farming were destroyed. And that meant the land — roughly the area of modern France — went back to nature. As that happened, it sucked carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. In all, about half (roughly 5 ppm) of the drop in carbon concentrations in the atmosphere during this weird cooling from 1550 to 1650 can be pinned directly on the collapse of Indigenous American civilization, Koch concluded. Surface air temperatures around the globe fell by 0.15 C, on average, a period known as the Little Ice Age.

In London, from 1649 to 1700, the lower Thames, normally kept open by the salty ocean tides, would freeze up fairly routinely. During the ferocious winter of 1684, the river remained frozen (the ice eventually a foot thick) for a record seven weeks. In homes, denizens shivered, milk froze overnight, deer died in the forests. And London held its first full frost fair on the ice, setting up impromptu pubs, betting rings, stages, games and races, like a country fair.

prairiesTo Koch, the point of figuring all this out is to discern precisely when the Anthropocene began. The Anthropocene is a proposed new geological epoch now under consideration by scientists. It means the “new age of humans” and refers to the fact that humans are having an effect on the Earth’s systems as profound as, say, such geological events as asteroid hits and sustained volcanic eruptions. Some are pumping for it to begin at the time of the Industrial Revolution in 1750, others, at the time of the first atomic explosions. Now Koch is pointing to 1492.

His work is fascinating because it shows how political actions — in this case, colonization — can lead to unexpected shifts in the planet’s fundamental systems. It’s germane because it shows how immense and rapid are the changes unfolding in the planet’s carbon load today.

After all, the century of death and rewilding across the Americas drew down about five parts per million of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Today, with an economy dependent on fossil fuels, this same area is putting about three back in every year, and that pace is accelerating. Worse, we have no coherent plan to make it slow down, only goals.

It’s that pace that’s terrifying. And it’s the lack of a plan that, given the urgency of the risks, is unfathomable.


Reprinted from Canadian Wildlife magazine. Get more information or subscribe now! Now on newsstands! Or, get your digital edition today!

 

How to Avoid Turtles on the Road

What did the turtle say when she crossed the road? SLOW DOWWWN!

There’s nothing worse than driving and seeing a beautiful turtle lying dead on the side of the road. It’s sad for so many reasons. Did you know that the majority of Canada’s turtle populations occur in southern Ontario? Over 70 per cent of southern Ontario’s wetlands are gone. The remaining wetlands are often fragmented by roads. All eight freshwater turtle species are at risk. So it’s particularly terrible when they are killed on roads.

Why do turtles cross the road in the first place? Turtles usually stay in water but during nesting season, female turtles need to lay their eggs on dry land. In some cases the gravel and dry soil right beside the road is sometimes the optimal condition for their eggs. Turtles also move between wetlands and often this means they must cross a road.

Watch out for turtles on the road

blanding turtles in handsThe biggest help we can give to our turtles is to make sure we slow down and avoid them. Turtles move slowly and can look a bit shiny from a distance. It’s not hard to avoid them if you are driving at a reasonable speed with plenty of distance between the vehicle in front of you and if you’re looking far enough ahead.

If there is a known road that is a popular crossing destination, contact your local conservation authority and municipality to see if there is anything they can do for turtle crossings.

How to help a turtle cross the road

helping blanding turtle cross the streetStep 1: Safety!
First of all, make sure it is safe to help the turtle. Look both ways before heading out onto the road. If there are cars coming, don’t risk your life. Also, to familiarize yourself with how to handle a turtle, watch this video: https://youtu.be/h5ESRtJUVqU

Step 2: Get a Good Handle on the Situation (and the turtle!)
It is fairly easy to pick up a turtle – unless you’re dealing with a Snapping Turtle (more on that later). Use both hands and grab the turtle on both sides of the shell. The turtle may not appreciate or understand that they are being rescued from the road. It may scratch or pee on you, so be prepared for this. If you have a firm grip on the turtle with two hands you are less likely to drop it if it does scratch you.

Step 3: Make Sure to Move in the Right (or Left) Direction
Always move the turtle in the direction that it is going. It knows where it wants to go. Release the turtle on the gravel shoulder of the road and it will likely quickly shuffle away from you and the road.

Step 4: Report your sighting
If you’re located in the Simcoe/Muskoka Region in Ontario, call the S.T.A.R.T. Hotline at 705-955-4284. Do you live elsewhere in Canada? Report turtle activity on iNaturalist.ca in the “Help The Turtles” project. Your sightings (especially near highways) will help us determine active freshwater turtle areas, critical to the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s ongoing conservation efforts.

How to help Snapping Turtles on the road:

Moving a Snapping Turtle across the road is a bit more challenging — especially if it’s a large one. Snapping Turtles can be fast and they can bite. They can also spin around quickly or even lunge. Do not grab the sides of the shell of a Snapping Turtle as the head may whip around and bite you.

One option to move a Snapping Turtle is the car mat drag. Place a car mat behind the turtle, grab the back of the shell near the back legs and drag the turtle onto the mat. Do not drag the turtle by its tail as this can injure the turtle. Once the turtle is on the mat, drag the mat off the road, keeping one hand on the back of the turtle.

snapping turtle in algonquin park
© Richard McKenzie

Another technique for moving a Snapping Turtle is the shovel lift. If you have a shovel in the car, approach the turtle from behind and slide the shovel under it. Then lift and move the Snapping Turtle off the road. Don’t lift the shovel too far above the road as the turtle may try to move and fall off the shovel.

Again, always move the turtle in the direction that it is going. It knows where it wants to go. Release the turtle on the gravel shoulder of the road and it will likely quickly shuffle away from you and the road.

How to help and handle an injured turtle

small blanding turtle
Contact your nearest wildlife rehab centre ASAP.  If you’re located in the Muskoka/Lake Simcoe Region in Ontario, call the S.T.A.R.T. Hotline at 705-955-4284.

Note the location (road, major intersections, and mileage) where the turtle was found to ensure it can be released according to provincial regulations.

Once you’ve been given the okay to bring the turtle in, you’ll want to carefully place the injured animal in a well-ventilated plastic container with a secure lid. Most turtles can be picked up carefully with two hands. When handling snapping turtles keep a safe distance from their head as they will snap at you if they feel threatened. You may want to use a shovel or board to lift the turtle.

If you have to keep a turtle overnight before you bring it to a rehab facility, place it in a well-ventilated container with no water and in a cool, dark place, away from pets. Never attempt to treat a sick or injured wild animal yourself. Always contact your nearest licensed wildlife rehabilitation centre.

Dos and don’ts of helping an injured turtle:

snapping baby turtle
Don’t transport turtle(s) in water.
Do wash your hands after handling the animal!
Don’t offer the turtle anything to eat or drink.

Learn more about how you can help at HelptheTurtles.ca.

Ladies, the Heat is On!

Animals That Go Through Menopause

You’ve got the air-conditioning cranked. You’ve invested in a white noise machine to help you get a little sleep. And your patience is wearing thin in a whole new way these days. There’s nothing fun about going through menopause, but ladies, did you know we’re not the only ones in the animal kingdom that suffer through it?

To be frank, we’re an oddity. Most animals keep on popping out babies until they reach old age. However, many toothed whales work a lot more like humans do where they reproduce for a number of years and then, when those years come to an end, they’ll keep right on trucking.

Let’s take a look at some animals in the wild that go through menopause:

1. Short-finned Pilot Whales

Pilot whale mom and calf | Photo @ Clair EversThese whales can live up to 60 years. That is, if they’re female. Males usually die around the age of 45. Female Short-finned Pilot Whales reach sexual maturity when they turn about 10 years old. Once they reach that age they’ll begin to have their calves every five to eight years until they reach menopause.

2. Belugas

Beluga pod | Photo: Shafik Diwan, CWF Photo Club

Belugas are long-lived creatures. They can live up to 75 years in the wild. That’s a lot of birthday candles to blow out! Females reach sexual maturity between eight and 14 years of age. Once they do, they will go on to have calves (one at a time) about every three years, until they reach menopause.

3. Narwhals

Narwhals

Female Narwhals reach sexual maturity between eight and 12 years of age. After which, they’ll have one calf at a time. They usually give birth to a new calf every three years, although it may even be longer. Eventually, their reproductive years end and they move into menopause, living up to 50 years (although most live less than 30 years).

4. Killer Whales

killer whales | Photo: Kari Watkins, CWF Photo Club

Killer Whales don’t live quite as long as these other whale species. Males will live on average 30 years, while females can expect to live until about 50 years of age. These social marine mammals don’t give birth to their first calf until they are about 15 years old. Once their reproductive years are through, they will take care of their young’s calves. Talk about a tight knit family!

What’s the Point?

So what’s the point of going through menopause and living on into our golden years? To be honest, it’s a bit of a mystery. Some researchers argue that we can thank the grandmother hypothesis. This idea suggests that older females will opt to support their grandbabies instead of going on to bear more of their own children or young.

While this idea works for social creatures like the Killer Whale, not all whale species are as social. And also…wouldn’t species like elephants evolve to have menopause? They’re awfully social and take care of their grandchildren and yet there are no signs that they go through menopause.

There doesn’t seem to be a clear cut answer as to why menopause exists in animals yet. What do you think?

Top 10 Species Finds on iNaturalist.ca

iNaturalist.ca has reached 1 million!

iNaturalist Canada (also known as iNaturalist.ca) has hit a major milestone – more than 1 million verifiable observations in Canada. These confirmed sightings span from Canada’s East Coast to the western edges of British Columbia, and from Southern Saskatchewan all the way up to the most northern reaches of the country.

This proves that Canadians are interacting with nature using their smartphone or digital cameras to document and geo-locate wildlife in our vast country.

Canadians are also reporting some really cool discoveries.

Not only does this help provide valuable information for conservation, there are some interesting tidbits in there for all of us. Also, with iNaturalist’s auto ID feature you can hold a field identification tool in the palm of your hand.

To celebrate, let’s take a look at 10 fascinating species reported on iNaturalist Canada:

1. New Species to Canada!

Paintedhand mudbug | Photo: colindjones
Paintedhand mudbug | Photo: colindjones

The Paintedhand Mudbug. This is actually a species of crayfish, not a bug at all. Thanks to some hard work by Colin Jones from the Ontario Natural Heritage Information Centre the first ever occurrence of this species was recorded in Canada using iNaturalist.ca.

2. Carnivorous Plants

Purple Pitcher Plant and the Great Sundew. These carnivorous plants are not species from an exotic corner of the world. In fact they are entirely native to Canada and you can find one or both of these in every province and territory. Don’t be alarmed, they only feed on small insects!

3. The Monarch Butterfly

Monarch | Photo james_cwf
Monarch | Photo james_cwf

The Monarch Butterfly is the most reported species at risk on iNaturalist.ca with more than 4,400 observations! Only the Mallard, Canada Goose and Grey Squirrel were reported more times than this at-risk butterfly.

4. The Spiny Softshell Turtle

Spiny Softshell Turtle | Photo Samuel Brinker
Spiny Softshell Turtle | Photo Samuel Brinker

This freshwater turtle is also probably one of Canada’s most unique. Found in only a handful of places in the country, its shell is flexible and leathery, as its name suggests, as opposed to the typical hard shell of most turtles.

5. The Fjaeldmark Dwarf Weaver

This arachnid is the most northern record of all the observations in the global iNaturalist system! It was recorded on a tiny island off the northern tip of Ellesmere Island – that’s over 2,100 kilometres north of Iqaluit!

6. Giant Hogweed

Giant Hogweed | Photo cchapman
Giant Hogweed | Photo cchapman

Possibly the tallest herbaceous (non-woody) plant to be found in Canada, the Giant Hogweed grows up to 5.5 metres (that’s 18 feet)! But it’s not from Canada, thus an invasive species. It is also highly poisonous. Getting the sap on your skin can cause burns, kind of like poison ivy but much worse.

7. The Wood Duck

Wood Duck | Photo jaliya
Wood Duck | Photo jaliya

This dabbler is one of the most colourful birds we have in Canada. It can be found in every province, as well as in Nunavut.

8. The Cougar

Cougar | Photo by kokanee
Cougar | Photo by kokanee

Also known as the North American Mountain Lion, this feline is one of the more elusive animals in Canada and getting a photo at a safe distance can be tricky! A trail camera managed to snap a unique close-up of this feline.

9. The Magnificent Bryozoan

Bryozoan | Photo alisonforde
Bryozoan | Photo alisonforde

This is not algae. A colony of organisms — called zoids — forms a solid mass called a bryozoan. This one was found during the 2017 Stanley Park Bioblitz (as part BioBlitz Canada 150) and made headlines as “The Blob of Lost Lagoon.” There are only 34 of these recorded in iNaturalist.ca.

10. Ochre Sea Star

Ochre Sea Star | Photo imcote
Ochre Sea Star | Photo imcote

This heap of sea stars was recorded on the ocean floor off the western coast of Vancouver Island. iNaturalist.ca can be used anywhere — even under water!

Think of it as social media meets conservation science.

iNaturalist.ca is a place where users can upload sightings of what they’ve seen in nature. The community can then comment on the find and help with identifying the species. This adds to the growing database throughout the country to provide a clearer picture of Canada’s biodiversity. The information can then be used for conservation purposes, such as keeping track of endangered species.

Once you have the free app and an account, snap a photo of what you see in nature and upload. The built-in auto ID can recognize most species. The app works entirely offline, but you’ll need a data plan or wifi to upload any observations you’ve logged in the app. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can upload straight to iNaturalist.ca on your desktop computer (the image recognition works there too).

iNaturalist Canada is a member of the iNaturalist Network, a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic Society, which means that this information feeds into an initiative to track biodiversity worldwide.

What do you think is the most interesting observation on iNaturalist Canada? Head to iNaturalist.ca to check out what people are recording and then paste a link to the observation’s url in the comment section below!

Why Did the Turtle Cross the Road?

To get to the wetland on the other side.

It is spring and turtles are active, often moving from one wetland to another. Or females are looking for a place to lay their eggs. These movements often mean turtles must cross roads to get where they want to go.

Over the past two years, the Canadian Wildlife Federation turtle team has found over 1,000 dead turtles on roads in eastern Ontario. That is a staggering amount of mortality. We know that road mortality is a serious threat to turtles and we are working on getting wildlife fencing installed at some of the worst spots to keep turtles off the road.

What Can I Do?

In the mean time, we can all do our part by watching for turtles on roads, particularly when we are driving in rural areas close to lakes and wetlands. The CWF turtle team has rescued over 100 turtles from roads over the past two years. You can help too.

First of all, if you see a turtle trying to cross the road, make sure it is safe to help. If the traffic isn’t too heavy and it is safe to do so, pull off onto the road shoulder and turn on the car’s four-way flashers. Look both ways before heading onto the road to save the turtle. If there are cars coming, don’t risk your life.

With the exception of Snapping Turtles it is fairly easy to pick up most turtles. Use both hands and grab the turtle on either side of the shell. The turtle may not appreciate or understand that it is being rescued from the road and may scratch or pee on you, so be prepared for this. If you have a firm grip on the turtle with both hands you are less likely to drop it if it does scratch you. It’s a good idea to keep a pair of work gloves in the car to protect your hands when moving turtles, and for other roadside adventures.

Always move the turtle in the direction that it is heading. Turtles know where they want to go. Release the turtle on the shoulder of the road and it will likely quickly shuffle away from you and the road. Take a bow, as you just saved a turtle.

Moving Snapping Turtles, especially large ones, is more challenging. Snapping Turtles can be fast and they can bite. They can also spin around quickly or even lunge. Do not grab the sides of the shell of a Snapping Turtle as the head may whip around and bite you.

One option to move a Snapping Turtle is the car mat drag. Place a car mat behind the turtle, grab the back of the shell near the back legs and drag the turtle onto the mat. Do not drag the turtle by its tail as this can injure the turtle. Once the turtle is on the mat, drag the mat off the road, keeping one hand on the back of the turtle.

Another technique for moving a Snapping Turtle is the shovel lift. If you have a shovel in the car, approach the turtle from behind and slide the shovel under it. Then lift and move the Snapping Turtle off the road. Don’t lift the shovel too far above the road as the turtle may try to move and fall off the shovel.

To see how to safely pick up a Snapping Turtle by hand, check out our video on how to move a turtle off the road.

To learn more how you can help turtles, visit HelpTheTurtles.ca

Old Mountains, New Perspectives

Emily Hancock is a participant in Wintertide, Group 7 of the Canadian Conservation Corps. Before joining the CCC Adventure, she hiked the US Appalachian Trail in 2017 and the US Pacific Crest Trail in 2018.

Oh, Appalachian Mountains; clear waters, spontaneous swims, afternoon thundershowers, and grassy balds.

Snickers for breakfast and a bit of humble pie as the light dies down. A trail community – floating through each other’s lives – sharing experiences but only until we cross the next peak.

This was my experience on the Appalachian Mountains just over the border. They were where I fell in love with nature, developed my independence, learned to trust my instincts, and became self-reliant.

But up north, in the snowy mountains of New Brunswick with the Canadian Conservation Corps, I learned how to rely on other people again. And I realized that I don’t need – nor want – to always be self-reliant. I re-learned the value of the shared experience, going through the tough times together, and coming out of them stronger as a team.

Winter in the Appalachians © Emily Hancock
Winter in the Appalachians © Emily Hancock

I entered the CCC Stage One with visions of learning the skills and gaining the confidence to set out on a solo winter expedition. How to build a pulk, deal with the cold temperatures, travel and navigate winter conditions. I expected to battle the frigid cold, overcome difficult ascents, and gain the confidence to venture out into the snow on my own. While I can’t deny that waking up in a canvas tent with your sleeping bag frozen through taught me some useful skills, it pales in comparison to what I was able to learn from the members of  Wintertide, Group 7 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.I watched their leadership skills develop, witnessed them trying new things, pushing themselves up mountains, climbing out of snow holes, building fires to boost morale and come together to help each other succeed. I’ve met a group of people with different backgrounds and strengths. We’ve gone from strangers to good friends. We have different views but have learned to discuss our values and see other points of views. Yes, we’ve learned how to make a route plan; but somehow that doesn’t seem quite as important anymore.

A frosty morning at Armstrong Camp © Emily Hancock
A frosty morning at Armstrong Camp © Emily Hancock

When I stumbled upon the CCC program I expected to learn about conservation and how to survive in the winter. What I’m really taking away from this is that it’s okay to rely on other people and you don’t always need to do everything yourself. You can be strong without needing to know everything and there’s more beauty in a snow-capped mountain when you’re there with others.

 

wintertide © Emily Hancock
Wintertide © Emily Hancock

I came seeking independence but I’ve learned the value of interdependence. I can’t thank the rest of Wintertide enough for being open to the experience, giving it your all, and making the cold just a little warmer. Thank you for sharing your views and broadening mine.

Tides Come in High and Low, so Does Wintertide

Lisa Chen is a participant in Group 7 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

After a week-long debate, Group 7 of the Canadian Conservation Corps has finally decided on the group name “Wintertide.”

It was argued that it was the most artistic option on our list and that we will be making waves (hopefully) in conservation. What we did not realize at the time was how tailored the name was in describing our group and what we were about to experience.

Nothing could have prepared me for the first news Outward Bound Canada delivered about our CCC wilderness journey: this is a new adventure, we’ve never offered it before.

Pre-departure route planning. Photo by Lisa Chen.
Pre-departure route planning. Photo by Lisa Chen.

With quick lessons and briefings, we were plunged into route planning, food prepping, pulk making, and tent flooring. While I was extremely excited to learn new skills, I was also exorbitantly anxious about the consequences of various decisions that we had to make.

Eventually, the highly anticipated day came when we finally left the comfort of our 1.5 weeks’ stay at Chalet Restigouche and dove into the wilderness of Mount Carleton, N.B.

From the start, I could already feel some of the biggest challenges of our trip:

Snowshoes added extra weights to our feet and widened our gaits and with loaded pulks at our hips. “A walk in the park” has just gotten much more difficult. It also did not help that the weather decided to greet us with a -30C, so while sleeping cold, getting up to use the outhouse, then tripping over someone’s feet and grabbing onto the tent’s frigid center pole was absolutely miserable.

The lows then struck us periodically when moving days were unexpectedly long, everything was perpetually wet, and extremities were diurnally cold. However, through these difficult times, we learned many invaluable winter survival skills.

At the intertidal zones, we were slammed with various levels of challenges such as struggling with frozen peanut butter and jam bagels, crossing Nictau Lake with pulks while being blasted by arctic wind, hiking up Mount Sagamook only to sink in the snow even with hiking poles and slide backwards 3/4 step for every step forward.

Crossing Nictau Lake with pulks. Photo by Andrew Stokes-Rees.
Crossing Nictau Lake with pulks. Photo by Andrew Stokes-Rees.

Finally, the highs welcomed us with exhilarating feelings as we summited three mountains and rewarded us with gorgeous panoramic views of Carleton Park from different angles.

Like waves, every one of Wintertide came in different sizes, personality, and expertise.

Like tides, Wintertide would not have been complete and be able to survive this harsh winter expedition without each individual wave.

Like tidal cycles, every high and low was indispensable to our overall experience:

The highs were our dopamine at the end of our hardships, whilst the lows and the intertidal shaped us to become more resilient and grow closer as we become interdependent on each other to survive the ordeal.

It never failed to amaze me that everyone soon fell into roles of their strengths and many would work outside their duty roster and take initiative in doing whatever needs to be done, whether it was cooking, hydro, or simply delivering water and food to those in need. Even I, the self-proclaimed weakest person (physically) in the group, soon found important jobs as the navigator, route planning, and trip recorder.

Gorgeous night sky from Armstrong Basecamp. Photo by Samuel Hoffe.
Gorgeous night sky from Armstrong Basecamp. Photo by Samuel Hoffe.

Having survived this severe winter expedition, I am confident that Wintertide will be a tidal wave in all our future endeavours.

Learn more about the Canadian Conservation Corps.

Doing the Carlton

Harry Townson-Doucette is a participant in Group 7 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

I didn’t know what to expect going in to Stage One of the Canadian Conservation Corps (CCC) but I knew I wanted to experience new things.

I thought my life was in a rut but life brought me the CCC.

I saw an ad on Instagram with someone from Stage Two tagging or measuring a snapping turtle. I thought that was super cool and something I’d enjoy doing if I had the opportunity.

When we got the email of dates and flights, I packed my gear. I got on a plane to Thunder Bay, then to Toronto and then to Fredericton, N.B. to meet up with the rest of our group at the airport.  First, we went to the store for our food for two weeks then we were off to Kedgwick / Restigouche. We got to know each other while learning first aid training and team building. We met the Outward Bound team and learned about navigation, wilderness, snowshoes, and rescues.

We started off with a short hike to Armstrong base camp in Carlton Park spending the next two days figuring out how to sleep in the cold tent.

I had never seen a mountain living in Manitoba and now I’ve summited three in New Brunswick.

There were some valuable skills we learned with Outward Bound: knots, freeze dried food preparation, taking initiative in camp, food and water preparation. We did a day of ice fishing in Carlton park and I caught my first salmon there.

When we returned to Restigouche we took leadership and education training.

Learn more about the Canadian Conservation Corps.

CWF Testifies to Government Recommending Three Amendments to Fisheries Act

This week, CWF’s CEO Rick Bates testified to the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for better protection for fish habitat.

He recommended three related amendments that build on existing provisions in Bill C-68. Here they are:

Rick Bates, Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Wildlife Federation speaking to the Standing Committee about the Fisheries Act

Good evening, senators, staff and guests. Our organization, the Canadian Wildlife Federation, is known and respected for providing a balanced voice on environment and wildlife conservation issues.

Minister Wilkinson indicated that the government is open to amendments, particularly where they provide improved certainty for proponents and better protection for fish habitat.

We are recommending three closely related amendments that build on existing provisions in the bill. They strengthen certainty for industry and improve fish habitat across Canada. Our amendments focus specifically on the mechanisms within the Fisheries Act for offsetting harm to fish habitat. These three amendments are:

First, we propose expanding the ability to create habitat banks to more than just project proponents; in other words, allow any organization to create a habitat bank and then sell the credits to the project proponent.

Second, complement this by allowing the payment of a fee in lieu of doing an offset for certain projects and dedicate all revenues collected to aquatic habitat restoration. The Environmental Damages Fund already exists and could be used for this purpose.

Third, clarify in law that fish habitat destruction authorized under the Fisheries Act can be offset by the proponent creating the offset themselves, buying the offset from a habitat bank, making a payment in lieu or a combination of these three.

I want to clarify that Bill C-68 includes new provisions for habitat banking. However, as currently written, the bill limits the opportunity to create a habitat bank exclusively to project proponents. In other words, if you plan to build a road over a series of rivers, only you as the developer can create new habitat as a bank to offset the habitat you may destroy in the future. DFO will then award you credits for that restored habitat, which you hold in your bank until you can use those credits to offset any damage from the roads you build.

The main problems with this are that it requires the developer to invest a lot of money up front to create the bank of habitat credits. But these developers are not in the business of habitat banking, so they are unlikely to want to tie up capital in habitat restoration. This means that the actual creation of habitat banks will be very limited.

Offsets must last a very long time, essentially in perpetuity. This means that the developer will need to monitor and maintain that offset over its lifespan, which diverts their focus from their core business.

These ideas are not new. Habitat banking has existed in the U.S.A. since the 1980s, in Germany since 2002 and in Australia since 2008. Our proposed changes will have many positive impacts, including, for proponents, they increase certainty for projects, as developers could purchase an offset credit that has already been approved by DFO or pay a fee. This eliminates questions of whether their offset will meet DFO’s requirements. Plus, they gain the certainty of knowing their costs up front.

This will also get faster project approval because developers won’t need to spend time and money to design, develop and wait for approval from DFO. They simply buy an offset.

For local economies, establishment of a new sector, habitat banking companies. These could be operated by private companies, Indigenous people or non-government organizations. It will also help limit the growing bill that taxpayers will eventually have to pay to restore aquatic habitat.

For our lakes, rivers and coasts, habitat banking can pool offsets from multiple projects to allow for larger-scale habitat restoration and greater gains for fish production. Fees paid in lieu of doing an offset would be earmarked specifically for habitat restoration.

We see the many benefits of these amendments as easy to capture, as we believe the administrative impact on DFO is very manageable. The concept of habitat banking is already in the bill, so implementing third party habitat banking would be incremental to work DFO already needs to carry out.

DFO already has to monitor offsets created under the act and to enforce authorization conditions. It may actually take fewer DFO staff to monitor a few larger habitat banking projects than to monitor many individual offsets.

In closing, I’d like to thank you for your work here today and for your work on this important bill.

On Point

A few barbed comments about the amazing porcupine and what we might learn from studying its quills

Surely, when the choice of our national animal was made, the beaver just edged out the porcupine. Yes, the fur trade was built on beavers, and yes, they are a huge environmental asset, and yes, neither can be said of porcupines. But the porcupine has one of the most technologically advanced defence systems in the natural world, and that should have counted for something.

porcupine crossing road © Donna Dolby

Porcupines are the world’s third largest rodent, after the beaver and the capybara. There are species scattered around the world, but the several sub-species in North America are unique because they have barbed quills. Thirty thousand of them. You’d think the barbs would make them very hard to pull out — and you’d be right: as you tug on a quill to remove it from you (or your dog!), the barbs, which are usually flat against the shaft of the quill, open up and spread out horizontally into the flesh, a little like opening an umbrella. The harder you pull, the more they spread out, in effect making the quill thicker and wider than the puncture hole it made in the first place.

Although the impact of a muzzle-full of quills is the point, the quills don’t stop there. Once embedded in the skin or muscle of an attacker, they continue to penetrate and have been found in just about any organ of any porcupine predator: stomach wall, liver, lungs and kidneys. Such quills sound like the perfect defence mechanism, but it’s the details that fascinate.

For one thing, how does the porcupine disengage from an enemy it has just plastered with quills if the barbs’ structure makes quills difficult to extract? After all, the quills are attached to the porcupine too. It’s a serious issue, because if enough quills are embedded in an enemy, the force required to pull away from them may exceed the weight of the porcupine. But evolution, having undoubtedly sacrificed many porcupines in the course of working this out, has the solution. When the animal smacks its target, the initial impact actually drives the quills back deeper into the porcupine, breaking the links in which the quill is seated. Then separation is easy.

A PORCUPINE QUILL PENETRATES HUMAN
SKIN BETTER THAN A HYPODERMIC NEEDLE
AND IT WILL CAUSE LESS TISSUE DAMAGE…
AT LEAST UNTIL YOU TRY TO PULL IT OUT

What’s more surprising is that the barbs on the quill also make it easier to penetrate the flesh of an animal. This seems odd, because as the quill enters, the barbs should be squeezed against the shaft of the quill. It isn’t obvious why that should aid penetration, but the experimental data are unambiguous. A team led by Jeffrey Karp at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology compared the performance of porcupine quills with hypodermic needles, quills with the barbs sanded off, quills from the African porcupine (whose quills have no barbs) and even artificial quills fashioned from polyurethane. Careful measurements of the penetration force needed for all these showed conclusively that barbed quills penetrate most easily, even better than a standard 18-gauge hypodermic needle. Related to that ease is the fact that the barbed quills cause less tissue damage on entering.

The secret seems to be how the stress of entering flesh is distributed. The team argues that because stress is concentrated around the barbs, the necessity of ripping open an entire circle of flesh is unnecessary, just like a serrated knife edge cuts more easily than a smooth edge. The results are obvious in photomicrographs of cut surfaces: barbed quills cut much more smoothly with less tearing of flesh.

Porcupine

Karp’s team have biomimicry on their minds: they’re working on an improved hypodermic needle that would have the ease of penetration of the barbed quill (without the difficulty of withdrawing it). They’re also thinking of a “biomimetic patch,” something to remain in place over tissues as they heal. In this case, both attributes of barbed quills would be important, especially the resistance to detachment.

At the same time, there are biological questions, like why does the North American porcupine have barbed quills while its African cousin doesn’t? The main predators of the African porcupine are formidable enough, including lions, hyenas and large birds of prey. Is there something different or more intense about the predatory pressure on our local porkies that would encourage barbed quills? In fact, although they seem like they should be more effective than barbless quills, there are several efficient porcupine killers in North America, especially the fisher. Barbed quills are a sophisticated deterrent, but not quite perfect.

Reprinted from Canadian Wildlife magazine. Get more information or subscribe now! Now on newsstands! Or, get your digital edition today