Wild at Heart: ALUS Norfolk participants Kathryn and Michael Boothby are on a mission to create wildlife habitat

ALUS Norfolk helped the Boothbys create a native prairie grass buffer zone between a ravine and an agricultural field. Photo: the Boothbys.

ALUS Norfolk is a non-profit organization that works with farmers on their marginal lands to produce ecosystem services that benefit the farm and society as a whole. ALUS Norfolk participants Kathryn and Michael Boothby have incorporated wildlife corridors, erosion controls, pollinator habitat, wildlife nesting structures, and other conservation features on their cash-crop operation located within Ontario’s Priority Place – Long Point Walsingham Forest. Part of the Priority Place funding provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada – Canadian Wildlife Service allows ALUS Norfolk to support restoration and management of natural ecosystems, such as those on the Boothby’s farm.

One of the Boothby’s ALUS projects consists of a dug-out wetland, which they now maintain as habitat for numerous amphibian and reptile species, as well as birds. Photo: the Boothbys.

Since joining in 2012, the Boothbys have enrolled over eight of their 51-acres into the ALUS Norfolk program. Their projects produce ecosystem services such as cleaner air, cleaner water and greater biodiversity that benefit the entire community.

“Being involved with ALUS means being part of a like-minded community. You are able to learn from others, and share experiences and challenges,” says Kathryn.

One of the Boothbys ALUS projects is a dug-out wetland for amphibians, reptiles, and birds. Another – a prairie grass buffer between a ravine and agricultural field – helps mitigate erosion, reduces sediments and nutrients entering the waterway, and provides habitat for pollinators and grassland birds.

To help declining aerial insectivores, ALUS helped install two dozen nesting boxes for Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows. The Boothby’s added Purple Martin housing which now supports 54 breeding pairs.

A tree swallow perches on one of two dozen nesting boxes installed through ALUS at Fairnorth Farm, one of many different types of wildlife habitat structures maintained by ALUS Norfolk participants Kathryn and Michael Boothby. Photo: the Boothbys.

Even before joining ALUS, the Boothbys worked hard to transform their property into land that also works for wildlife. Kathryn has participated on the boards of several local conservation groups. Indeed, many of their ALUS projects began with assistance from other organizations, such as Long Point Region Conservation Authority, Ontario Power Generation, Norfolk Stewardship Council, Long Point Basin Land Trust, and Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association. Additional projects have been supported by Carolinian Canada, Nature Canada, Ducks Unlimited Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

To date over 8,000 trees have been planted. Hundreds of shrubs and wildflowers have been added, and snake nesting structures and brush and rock piles have been created and are used by at-risk reptiles and other species.

Kathryn and Michael Boothby are on a mission to create wildlife habitat on their land that benefits the natural world and ALUS Norfolk is very happy to help.

To learn more about ALUS Norfolk, contact Steph Giles, Program Coordinator at (519) 420-8127.

Municipal drain maintenance to help preserve habitat

Municipal drains are a fixture of rural Ontario’s landscape and a vital element of Norfolk County infrastructure. In Norfolk County alone there are approximately 1,000 kilometers of municipal drains, servicing over 60,000 hectares of land and 24,000 residents.

Most municipal drains are constructed to improve agricultural productivity, increase drainage in specific areas, and provide a stormwater management system. By safely transporting surface and subsurface runoff from rainfall events, they also prevent flooding and reduce public health risks. All municipal drains eventually connect with rivers, streams, and lakes, which are important habitat for many endangered or protected species.

Norfolk County Drainage Services has been collaborating with the Agricultural Runoff Working Group to help maintain and restore biodiversity within the Long Point Walsingham Forest Priority Place.

The department is achieving this goal by modifying drainage practices to remove vegetation on only one side where practical during routine maintenance.  Part of the funding provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada – Canadian Wildlife Service is then used to restore and enhance drain corridors after the vegetation removal occurs.

Managed vegetation removal along drain corridors helps to maintain flow and access, and identify issues such as blockages or erosion. By minimizing the amount of vegetation removed and enhancing buffers in these areas erosion, sedimentation, and agricultural runoff are reduced.  This approach improves bank stability and reduces the demand for drain maintenance. It also allows for more habitat to remain intact, maintaining cover, shade, and food for fish and other species.

In recent years agencies that regulate drainage works have included additional requirements to mitigate or offset any environmental impacts. This partnership allows for some of these requirements to be fulfilled while mitigating costs that would have otherwise been assumed by stakeholders on the drainage systems.

Through this partnership, Norfolk County Drainage Services has preserved over 10 km of drain corridors and restored 20 km of maintained drain corridors across Norfolk County.

For more information or to learn about establishing buffers along the municipal drain on your property, contact Morgan Van Laeken, Drainage Program Coordinator at 519 426 5870 ext. 1118.

Six generations of the Boyd family value farming as a way of life

The Boyd’s farm has been in the family since 1865, so they are familiar with the joys and challenges of farming.

Brian Boyd’s wetland being dug. After the wetland was created, the soils were seeded with a mix of native plant and tree species. Photo: ALUS Norfolk.

Brian Boyd and his son Greg are happy to collaborate with organizations such as ALUS Norfolk and Long Point Region Conservation Authority (LPRCA) to carry out land stewardship.

Brian worked with these organizations to create a wetland on the farm which was then seeded with native grasses, wildflowers, trees, and shrubs to help prevent soil loss and mitigate nutrient runoff into Lake Erie.

“I feel ALUS is well suited for my farms. The wetlands and tree planting projects make good sense on land that can’t support grain production,” says Brian. “[ALUS Norfolk] understands the importance of achieving a balance between agriculture and conservation”.

Brian’s son Greg is the sixth generation to farm on the Boyd farm, and he has also incorporated ALUS projects at his own farm. Greg is the owner of Heritage Lane Produce and can be found at numerous farmer’s markets within Norfolk and Oxford County. With the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, Greg was able to transition to customers picking up produce on a weekly basis.

Brian Boyd with his son Greg and grand kids. Greg is the sixth generation to farm on the Boyd farm and is also the owner of Heritage Lane Produce. Photo: ALUS Norfolk.

Greg has adapted to no-till planting to mitigate soil degradation caused by tillage and has widened grassed waterways to stabilize runoff.

“No-till farming combined with the waterways ability to filter water runoff means that the water entering the drainage network is now clear and free from sediment,” says Greg.

ALUS Norfolk and LPRCA are proud collaborators in the Priority Place Agriculture Runoff working group along with other organizations such as Norfolk County Drainage Services, the Canadian Wildlife Service and Carolinian Canada.

Another objective is planting cover crops on farms within the Priority Place.

“Cover crops provide lots of benefits”, according to Paul Gagnon, Lands & Waters Supervisor from LPRCA. “They can help limit the amount of erosion that occurs within a given year. They build soil health and minimize weed pressure, ultimately reducing input costs.”

Even better, there is financial incentive to sign up. If you are interested in learning more about the cover crop program or to see if you are eligible, please contact Paul Gagnon, Lands & Waters Supervisor with LPRCA at (519) 842-4242 ext. 232.

Prescribed burns a gateway for bringing butterfly species back to Norfolk

The Mottled Duskywing butterfly (Erynnis martialis), an endangered species afforded protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), hasn’t been spotted in and around Backus Woods and St. Williams Forestry Reserve in Norfolk County since the late 1980s.

The endangered Mottled Duskywing butterfly. Photo: Jessica Linton

Like many butterflies, the Mottled Duskywing is selective about where it lives and what it eats. It relies on New Jersey Tea, a deciduous shrub, as its host plant. Their habitat in Ontario consists of rare and globally important habitats, such as tall grass prairie and oak savanna. Tallgrass prairie is first and foremost a grassland with minimal tree cover. Oak savannas are a grassland that is lightly forested, predominantly with oak trees. Both are dynamic environments with extremely high biodiversity and ecological benefits, however only about 3% of the historical coverage of tallgrass communities remains in Ontario.

These ecosystems benefit from low intensity fires, which rejuvenate the landscape by restoring nutrients to the soil and clearing away non-native and woody plants encroaching in these ecosystems. This is why prescribed fire is a common management tool done safely by licences professionals in tallgrass prairie habitats.

Due to the loss of this habitat over time in part through fire suppression, species such as the Mottled Duskywing have experienced reductions in populations.

The Open Country Working Group is working with the Ontario Butterfly Species at Risk Recovery Team. This Team is comprised of members from government departments, parks and conservation authorities, conservation organizations, academic institutions, relevant private organizations, as well as expert entomologists and restoration practitioners who are working across the province on the recovery of the Mottled Duskywing butterfly and restoration of the oak savanna and woodland habitats the Mottled Duskywing relies on.

New Jersey Tea is important for pollinators, is a nitrogen-fixer, and is the main food plant for the Mottled Duskywing butterfly. Photo: Mary Gartshore

In the LPWF, members of the Team are working with the Open Country Working Group to restore and enhance tallgrass prairie habitat on NCC lands identified as great candidate sites for reintroduction of the Mottled Duskywing. The Open Country Working Group, with funding from Canadian Wildlife Service, is actioning several stewardship activities include prescribed burns, conifer plantation management, removal of invasive species, and planting native wildflowers that provide a food source for pollinators. An emphasis has been placed on seeding of New Jersey Tea to support the Mottled Duskywing, although the stewardship activities on these sites within the Priority Place will support many other Species at Risk as well, including other arthropods, migratory birds, snakes, and more.

This project site is considered a significant and exciting part of a larger Mottled Duskywing recovery initiative because it involves creating habitat where it formerly existed, providing opportunities for future recovery activities.

The Recovery Team is planning its first reintroduction of the Mottled Duskywing to Pinery Provincial Park in 2021. This will be the first reintroduction of an endangered butterfly species in Ontario and paves the way for similar recovery activities in Norfolk County in the future.

Not only is this project setting the stage to bring back a species that was previously lost here, but it is also restoring and enhancing globally important ecosystems.

Long Point Basin Land Trust Is Restoring Oak Savannas

In Ontario, oak savannas occur in scattered locations, often as tiny remnants. Most savannas in Ontario have been converted to conifer plantations or other uses.

Long Point Basin Land Trust (LPBLT) was created 25 years ago with the goal to protect nature and biodiversity, which it does through land purchases and donations. To date, LPBLT has acquired ten properties, three of which historically supported dry oak savannas and are currently being restored or enhanced using ECCC funding through the Open Country Working Group.

One property is the 50-acre Stead Family Scientific Reserve, which was formerly 50% in marginal tobacco production and 50% Black Oak Woodland. Ken Stead purchased it to create an oak savanna insect reserve in memory of his father. In 1994, with the help of volunteers from the Norfolk Field Naturalists and funding from Carolinian Canada and TreePlan Canada, locally collected seeds, seedlings, and roots from the woodland edges were planted in the fields. Now, 27 years later, the planted area is a functional Black Oak Savanna with much of the expected native plants and animals returning, and even some surprises worth noting. Bait stations have revealed two new moth species for Canada, the Shivering Pinion (Lithophane querquera) and Roadside Sallow (Metaxaglaea viatica), and the rare Thaxter’s Sallow (Psaphida thaxterianus). These discoveries show that Kevin Costner’s quote in the movie Field of Dreams: “if you build it, they will come,” can also be applied to ecological restoration. Work continues on the property to remove the invasive exotic Autumn Olive and Eurasian cool-season grasses. In 2018, Ken Stead generously donated this wonderful place to LPBLT as a scientific reserve in honour of his family.

Local volunteers begin planting acorns in April 1995 at Stead Family Scientific Reserve. Photo: Mary Gartshore.

Another oak savanna reserve managed by the LPBLT, Spring Arbour farm, was partially cleared and replanted. Approximately half the property of Spring Arbour farm is open old fields with some regeneration of prairie grasses, Black Oak, American Hazel, Winged Sumac and Shagbark Hickory. Invasive exotic trees and shrubs are being removed and the non-native, cool-season grasses controlled. Once this is complete, new seed will enhance the site. Even now it is a great place to bird watch and there are nice views of the ravines and floodplain below along Venison Creek.

The third oak savanna newly acquired by the LPBLT is a 193-acre Trout Creek Nature Reserve northeast of Pinegrove. It has been used for commercial conifer plantations and forestry in the past. It is mostly overgrown Black – Hill’s Oak savanna. This property is adjacent to Norfolk County forests and together they are large enough to protect many significant species. In recent years, we have noted singing Whip-poor-wills and Hoary Bats, Ontario’s largest bat. In the openings, understory and edges are remnant populations of oak savanna plants ready to reclaim their place. Trout Creek Nature Reserve has a lot of regenerating Red Maple and White Pine that compete seriously with oak savanna habitats. These stands will be thinned so oaks, New Jersey Tea, Rock Rose, Arrow-leaved Violet and many other oak savanna species can flourish.

Protecting forest birds at risk in the Priority Place

The Ontario Forest Birds at Risk program at Birds Canada is very pleased to be a part of Environment and Climate Change Canada’s initiative to increase forest cover and connectivity within the Long Point Walsingham Forest (LPWF) Priority Place.

Birds Canada is a non-profit charitable organization with the mission to conserve wild birds through sound science, on-the-ground actions, innovative partnerships, public engagement, and science-based advocacy. The Ontario Forest Birds at Risk program has been operating at Birds Canada since 2011 and completes extensive bird surveys throughout southwestern Ontario as well as in the Frontenac region of eastern Ontario.

An endangered Prothonotary Warbler. Photo: Sue Drotos.

Ontario Forest Birds at Risk goals in the LPWF Priority Place are to improve the conservation status of four rapidly declining forest birds in southwestern Ontario’s forests: Acadian Flycatcher (Endangered), Louisiana Waterthrush (Threatened), Cerulean Warbler (Endangered), and Prothonotary Warbler (Endangered). Project results are intended to direct conservation and stewardship efforts over the short and long term.

Ontario Forest Birds at Risk’s primary project objectives are to:

  • Determine and monitor the location of the four target species at risk in the LPWF Priority Place
  • Search for and monitor nests to determine their outcome for three target species at risk in the LPWF Priority Place;
  • Identify forest health risks to the target species at risk in the LPWF Priority Place
  • Increase key audiences’ awareness and understanding of the target species at risk and conservation needs, and to engage landowners and managers in stewardship for species at risk
  • Increase our understanding of Cerulean Warbler habitat preferences in Ontario

The surveys completed by the Ontario Forest Birds at Risk program help landowners and managers make important conservation decisions to protect species at risk populations and habitat. Keeping an eye on these populations also helps track the health of our old-growth forests. All four rapidly declining birds are an indicator for old-growth forests in southwestern Ontario, meaning that seeing these birds indicates that a forest is healthy, diverse, and capable of withstanding some forest health risks such as invasive species.

In addition to bird surveys, The Ontario Forest Birds at Risk program takes advantage of their time in the forest to identify destructive invasive species such as Gypsy Moths and Emerald Ash Borer, and provide information to land owners and managers in taking action against them. These invasive species are devastating our forests throughout southern Ontario. Potential invasive species, such as Oak Wilt and Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, are also surveyed for. These tree diseases are currently ravaging oak and hemlock trees in northeastern North America. If these diseases spread, this would directly affect the Acadian Flycatchers and the Louisiana Waterthrushes that depend on hemlock for nesting and forest cover, as well as the Cerulean Warblers which nest in and around oak trees.

An endangered Cerulean Warbler. Photo: Trish Snider.

“Over the past decade of completing bird surveys, we’ve seen year after year that private landowners have been the most important contributor to the success of species at risk protection,” says Ian Fife of Birds Canada. “Of all four high priority species the Ontario Forest Birds at Risk program has detected, approximately 25% of the species at risk are found in private landowner woodlots and forests.”

The Ontario Forest Birds at Risk program completes surveys at no charge, and welcomes any person who wishes to have their woodlot surveyed or who would like to find out more about the Forest Birds at Risk program to contact Ian Fife at ifife@birdscanada.org

Managing invasive species in forested areas

Norfolk County stands out among other southern Ontario regions both in the amount of wooded area and the diversity that comes with being located in the Carolinian forest region. The climate of this region allows the growth of varied and rare species. In fact, there are more rare or threatened species here than in any other Canadian biozone.

Invasive species threaten this important diversity. Most invasive plant species occur because they are introduced as an ornamental plant which then spreads through the natural landscape, overtaking native plants and replacing natural forest diversity with a monoculture, or a single non-native species.

This results in a loss of overall native biodiversity, leading to an increased number of species at risk or a complete loss of important insect and plant life. This is why targeting invasive species in wooded areas is a top priority for the Forests and Treed Swamps Working Group.

“While we strive to maintain the natural and native landscape of Norfolk County, invasive species continue to expand throughout the region. Our goal is to reduce as many invasive species as possible,” says Ian Fife, chair of the Forests and Treed Swamps Working Group. “This initiative will be used to target woody stemmed invasive species such as European Buckthorn, Autumn Olive, and Multi-flora Rose to name a few.”

Using a portion of the funding received from Environment and Climate Change Canada – Canadian Wildlife Service, the Working Group has conducted surveys to locate invasive species and determine the extent of the invasive species risk. The group has shared the results of these surveys with land managers, giving detailed locations of invasive species in their woodlots. This information will be used to prioritize problem areas where management activities will be conducted using direct application of an herbicide which will not affect other plants. By reducing woody invasive species, the Working Group is helping to restore and maintain the important biodiversity of wooded areas in the Priority Place.

Tree planting to increase forest cover and diversity

Forest ecosystems face pressures from many natural and human stressors, such as invasive species, agricultural production, and climate change. These pressures result in reduced native diversity and fragmented forests, which restrict the movement of plants and animals, and degraded ecosystems that are less suitable for biodiversity.

Trees and forests are one of the most vital responses we have to address climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the form of wood and vegetation, a process termed “carbon sequestration.”

A priority for the Forests and Treed Swamps Working Group is engage in actions to increase forest health within the Priority Place. A portion of the funding provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada – Canadian Wildlife Service will be used by this collaborative group to plant trees to increase forest cover and improve habitat.

An interior forest wetland in the LPWF Priority Place. Photo: Brian Craig.

One goal of the tree planting is to increase forest connectivity. Landscape connectivity broadly refers to the degree to which the landscape facilitates or impedes movement among resource patches. By identifying areas of low forest connectivity, the Working Group can plant native tree species to enhance connectivity and allow increased and easier movement of organisms between forested areas. This is an important factor for maintaining biodiversity.

Planting native tree species is also useful for increasing interior forest cover forest diversity. Interior forests provide unique habitat favored by many important plants and animals since it is more secluded and less vulnerable than forest edges which are close to developed or agricultural land. By increasing forest cover and native tree diversity in interior forest areas, the Forests and Treed Swamps Working Group can help increase biodiversity and improve the functioning of these important forest ecosystems.

The Long Point Walsingham Forest Priority Place is within the Long Point Biosphere boundaries

Situated in Norfolk County, Long Point and the surrounding watershed has the largest diversity of plants and animals in Canada and is a world-famous location for migrating birds and rare Carolinian forests. These and other ecological features led to the designation of the Long Point area as a Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1986.

Biosphere Reserves are globally important ecosystems that are internationally recognized by UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) program. Today, there are 701 World Biosphere Reserves spanning 124 countries, with 18 of these in Canada. While the Biosphere Reserve designation does not bring with it any new authorities over lands, water, or resources, its intent is to encourage local communities to combine conservation of biodiversity with sustainable community development.

In August 2017, a significant portion of the Long Point Biosphere Reserve was selected as a “Priority Place” for conservation of Species at Risk by the federal government. The designation as the Long Point Walsingham Forest (LPWF) brings with it funding from the federal government, in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, to support the conservation work being done locally by various groups and organizations.

The LPWF Priority Place includes the Long Point Biosphere’s significant areas: the core areas on Long Point and Backus woods; the buffer zone, which includes the Big Creek National Wildlife Area and the Turkey Point marshes; and the zone of cooperation in the southwestern portion of Norfolk County.

Having multiple designations in one area may seem confusing, especially given that Long Point itself holds even more recognitions as an internationally recognized Ramsar wetland site, an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, and more. Such recognitions are important avenues to receiving support and funding for conservation activities. More than that, they show broad recognition of the site as important in many ways and to many groups and people. Beyond these designations, Long Point and all of Norfolk County is important to the people who live here, have lived here, or visit here, and who appreciate the natural heritage this place has to offer.

Map of the Long Point Biosphere Reserve, showing the Area of Cooperation (black border), Buffer Zone (red), and the Core areas on Long Point and Backus Woods (orange).

Watch for wildlife on local roads this spring

Now that the first turtles are emerging from their winter naps, motorists should start watching for them crossing local roads. That’s the message of a postcard being mailed out this week to all households in Norfolk County by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) in support of its Long Point Walsingham Forest Priority Place (LPWF) conservation project.

The front of the postcard features a painting by Long Point artist Cindy Presant of a Species at Risk Blanding’s Turtle being carried across a road while a snake, frog and snapping turtle wait their turn. The image of the hands helping the turtle was inspired by a photo of Long Point turtle rescuer John Everett, taken by his wife, Jan.

“Local photographers and nature lovers have reported seeing turtles much earlier this year so we want to get the message out to watch for wildlife crossing roads to as many people in the community as possible”, said Mandy Karch of the Ontario Road Ecology Group (OREG). “Drivers should also be watching for snakes, and on the first warm rainy spring nights, frogs and salamanders crossing”. OREG is managing the working group addressing wildlife road mortality issues in the LPWF.

Drivers are encouraged to keep the postcard handy in their vehicles so they can refer to the following tips on safely helping wildlife seen on local roads:

  • Drive carefully in areas with wetlands and forests.
  • Stay safe. Check for on-coming traffic if you see an animal on the road. Never put yourself or other motorists in danger.
  • Let the animal cross on its own if it can do so safely.
  • If moving a turtle, take it in the direction it was headed.
  • Never pick a turtle up by the tail!
  • Don’t pick up adult Snapping Turtles unless you have experience. Use a car mat or stick to help it across.
  • Don’t take the animal somewhere new.

A handy car kit would include work gloves, a high visibility vest, hand sanitizer, pylons and a tote box.

The postcard also explains how to collect and record data on reptile and amphibian sightings on Norfolk County roads. Take a picture and report your sighting to the Wildlife on Roads in Ontario iNaturalist project. Your observations will help identify road mortality “hotspots” where action can be taken to mitigate these sites.

Reducing road mortality of local reptiles and amphibians is one of five priorities identified within the Long Point Walsingham Forest Priority Place. Other priorities include: eliminating invasive species such as Phragmites, restoring and protecting tallgrass prairie habitat, preserving forests and treed swamps, and working with local farmers on managing and maintaining marginal farmland for wildlife habitat.

For more information, please contact: Mandy Karch, ontarioroadecologygroup@gmail.com

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