Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wildlife CSI

The last Nature Quest Workshop of the summer was put on today by John van Geene, Conservation Officer (C.O.) for the Ministry of Natural Resources. He spoke to the group about his job and the world of wildlife forensics. There were lots of skulls, pelts, and antlers on display and we spent some time outside in mock situations of examples of what John encounters when he is out in the field.
{John, in uniform with duty belt and the equipment he uses on the table behind him}

The job of a Conservation Officer is a tricky one. It involves the art of interacting with people and educating about why the laws are in place and how they are designed to help the natural world. It also means upholding the fisheries, hunting and land use laws on crown land and encouraging people to comply with these laws. The job of a conservation officers is mostly reactionary to tips called in by the public (1-877-TIPS-MNR). Officers also patrol throughout Parry Sound Muskoka district during moose and deer hunting seasons.
{moose skulls, antlers, and jawbones- the teeth are huge!}

For example, if a hunter has a tag to kill a cow moose, but instead kills a bull and is caught by a C.O. they could be fined and will most likely have the animal confiscated (the meat is donated to food banks). At the workshop, John explained that moose tags are issued based on a lot of research done on the moose population of Muskoka each year. There are different wildlife management areas in the province and the number of tags for bulls and cows depends on how strong the population is each year. John told us that populations can be threatened if hunters shoot more than they are allowed or not according to their tag. These laws exist to keep the populations stabilized. John reminded the group that humans are part of the natural world and the importance of balancing what we take and how our actions affect other animals and the ecosystem as a whole.
{a demonstration outside of a hunter who has a tag to kill a cow but killed a bull instead}

{John demonstrates the use of a live trap for raccoons as two workshop participants look on attentively- and test the trap!}

There is lots of fancy equipment that Conservation Officers use when they are out in the field and when collecting evidence to build a case against someone with an infraction. John had it on display for us. It includes:
  • a duty belt (pistol, handcuffs, baton, etc.)
  • walkie talkies
  • binoculars
  • spotting scope
  • whistle
  • compass, map & GPS
  • satellite phone
  • camera
  • truck
  • ATV
{John's truck with the ATV in the back. He even turned the lights on for us!}
Some of the most common infractions are:
  • not having a licence (fishing or hunting)
  • work on a shoreline that does not have a permit but requires one
  • commercial sale of animal parts (e.g. bear paws & gall bladders)
  • taking more than the allowable amounts (fish, wildlife)
  • hunting or fishing for species that are not in season
  • boating safety
John sees himself as an educator- of existing laws and their role in keeping a balanced natural environment. Adhering to these laws ensure that we are able to continue hunt, fish, and interact with the natural world. It is our responsibility to know the rules before heading out.

{wolf skulls and pelt}

{a beaver pelt, skull, and jaw bone}

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Managing Your Woodlot for Wildlife

This week at the Nature Quest Stewardship Series workshop Jan McDonnell, biologist at the Ministry of Natural Resources, spoke to the group about considering wildlife when managing your woodlot. Whether you have several acres or a few trees in your yard, there are some things to think about so that we keep habitat and food for mammals, birds, amphibians, and insects. Mike Walsh then guided us on a walk at the Bracebridge Resource Management Centre where we got to see some examples of what we talked about with Jan. It was a fantastic afternoon!
Mast Trees
Oak, beech, cherry, basswood, hickory, butternut and walnut trees all produce fruit that animals feed on. Acorns are some of the highest in nutritional value and are eaten by many animals. Trees that produce fruit also tend to be genetically superior so it's good to keep them on your property to provide the seed for new trees. In Muskoka, black bears eat beech nuts to gain weight for winter. Bears will climb beech trees to eat the nuts. It's easy to tell if a bear has been climbing a beech tree because the bear leaves claw marks on the smooth bark like in the picture below. Bears won't climb just any beech tree though- they actually don't feel safe up there. Somehow they know which have the best nuts and go for those ones.

Snags are dead trees that are still standing. They provide nesting, food, hunting and resting places for many wildlife species. They are often full of cavities (see last week's post) created by pileated woodpeckers. While these woodpeckers create and use these cavities, they leave after using it once to create another. Other animals like wood ducks, chickadees, tree swallows, and owls then use the cavities. Often snags have other holes from where the canopy of the tree has fallen to the forest floor.

Downed Woody Debris

Speaking of the forest floor, the area surrounding snags often has fallen branches. This material is called downed woody debris and it also has considerations for habitat and overall forest health. When this wood rots, it provides nutrients that help replenish the soils of the forest and help regeneration. Resist the urge to "tidy up" the forest by removing this valuable part of the ecosystem. Wildlife also keys in on these fallen logs. Winter wrens, mice, chipmunks and other small mammals find little nooks to hide in. The invertebrate life on a fallen log is truly amazing- centipedes, mites, and ants scurrying about, beetle larvae gradually chomping the tough wood and microscopic organisms taking the wood down to its basic components. Fungi and mosses thrive here too! Not only is this valuable habitat, it is a food source for larger animals.

Woodland/Vernal Pools

Woodland pools (also known as vernal pools) are seasonally wet areas in the forest. They are usually low-lying and shaded under the canopy. Some stay wet year round and others dry up around mid-summer. They are often filled by the spring run-off. Woodland pools are fragile ecosystems that provide breeding ground for many amphibians as they begin their lives. Since they are void of fish, they are safe places for these species. For example, in Muskoka, the spring peepers we hear as one of the first signs of spring beginning their lives in woodland pools. Want to learn more? Go to the Ontario Vernal Pool Association.

As landowners, it is our job to works towards a better understanding of the different species that use our property. Looking to the trees in our yards and woodlots can provide lots of hints! It's easy to maintain habitat for wildlife, doesn't usually cost any money, and enhances the health of the forest and overall ecosystem.
What kinds of habitat are in your woodlot??

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hike Up Your Tree I.D. IQ

How is your tree I.D?

I brushed up on my tree I.D. yesterday as I attended the first Nature Quest workshop of the summer, along with a few of the Master Stewards. The workshop was hosted by Mike Walsh, Tree Marker Instructor and retired Stewardship Coordinator for the Parry Sound Muskoka Stewardship Network.

Together, the group walked through the unmanaged forest of Arrowhead Provincial Park examining the trees for species, defects, potential growing stock, cavities and mast. We examined 25 trees in total; each tree giving us different insight into its value in a managed forest situation.

My favourite are the trees that are ideal cavity trees. Cavities are little nooks or holes where an animal has dug or burrowed into a tree. Cavities are used as habitat or places to escape bad weather or predators. Cavity trees have a high wildlife value and tree markers recommend leaving 6 cavity trees per hectare in your forest where the tree is at least 25 cm DBH (Diametre Breast Height).

The best kind of cavity tree is called C1. These trees are at least 25 cm DBH and have one of the following:

  • Pileated woodpecker nest cavities
  • Pileated woodpecker roost cavities
  • Swift roost cavities
  • Other woodpecker nest cavities
  • Natural nest or den cavities

The next best, or a fair cavity tree, also is at least 25 cm DBH and has one of the following:

  • Escape cavities
  • Feeding cavities on the bole or major branches

We also learnt about common tree diseases in Ontario like black bark, punk knots, spine tooth fungus, frost cracks, and sugar maple borer. Some trees are able to heal themselves from the diseases and can still be valuable to a forest. Other diseases have air borne spores and can infect neighbouring trees so it is best to cut them down.

I have lots of information and pictures about tree defects and forest management at the office. Of course, the Resources section of the blog is also a good place to start. Contact me or check it out!

Learn more about cavities on the Ontario Woodlot Association website.

Didn't make it out yesterday? There are more workshops in the series! Check out the blog posting from June 23rd called "Nature Quest Stewardship Series" for more information.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Are you Well Aware?

The Muskoka Heritage Foundation is once again offering Guided Self Assessments for rural well and septic owners!

The Well Aware program offers well owners the opportunity to discuss issues and solutions specific to their property and understand when they need to call a licenced contractor. As a responsible well owner you need to carry out a regular program of well maintenance. A few simple changes can have a huge impact on your water quality. Your family's health depends on the quality of your well water.

After the visit, you will be mailed a complete report containing all observations and recommendations for your well and property. The purpose of Well Aware is to educate- the provide you, the well owner, with the knowledge you need to care for and maintain your water supply.

Well Aware Home Visits are:
  • Voluntary
  • Confidential
  • Non-regulatory
  • Conducted by a trained water guide
Guided Self Assessments include:
  • A 1.5 hour guided assessment around your property with a qualified water guide
  • Recommendations on well maintenance and upgrading
  • An opportunity to ask any questions you have about your well or septic
  • Free "Well Aware" kit and publications
  • Septic safety information and tips to avoid costly repair bills
  • Correct water sampling technique

Are you Well Aware??

Call the Muskoka Heritage Foundation at 705-645-7393 to book a visit!