The Ontario Road Ecology Group’s symposium on “A National Agenda for Canada” gathered close to 120 people from across Canada and from a range of backgrounds at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Convener Dave Ireland (managing director of the Centre for Biodiversity at the ROM) noted how what eventually led to OREG started ten years ago with conversations at the Toronto Zoo: Road-killed rattlesnakes at Georgian Bay! The Group officially formed in 2009. On the spot, Dave launched a 5m53s video on YouTube, “Highway to Help”:
The morning and afternoon were then devoted to three panels of four speakers each. Brief presentations followed a half dozen or more questions from the audience.
Concordia’s Jochen Jaeger provided an overview of what European countries are doing to protect wildlife in spite of its transportation network. His conclusions: 1- maintaining wildlife corridors is less costly than restoring them; 2- we need to care about the entire landscape; and 3- it is important to protect enough habitat.
Trevor Kinley, “the only road ecologist in Parks Canada,” illustrated various solutions executed in the seven Mountain Parks.
Jeremy Guth spoke of the work of ARC (Animal Road Crossings) – http://arc-solutions.org/ . “How can design save wildlife and wild places?”
Shawn Taylor, biologist at the local Dillon office, spoke of the mitigation measures taken at the Terry Fox Drive Extension — a project we would go visit in the afternoon of the following day. He noted that, because this was paid for in part by Stimulus money, there had been no time for before studies. Wildlife-related project costs were $1.62M out of a total project cost of $35M.
During question period, someone asked what drove the mitigation measures at the TFDE. Shawn’s response was that “it was the right thing to do” but audience member Nick Stow corrected that, saying it was the federal Environmental Assessment and the 2007 Endangered Species Act that made it happen.
That was the first panel!
Kari Gunson of Eco-Kare International was up first on a panel about current research. She was the only one during the whole symposium who mentioned plants and hydrology.
Jeff Bowman (MNRF) presented fascinating research to identify landscape connectivity, mapping the probability that wildlife will take a given route. (This is an alternative approach to Nick Stow’s Landscape Linkage Analysis that underlies the 2013 amendments to Schedules L of the Official Plan. Another difference: the City’s analysis drills it down to 15m2 cells; MNR’s goes no further than 100m2 cells.)
Cameron Smith and Mandy Karch (A-to-A project) discussed “Crossing the Barrier,” namely the 401 near 1000 Islands. They also noted that DNA analysis has confirmed the connectivity between Algonquin Park and the Adirondacks. Namrata Shrestha (Toronto & Region Conservation Authority) provided some information about tools Peel Region is using to assist decision making.
The final panel of the day dealt with public engagement. The various speakers focused on citizen science and how, for example, a drastic measure like road closures to protect the Jefferson Salamander managed to get all the ok’s and popular support.
After buffet dinner the keynote speech by Harvey Locke was, hands-down, the highlight of the event. Just three days earlier this remarkable man had received an award at the IUCN Parks Conference held only every 10 years, this time in Australia. His main occupation is now with Y-to-Y (Yukon-to-Yellowstone), a project he co-founded. He spoke for an hour, eloquently and passionately, about changes in the landscape and connectivity; spoke with pride about the famous Banff wildlife crossings; noted that railways are as much of a problem as are roads… It is impossible to do his speech justice. Suffice it to say he was given a standing ovation.
During the morning panel the following day, Harvey emphasized the point that — how un-Canadian — we are now in a leadership position when it comes to providing landscape connectivity despite roads. He urged us to dream a national dream — an iconic overpass at the 401 would do a load of good in raising awareness and support — and to wear our values — “the world is desperate for the future to be possible.”
We received no enlightenment from Christie Spence (NCC) about Highway 5 at Gatineau Park and the roads through the Greenbelt; learned what Transport Québec is doing; and received some advice from Parks Canada. A lively question period rounded out the morning. It would appear some sort of national-scale Road Ecology group will emerge. The ROM offers institutional support and OREG has applied for a grant. Expect new action in the Spring.
After lunch a bus brought about half of us to Terry Fox Drive Extension where, under the guidance of Shawn Taylor, we shivered in the cold while looking at various elements of the wildlife passage measures implemented along this road — culverts and fences; there is ample evidence that they are working. Most of the remaining road kill occurs at the railway crossing — mostly snakes. We also heard about a slight diversion of a branch of Shirley’s Brook (and successful renaturalization of the new channel), and a rotating stormwater management device that saved having to create ponds and sacrifice forest. Asked what the point of it all was, seeing that all land inside the curve will turn into subdivisions, Shawn deferred to Nick Stow’s explanation: It’s an escape route for the critters. In fact, Shawn foresaw the day that the culverts would be closed on the other side of the road, to prevent the animals from returning.
It’s a thought that makes one sad. We can do better.
I thank the Greenspace Alliance for paying my fee to attend these inspirational two days.
P.S.: For bios of all the speakers and other information visit <http://www.rom.on.ca/en/collections-research/research-community-projects/community-projects/the-ontario-road-ecology-group>.