A Win for Wildlife - reducing plastic in our environment
SAM was happy to see that on January 29 the Provincial Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced a provincial ban on the distribution of retail plastic bags, with the regulations to come into effect on July 1, 2020.
SAM first examined the issue of single use plastic bags at the 2008 Fall Meeting, hosted by the Town of Stephenville Crossing. Members discussed a reduction in plastic bag use, an idea that was put forth at the 2008 MNL Convention.
SAM members felt the negative impact of plastic bags on wildlife habitat was an important issue and that SAM needed to take a stronger advocacy role. As a result members passed a motion in 2008 to write letters to all municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as to head offices of major grocery chains. The letter encouraged them to take leadership on this issue and bring it back to the forefront.
SAM continued the discussion with our members and in 2015, and again in 2017 MNL passed resolutions, sponsored by the Town of Torbay, to prohibit retail stores from providing single-use plastic bags to customers.
The next step was to support the resolution. In 2017 SAM's President sat on the MNL "Ban the Bag" Advocacy Committee. In 2019, SAM participated in the social media day of action organized by Plastic Bag Ban NL , as well as the public consultation on the draft legislation held by Engage NL. Finally, at the 2019 Spring AGM members discussed details of a potential policy and what a 'good ban' would look like.
There are many opinions on what is a good ban, and what are good alternatives to plastic bags. As an example, some concerns brought forward at the 2019 SAM AGM included: Will the ban increase the purchase of other plastic bags? Will it lead to the production of thicker plastic that will be considered 'multi-use'? and aren't some alternatives also putting pressure on our environment, such as the amount of water needed to produce paper and fabric.
At the meeting, SAM displayed some of the better alternatives to single use plastic bags:
1) This is a first step: Banning single use plastic bags only scratches the surface of the larger plastic pollution problem. From plastic packaging, to micro plastics in our oceans, a ban single use plastic bags is a great beginning, but shouldn't be the end of the discussion.
2) There needs to be a cultural shift: people need to be in support of using alternatives and this might mean changing their lifestyle. Municipalities can help by supporting positive messages and setting examples for residents.
3) One bag for LIFE: According to many sources, the best alternative to single use plastic bags is having one bag, no matter what it is made out of, that is used over and over and over; a bag for life!
SAM's double sided poster and fact sheet presented at the SAM AGM 2019. Would you like this poster for your small business? Send us an email.
After having a chance to review the plastic bag regulations presented on January 29th, we are happy to say the policy is a step in the right direction. Going forward we would like to see a communication campaign done by the Province, encouraging the use of good alternatives and the idea of having one bag for life. For more information on what is happening in the rest Canada see this list of shopping bag regulations across Canada.
Some business and SAM communities have not waited for the provincial ban to start reducing plastic. The NLC in 2018, and Sobey's on January 31, 2020 have taken retail plastic bags out of their stores. A number of SAM members have already taken action:
SAM is happy to see movement in the direction that will help to support wildlife and their habitat in our province. Let's keep up the good work and keep the conversation going!
Cream Puffins: Conservation & Confection
Sometimes you need a conversation starter, and sometimes you just need a snack. Susan Schubel did both by creating 'Cream Puffins'. Schubel works with Project Puffin, Audubon's program to restore seabird colonies in decline.
Feeling inspired? TheTown of Come by Chance was at the opening of the Cleary Trail this past fall with these owl cupcakes pictured right. Raising awareness about conservation and wildlife in your community might be as simple as eggs, sugar, and butter. The full article and recipe can be found at'Cream Puffins' from audubon.org
Fighting Climate Change with Nature
On February 5th - 6th, over 400 people met in Ottawa to talk about nature based climate change solutions. SAM Conservation Biologist Laura King participated as a representative of Nature NL and writes about her experience.
Discussions at the Nature-based Climate Change Solutions. Photo by Nature NL
Recently as part of a Nature Canada trip to Ottawa for Nature NL (where I volunteer as President) I had the chance to take in an interesting conference that helped me expand my thinking around the conservation areas and climate.
The Nature-based Climate Solutions summit looks at all the different things that we might do, as a conservation community, to fight climate change in natural ways. Make no mistake, cutting emissions and reducing our consumption should be our top priorities on this issue. But turning to natural solutions and taking care of our lands and waters can help supplement our efforts, and we can explain these extra benefits to others so that we all understand that conserving land, for example, is a major plus when it comes to climate action.
Pathways we can follow to create nature based climate change solutions presented by Amanda Reed, from Nature United.
The four main categories of nature-based climate change solutions are natural infrastructure, protected areas, restoration, and improved management of our lands and waters. One of the main reason that many of these are climate solutions, although we might not think of them that way at first, is that our ecosystems store carbon, and healthier places store even more. So for example, tree planting, aquatic restoration, or preserving a natural marsh that helps filter municipal water - these are all climate change projects too.
Natural peatlands store about 20 grams of carbon per metre square per year, for example. To better illustrate that, let's consider the Gambo Bog conservation area in the Town of Gambo. At 417 hectares and ~90% peatland, this beautiful wetland conserves about 375 hectares of natural peatlands, and keeps about 75 000 kg of carbon locked into the ground each year.
View of the Gambo Bog. This enormous peatland can lock away tens of thousands of kilograms of Carbon.
Each municipality could quickly calculate this for their conserved and natural areas, and come up with an approximate figure that shows how they are doing their part to use nature to help slow climate change. And together, we make a difference. Imagine the amount of carbon stored across all of our 100+ conservation areas in our province, year after year.
Conveying these climate benefits will hopefully help us understand that our land conservation efforts here with SAM in NL benefit not only our wildlife populations and species at risk, but help prevent carbon from being released into our atmosphere. Conserving where possible, and restoring where necessary, is a superb approach to taking care of our peatlands and other wetlands. And something we can feel good about from a climate perspective as well.
I'm looking forward to integrating what I've learned in Ottawa in my work here. As the climate changes, so too must our thinking, and the ways we approach conservation.
Interested in learning more? You can watch the conference for free online and access the extensive, and growing, library of climate resources they've pulled together.
SAM Steward Award: Recognizing our environmental stewardship leaders
The SAM Steward Award has been created to recognize these heroes of environmental stewardship. SAM hopes this award will inspire people to support wildlife habitat conservation and stewardship.
SAM member municipalities can nominate individuals. The selection will be done prior to SAM meetings by the SAM Officers Committee. If at all possible, it is our hope that the selected individual will attend a SAM meeting to receive the award.
World Wetlands Day 2020: Libraries across NL celebrate
World Wetlands Day is celebrated globally on February 2nd each year to mark the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands. This year SAM wanted to reach out to public libraries. Over 30 of our SAM members have a public library in their community, and the public library system has 95 libraries across the province.
For World Wetlands Day SAM created a library program to encourage public libraries to celebrate wetland conservation. Many libraries participated by creating displays, having wetland themed story-times, and inviting special guests to talk about wetlands.
Pictured below is the wetlands display at the Gander Public Library.
Thank you to all the libraries that participated in the program! If you would like to know more see our website or email us.
The Grand Codroy Estuary site is the only Ramsar wetlandof International Importance in Newfoundland and Labrador. It received this designation in 1987 because it is an exceptionally fine example of a large coastal estuary and supports a large numbers of geese and ducks. The area is a hotspot for over 100 bird species. The stunning diversity of the wetland is dependent on the rich eel grass (Zostera marina) beds that the area supports, as they provide a rich feeding ground for many bird species.
Eelgrass provides cover for young wildlife and helps reduce ocean acidification, (Image by Arnault Lebris).
Unfortunately, eel grass beds throughout the province are under threat from a new invader - European green crab (Carcinus maenas). Dubbed "one of the most unwanted species in the world," green crab is an aquatic invasive species that has been found in Canadian waters since 1951, and in Newfoundland waters since 2007. These hardy, aggressive little crabs can be highly damaging to local ecosystems. They out-compete local species, destroy eel grass beds in their search for prey, and are tolerant to a wide variety of adverse conditions.
In 2015, the Qalipu First Nationpublished a report confirming the presence of green crab on the coastline near the community of Codroy. This past October, there was an effort made to determine if the crab had traveled into the brackish waters of the Grand Codroy Estuary. SAM partnered with the CNA Fish and Wildlife Technician class to deploy traps at ten locations along the estuary. Unfortunately, they were able to confirm that live crab are present well inside the Grand Codroy Estuary. Future efforts will be needed to determine the scale and possible impact of the presence of green crab in this important wetland.
Green Crab monitoring with Fish and Wildlife Technician Class of the College of the North Atlantic.
Special thanks to Dean Snow and Paul Arnold and their students for their help in conducting the survey, to Andrew Oxford and Michael Lyda of DFO for their technical expertise, and to Dr. Cynthia McKenzie of DFO for the guidance in the development of the project.
SAM Steward Award: Recognizing our environmental stewardship leaders
At Fall 2019 SAM meeting, representatives approved a new initiative, the SAM Steward Award. Over the years, many individuals have given their time, knowledge and passion to SAM. They have advocated for wildlife habitat conservation, supported wetland and wildlife education, and completed wildlife enhancement projects in their municipalities.
The SAM Steward Award has been created to recognize these heroes of environmental stewardship. SAM hopes this acknowledgement will inspire residents across the province to continue support wildlife habitat conservation and stewardship
Peter Reccord, former town councillor and SAM member, was recognized in 2018 during the Fall 2018 SAM Meeting hosted by Labrador City.
Recipients will be recognized in several ways: 1) A profile will be put on the SAM Website 2) A newsletter article & social media posts will be written about their achievements 3) A donation will be made in their name to a relevant charity of their choice
SAM member municipalities can nominate individuals that have made an impact in environmental conservation and stewardship in NL. The selection of the SAM Steward will be done prior to SAM meetings by the SAM Officers Committee. If at all possible, it is our hope that the selected SAM Steward will attend a SAM meeting to receive the award.
There has been some concern by trappers in Newfoundland that the muskrat population has been declining, and in some areas disappearing from their historic range. To better understand this potential decline, more needs to be known about the distribution and abundance of muskrat on the island. The provincial government is collecting distribution and abundance data over the next 10 years.
Muskrat swimming through a wetland.
Photo By D. Gordon E. Robertson - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6454083
Muskrats are interesting mammals that are well adapted to life in the wetlands.
Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus, is native to North America and is one of the 14 native mammals on the island portion on the province. They are a medium sized semi-aquatic rodent about 40 - 70 cm long, with half of that being their long, vertically flattened tail. Despite their name, they are not part of the family of rats (Rattus), they are actually more closely related to voles and lemmings.
They live in wetlands, ponds, and lakes, and their thick two-layered coat keeps them warm, they can close their ears to keep water out, and their long flattened tail propels them through wetlands and waterways. Even though they have the appearance of a small beaver, their bodies are much like those of seals and whales because they are less sensitive to the buildup of carbon dioxide. This allows them to stay under water for up to 17 minutes.
This amazing breath holding ability is told in several indigenous creation stories, when the muskrat dives to the bottom of the ocean to bring up the mud from which the earth is created, after other animals were not able to complete the task.
A muskrat trail or path through aquatic vegetation along the shore of a pond in St. John's.
They are considered one of the most valuable fur-bearers, and continue to be the most harvested pelt in North America. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have used muskrat fur on their winter hats because of the pelts excellent warmth during the cold Canadian winters. They are also an important prey source for other species in Newfoundland including lynx, fox, coyotes, mink, eagles, and owls.
A muskrat burrow at the edge of a pond, in St. John's.
Surveyors participating in the project look for clues of muskrat presence in wetlands. These clues include paths through vegetation, burrows in the soft banks of a pond, muskrat houses of piled reeds and cattails, and scat. These clues are recorded along with types of plant species, and average water depth. With this information surveyors are able to estimate abundance in a wetland, pond or lake.
Have questions about this Department of Fisheries and Land Resources initiative? Email us to find out more.
Apply for Funding Looking to get your next environmental stewardship project off the ground in your community? Visit our Apply for Funding page and you will find over 50 potential funding grants. Need help? Email us for more info.
World Wetlands Day 2020: Plan your event
It is never to early to plan for World Wetlands Day 2020 in your community, and SAM and Ramsar are making it easy.
World Wetlands Day is celebrated on February 2nd each year and this years theme is wetlands and biodiversity. It is a day to raise global awareness about the vital role wetlands play for people and our planet. It also marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on wetlands in 1971.
Wetlands in Newfoundland and Labrador provide habitat for many species of plants, animals and birds.This years theme is a great opportunity to celebrate the biodiversity of wetlands in our province.
Take the steps and get involved this year in the global celebration.
The City of Corner Brook and SAM celebrating World Wetlands Day 2019 with a snowshoe in Hughes Brook.
First, visit the Ramsar Website and learn more about this years theme, wetlands and biodiversity. Also, take time to visit the SAM website to learn about local wetland conservation and find educational resources that are specific to Newfoundland and Labrador.
Secondly, make a plan to participate in the global celebration. You can get involved as an event organizer, educator or participant. Here are a few ideas of how you and your municipality can get involved.
Organize an event: - Organize a family fun day at a community or science center - Hold an exhibition to show case art or photography about wetland biodiversity - Organize a community walk, run, or snowshoe for wetlands - Host a trivia night about wetland biodiversity in NL
Raise public awareness: - Share the outreach materials from Ramsar and SAM - Write a blog or article for your local newspaper - Bake wetland themed cupcakes for your local school, office, or community group
Teachers, guide/scout & youth group leaders can organize a classroom discussion: - Discuss how wetlands naturally help us cope with climate change - Discuss why wetlands continue to be degraded around the world and how we can stop loss - Organize a quiz about the different types of wetlands and their services
Happy World Wetlands Day planning! If you need any assistance in getting your idea off the ground send us an email.
2019 Stewardship Anniversaries
Another year is coming to a close, and we would like to recognize some significant Municipal Habitat Stewardship Agreement signing anniversaries. Congratulations and we look forward to many more years of conservation and stewardship.