Friday 20 December 2019

SAM Newsletter #25 Winter 2019

Green Crab monitoring in Codroy Valley 

SAM partnered with the College of the North Atlantic and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans this past fall on a invasive species monitoring project. SAM Conservation Biologist, Elizabeth Belanzaren, joined the group during Green Crab monitoring in the Grand Codroy Estuary.

The Grand Codroy Estuary site is the only Ramsar wetland of 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 Nation published 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.

SAM Members, please send your nominations to . The nomination deadline is May 1, 2020.

A Good Read in the Reeds

Check out these articles, blog posts, and social media posts from SAM, our partners and from around our province.
SAM Conservation Biologist, Laura King, surveying Lundrigan's Marsh in St. John's for signs of muskrat.

SAM Participates in Muskrat Surveys

In the fall, SAM staff participated in a muskrat distribution and population survey in and around the St. John's and Corner Brook areas. The surveys are being led by the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources, Wildlife Division. 

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,
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.

SAM Network News & Updates

  • SAM Conservation Fund Scholarship Application is Online  the 2020 scholarship deadline is May 1st, 2020. The $1000 scholarship recognizes a student from Newfoundland and Labrador that has a passion for environmental conservation and stewardship work in their community. For more info on how to apply visit our website
  • 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

Finally, you can download the World Wetlands Day Ramsar graphics for free. Remember to post your event on social media and use the hashtags #WorldWetlandsDay #WetlandBiodiversityMatters. Remember to send along your event to SAM staff and we can help promote it to our other members.

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.

10 years signed 2009
Mary’s Harbour
St. Lewis
Red Bay
Port au Choix

15 years signed 2004
 Happy Valley - Goose Bay
St. John’s
Copyright © 2019, Stewardship Association of Municipalities Inc., All rights reserved.

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Wednesday 20 November 2019

SAM Members Mitigating Climate Change Since 1993

At the 2019 SAM Fall meeting in Gander, Mayors, Councillors and municipal staff were called to action by our keynote speaker, Kate BrownKate is a 16-year-old student, who is part of a new youth environmental group who are participating in Friday’s For the Future climate strikes. The strikes are part of a global movement in protest of climate change started by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenage environmental activist. 

Kate spoke passionately about her community, her future and the effect climate change will have on her generation. Most people were impressed that Kate spoke with such conviction, others thought of their own young families and their future in our province. We started thinking about how SAM's conservation efforts fit into the bigger picture of climate change mitigation.

Over 26 years SAM has brought together municipalities and the province in stewardship agreements that conserve almost 50,000 acres. Municipalities that are a part of SAM protect areas of land, usually wetland, within their town boundaries for wildlife habitat. 

Ducks spotted using conserved habitat to breed in Torbay.
Protected habitat and wetlands help to support healthy populations of birds, waterfowl, mammals, plants, and lichen. It also has positive effects for residents including social, physical and mental health benefits, as well as tourism and economic benefits . But let's not forget the conservation of wetlands is one of our most powerful tools in climate change mitigation.

Mitigation is defined as reducing emissions and stabilizing the levels of greenhouse gases we allow into the atmosphere (read more in our past blog "Defining times: The new climate change terminology").  

But how exactly does a Newfoundland bog equal climate change mitigation? Listed below are three of the many reasons SAM's conservation efforts in NL help mitigate climate change.

Protecting peatlands, our natural carbon sinks.The majority of Canada is within the boreal forest biome. This biome is characterized by cool summers, mild winters, and lots of wetlands. About 25% of Canada's boreal forest is covered by wetlands. Our province is no exception, with all classes of wetlands represented (learn more about wetland classification in our blog "Know your wetland types").

This map from 1987 shows Canada's geographic distribution of wetlands. From "Our vanishing wetlands" Canadian Geographic August/September 1987. 
The most common types of wetlands in the province are bogs and fens, otherwise known as peatlands. Made up of peat, a mass of decomposing and decaying organic matter, they have an incredibly slow rate of decomposition.This very slow process allows the carbon that is produced to be stored, instead of released into the atmosphere. (Learn more about peat in our past blog “Perfectly Peaty: how peatlands are an amazing carbon sink").

The world's peatlands cover about 3% of the earth’s surface , but store at least twice as much carbon as earth’s forests. It was estimated that globally peatlands contain at least 550 Gt of carbon, which is double that amount stored in the world’s forests.

Carbon stored in terrestrial habitats Source; 

Peatlands have been proven to be amazing carbon sinks, but if peatlands are disturbed they go from a carbon sink to a carbon source. Disturbance, such as burning, draining, and ATV damage can allow the release of stored carbon into the atmosphere which contribute to greenhouse gases. 

ATV damage to a wetland in Newfoundland. This type of damage releases stored carbon into our atmosphere.
Municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador that are part of SAM have been conserving wetlands and peatlands through stewardship agreements since 1993. 

Municipal leaders in 2005 walking through a
protected conservation area.
Some examples of conserved peatlands within the SAM network include Northwest Bog in Gander, Bakeapple Marsh in Bauline, and Gambo Bog in Gambo

Northwest Bog, Gander, protected since 1993.
Decreasing the effects of flooding. 
Another consequence of climate change is increased flood risk (learn more about how wetlands protect communities from flooding see “Hold Back the Gates: Wetlands mitigate flooding"). 

Wetlands are a natural solution to flooding: by acting like a sponge, they can hold excess water.  According to a study done by Hallock et al in 2015 a 1-acre wetland that is 30 cm deep can hold 1.2 million liters of water. Once fully saturated, wetlands release the water slowly allowing water levels in the rest of the watershed to adjust, which helps to mitigate flood runoff and erosion. 

And wetlands do this for free. Researchers at the University of Waterloo, using computer simulations, found that leaving wetlands intact can reduce the financial costs of flooding by up to 29% in rural settings and up to 38% in urban settings.

Sedges commonly found in wetland estuaries. Picture taken in
the Frenchmans Cove / Garnish Barasway, protected since 2013.
Buffering the coastlines
The extreme weather associated with climate change includes increased hurricanes, tornadoes and tidal waves. Coastal erosion is responsible for roughly $500 million per year in property loss, including damage to structures and loss of land. Vegetated wetlands found along the shores of lakes, rivers and estuaries can act as a buffer protecting shorelines during floods and storms. Wetland plants can absorb energy of surface waters because of the density of the vegetation.

Kate Brown’s passion during her keynote address was felt by everyone in that room and it was a good reminder that SAM has been helping to mitigate climate change since 1993. As a network of municipalities, we will continue to work across the province to conserve new areas and to protect our existing areas through conservation, enhancement, and education.

Learn more about climate change resources available to municipalities by visiting our website at

Resources and further reading:
"Stewardship of wetlands and soils has climate benefits" Natural Resources Defense Council

"Conserving Prarie Pothole Wetlands: Evaluating their effects on carbon sequestration in soils and vegetation" Natural Resources Conservation Service

"Estimating carbon sequestration in wetlands" Ducks Unlimited National Boreal Program

"Plumbing the depths of Canada Peatlands - One of the worlds largest carbon sinks" Ducks Unlimited Canada

"Clarifying the role of coastal and marine systems in climate mitigation" Ecological Society of America
"IUCN Health and Well Being" 

"Economic Benefits of Land Conservation"