Nature’s economy

by Caroline Schultz

As a billion birds are winging their way northward, many of us are feeling the tug of migration hot spots such as Point Pelee, Long Point, the Leslie Street Spit, the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, Thunder Cape and Prince Edward Point, and of green stop-offs – local woodlands, wetlands and backyards. There we know we will soon find beautiful biological light at the end of this cold and economically gloomy winter.

Spring birding is often focused on those small but flashy songbirds of May – avian jewels such as indigo buntings, scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks and yellow-rumped, magnolia and Cape May warblers. But these are the latecomers. The first migrants include waterfowl such as the tundra swans that descend like a snowstorm on the Long Point area from mid to late March. Ducks and geese soon join this flurry along the lower Great Lakes – hence the timing of the annual Waterfowl Festival at Presqu’ile Provincial Park in late March. Raptors, too, begin to arrive in March. Mark Stabb’s article, “Return of the raptors,” will inspire birders and birders-to-be to get an early taste of spring by heading to a key hawk-watching spot like Beamer Memorial Conservation Area in Grimsby.

The return of the birds, though, reminds us of their plight. Bridget Stutchbury’s article documents the decline of many boreal songbirds and the challenges that boreal-nesting species encounter along their migratory routes due to habitat loss and other hazards. The call is clear. These birds depend on adequate protection in our boreal forests to give them the best chance of surviving.

Birds returning this spring are coming back to a country and province sobered by the financial crisis and the spectre of a long economic recession. The events that triggered the crisis, such as the folly of sub-prime mortgages, send a message that we cannot spend more than we can afford – as nations or as individuals. We need to learn the same lesson when it comes to squandering our natural capital. Forests, wetlands, waters and wildlife provide us with goods and services essential to life – clean water, clean air, pollinators, the capturing and storing of carbon, to name a few. When we rob nature’s bank of its capital by extracting more resources in an unsustainable way, emitting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and paving over natural areas, we lose in the long run.

So let’s take a lesson from the birds and from the mistakes we have made and begin investing in nature and rebuilding our natural capital to sustain us and the diversity of life we depend on. We can also recession-proof ourselves by staying closer to home this year and enjoying what nature in Ontario has to offer – starting this spring with bird migration.

Caroline Schultz

Caroline Schultz is the executive director of Ontario Nature.


Bridget StutchburyIn her feature, “The incredible journey,” Bridget Stutchbury, a professor at York University, describes the disturbing decline of Ontario’s songbirds. “What makes boreal songbirds so mysterious and interesting to write about is that many of us see them only fleetingly during their amazing migration.” Stutchbury’s articles have appeared in The New York Times and National Wildlife. Her book, Silence of the Songbirds, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award in 2007.

contribs_wellsJeffrey Wells is director of science and policy for the Boreal Songbird Initiative. In his article, “The fall of the wild” Wells recounts his recording adventure on the Albany River. “This was the first place I have ever recorded bird sounds without the sounds of civilization intruding. “I treasure every moment I get to spend in the Boreal because it is one of the last great unspoiled forests left on earth.”