Ontario Nature’s increasingly popular Volunteer for Nature (VfN) program attracted a record number of participants eager to join our conservation efforts this year. From spring to fall, nearly 200 outdoor enthusiasts participated in a dozen conservation projects. VfN participants, local field naturalists and Ontario Nature stewardship staff planted trees, conducted wildlife surveys, built a boardwalk and removed old fences and invasive plant species from several of our nature reserves.

Conservation work also took place outside of our reserve system. In addition to planting trees along the Don River with the Friends of Don East, VfN held events in partnership with the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre and the Niagara Parks Commission. Ontario Nature and VfN would like to thank the many dedicated member clubs, organizations and volunteers for their invaluable assistance with this year’s events. We look forward to working with each of them again in the coming year.

We are now planning the 2008 VfN field season, which will offer even more opportunities to protect nature, learn about your natural surroundings and enjoy rare habitats. Projects in the works include wildlife surveys, bridge and boardwalk construction, invasive plant removal and hiking trail maintenance. The complete schedule of events for 2008 will be available on our website in the new year. To learn more about the VfN program and all it has to offer, visit www.ontarionature.org/action.

Mark your calendar

This spring, Ontario Nature’s 77th annual general meeting (AGM) will be held in conjunction with the Carden Nature Festival. Always a popular event, the festival will take place from June 6 to June 8 and will feature more than 50 expert-led field trips and workshops. Also during the AGM, the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre will offer a children’s program (Wet ’n Scaly) on reptiles, at the Mackenzie Inn in nearby Kirkfield.

The annual awards ceremony will honor the winners of the 2007 Conservation Awards and the Ontario Nature Youth Challenge, a writing contest for students in grades 7 and 8 on the topic “How climate change is affecting me and my community.” Following the AGM, members are invited to join the Ontario Nature board and staff at a wine and cheese reception in the historic Sir William Mackenzie mansion.

For more information, see the 2008 Carden Nature Festival program guide online at www.cardenguide.com/festival.

Forest Watch

This fall, Ontario Nature staff and volunteers from local stewardship groups have been working to establish monitoring programs at two nature reserves where natural disturbances have altered the forest canopy.

At the Altberg Wildlife Sanctuary, tornadoes touched down in the summer of 2006, flattening trees in several areas. At the Kinghurst Forest Nature Reserve, an infestation of tent caterpillars defoliated sections of forest, killing many mature trees.

Natural disturbances play an important role in forests. By creating gaps in the canopy, they allow sunlight to reach the forest floor and spur the growth of shade-intolerant trees such as black cherry and white ash that otherwise would not have the chance to grow. Disturbances also increase the amount of woody debris on the forest floor, which serves as habitat for many amphibians and insects.

The disturbed areas will be inventoried every five years to generate a long-term data set, which will yield information on the process of forest succession following natural disturbances. The monitoring program may also reveal long-term changes resulting from climate change or the incursion of invasive species.

My Club

The Friends of Algoma East (FOAE) has been an Ontario Nature member group since 1998 and has about 60 members. We’re located in the Elliot Lake area and have been very involved in the Bear Wise program, a province-wide campaign the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR introduced to educate the public about bears.

Bears are reclusive animals, but when naturally occurring food is scarce, they search for other means of sustenance and are often drawn into towns by garbage, birdfeeders and barbecues. In 2003, bear sightings in Elliot Lake generated more than 500 calls from panicked residents to police and city staff.

So, after conducting extensive research and consulting with black bear experts, FOAE decided to launch a comprehensive five-year project to address the causes of conflict between bears and humans in urban areas. The project was to be modelled after the Bear Smart programs that were initiated in British Columbia by the Get Smart Bear Society, a non-profit organization that champions progressive management of bears and provides a wide range of resources to educate residents living in bear country.

This was a huge undertaking for our group – we had only 39 members at the time. We turned to the expertise of local scientists and are indebted to Dr. Josef Hamr of the Northern Environmental Heritage Institute of Cambrian College, who provided much guidance.

In December 2003, MNR launched the Bear Wise program to address the very problem we had already undertaken so enthusiastically. We have continued the Elliot Lake bear project using the Bear Wise protocol and have been working closely with the city and MNR to implement the program.

We have hosted dozens of black bear information sessions, reaching more than 1,000 residents. Our presentations cover a range of topics including black bear behaviour and biology, and how to deal with an encounter with a bear. Our most important contribution, however, has been to assist the mayor and council in passing and enforcing comprehensive waste and attractant bylaws by providing instructive examples from several West Coast communities that have had success with Bear Smart. We’ve made it known that, without prevention protocols, the program cannot be effective.

Our efforts are clearly paying off. People in the Elliot Lake area made fewer than 200 bear sighting calls to police and MNR this summer, a far cry from the more than 500 calls made the year before the Bear Wise program started – a year when natural food was abundant.

Jim Johnston, President, Friends of Algoma East