Apr 26, 2021
Let’s talk about the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees. Did you know that across North America, pollinators are in a steep decline. It may seem like an unlikely union, but utilities are ideally suited to restore these environments. Here with us to discuss Hydro Ottawa’s latest partner project to create one of the largest pollinator meadows of its kind in Eastern Ontario is Tracey Etwell from Canadian Wildlife Federation & Meaghan McDonald from Rideau Valley Conservation Authority.
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Dan Seguin 00:02
Hey, everyone, welcome back to another episode of the ThinkEnergy podcast. On today's show, we're going to talk about the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees - literally. Did you know that across North America, the populations of monarch butterflies, bees and other pollinators are in a steep decline due to herbicides, pesticides, climate change, and a reduction in natural pollinator habitats. Pollinators are responsible for a third of the world's food supply, so they are extremely vital to our existence. In Canada, there are more than 1000 species of pollinating animals that are responsible for billions of dollars worth of Canadian farm produce, flowers, and ecosystems that rely on pollination. In short, without pollinators, food supply would suffer drastically. It may seem like an unlikely union, but utilities like Hydro Ottawa are ideally suited to restore these environments, thanks to a number of utility corridors and properties in their service territories, not to mention the kilometers of power lines, and right of ways along roadsides. Moreover, vegetation along utility corridors are compatible with these types of vegetation necessary to support pollinators. In 2019, Hydro Ottawa began civil construction of its largest ever municipal transformer station in the south end of Ottawa situated on 24 acres of land. Since the new transformer station requires only five acres of property, Hydro Ottawa partnered with the City of Ottawa, Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, and the Canadian Wildlife Federation to create one of the largest pollinator meadows of its kind in Eastern Ontario, adjacent to this future station. The agreement means that 15 acres will be dedicated to a pollinator meadow, which is scheduled for seeding in the spring of 2021 A four acre tree reforestation area was reforested in 2020, with 2750 trees, thanks to the Rideau River Conservation Authority. So here is today's big question. What goes into a successful pollinator meadow? And how can we as an industry, and as ordinary citizens help the movement by building more pollinator meadows? Maybe in our own backyards? I have two guests joining me today for this podcast. My first guest is Tracy Etwell, a restoration ecologist with the Canadian Wildlife Federation. Tracy supports the right of way program, which helps restore pollinator metals for monarch butterflies and other pollinators in Eastern Ontario. My second guest is Meaghan McDonald, Lake planning and shoreline stewardship coordinator for the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority. There are 36 conservation authorities in Ontario responsible for furthering the restoration, development and management of watershed and their natural resources across the province. Thank you both for joining me today. So, Tracy, let's start with the Canadian Wildlife Federation. What are pollinators? What important role do pollinators play? And what does pollinator habitat look like?
Tracy Etwell 04:37
Great question, Dan. So as a group, there are many species that are pollinators. And if people aren't aware, there's things like native bees, flies, moths, butterflies, beetles and even our hummingbirds are pollinators. But when we talk about our pollinator habitat in our project, we're really focusing on the insects such as our native bees, flies and butterflies. And pollinator habitat varies depending on each species, but all insect pollinators benefit from open meadows full of wildflowers and grasses. And these native flowers provide the pollen and the nectar and the vegetation in general for the species to hide nest and overwinter. And also some of these flowers are very specific hosts for butterflies and moths, where they require that specific plant for their lifecycle.
Dan Seguin 05:21
Now, this question is for both, do habitats vary depending on where they're located in the province and country? If so, what's unique about Eastern Ontario? Wondering, Meaghan, if you can expand on this? And then what about you, Tracy?
Meaghan McDonald 05:37
Yeah, sure. So obviously, our country is massive. So there's a big variety of habitats that mountains, prairies, plains, forests, wetlands, all sorts of things. I think what's kind of unique about Eastern Ontario, maybe in comparison to our southern counterpart there is that we do have still quite a lot of natural areas available to us. The development pressures out here are building just as they are in the southern region. But I think in Eastern Ontario, there's a really good opportunity to sort of preserve what we already have and protect the resources that we already have as that development occurs. So I think that's kind of a unique feature out here.
Tracy Etwell 06:18
So our focus on Eastern Ontario is based on two things. One is that the threatened monarch butterfly range in Canada is heavily focused in Ontario and Quebec. So obviously, we're overlapping that region. And secondly, our funder, which is the Ontario Trillium Foundation has sponsored our work in the Eastern Ontario region. There are also tons and tons of rights of way here which we define as roadways, transmission lines, and pipelines. And as Meaghan said, we do have habitat across Canada. And the management of this vegetation along rights of way is compatible with Meadow habitat, which benefits these pollinators. And we're hoping that rights of way meadow projects will catch on across Canada. And we're busy creating a national network of right of way managers to encourage meadow habitat restoration across the country.
Dan Seguin 07:03
Okay, Tracy, I know that there are many factors that are contributing to the decline in pollinators and their habitats. Based on your experience, what are those reasons? And is there one in particular, that's been identified as the most destructive force?
Tracy Etwell 07:21
Yeah, so you're correct. There are many forces that contribute to this. The biggest one is thought to be the loss of habitat, which is consistent with a lot of species. When land is developed, the habitat is lost. Also, these insects need large corridors of habitat to travel around. So when these pieces get disconnected, it's harder for these pollinators to find that habitat. Also, in Eastern Ontario, the invasive plant species wild parsnip, which means some people may be aware of is another threat. It's spread rapidly throughout the area and is out-competing or native wildflowers. It's hard to control in many places they spray and frequent mowing are the ways to control it. Then, so when it's then controlled, then those native species that would have been there are now removed. So we're hoping once wild parsnip can be under control, better meadow habitat restoration can support these populations.
Dan Seguin 08:16
Back to you. Meaghan, can you tell us about the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority and what types of stewardship projects you're involved with?
Meaghan McDonald 08:26
Or so in partnership with our foundation branch, the Rideau Valley Conservation Foundation, we offer a number of stewardship programs that are really aimed at largely private landowners, but also municipalities and public land owners as well. Our main one would really be our forestation and tree planting program. We plant about 200,000 trees just in the Rideau watershed alone, every year. We also have a shoreline naturalization program, which helps a lot of shoreline land owners create sort of a natural buffer along their waterways. We have a lot of lakes and rivers in our watershed that we're fortunate to have. So we like to help landowners protect what they have on their property. We also have a rural clean water grant program, which is aimed at helping farmers do clean water projects on their property. And then in addition to that, we also do some stream monitoring, wetland restoration, invasive species removal and garbage cleanups, especially in the city of Ottawa with our city's free launch program
Dan Seguin 09:33
With respect to pollinator meadows. Meaghan, what can you tell us about your organization's role? Do you bring your regional expertise about Eastern Ontario's environment and its native plants?
Meaghan McDonald 09:46
Yeah, so we don't have a huge focus on pollinators and our organization we've historically been a lot more focused on water quality protection projects, which is why it's so important for us to have partners like the Canadian Wildlife Federation to partner with on on projects like this. So we don't have a major role in the pollinator project realm. Where we do bring our regional expertise is more for tree planting, shoreline naturalization, so your trees and your shrubs and items like that through our stewardship programs. We also partner with our nursery suppliers, the Ferguson tree nursery, which is located down in Kemptville. And they've been working lately with us and a few other groups in the Ottawa Valley on expanding their product line away from just trees so that they also can be a source of native pollinator species as well in Eastern Ontario. Right now, it's really aimed at potted plants for landowners if they want to, you know, create a little habitat pollinator habitat in their own property. But they are looking at expanding that so that they can be a local source for native seed as well. It's very important that we kind of keep that local seed source in the area because when you're bringing in plants from different regions are sometimes not quite as adapted to our current climate conditions as, say, Southern Ontario or other parts of the country. So we're really the Canadian Wildlife Federation is kind of the expert on this project that we're working with and we're very happy to have their their expertise onboard.
Dan Seguin 11:34
You both are playing integral parts in the 15 acre pollinator meadows that hydro ottawa was building in the south end of the city. I understand it's one of the largest in Eastern Ontario. Tracy, why are utilities a key player in Canadian Wildlife Federation's pollinator recovery efforts.
Tracy Etwell 11:58
So CWF is very excited to be partnering with hydro, Ottawa and RVCA on this initiative, which is one of the largest projects as you mentioned. Utilities are a key player in our pollinator restoration efforts, and they maintain over 660,000 kilometers of transmission lines 1000s of generation stations across Canada, which has huge potential for pollinator habitat restoration, also their linear design are relatively easy for pollinators to find. Since utilities need to control the weedy species over the long term along these facilities. It provides a great place for the wildflowers and grasses to grow. And it provides a great opportunity for you utilities to demonstrate Environmental Leadership and provide the habitat. That's a win win for the utilities and the pollinators.
Dan Seguin 12:43
And now for you, Meaghan, what kind of follow up work does Rideau Valley Conservation Authority do for a project like Hydro's 15 acre pollinator Meadow?
Meaghan McDonald 12:56
Yeah, so for this project, we're actually already going to be on site for a related tree planting project. So it's kind of why we are involved in the in the pollinator side, because it does take a little bit of work to establish native pollinator seed, many of the native seeds, for example, they might take one, two, maybe more years to germinate, and really a few years before they really establish and take over. So it's really important that we manage that area for invasive species so that they don't take over. Or that an opportunistic species like Tracy mentioned, poisoned parsnip, for example, or Manitoban Maple seedlings that they don't move in. So this will be done really through annual to semi annual mowing of the site. So we waited till the end till the right time to sort of do a mow so that we can remove some of the unwanted species, allowing the native ones to really come up. And we'll probably also do a little bit of Spot Removal of the undesirable plants as they come up as well. And we'll do some monitoring as well plots throughout the meadow that I'll let us sort of measure how well the native plants are really coming along and at what rates which will be great because it's will be a great learning experience for us. Since we don't personally have a lot of experience. It'll just kind of be a great way to see what works and what doesn't and what goes into a project like this so that hopefully we can be involved with more in the future.
Dan Seguin 14:28
The Rideau Valley Conservation Authority has also planted 2750 trees on four acres at this site. Meaghan, is the reforestation connected to the meadow, or is it a separate but complementary initiative?
Meaghan McDonald 14:47
Yeah, I think it's kind of bolted is on the same site. The trees were planted last spring, and they kind of form a little bit of a barrier around the outside area of the pollinator garden. department started the pollinator meadow. So it's, it does create a nice barrier between the meadow and the adjacent highway and adjacent farm field. So it's going to create a nice of a windbreak. It'll also help with some of the salt spray that's coming off the highway. And these trees were really planted as part as a compensation for the station that's being built there. And we found that having the combination of the trees as the compensation and also the opportunity for the pollinator habitat was just such a great opportunity at this particular site. Just because we don't really want to get trees planted too close to the station, especially with the tornado that came through a few years ago. So it's nice to have those trees at a distance but also have that nice low growing, easy to maintain pollinator Meadow in the areas directly surrounding it. So it's a it's a nice combination there.
Dan Seguin 16:01
Now understanding that without pollinators Canada's food supply is threatened. Tracy, how is the Canadian Wildlife Federation building resources and support for these projects.
Tracy Etwell 16:14
So the Canadian Wildlife Federation is committed to supporting pollinators for both our diverse biodiversity and our food supply. As you mentioned, many of the nutritious plants we eat such as fruits and vegetables rely on insect pollination, and 90% of the world's flowering plants rely on insect pollination. So it's critical that as a global society, we support these insect pollinators. Now our project is focused on a variety of support such as technical expertise in building these meadows, increasing the native seed supply in Ontario, and providing case studies of the costs and benefits of restoring Meadow habitat. We work with interested managers to develop their respective projects. And we've also only recently formed the Canadian branch of rights of way within the US rights of way habitat working group to enhance our network so that we have more access to resources, case studies and best practices.
Dan Seguin 16:28
I'm really looking forward to your thoughts on this next question, Tracy - road right of ways are a major push for Canadian Wildlife Federation's pollinator initiative. Why build them there?
Tracy Etwell 17:19
Yeah, so like transmission lines, road rights of way or another area of great potential for Habitat. If you think about the over 1 million kilometers of roads across Canada, that's a lot of space for pollinator habitat. There's also a lot of interest in reducing the mowing and the herbicide use that goes into maintaining roads. And by using native plants that can allow for that reduction in those two aspects. And it may even save municipalities maintenance costs by reducing these efforts. And also, it's a great opportunity to share the initiative with the public that are driving by and can see these beautiful displays.
Dan Seguin 17:56
Now for my last question - for both of you. How can landowners improve pollinator habitats on their properties? And what could citizens do to support this work? Or our pollinator friends in general? Meaghan, let's start with you and the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority.
Meaghan McDonald 18:17
So we always promote the use of native plants on properties for a number of reasons, they obviously have benefits to pollinators. But they also are often more low maintenance and typical ornamental plants. So we would encourage folks that that are gardening or are looking for something to plant on their property, then maybe consider some of our native plant species just because they do have that added benefit to the pollinators. And we're also of course, promote the use of native plants along natural areas like shorelines. In addition to sort of the, the, the wildflowers and the meadow species that we're using in this project, there's lots of native trees and shrubs as well that they can consider that are beneficial to pollinators. I was just gonna say and then supporting your local native nurseries, there's a few in the Ottawa Valley that people can consider. And sometimes it just takes a little bit more searching and then digging to find those native native plants for your garden, but they're out there. And if we all support our local native nurseries, then they'll be able to continue supplying those plants for us.
Dan Seguin 19:40
And now Tracy, what about from a Canadian Wildlife Federation perspective?
Tracy Etwell 19:45
Right, so we also support backyard gardens planting native plants. That's a great start. We offer many webinars and guides online to help people get into this mode of planting and some other things that people can do that they might not have considered it is leaving leaves on your lawn and garden in the fall. Many of these pollinators actually over winter. And they'll use that that habitat to protect themselves from the winter conditions. Lastly, if you can resist mowing those dandelions until more spring flowers bloom, that's one of the first floor resources that are available for pollinators. And the spring is actually one of the hardest seasons for them to get going, because there's very little for them to feed on and they're very hungry, obviously. So something else you can also do is overseed. With clover in your garden and clover is a great resource for pollinators. In terms of bigger things, you can contact your local councils and ask them to become a bee city, which is a specific designation, which means they support pollinators and you have projects that support that. And also contact your municipality and ask them if they can support Meadow habitat restoration projects in their area.
Dan Seguin 20:57
Okay, Tracy, and Meaghan, are you ready to close this off with some rapid fire questions? We'll start with Tracy and then we'll follow up with Meaghan.
Meaghan McDonald 21:06
Dan Seguin 21:09
What is your favorite pollinator?
Tracy Etwell 21:13
My favorite pollinator is the Gypsy cuckoo Bumblebee, which is an endangered Bumblebee with a great name.
Meaghan McDonald 21:22
I was just gonna say our native bees, there's many species and they're all they're all important. So I don't have quite a specific answer, but native bees.
Dan Seguin 21:31
Now, what is your favorite flower?
Tracy Etwell 21:35
My favorite is the brown eyed Susan, which is a native plant, of course, a powerhouse for pollinators and very easy to grow.
Meaghan McDonald 21:44
I like wild bergamot. It's again, easy to grow. And it's got a really cool kind of purple flower on it.
Dan Seguin 21:52
Moving on, what is one thing you can't live without?
Tracy Etwell 21:57
Chocolate! Always chocolate!
Meaghan McDonald 22:01
And I would say coffee.
Dan Seguin 22:05
What habit or hobby have you picked up during shelter in place?
Tracy Etwell 22:11
For me, it's been sourdough baking - making my own.
Meaghan McDonald 22:17
I've been starting a lot of craft projects and not finishing them. And we also got to canoe last year and new cross country skis this winter.
Dan Seguin 22:26
Okay, if you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Tracy Etwell 22:31
For me it would be to fly to travel and see the world.
Meaghan McDonald 22:36
Also to fly.
Dan Seguin 22:37
That this is an interesting one. If you could turn back time and talk to your 18 year old self, would you be telling her?
Tracy Etwell 22:46
I would tell her to enjoy life more and not to be so serious.
Meaghan McDonald 22:52
I would say same and also travel and spend time with friends and family as much as you can, while you can.
Dan Seguin 22:59
Okay, what excites you most about these pollinator projects?
Tracy Etwell 23:05
I get excited to see the new life emerge. So when new plants start to bloom when the insects start to come in and use that habitat that just fills me with joy.
Meaghan McDonald 23:16
And I'm excited about kind of learning something new because these projects are new for us and being able to bring some of that knowledge to our landowners and then also to some of our conservation areas as well.
Dan Seguin 23:28
And lastly, what do you currently find most interesting in your sector?
Tracy Etwell 23:35
For me, I would say it's the application of new technologies that are coming online that help us support the conservation projects, answering specific questions that we need help with.
Meaghan McDonald 23:45
And I really like working with landowners and sort of seeing them connect the dots on how what they do on their property really impacts nature and it's always fun to see.
Dan Seguin 23:56
Well, Tracy, Meaghan, we've reached the end of another episode of The ThinkEnergy podcast. I truly hope you had a lot of fun. And thank you so much for joining me today. Cheers.
Tracy Etwell 24:11
It's been great. Thank you, Dan.
Meaghan McDonald 24:12
Yeah, thank you. It has been.
Dan Seguin 24:17
Thank you for joining us today. I truly hope you enjoyed this episode of The ThinkEnergy podcast. For past episodes, ake sure you visit our website hydroottawa.com/podcast. Lastly, if you found value in this podcast, be sure to subscribe. Anyway, this podcast is a wrap. Cheers, everyone.