It’s one of those mornings when I really love my job.
Our staff have gathered at Mills Block Forest, a conservation area managed by the Lakehead Region Conservation Authority in Thunder Bay. There is a brief moment of calm with only spring peepers and a few crows breaking the silence before an explosion of activity. Almost without warning, there is a stampede of rubber boots as two busloads of young children arrive. They are here to help us kick off a BioBlitz where we will count as many different species of plants and animals as we can over 24 hours.
I admit that it fills me with pride to watch our staff interact with the kids, the media, and the experts who are lined up to help our swarm of young citizen scientists collect data.
There is Jake, our newest summer intern. Despite the fact that it’s his first day on the job, he seems happy and relaxed. He has all of the kids (and me) laughing as he provides instructions for making a turtle craft. He is skillfully keeping everyone occupied while we queue up tours through the conservation area.
Mallory, our conservation education specialist, hurries around with her clipboard and seems to effortlessly coordinate with the patience of a lioness watching over her pride. The weeks of work she has put into organizing this event are paying off. Everyone is excited and engaged.
Over the course of the two-day Bioblitz, 149 participants identified 112 species including (but not limited to) 40 forest plants, 31 bird species, 22 invertebrates, 6 reptiles and amphibians, and 4 mammals. Results were added to the online citizen science platform, iNaturalist.
This is what conservation authorities (CAs) mean to me. Their staff help us do what we do best – connect people with nature. We are so privileged to be able to visit this natural space that has representations of diverse ecosystems, a well-maintained trail access, and helps us cultivate these connections. When we are able to make these connections between people and the natural environment, we help develop a lasting appreciation for nature and an understanding that we all depend on it – and that we must protect it.
The government has recently posted a public survey that sets the stage to limit CAs’ scope and mandate. Limiting the mandate of CAs could open the floodgates for unchecked development, threatening our communities’ flood plains, drinking water, biodiversity, natural heritage and more.
If the government wants to help “preserve and protect Ontario’s natural spaces”, as the survey states, they should have made the survey easier for Ontarians to provide genuine feedback. Instead, the survey is dense and lengthy and that’s why we have developed a resource to help you respond to it.
Conservation authorities have been standing up for our communities for decades – now, it’s time for us to stand up for them.
Julee Boan was Ontario Nature’s Boreal Program Manager. Based out of Thunder Bay, she worked collaboratively with local conservation groups, First Nations, and industry to seek environmentally responsible approaches to economic development in northern Ontario. She has a Ph.D. in forest sciences with research focused on mitigating the impact of industrial logging on woodland caribou.