Monthly Archives: May 2020

Thinking Like A Watershed

By Rob Attfield.

Imagine for a moment that you are no longer in human form but have been transformed into the vibrant and expansive Muskoka Watershed. This is your new body. Instead of a torso with arms, legs and head, you have morphed into an area of about four thousand, six hundred and sixty square kilometres, comprised of lakes, rivers, wetlands, forests, agriculture and developed areas. All of the excess water in your new body is “shed” (watershed) – about a million Olympic size swimming pools of it – annually through the Muskoka and Musquash Rivers and their tributaries.

Your natural “bladder” is your new body’s ability to absorb, utilize and eliminate water appropriately, primarily through storage in floodplains, rivers and lakes and into your largely shallow soils. Transpiration/evaporation (perspiration) from trees and other vegetation also assists. To complement your natural bladder, a series of dams and locks store and regulate some, but not all of your liquid flow.

Your natural regulatory systems work in harmony until an increasing influx of pesky humans begins to disrupt your body’s equilibrium.

These annoying human creatures start to reduce your ability to “perspire” by covering your “skin” or ground cover, with impermeable surfaces like asphalt and concrete. Adding insult to injury, they perform “plastic surgery” on your wetlands, covering many of them to establish “desirable” uses like houses and shopping malls. Their encroachment all over your body also fragments the movement capabilities of the other life forms essential to your overall health. Too make matters worse, these humans interfere with the chemical balance of your organs by dumping thousands of tonnes of salt into your body every year. No wonder you are not feeling well.

The final straw for you is the prolonged “hot flashes” you begin to experience as the very atmosphere around you warms. You become very thirsty in the summer but there is not enough water to quench this thirst. In the colder weather of winter and spring, when you don’t need an excess of liquid nourishment, you are deluged with it. Your bladder and some of your “blood vessels” cannot hold all that water and burst, spewing H2O into areas of your anatomy not designed to accommodate it. What a mess. You need help!

Enter the general practitioner (the Ontario Provincial Government) with five million dollars to explore ways to repair your bladder through regulation of your arteries. Their Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group (MWAG) is the medical team assigned to this task.

Meanwhile, another local medical team, the Muskoka Watershed Council, suggests a comprehensive approach to the problem, “Integrated Watershed Management”, a strategy serendipitously crafted around the time of MWAG’s arrival.

“We need to look at your entire body holistically,” they argue. “not just your circulatory system. What good comes from trying to control just your blood vessels and bladder when your overall health is impacted by so many different variables, like your loss of permeable skin cover, for example. We really need a collaborative team approach to address your problems…land use planners, hydrological experts, environmental scientists, local and regional governments…in other words, all the stakeholders who have an interest in your well-being.

Will the Muskoka Watershed Council be able to convince the public, local and District councils and the Ontario Government of the value of this approach?

Stay tuned for the next episode of “Thinking Like A Watershed”.

Rob Attfield is a member of the Muskoka Watershed Council

Discovering your environment with appealing apps!

By Rebecca Willison.

At this point in social and physical distancing, you’re probably tired of seeing the inside of your house. The mild spring weather means it’s a great time to get outdoors and connect with your property, perhaps with a view you’ve never had before!

Do you know what plants and animals are found on your property or in your neighbourhood? It can be difficult to tell different bird or shrub species apart, but there are some great apps that can help. Once you become familiar with the common species around you, you’ll start to notice the less common ones as well, and once the veil is lifted, it’s like seeing a whole new world right in front of you!

We’ve put together a list of apps that will help you identify the environment around you, as well as some apps that allow you to report what you are seeing, contributing to a growing database of nature observations.

Plants – a fascinating app for identifying plants is PictureThis. It has a great database of both native and ornamental species from all across Canada and beyond. Once you snap a photo and it’s identified, the app provides additional information about the plant.

Birds – The Merlin Bird ID app can help you identify birds with a photo or by answering five simple questions. The app includes ID tips as well as bird calls to help you improve your birdwatching skills. You can also keep track of the birds you’ve seen and report your bird sightings using the eBird app.

Reptiles and Amphibians – Learn to identify frogs, turtles, snakes and more with the Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond app. You can join the Adopt-A-Pond program and report your sightings through the app, or you can contribute to an Ontario-wide database by reporting your sightings to the “Herps of Ontario” section on the iNaturalist app.

Bumble Bees – Pollinator species like bumble bees are in trouble, and you can help scientists collect information about bee populations with the Bumble Bee Watch app. The app will help you identify what bee species you are looking at using a Smart Search tool and allow you to submit your sightings to a growing North American database.

Whatever app you use to identify your species, you can keep track of your sightings and build a list of everything you’ve seen on the iNaturalist app. Can you find and identify 10 species on your property? 50? 100? Create a nature list for your property and add to it every time you discover something new!

What Covid-19 Teaches Us About Dealing with Climate Change and Development Pressure

By Peter Sale.

Mary Lake Dam

When the Covid-19 pandemic is past, and it will pass, we will still need to manage the Muskoka watershed – the environmental quality of this place we love is vital to both our economy and quality of life. Before the pandemic, the old ways of managing our environment were becoming less effective as climate changed and development pressure continued. That remains true. Our capacity to manage flooding grows more inadequate yearly. Salt from winter road management is damaging our lakes and forests. Sprawl and inappropriate development are nearly as common as examples of good practice. Our lakes don’t seem as pristine as they were, and algal blooms seem to be becoming more frequent. The way we’ve been managing our environment is no longer good enough.

Muskoka Watershed Council is recommending use of Integrated Watershed Management (IWM) as a new approach. When implemented appropriately, IWM provides an overarching, adaptive management system within which all aspects of environmental management and land use planning take place. Flood control, shoreline development, water quality protection, forest management, climate adaptation, water and sewage treatment, preservation of our small town ambiance, and other tasks all take place within IWM, ensuring a holistic, system-wide perspective that yields better outcomes and fewer surprises. For more information on IWM see “The Case for Integrated Watershed Management in Muskoka”.

IWM is complicated. Some will claim IWM won’t work because it cuts across the vertical management structures common to governments in Canada. Others fear yet another level of costly bureaucracy that impedes the private sector and frustrates economic growth. Such arguments fail to recognize our ability to learn, adapt and innovate, as revealed by Covid-19.

Covid-19 has brought sudden, massive change to our society and considerable personal suffering to some. Individuals and governments have responded innovatively to this pandemic, taking quick, drastic action to ameliorate risks. Our collective response has been collaborative, exploratory, sometimes ad hoc, but mostly guided by scientifically sound information and advice. Who could have imagined the changes to our lives and our economy that have taken place in the last few weeks? We hope most of those changes will temporary, but we’ve prevented Covid-19 from completely overwhelming us.

Although the pandemic has revealed some dangerous gaps in preparedness, our ability as a society to respond so aggressively is encouraging; we are capable of collaborating effectively across governments and the private sector, and of rapidly changing our behavior, despite bearing substantial financial pain in the process. There will be lessons learned, but, with hindsight, most of the actions taken over past weeks will be seen as valuable. No question there has been suffering, but our actions have greatly lessened the disruption and risk to life posed by Covid-19.

Climate change and growing development pressure are far more gradual than Covid-19. Their consequences for our Muskoka way of life are at least as profound. Developing more slowly, they give us time to develop effective responses; using the available science we can carefully evaluate the consequences of alternative paths forward and make appropriate decisions. Our impressive ability to address the problem of covid-19, should strengthen our confidence that we can also preserve our way of life in the face of a changing climate and continuing development pressure.

Sure, IWM is complicated, but we have time to get it right while avoiding bureaucratic bloat. Now is the time to begin the discussions and collaborations among governments, and between them and all sectors of our community, with the goal of introducing IWM here. The science is clear: IWM is right for Muskoka; existing practices and procedures are no longer up to the task.