Barrie’s Lake – a wetland worth saving

This past weekend (September 24-25th, 2016) I was part of a BioBlitz at Barrie’s Lake. A BioBlitz is a gathering of scientific professional and hobbyists to inventory the flora and fauna of a natural area.

Barrie’s Lake is an 88-acre wetland in North Dumfries bordering on the city of Cambridge. Bernice Beal who is better know as “the turtle lady’ owns 83 of the 88 acres of wetland. Bernice bought the wetland some 15 years ago and that is pretty much when the battle to protect this wetland and its inhabitants began. A battle that among other things caused Bernice to purchase and additional 10 acres of land to prevent a gravel company from blasting for gravel too close to the lake.

As an Authorized Wildlife Custodian I became aware of Barrie’s Lake last year after questioning the large number of injured turtles coming to me from the Roseville Road area. Bernice, her daughter Sue and a group of like-minded locals have been doing their best to prevent turtle road casualties for years. Some of the not so lucky ones end up as ‘guests’ at Hobbitstee. Despite everyone’s best efforts, hundreds of turtles get killed each year on Roseville Road.

I finally made it out to Barrie’s Lake in person not long ago. I was traveling around returning turtles back to their habitats after they had recovered from injuries sustained as a result of above mentioned collisions with cars and I was very taken by what I saw.

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me getting ready to release a Snapping Turtle at Barrie’s Lake

Barrie’s Lake was officially surveyed and designated a provincially significant wetland in 2004, but has not been resurveyed since. After speaking with several scientists I also learned that the wetland surveying is not intended as a full species survey like I had previously assumed making me think that a BioBlitz would be a great idea.

Over the years however scientists have visited Barrie’s Lake and particularly the migratory birds have been well documented. A recent survey of Shorebirds found a variety of 9 shorebirds and that list included Least Bitterns. Least Bitterns are listed as Threatened on the Species at Risk Ontario List, giving them and their habitat extra protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Over the years many other birds that are listed on the Species at Risk list have been spotted at Barrie’s Lake. Among them are the Bank Swallow (threatened), Bald Eagle (at risk), Barn Swallow (threatened), Chimney Swift (threatened) and after this weekends BioBlitz we can add the Rusty Blackbird (threatened) to the list.

The wetland also has been found a hunting ground for Bald Eagles, Osprey, Merlins and a variety of other birds of prey.

During the BioBlitz I had the pleasure of watching a large flock of wood ducks land, while the Sandhill Cranes took flight. It was amazing to watch the Belted Kingfishers dive for fish and the multitude of turtles bask. There was still a variety of butterflies busy visiting some wildflowers while many dragon flies practices their air-acrobatics.

 

 

One of the other great features of Barrie’s Lake is the presence of an Oak Savanna. Oak Savanna’s are not common in this part of Ontario. An Oak Savanna differs from an Oak Woodland by the openness of the trees. A lack of density allows for the trees to spread out in width and this creates a very unique landscape.

The presences of Wild Cranberries and Tamaracks are good indicators that Barrie’s Lake is a Fen. Fens are rare in Southern Ontario. They are very sensitive to slight alterations in pH and dependent on a certain nutrient consistency.

During the BioBlitz it was noted by experts that there is very little to no buffer zone  between the adjoining farmland and Barrie’s lake. The subsequent leaching of nutrients into the wetland will cause a change in the nature of the wetland, which in turn will effect the water, vegetation, and inhabitants of Barrie’s Lake. To permanently protect Barrie’s Lake this should be rectified.

Realistically Barrie’s Lake and its inhabitants are constantly threatened by human encroachment from all directions and with each small victory another threat materializes. No amount of laws, designations or mitigation seems to be able to protect this sensitive wetland and its inhabitants from further harm. Our laws intended to protect amazing natural gems such as Barrie’s Lake appear to be full of loopholes allowing for circumvention of protection for the sheer purpose of profit.

After a recent win to prevent the building of a cell tower Bernice and her family are now faced with the threat of a proposed development of the Cambridge side of Barrie’s Lake, which will negatively impact this very sensitive wetland.

However, we need to continue to strive for and celebrate each small victory. This weekend was a success. We cataloged many species of Flora and Fauna for future use while we enjoyed the beauty and peace at Barrie’s lake.

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The great Blanding’s Turtle migration…

I have to get this of my chest. I can’t stop forming images in my head of Blanding’s Turtles walking down the road carrying all their worldly belongings in a suitcase as they make the epic journey down to the newly created wetland.

But wait a minute…it is not going to happen this way because we lack the skills to properly ‘notify’ the Blanding’s Turtles and other wildlife of the impending threat to their existence.

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Blanding’s Turtle we helped recover after getting hit by a car in a protected area

All silliness aside, I am referring to the recent proposal made to the provincial government by a major developer.

link to the proposal

This developer would like to build a subdivision on a protected wetland area near Ottawa. This area is protected because it has Butternut trees (listed SARO endangered), Least Bitterns frequent it (listed SARO threatened)  and Blanding’s Turtle’s live there(listed SARO Threatened).

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Least Bittern we had in our care after it sustained a head injury from the slipstream of a truck

In the proposal it states that the developer will create a wetland at an alternate location to ‘make up’ for the one that will be destroyed. That is great, but turtles are not exactly the serious migratory type…So despite the romanticized fairy tale I used earlier, in reality this means putting a subdivision on top of the Blanding’s Turtles…and destroying their habitat which will mean the majority (if not all) of the Blanding’s Turtles currently present in that wetland will die and it will also greatly effect the other herptiles who live in that wetland.

Granted female turtle’s will travel to lay eggs in a location that meets their criteria, but I can’t see how they can be motivated to move at mass to a newly created wetland within a time frame designated by a developer.

Turtle’s do everything slow…Look at them, they are modern day dinosaurs. Evolution can’t even make them hurry.

The proposal also request permission to remove 120 Butternut trees, but the remaining trees that are there will be fenced in so that they are protected…and they will collect seeds and replant seedlings…but 120 mature butternut trees will be destroyed…

The developer makes many suggestions in the proposal in an attempt to appear to minimize interference with the current SARO listed species present in this wetland,  but a lot of those measures seem unrealistic and far fetched to me.

I can’t help but think…if a new wetland can be created in an alternate location…would it not be much simpler to build the subdivision in this alternate location and leave the existing wetland and the species it harbors alone?