FeaturedOne Map, Many Adventures!

Greater Victoria NatureHood Map May2021

Tomorrow night will be exciting! I’ll be attending the Ecostar Awards Gala as the coordinator of the Greater Victoria NatureHood. We’ve been nominated for an award for innovation. This award: ” Recognizes an organization that has demonstrated innovative sustainability practices, products, services, and/or technology in their industry.”

What got us nominated is our Greater Victoria NatureHood map and brochure.Therefore, it’s only fitting that I’ll be joined by my friend and colleague, Kathleen Burton. The map is almost entirely her creation.

We’re up against some serious competition in the two other nominees in this category. To tell the truth, I’ll be surprised if we win the award. But you never know, right. And that would be simply awesome!

Greater Victoria NatureHood Map May 2021

The map has already attracted a lot of attention and accolades. In June we received a conservation partner award from Nature Canada for it, as well as for the tribute exhibit of Fenwick Lansdowne, an internationally acclaimed Canadian wildlife artiist. Because his subjects were almost always birds, his paintings were was often compared with those of John James Audubon.

The map was also finalist in this year’s Charity Village Awards. It will also be featured at this years International Cartographical Association’s conference next month in Florence, Italy.

On the ground, we’ve gone through print runs for a total of 15,000 copies in just a few months. The second run of 8000 copies was only made possible by the generosity of an anonymous donor.

Our focus now is to take the map from being a static downloadable PDF on our website to being something much more innovative and interactive. We certainly don’t have the expertise to pull this off ourselves, so we’re about to enter into a partnership with an organization that can provide state-of-the art technology in this kind of project along with a large cadre of highly trained people who know what to do with it.

Migratory Birds and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries Booklet Cover

The Greater Victoria NatureHood is also embarking on two other exciting projects. We’ll be producing three short (1 – 1.5 min) videos about each of the region’s migratory bird sanctuaries. We’re also reaching out to some local indigenous educators to bring in their nation’s knowledge and practices to the Migratory Bird Activity Booklet we produced and released last spring. 

Teacher and Students with Clams

Honestly, it would be very easy for me to carry on about all the great things the partners of the Greater Victoria NatureHood have done over the past four years, while I’ve been their coordinator. It truly is a great honour to  be working with these organizations and to be able to contribute to the realization of our shared vision:  “a deep and long-standing connection with the natural world of Greater Victoria” among residents and visitors alike.

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FeaturedSo What Have I Been Up To?

ICA Youth After Cruise Fe. 2020

I have a busy life. And, for the most part, I like it that way, especially given that everything I’m doing perfectly aligns with my passions.

Being the part-time coordinator of the Greater Victoria NatureHood keeps me hopping. It is a remarkable collaboration among 16 organizations ( two businesses, four municipal departments and ten not-for-profits) sharing the mission of instilling and deepening the connection with nature through what can be found nearby in one’s backyard, neighbourhood and region.

The Greater Victoria NatureHood initiative is made possible by funding provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada through the Canadian Wildlife Service and is administered by Nature Canada.

Over the past few years, we used some of our allotted funding to offer free cruises through the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary and by the Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary for children, youth and families, made possible by the generosity of Eagle Wing Tours, one of the current partners.

Last year, we reached out to the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria and invited them to send the 25 youth enrolled in their youth program on an all-expense, 2 hour cruise to experience and learn about the ocean surrounding much of the region with the assurance that the current COVID protocols would be followed,

The cruise was part of the All Bufflehead Day celebration which happens every year on or near Oct. 15th. There’s a fascinating story here, but it will have to wait till a later post.

The Director was

The program manager was over the moon with excitement. Her organization could not afford such an amazing experience. Many of the youth, she said, had never been on a boat, other than maybe a BC Ferry.

So you can well imagine the excitement among the youth when they walked down the wharf and gathered around one of Eagle Wing’s excellent naturalists. Even though some were more busy trying to look and act cool, most listened intently to what she had to say.

Once on board and on the way, most of them braved the cold and rainy weather to spend much of their time on the decks, watching for wildlife. No more than maybe a half an hour on the water, we encountered the first of not two, three, or four humpback whales. Two of which swam under our vessel. They surfaced and gave out a mighty blow. Now these young people know what a whale’s breath smells like. 

They also saw, heard, and smelled the sea lions hauled out at Race Rocks, and they witnessed a large female surface only a few metres from the boat with an octopus in its mouth which it then proceeded to tear apart and eat.

Youth observing a sea lion eating an octopus

You may be able to imagine the excited squeals, shrieks, shouts and laughter that prevailed on the vessel after the first sighting and throughout the rest of the cruise.

According to one of the ICA staff on the cruise, one of the students told him: “I feel like we are like a family. Being on the trip and seeing friends again to see these ocean animals is really refreshing for my spirit. It’s really calming and healing for those of us stuck at home.”

In a blog post for the association’s website, he wrote:

“Getting to share these experiences with our youth is an incredible opportunity to learn, for staff and youth alike. Our group enjoyed teaching one another words and phrases in our home languages to help point out interesting sights along the way – with “Look over there!” and “Whale, whale, whale!” in Arabic being particularly useful to our group. Getting to appreciate something bigger than yourself is a great way to put things in perspective, particularly during these tumultuous times. For our youth, it was a welcome chance to celebrate their ICA community and learn about their marine neighbours.”

Knowing that I played an important role in making this experience possible for these youth fills my heart and energizes my spirit. It keeps me going, wanting to do more with the Greater Victoria NatureHood to connect people with the nature found nearby as well as with nature more generally. The more we can touch people the way we did on this cruise, the more we can foster the development of a public ready to protect and restore nature.

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FeaturedIn The Beginning

Grandma Baker Holding Baby Me

It’s not a stretch to say that my love affair with the natural world began at birth.

At the time, my parents were living in Onanole, Manitoba, a small hamlet only a few miles south of Riding Mountain National Park. Mom’s parents lived just outside the Park’s south gate. Grandpa was the foreman of the golf course crew and Dad was one of his grounds-keeping crew.

Mom spent a lot of time with Grandma while the two men were at work.

One day while I was still a baby, Mom laid me down on a blanket underneath a few aspen trees that grew near the backdoor. She then turned to her knitting expecting me to fall asleep lolled by the rustle of the leaves in a mid-summer breeze. Instead, I became completely entranced by the magic happening above me. With each gentle puff, the silvery-green leaves would shimmer brightly against a background of intense blue. I’m sure that this is when the hunger to know these trees and the forest beyond took root.

 

Me Crawling in the Grass

Within a few months, I could be found attempting to crawl towards the thick tangle of beaked hazel that grew along the edge of the forest next door. Mom, Dad or one of my Grandparents would easily scoop me before I could even get close.

As a toddler, I presented more of a challenge. Now I could wander off quite quickly, but never fast enough to escape notice of my parents or grandparents. According to my Mom, my first sentence was the reassurance of ” I come back.” Something neither she or the others accepted. More than once, black bears had roamed through the yard and they feared that I might become a snack for one of them. As a consequence, I was put into a halter and tethered to the clothes line that ran from the backdoor to a sand pile a few yards away under the close surveillance.

Irvine Baker Grandpa B

But in a few short years, my little legs were strong enough to go for walks with Grandpa in the woods that had captured my imagination from birth. During those walks, he always carried roasted peanuts in the shell in one of his pockets. And we usually ended our wandering with a frosty mug of root beer in the little store at the foot of the hill below my grandparent’s home. But way more important was his considerable knowledge of the natural world. From him, I learned why grouse bed under the snow in winter instead of roosting in a tree or how to use aspen trees to tell directions. And, of course, my passion for the natural world grew deeper and stronger.

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FeaturedDefending Nature is Self-Defense

Things are really heating up at Fairy Creek. CTV News reports that a fight broke out between loggers and protestors today in which a protestor and a police officer were injured. The police also maintain that a vehicle with three protestors in it attempted to go around a checkpoint by driving into the ditch. In the process of becoming unstuck and driving off an officer was struck. Fortunately, the resulting injuries were not serious.

According to the news article, 403 people have been arrested todate for blockading the clear-cutting of the last stand of old growth on Southern Vancouver Island. Of these, 27 or more have been arrested more than once.

“Of the total number arrested, 298 were for breaching the injunction, 84 were for obstruction, 10 were for mischief, two for breaching their release conditions, four for assaulting a police officer, one for resisting arrest, one for counselling to resist arrest and one for public intoxication.”

There has been a concerted effort by the organizers to keep the protests and blockades peaceful and non-violent but as the confrontation intensifies, all parties are becoming easily provoked.

Meanwhile the chief and council of the Pacheedaht Nation on whose traditional unceded territory this battle is taking, has issued a second request that the protestors leave. That request was “politely refused” the same day by an 82 year old Pacheedaht elder whose English name is Bill Jones.

Now here’s a very brave man. Daring to speak out against the proposed logging and to align with the protestors has put him at odds with the chief, council and some of the members. Not a comfortable thing to do in a small community.

What’s interesting about Jones is he’s a former logger himself. So what caused him to come to the defense of the ancient trees found in the area around Fairy Creek.? It goes way, way back to his grandfather who would paddle up the San Juan River to Fairy Lake and from there walk up Fairy Creek to bathe, pray and meditate.  He would frequently remind Bill:

“You go up there to the forest. You do not cut it down. And you go there and be quiet. You pray and meditate and ask the forest what you can do — and then you come home.”

To his grandfather, the thousand year old giants that flourished there were sacred and to be protected from harm. Jones has seen first-hand the destructiveness of large-scale clearcut logging and he’s determined to defend those trees and the old growth forest they are a part of.

And he’s not alone in this cause. Many of those protesting the logging of the old growth at Fairy Creek as well as elsewhere in the province, share a similar worldview. Myself included.

We get that everything is deeply interconnected and that the harm being done to these ancient trees is harm being done to us. Clearcutting turns old growth forests into sources of carbon which contribute to climate change.

Wildfires, drought, flooding…the impacts of climate change are everywhere around us and they’re becoming more frequent, longer and intense. The little village of Lytton was almost completely burned to the ground by wildfire in late June after five days of record-smashing heat wave. The wildfire swept through the day after the temperature in the village nearly topped out at an astounding 50C. 

Continuing to clearcut old growth forests in the midst of the climate emergency is, quite frankly, insane. 

The harm done by clearcutting old growth forests runs much deeper. Speaking just for myself, I feel it vicerally as an attack on me. My sense of self, of who I am , fundamentally  includes these trees and forests, even though I’ve never seen these particular ones. I suspect that many of the other defenders feel the same.

To us, defending nature is self defense. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FeaturedLaunching the Greater Victoria NatureHood Map: A Guide to Many Adventures!

Greater Victoria NatureHood Map Page 1
Today, May 8th, is World Migratory Bird Day and the Greater Victoria NatureHood, a Nature Canada initiative, is thrilled to launch it’s Nature in the City: Guide to Many Adventures map!
 
The map’s design tells stories of urban habitats, captivating species and local parks to explore. Detailed environmental information is woven together with original artwork by Kristi Bridgeman and designed by a team of community partners led by Kathleen Burton as project manager and lead writer.
Greater Victoria NatureHood Map p2
The team consisted of individuals from the District of Saanich, the Capital Regional District, Rocky Point Bird Observatory, and Victoria Natural History Society.
 
“Initially the map was developed with the aim to deepen a connection with nature, then a global pandemic hit amidst a climate emergency. This saw the map take on a greater purpose, to create a sense of belonging for those who use it,” says Kathleen.
 
Bob Peart, founder of the Greater Victoria NatureHood and advisor to creation of the map, adds “It invites you to observe, learn and protect nature where you live.”
Bird watchers with binoculars and spotting scope
The map committee was honoured to work with SENĆOŦEN Language Revitalist, ŚW,XELOSELWET Tiffany Joseph and Erich Kelch First Nations Relations, Community Engagement Coordinator, CRD. This collaboration sees place names and species names included where possible in both SENĆOŦEN and Lekwungen languages.
 
“We wanted to go one step further than simply acknowledging the territory of the SENĆOŦEN and Lekwungen speaking peoples on whose traditional lands and waterways we live, work and play because it is with respect to those who were here before us and to their deep relationship to place continues to this day,” Peart points out. “Greater Victoria NatureHood looks forward to building a future map that includes more First Nations knowledge, language and history to provide a more complete illustration of our region’s indigenous history.”
Esquimalt Lagoon Mirgatory Bird Sanctuary
Maps are 24″ x 18″ (61cm x 46cm) flat and 4″ x9″ (10cm x 23cm) folded. Folded maps will be available to the public effective May 8, 2021, in time to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day celebrations in Greater Victoria. A limited run of 7,000 maps is available free of charge with thanks to NatureHood community partners. Schools, nonprofits and educational organizations are encouraged to contact NatureHood to request maps.
 
NatureHood Maps can be picked up, May 8-16, 2021, at the following locations:
  • Bateman Gallery
  • Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary
  • Eagle Wing Tours
  • Hotel Grand Pacific
  • Delta Ocean Point
  • Oak Bay PharmaSave
  • District of Saanich
Users of the map are encouraged to share their explorations on social media using the hashtags #gvnaturehood #naturehood and #naturalintelligence
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FeaturedSpring Wildflowers of Greater Victoria

I love spring! I mean, I really, really love spring! It may have something to do with being born in spring. But more concretely, this is the time of year when the Greater Victoria NatureHood bursts forth with multitudes of blossoms. By this year’s 44th annual Victoria Flower Count, there were nearly 66 billion blossoms counted between March 4th and the 10th. But of course, many, many more were missed.

The  most underrepresented must surely be the wildflowers. Although they’re native to the region, having evolved and adapted to the region’s unique climate and geography over hundreds of years, the delicate blooms of wildflowers are often overwhelmed by the more abundant and showy introduced species of flower plants.

 

To find these delicate beauties, all you need to do is visit one of the region’s parks or protected areas between mid-March and mid-June. You might be surprised to discover that one or more of these special places is right in your neighbourhood!

In the forest, under full or partial shade, at this time of year, you’ll likely come across these exquisite blooms.

Out in the meadows, among the Garry oaks or scattered over rocky bluffs, the following wildflowers run riot.

But the blossoms of wildflowers aren’t just found on the ground. Looking up at eye level in the shrubs, your eyes may alight on these gems!

Now, every wildflower I’ve shown you so far relies on chlorophyll to convert the sun’s energy along with carbon dioxide from the air and water to create sugar which the plants use, along with nutrients from the soil, to produce new growth, like leaves and blooms.

But what about these strange individuals? Not a chloroplast to be found anywhere in them. So how do they survive?

Striped and Spotted Coralroot are saprophytes. They draw the necessary nutrients from dead and decaying plant material.

Are these wildflowers also saprophytes? They don’t have chlorophyll either.

Paintbrush and Indian Pipe also lack chlorophyll; however, they’ve evolved to take nutrients from surrounding plants by tapping into the mycorrhizal fungi network. These plants are called parasites because they draw the energy needed for growth from other living plants.

If you’d like to learn more about the wildflowers and plants found within the Greater Victoria NatureHood, I strongly recommend getting a copy of the Revised Plants of Coastal British Columbia (including Washington, Oregon and Alaska” by Pojar and Mackinnon. Published by Lone Pine in 2004.

Have fun getting to know the wildflowers of the region! Remember to get down on your belly to be eye level so as to truly appreciate their exquisite beauty!

 

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FeaturedAn Interview with Mary Haig-Brown:

Mary Looking Out Window

A few days ago, I had the immense pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Mary Haig-Brown. She’s a bit of a local hero when it comes to restoring degraded streams in the Greater Victoria region, although Mary would be the first to downplay her contribution and instead point to the effort carried out by many others. She has volunteered countless hours over the years to stream restoration through the Friends of Tod Creek, Peninsula Streams Society and Habitat Acquisition Trust. And she shows no signs of slowing down.

That she’s so passionate about streams and creeks will come as no surprise to those who recognize the last name. Mary is the second oldest of the four children whose parents were Roderick and Ann Haig-Brown. Her father wrote numerous popular books and articles about rivers and fishing. He was also an ardent conservationist who spoke out eloquently and forcefully against rampant logging and dam-building that were destroying fish habitat.

Mary and I chatted for more than an hour and half while sipping tea and nibbling on chocolate chip cookies she had just made that morning. It is my hope, and likely hers as well, that you’ll feel inspired to get involved with restoring streams, even those that have long been buried or seemingly lost forever. Mary says, you just have to be persistent and believe in the possibility.

 

 

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FeaturedWorld Wetland Day Feb. 2, 2021

 
All over the planet, wetlands are being degraded and destroyed faster than the Amazon rainforest.
 
Here in Canada, Ducks Unlimited estimates that our country has lost as much as 70% of it’s wetlands. In parts of the prairies, that percentage is as high as 90%. Like the prairies, BC’s coastal wetlands have also been hit hard by human development. Estimates of the loss in this region range  between 60 – 70%.
 
Wetlands are not waste lands. They provide countless ecological services for free, such as water purification, flood protection, and wildlife habitat. These functions could save governments and taxpayers millions of dollars in building new or repairing existing infrastructure such as water treatment plants or dike systems.
 
There are also strong moral, ethical and even spiritual reasons to protect and restore wetlands.
 
The following short documentary, which I produced five years ago, underscored the urgent need for farmers and the governments of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta to get much more serious about engaging in this vitally important work.
 
It was broadcast by Shaw Community Stations in those three provinces on this day.
 
It’s message is just as relevant today as it was five years ago.
 
I hope you enjoy it.
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