October 29, 2014

Conservation Conversation for rural residents

As published in Sideroads Magazine

A new social media website will allow rural landowners to share their expertise, building a network of people who care about preserving the countryside.

The Countryside Stewardship Connection is a project of Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), supported by a $30,000 grant from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation.

It provides residents with an interactive online tool to engage in dialogue, post events, read success stories and ask for advice. Businesses and community groups can become partners and display information on the site as well.

Shannon Lem, CVC Program Assistant for Landowner Outreach, said there is a need to provide better support for non-farm rural residents, who don’t have the strong organizations that benefit farmers.

“We saw the opportunity to create something on-line for rural landowners within the Credit River watershed where they could really talk to each other and share all the things that they’ve learned over their years of caring for their own properties,” she said. The forum will also make it easy for people to access CVC staff expertise.

“In this age of social media, there’s a growing expectation that we can access people and information in a much faster way. Primarily, it’s intended to be a spot to foster community engagement,” she said.

Burkhard Mausberg, CEO of the Greenbelt Foundation, says the site will “build strong connections across the Greenbelt”, with CVC making the platform available to other interested conservation authorities.

The address is www.csconnection.ca, accessible via cell phone, tablet or computer. Conversations are grouped into 17 general forums such as Gardens & Landscaping, Wells, Septic Systems, Grasslands, Local Food, Ponds and Wetlands. The first question under Pollinators was about the Rusty-patched bumble bee, an endangered species in Ontario.

The first topic under Grasslands was the Bird-Friendly Certified Hay Program, supporting the declining populations of bobolink and eastern meadowlark, which nest in grasslands and are threatened by habitat loss. Hay growers who agree to delay their first cutting until July 15 enable the young birds to mature and leave their nests.

CVC hosts a web page for hay producers and buyers, promoting certified hay as a niche product that can create an advantage in the marketplace among environment-conscious consumers.

The on-line Connection project is just one part of CVC’s Countryside Stewardship Program. In 2014, there has been a series of Twilight Tours, covering topics such as the benefits of stream restoration and the value of agricultural cover crops. One session at the Ken Whillans Resource Management Area in Caledon dealt with management of invasive plant species, one of many areas where CVC offers free consultation, with financial assistance for plant removal and site restoration.

Another event showed landowners how to create gardens that specifically benefit plant pollinators such as bees, butterflies, moths, flies, wasps and beetles.

“Many pollinators, particularly bees, are in decline due to human activity and habitat loss,” said Mike Puddister, Director of Restoration and Stewardship at CVC. “Native plants provide habitat and food for these important species, improving the overall health of the environment.”

CVC also has regulatory authority over land use that affects wetlands and streams, and landowners are sometimes upset when they are restricted in what they can build or change on their property.

“Overcoming distrust or negative impressions is often really about creating a dialogue, and through communication, misunderstandings are very frequently sorted out,” said Lem.

“Our stewardship staff strive to engage with landowners in a meaningful way so that we can build positive relationships. I know people don’t like to be told what they can and can’t do on their property. And it is theirs, but only to the point that we can own something that we all share. Our natural resources are shared, and we all have a shared responsibility to protect those resources. That is always our goal. We’re not trying to put obstacles in people’s way.”

Conservation Authorities are on the front lines when it comes to dealing with the effects of climate change and more frequent severe storms. In urban areas, CVC promotes Low Impact Development to cushion the impact of stormwater, while in rural areas the goals are similar – reducing erosion, stream contamination and surface water volume.

CVC’s stewardship efforts are part of a broader movement, including the Stewardship Network of Ontario and the Ontario Biodiversity Council, dedicated to preserving long-term sustainable use of lands and waters that are threatened by human development and climate change.

With 90% of land in the watershed privately owned, the cooperation of owners is critical to the success of conservation efforts. Farmers have traditionally considered themselves stewards of the land, while many non-farm rural residents have moved to the country with an interest in preserving the attractive natural environment.

CVC can be a partner, providing not only scientific advice, but also funding that can make conservation projects affordable. A new grant program called the Landowner Action Fund is expected this fall, supporting a wide range of improvements not directly related to farming.

There is an ongoing series of workshops where residents get a copy of “Your Guide to Caring for the Credit”, and assistance in creating personalized property plans to protect the integrity of their land and water.

Brian Boyd, CVC Forestry Planting Project Coordinator, takes 
members of the public on a forest tour during a Tree ID Workshop. 
Photo courtesy of CVC.

CVC is known for its tree planting and woodlot management services. With an available subsidy, landowners can get two acres of seedlings planted for $225.

For rural non-farm residents of Erin and north Caledon, the CVC Stewardship contact is Holly Nadalin, while in south Caledon it is Alison Qua-Enno. Extensive information, including a Landowner Resource Centre, is available at the CVC website, www.creditvalleyca.ca, in the section called “Your Land and Water”.

Program Coordinator Mark Eastman is part of the CVC effort to build trusting relationships with farmers. In July, Ontario Nature awarded him the J.R. Dymond Public Service Award for his environmental achievements. He has led numerous private land stewardship initiatives, including pasture and manure management, invasive species control, wetland fencing and wildlife habitat protection. Under Healthy Lands for Healthy Horses, landowners are connected to funding and service providers for the implementation of best management practices.

Mark Eastman
Another of CVC’s longstanding programs is the Peel Rural Water Quality Program, in partnership with the Region of Peel. Farm projects that qualify under best practices criteria can receive grants covering 50% to 100% of total costs.

These include up to $10,000 for barnyard runoff control, irrigation management, milkhouse washwater disposal, erosion control and tree planting, $20,000 for fencing livestock away from environmentally sensitive features, or enhancing natural areas, and $25,000 for manure storage systems. Well capping is available directly through the Region of Peel for all landowners.

The Greenbelt Foundation has also funded the placement of signs along trails in Caledon and Erin in an effort to educate people about the efforts farmers have made to reduce their impact on the environment. These include Nutrient Management Plans, keeping animals out of streams and development of buffer strip vegetation to reduce runoff of soil, manure, fertilizers and pesticides. Learn more at www.caringfortheland.com.

Upper Credit Conservation Area near Alton, showing the
streambank buffer zones of vegetation that reduce erosion. 

A horse farm next to Erin village, with the
Elora-Cataract Trailway running beside it.