Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Species at Risk

Swamp-rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)
(click to expand)

Canada has 487 species at risk as defined by the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Of these 13 are extinct, 22 extirpated, 184 endangered, 129 threatened, and 152 of special concern. Species are placed in a category depending on a variety of factors which include overall numbers, amount of habitat, food sources, climate conditions, disease etc. Unfortunately the list keeps on growing.

I have done some research on the SARA plant species for the Native Plant Database run by Evergreen. Most of the plant species listed suffer from one cause: habitat loss due to human encroachment. Wetlands in particular are at risk. We seem to drain them, plow them under, or fill them in with alarming regularity. Developers and property owners view them as a waste asset. Also who wants a swamp behind their shopping plaza? Better to pave it and make it a parking lot!

Not many people seem to realize that wetlands are one of Canada's most diverse ecosystems, supporting many species of plants and animals. The above pictured plant is just one of our wetland wonders. I found this one growing at one of our restored wetlands in the Don at the Brick Works. Swamp-rose Mallow is a rather striking and beautiful flower that grows at the edge of wetlands. It is currently listed as a species of Special Concern by SARA and it is restricted to wetland areas of Southern Ontario. As already mentioned these areas continue to disappear. At the Brick Works it seems to be flourishing and is growing in at least three places. In established areas it can grow into clumps of up to 70 plants. That's probably an amazing sight.

Each flower produces about 100 seeds. According to the description, the seeds are eaten by ducks. Some of these seeds are later excreted by same and this way can be spread to new wetlands.

This year I am performing a small experiment. I collected a couple of seed heads and will try to grow these seeds at other Don wetlands (no ducks will be harmed in this process). This is one plant that is worth propagating. I will keep you posted on the results.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Taylor Massey Creek: Tale of a Watershed, Part I

I have a story to tell. I started writing but it became so long I felt it would be better break it into three or four parts. Part I describes the geography of the creek and some of the urban issues that affect it.

Taylor Massey Creek is a small river that is part of the Don watershed. It exists entirely within the new city of Toronto. It begins in the city around Pharmacy Ave. and Hwy 401. It flows south and east towards St. Clair Ave. East before turning west to join the Don River, East Branch just north of the forks of the Don.

The northern portion is in the worst shape. For the most part it flows in a concrete lined ditch. In places it is buried in a tunnel and in other areas it flows unseen behind the backyards of a neighbourhood in the Warden and Lawrence area.

Between Lawrence and Eglinton it flows through an industrial area. Only south of Eglinton does it show signs of life. Here the banks are earthen yet somehow it looks as neglected as the ravine park surrounding it. Groves of junk trees such as Siberian Elm and Manitoba Maple shade a sombre looking, slow moving creek, occasionally tinged with the residue from its polluted sources farther north.

Eventually it enters the Pine Hills Cemetery where it is a little more protected. Still at the south edge of the cemetery it is bracketed by two banks lined with ominous looking gabion baskets.

Just west of Birchmount it enters a small park that includes one of the first naturalized areas and the creek begins to show hints of what it surely used to look like before Toronto started to strangle it with development.

South of St. Clair is where it looks it best. From here, back down to Pharmacy, it occupies a ravine park called Warden Woods. Here the creek is allowed to meander mostly unhindered. However there are signs of past abuse such as a pipe crossing the bed of the creek which has become unearthed due to erosion.

Between Pharmacy and Victoria Park the creek is again lost, this time occupied by a city owned golf course called Dentonia Park. The only way of viewing the creek is by playing a round of golf.

West of Victoria Park one can walk uninterrupted all the way to the Don. This section is called Taylor Creek Park and is well used (maybe too well) by dog-walkers, mountain bikers, joggers and family outings. The mouth of the creek empties into the Don, but it is unceremoniously shadowed by the Don Valley Parkway under which it flows.

Now for a few facts. Taylor Massey Creek (TMC) is seriously degraded by storm water outflows. The post war planners who hastily built the surrounding suburbs of North York and Scarborough didn't pay too much attention to where they directed the waste water. The thinking then was get it away fast, out of sight, out of mind. TMC was the unfortunate recipient. The result it that whenever there is a rainstorm TMC fills up and flows quickly. In some places it overflows its banks causing damage to the surrounding parkland. With the runoff flows the usual litany of pollutants such as oil, grease, salt, lawn pesticides and fertilizers, and of course, dog shit. One study estimated that TMC is responsible for 80% of the pollutants in the lower Don after a rainstorm.

The planners who put together the Wet Weather Flow Management Master Plan recognized this and have targeted TMC for major improvements in the 2008-12 time period. They would have started work earlier but Highland Creek just to east of TMC is in even worse shape. So Highland Creek is being worked on instead of TMC.

The upper reaches of the TMC watershed are in such bad shape that the Works department no longer recognizes it as a functioning watershed. The headwaters of TMC, just north of the 401 now flow into a storm sewer that empties into Highland Creek. The creek has frequently been manipulated in this way to its detriment.

Not everything looks so bleak. The new headwaters, just south of the 401, have been restored by the TRCA into a model series of naturalized ponds and islands with connecting swales that have been fully planted with native reeds and flowers. Visit Terraview Willowfield if you ever want to see what TMC could look like.

Next: the FODE story.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Green Frog

(click to expand)

One of my favourite places to visit is the Don Valley Brick Works. I was there today to work on a pet project - a survey of flowering plants. The survey is a personal project. I thought it would be good to create an inventory of species in the quarry ponds. To do a proper inventory you need to visit at least three times of the year, once each during spring, summer, and fall. So far I have completed the summer and fall surveys. Without going into too much detail, I have catalogued about 70 species of which 28 are non-native. Of these 12 are considered invasive. At least there are more natives than non-natives - a good sign?

While doing the survey I came across this little guy sitting on a stone at the edge of a pond. He was nice enough to let me take a few pictures including the one displayed here. This is a Green Frog (Rana clamitans). It is one of two common species found in the Don. The other is the American Toad (Bufo americanus). Both species have managed to adapt to the urban environment. They can often be found hibernating in backyards. Other species need a less disturbed habitat so you won't find them in the Don. Both the Green Frog and the American Toad have been seen at the Brick Works.

I happen to know this is a male frog. This can be determined by looking at the large brown circle behind the eye. This is the eardrum. If the circle is noticeably larger than the eye, it is male; if it is about the same size it is a female. Green Frogs are more often heard than seen. The mating call is a single low-pitched twang, sounds like 'galamp' or 'galumph'.

The Metro Zoo has a website called Adopt-A-Pond and it is a good source for information on pond dwelling creatures, including the Green Frog. If you visit this site you can hear a recorded sound of their voice.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Valley is a little less homeless

People living in the valley has always been a touchy subject for us. Technically speaking there are bylaws that say that nobody can live in a city park which is what most of the Don is (zoned as undeveloped parkland). However the city has chosen to overlook the fact that people have been pitching tents in the lower Don mostly because they can't deal with people living on the street. Whenever the issue has been discussed by the Task Force we have been made to feel like crass, unfeeling opportunists. So the valley experiences an urban blight in places, especially on the west side of the river just south of the Bloor viaduct.

However two things have happened recently to change things a little. First , the storm that occurred in August found some of the campers up to their armpits in muddy, fast flowing water. They had to beat a hasty retreat to higher ground as their posessions were washed away. In one case the police marine unit had to rescue one of them who was stranded on a newly formed island. The sudden realization that, yes this is a floodplain, has dissuaded most of them from returning.

Secondly, the city has created a successful program called "Streets to Homes". Created to address the problem of homeless sleeping in Nathan Phillips Square, the program has removed people from the street by finding them permanent accommodation. Outreach workers from this program have approached the Don homeless and is now starting to place them in apartments.

This was reported in an article in Saturday's Globe and Mail (for some reason the article is not available on their website). So the upshot is that the homeless get a permanent residence and we get a valley that can be restored with a little less human interference. Our next move will be to ensure the "Streets to Homes" program is expanded to be "Ravines to Homes" as well.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Big Pipe Surprise

Last week I reported on several items on the Works Committee agenda that concerned the Don. One item that I thought needed more attention was the York Region Big Pipe. My feeling was that this report would be quietly received and then shelved.

It was a pleasant surprise to wake up this morning and read the Globe and Mail's columnist John Barber who reports that a deputation of York environmentalists deputed before the committee on this item. The committee voted unanimously to support their cause and sick our lawyers on their lawyers.

What business does Toronto have messing around in York Region's turf? Lots. The Don (and the Humber and the Rouge, etc.) doesn't end at Steeles - this is shared property. One argument the environmentalists used was that Toronto had previously supported the battle against Oak Ridges development. Toronto's financial support was instrumental in winning that fight. Now it's doing just the same thing for another insidious urban sprawl-friendly development plan.

Hurray for us. Stopping the Big Pipe can only be good for the upper Don watershed. We need to retain as much natural cover in the upper Don or storm damage like the one in August will only get worse. Or the river might just dry up altogether as the base flow is diverted into the pipe.

You can read John Barber's article online if you have a subscription. If you don't you'll need to read a paper copy (available at any library).

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Praying Mantis

(click on picture for a close-up)

This has got to be one of my favourite insects. I spotted this guy resting on a pillar beneath the Gardiner near the mouth of the Don. From the order Mantodea there are roughly 2000 species worldwide, mostly in tropical and subtropical climates. It normally holds its two front legs folded up in front of its head like someone praying, hence the name.

A masterful predator, it subsists mostly on flies and insects. It uses its green body to blend in with vegetation and waits for an unsuspecting victim to crawl by. With lightning speed it grabs its prey with its two front legs and quickly devours it. Wikipedia (one of my favourite internet information resources) has a link to another page which someone took of a praying mantis catching a hummingbird! As an opportunistic hunter I suppose it doesn't discriminate as to the contents of its lunch. Creatures like these continue to make the Don a fascinating place.

Monday, September 12, 2005


The Don Valley is laced with 'infrastructure'. The fact that no one lives in the valley (aside from a few scattered squatters) makes it a valuable habitat for wildlife. It also makes it a preferred target for government to dump stuff that no one else wants.

To date, there are two major highways, two railways, three pipelines, a hydroelectric corridor, two snow dump sites, and a sewage treatment plant. It used to be home to a number of dump sites but these have thankfully been closed down. There is also a network of sewer pipes of various kinds and unfortunately this network is about to expand.

There is currently an old trunk sewer running east under the valley just north of Pottery Rd. It services the Bennington Heights area, a neighbourhood at the south end of Leaside. The sewer pipe is deteriorating and needs replacing. Rather than fix what's there, the plan is to build a new pipe that will run northeast through Crothers' Woods and connect with the North Toronto Sewage Treatment Plant. This wouldn't be too bad except it will slice through some of the best forest left in the lower Don. It will also disrupt some of the city's restoration efforts in the area.

The city is piggybacking on a design project completed by the old borough of East York to start the project without any further input from the public. Since the project was done prior to amalgamation and outside of the old city of Toronto, the Task Force at the time was not informed and even then would not have had any say so. The city was nice enough to let us know that they were starting the project. The Task Force was able to suggest a minor reroute that will cause less impact on the natural areas of the forest but the pipe is pretty much a done deal.

If anyone is interested, project plans can be viewed on Monday September 12, 5-8 PM at Rosedale United Church, 159 Roxborough Drive, at the corner of Glen Rd.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Works at Works

One of the unofficial duties I perform for the Task Force is to browse the agenda of city committees and look for items that are pertinent to the Don. Every month I dig through agendas for Works, Planning, Parks, and the various community councils that might impact the Don watershed. So far this month the Works Committee has the juiciest items. They are:

WWFMMP Implementation Advisory Committee

There's a mouthful. The city is creating a new committee and inviting interested groups, including the Bring Back the Don, to appoint members. It should be noted that the city was going to appoint all the members until the Task Force insisted that we get our own appointee. Now of course everybody gets a piece of the pie.

York Region's Big Pipe

This one is a little vague on its impact to the Don. Basically it is saying there is no direct impact on the Don and the Humber to the sewer construction. What it doesn't address is the indirect affect of draining water from the Oak Ridges moraine. This water might have flowed into the Don. This project could affect base flows of several rivers but there is no data to prove that.

Source protection

Here's an interesting one. The city along with the TRCA is moving to protect water sources within the watershed. The city realizes that protecting water sources of the rivers is as important as protecting the rivers themselves (which belies the previous document, does the one hand know what the other is doing?).

Budget for source protection

Creating a budget for the aforementioned item.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Notes from the EA front lines

With apologies to Guns n' Roses...

Welcome to the Environmental Assessment

We got evaluation n' consultation

We got everything you want

As long as its technically feasible

We are the people that can find

Whatever the Don River may need

If you got the money honey

We got you a process.

I went to one of the public forums for the Don Mouth Naturalization last night. It is one of the first of many meetings to decide what to do with the mouth of the Don. From the simple vision “Let's build a marsh at the mouth of the Don” we get 2 year process of collecting all the ideas, engaging the stakeholders, mapping the infrastructure, integrating it into existing planning projects, and then after all that's done, build a marsh at the mouth of the Don. Not necessarily the best approach but one that is mandated by the lengthy environmental assessment process. At least the consultants and facilitators are happy.

Attending the event were about 60 people. This was made up mostly of the usual suspects, meaning environmentalists and other community activists who have an interest in the outcome. There were also a few community members who have quite a different viewpoint on what gets done because they will have to live with it (literally).

I forgot that meetings like this brings out a few people with odd perceptions of reality. (OK, wackos). During the workshop portion of the meeting we sat around tables and discussed a number of questions such as “Are you more comfortable with the evaluation approach or the consultation approach?”. One woman at my table continually muttered gibberish about property taxes and the CBC strike. While we considered challenges and opportunities for the Don mouth naturalization she declaimed that all this would become irrelevant because of Bill 169. What has this got to do with transportation safety? Sorry lady, outside of scope.

So the process continues. I imagine many people will become weary with it all long before it ends. Fortunately groups like the Task Force have the staying power to see it through.For me, I just want to see some cattails growing at the mouth of the river.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Blogging 101

After talking to a couple of people who read this blog, it surprised me that they were not aware of some of the basic features. So here is a brief tutorial:

Pictures: the pictures posted here may seem a bit small but you can click on them to view a larger version.

Comments: at the bottom of every post is a link that says "n Comments" where n is a number, usually zero. This feature allows you to make a reply to the post which everyone can see. You can reply anonymously or enter your name or add in a link to your own blog. The important thing here is that you can add in your own 2 cents worth. I try to reply to every comment so a dialogue can be started.

So here's to happy blogging!

Fall Newsletter

Twice a year the Task Force publishes a newsletter. This is our primary vehicle for advertising our activities and events. No one knows how effect it is, if it's reaching the right people, or if anyone actually reads it. As part of the city we aren't allowed to collect survey information - privacy laws you know... Actually we could try but the approval process is so labryinthine it's not worth the effort.

Nevertheless, the newsletter has been published and will be mailed out soon. In this edition we highlight the October 1st wet weather flow workshop (see previous post), Green Heron and Kestrel sightings as well as our usual list of walks and plantings, sponsor thankyous, etc. My new online section on wetlands is mentioned along with three of my photos.

One of the advantages of the internet is electronic publishing. An advanced copy in PDF format is available on our website.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Wet Weather Flow Workshop

It's Labour Day and summer's over (yikes!). But for the Don that means that fall events will start soon. Already the Task Force has published its schedule of planting events and walking tours. One event in particular that I feel needs to be highlighted is a workshop that we are organizing. It is called the Wet Weather Flow Management Workshop. Through a grant from the Toronto Conservation Authority (TRCA), we are offering a seminar on how home owners can do their bit to reduce wet weather flow by retaining water on their property.

Easy solutions are available but more education is needed. Did you know that interlocking brick is as impermeable as concrete if not installed properly? Did you know that grass lawn does not hold much water? The seminar hopes to answer some of these questions. Participants should leave with a greater awareness of the wet weather flow problem and some useful ideas that they can use reduce runoff from their property.

The workshop is being held on Oct 1 at Todmorden Mills. Starting at 12:30 PM, participants will be led through a series of seminars talking about a variety of topics. After the workshops there will be a native wildflower planting in the neighbouring nature preserve.

You can register by email at donworkshops@hotmail.com.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Deer Video

I just put a video of a deer walking through Crothers' Woods on the Friends of the Don East website. The video is 3.7M in size and it's only 8 seconds long. There is probably some video compression routine I can run but I am new to video files so this will have to do. It downloads fine on my high speed connection but you may be waiting awhile if you're only dial-up.

The video was taken on a walk through the woods with city staff and Councillor Jane Pitfield in tow. The subject of the walk was a perennial favourite - mountain biking. Ms. Pitfield would like to see the bikers go away and leave her forest alone. Fortunately, city staff is being a little more patient and is actually trying to work with the bikers to build sustainable trails. You can read my trail building article on the Task Force website from last year to see how this is happening.

Back to the deer... as we were stopped at a trail intersection, the deer popped out of the woods about 10 metres away from us and casually continued on its way. It wasn't even perturbed by our presence. Since more deer are making their way through the Don corridor and starting to overwinter this may be a more common sight.