Month: February 2021

Paige’s Pick – Wisdom for a Liveable Planet

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This month, the book for Paige’s pick is Wisdom for a Liveable Planet by Carl N. McDaniel. The book focuses on a wide span of environmental issues including the location of hazardous waste incinerators, restoration of ecosystems, sustainable agriculture, the importance of local communities in the age of globalization, population growth, economics that reflect the principles of nature, climate change, and education to promote environmentally aware and proactive citizens.

This book likely has a chapter that you can connect with. Each chapter focuses on one of the topics mentioned in the previous paragraph and dives into the stories of one of the environmentalists focused on the issue.

Nearly every single issue mentioned in the book relates back to water. The agriculture chapter talks about the interconnectedness of our food production and the health of our water resources. Agriculture is a type of non-point source pollution which makes it difficult to pin point where the harm is coming from. Green agriculture uses less resources and also results in less polution. Being conscious of where our food comes from can have a major impact on water which is essential for all life.

The chapter on economics brings home the point of how our society relies on the environment. Every one of the goods in our home comes from the environment in one way or another. Although this idea may not be something on the minds of the everyday person, it’s critical to think about our relationship to the environment. One quote that stands out is “what good is a sawmill without a forest, a fishing boat without populations of fish, a refinery without petroleum deposits, an irrigated farm without an aquifer or river?”. Taking care of the environment and living within natural limits is crucial for the longevity of our species and many others. The cod fishery off of Newfoundland is an example of what happens when we take beyond nature’s limit. What once an abundant ecosystem and livelihood for many, is now gone.

Throughout Wisdom for a Livable Planet, there are many examples to inspire change and to make people think critically about our lifestyles. There are examples of where humans have gone too far and have impoverished ecosystems, but there are also examples of where people have come together to create positive change. The book also offers a comprehensive list of further reading for further information on the eight issues presented in the book.

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Water Quality in Maymaquayshwak

Monitoring the Water Quality within the traditional territory of the Maymaquayshwak

The float plane the Lakehead team flew on.

Back in 2020, I had the opportunity to sit down with Donald Meekis and Dan Duckert to discuss the building and growing relationship between Keewaytinook Okimakanak Tribal Council, North Spirit Lake First Nation, and Lakehead University’s Department of Geography. Their work together focuses on understanding the pressures that northern remote communities face with new resource extraction development in their territories, and the potential effects mineral development has on the community’s physical and spiritual values of water. Their work is funded through Indigenous Services Canada – Baseline Health Assessment Program.

This article is based on an interview with Donald Meekis and Dan Duckert who are coordinators on the project. Donald is the Operations Director at Keewaytinook Okimakanak Tribal Council and a community member of Deer Lake First Nation. Dan is the Director of Research, Treaties, Lands and Resources at the Tribal Council and is an adjunct professor in the Geography Department at Lakehead University.

Water Quality Monitoring Project Background

The project takes place in the traditional territory of the Maymayquakshwak where there is a mining interest for a lithium deposit. Advanced exploration has begun, and environmental monitoring is being done by the company. The issue though, is that the results are not effectively present to the Maymayquakshwak. The environmental monitoring done by the company uses western science to monitor the water and the land, but western science often neglects traditional knowledge, and lacks the incorporation of the community and their cultural practices. The research team is working on teasing out an indigenous concept of water quality where stories are told across generations. The voices of the community want to be heard with their knowledge applied. The community is also interested in understanding the western science side of water quality. They want to be able to have a knowledge of both ways of seeing to allow them to have conversation with people who are interested in projects on their land.

The project involves getting people out on the land. There is a partnership with the Keewaytinook Internet high school where students get out on the land tell their stories and learn the water monitoring sample protocol. This is blending the traditional knowledge of the community with the western science of water sampling. The community is encouraged to use the land and tell stories while Dan and his research team are conducting samples. The stories about the land and the water are more than just oral telling they include artwork, writing, video, or any other medium that conveys the importance of water. Sharing stories between the generations of the community is another important aspect of the project. Although covid-19 has altered the initial plans, the team is encouraged with what they experienced on their first trip.

Working Together – the blending of two worldviews

The project is a collaboration between different groups with different experiences and worldviews. Donald mentions that the community is always looking for partnerships and that Dan has been their bridge and that they have created this relationship of “back and forth learning. I learn from Dan and Dan learns from us”. The project embraces a two-eyed seeing approach where solutions develop that satisfy both worldviews. The project involves all generations in the community. There are many opportunities for elders to connect with the youth and for a broad sense of knowledge to be developed.

With the collaboration with Lakehead University, professors and students have the opportunity to take part in this unique project. There is then the possibility for the professors and students to share their experiences and what they’ve learned with the larger community at Lakehead. At the end of the day, the project focuses on blending knowledge. All parties involved have something to give and something to learn. It is through the trust and developed relationships that this unique project has been able to unfold.

What Does Indigenous Water Quality look like?

Indigenous water quality can be somewhat of a foreign concept to the average westerner who views the water as a resource that can be extracted, or that needs physical protection for the purpose of providing goods to humans. Western science focuses on point sampling, but indigenous water quality is cultural. As Donald says, “the people and the land are one”. Elders are important knowledge holders, they know where medicines are, where berries are, where sacred sites are, where grave sites are. Indigenous water quality includes more than the phosphorus levels and turbidity levels. Water is an intimate part of the community. It is more than an ecosystem service; it is their home and their way of life.

Dan plays a role in bridging the indigenous worldview and the western worldview. Dan and other researchers from Lakehead University work together to incorporate both ways of knowing. Mining companies, for example, have an interest in development. They will perform their own monitoring and send results, oftentimes full of jargon to the community. The community wants to understand what is going on, which is where Dan and his team come in. They work with the community, going out on the land and using the land in traditional ways while teaching community members the western point sampling techniques. Problems arise when companies come and try to protect a sacred site by putting a buffer around it. The idea may sound valid on paper, but the buffer changes the spiritual meaning of the site, essentially putting the site on the shelf, treating it as an artifact, and deeming it unable to use. The sacred sites within the watershed and on the river are important to the community, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically.

What does water mean to you and your community?

            Donald is from Deer Lake and his community is situated on 65-mile-long lake. Their survival is dependent on the fish, and they are part of the sucker clan. Their history is embedded with stories about water. The water is their home. Donald tells a story about an important trip he took where he retraced his dads courting trails. He traversed the waters between North Spirit Lake where his dad is from and Deer Lake where his mom is from. At one point he got lost and thanks to modern technologies was able to call his dad who from the description of the land could tell Donald where to go to get back on track. Even though he was lost, he was still at home. The idea of home extends beyond the walls of a house for Donald and his community and encompasses the land and water.

            There is a confidence that comes with being connected to the land and water and having a relationship with it. Even when you’re lost you can feel you’re at home and know you will survive it. There is knowledge that includes far more than personal experience. It includes the stories and the experiences of the generations that came before. Water is part of their identity. Water is far more than just a liquid you drink, or a place to catch your fish. It holds history and meaning and there is a responsibility embodied with their relationship to water. They take care of the water because the water takes care of them. The water has provided them with home and food for as long as stories can tell. To Donald and his community water is home.

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The Impending Loss of the Last Caribou on Lake Superior’s North Shore

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A group of scientists and researchers are interested in conserving the few remaining mainland Caribou along the north shore of Lake Superior. Gordon Eason, Brian McLaren, Christian Schroeder, Serge Couturier, and Marcel Pellegrini want to bring the attention of the last caribou along the north shore of Lake Superior. This past year was full of news coverage, mainly on the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe. But this group of five wants to highlight a story that is going under the radar.

Caribou are a fascinating species that make their way into pop culture, hello Rudolph! But the story they want to highlight is not Rudolph’s red nose, it is the threatened extinction status of the Lake Superior Caribou. As of right now, the group estimates that there are currently fewer than 10 of them left on the mainland! Across Canada, the southern range of Caribou populations are diminishing. Gordon says that “losing the Caribou is more than an ecological loss, it is a social and cultural loss”.

Gordon gives an example of how the Caribou can benefit industries like forestry, says “sustainable management to re-attain the native forest composition and age structure will benefit caribou AND will also provide a sustainable harvest of the desired conifer trees for the forest industry.  The present forest has been overharvested resulting in younger and smaller trees, and the tree composition has been shifted towards less desirable hardwoods.  This has negatively affected both caribou and the forest industry.”.

First Nations communities like Michipicoten First Nation, who have relied on the caribou for their livelihood also want a say in the conversation around caribou restoration on their traditional lands.

Gordon has started a website where he writes posts about the Caribou. We have also published the Caribou Corner series to help spread the word.

Stay tuned for more stories about these magnificent creatures in a flotsam and jetsam section in upcoming newsletters.

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Eat the Fish – bringing local fish to Thunder Bay

Paul Drombolis is born and raised Thunder Bay. He has been fishing since he can remember and he is the owner of Eat the Fish, a local Thunder Bay business that works to make local fish available to the citizens of Thunder Bay. Eat the Fish has been operating for four years. The company was founded on the idea of making local fish more available. They work directly with local fishermen located on Lake Superior, Lake Nipigon, Lake of the Woods, and even one in Nunavut. Local fish is typically sent to the states or southern Ontario for processing, but Eat the Fish works with local fishermen to sell species that aren’t necessarily their primary catch.

Photo by Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy

I asked Paul about the fishermen and the majority of them have fishing as their main source of income. The Nunavut fishers who bring in wild arctic char, are only seasonal though. During the summer they cannot travel across the landscape, and in the depths of winter, the temperatures are unbearable cold. That results in a small window where the land is covered by ice and the temperatures are bearable. All the fishermen on Lake Superior are full-time fishermen, they are out on their boats every day from when the ice thaws to when the ice forms. Their main species is whitefish which is typically sent away from the local Thunder Bay community. Paul provides another income source for these fishermen that allow the people of Thunder Bay to eat local fish.

The number of fish the fishermen catch is determined by a quota set by the government of Ontario. Their daily catch varies depending on their effort. The maximum catch would fall at the set quota. The primary fish they are after is whitefish and they may catch a few hundred pounds or more in a day. Eat the fish is small business, their big seller is Lake Trout. Due to the small scale of Eat the Fish and the unique consumer market of Thunder Bay, Eat the Fish is able to pay a better price than they might get from other buyers allowing the fish to stay local. Eat the fish offers a unique partnership for the fishermen because they can provide an extra income source by purchasing some of the secondary fish that aren’t as marketable to other buyers.

Eat the Fish makes an effort to bring in different types of fish. They bring in underutilized fish such as Burbot, which is an interesting looking fish, with different filleting techniques, but is really tasty. Burbot is typically bycatch especially in the winter months, but Eat the Fish offers an income stream for this different, but delicious species. Lake Herring is another type of fish that they bring in that is not well known from a consumer standpoint. There can be a challenge to convince the consumer to try a new fish, which is why Eat the Fish works to consistently have the fish so more people can try it and allow for another income outlet for the fishermen.

Eat the fish offers fillets and whole fish. It comes down to what the customer wants. They have a machine that combs the fin bones out of trout and whitefish. Their main outlet for sales prior to Covid-19 was the Thunder Bay Country Market. Due to lockdown restrictions the markets traffic has been lighter, but Superior Seasons is a great tool for people wanting to purchase local goods but follow lockdown protocols. Different farm vendors from around the Thunder Bay area are sold on Superior Seasons which allows people to shop online and opt for either delivery or pick up for the local goods.

Eat the Fish has many community partners such as local restaurants like the Tomlin, Bight, and many others. These restaurants have offered the people of Thunder Bay a chance to try to the fish. Many people come to the market looking for the delicious lake trout they tried at the Tomlin to see if they can recreate the taste-bud dancing meal. Eat the fish works with local schools as well. They will go into a school and teach the kids how to properly fillet and prepare a whole fish. Roots to Harvest is another partner. Roots to Harvest has created a cookbook based off of local foods and foraged foods within the Thunder Bay. The cookbook includes recipes such as Herring recipes and lake trout chowder that turn common foods found in Thunder Bay into delicious culinary affairs. They’ve done a great job partnering with us to get more people interested in consuming fish in a healthy way.

This warm winter and late ice cover lead to the conversation on the impact of ice-cover on the fishing business. For open-water fishermen the delayed ice cover allowed them to fish later in the season than normal, but for fishermen on Lake Nipigon who switch the ice fishing in the winter, the limited ice cover up until recently meant that commercial ice fishing was delayed. We talked about how the ice cover has changed over time. Lake Superior fishermen used to commercially ice fish on Superior, but now the ice cover is limited which makes ice fishing on the largest lake by surface area in the world a non-existent career.

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GLPI Call for Proposals (2021)

The Great Lakes Protection Initiative is calling for proposals to address areas of concern (AOC) around the Great Lake by March 3, 2021. The initiative funds actions that address the most significant environmental challenges facing the Great Lakes.

The 8 priority regions they address are as follows:

  • working with others to protect the Great Lakes
  • restoring Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs)
  • preventing toxic and nuisance algae
  • assessing and enhancing the resilience of Great Lakes coastal wetlands
  • evaluating and identifying at risk nearshore waters
  • reducing releases of harmful chemicals
  • engaging Indigenous Peoples in addressing Great Lakes issues
  • increasing public engagement through citizen science

Funding applications can be found here.

General information about the fund can be found here.

The deadline for funding is March 3, 2021. Our office is happy to help applicants develop solid proposals which advance RAP priorities. Please email us at infosuperiorhub@gmail.com for any help with proposals.

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Caribou Corner – Part 3

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caribou bits from the northeast corner of Lake Superior

#3:  Most of the History of the Lake Superior Caribou

Up to the mid-1800s

The ancestors of caribou (or reindeer as they are known in Eurasia) moved out of South America about 5 million years ago.  Caribou appear to have speciated in Beringia, which is the name for the far northwest part of North America and the far northeast of Russia, next to the Bering Sea.  This occurred during the Pleistocene epoch, or the Ice Age as it is commonly known, about 2,580,000 years ago to just 11,700 years ago.  The earliest known caribou fossil is from Alaska and is about 1.8 million years old.  Caribou would have been around for a while before that – so from maybe 2 million years ago.  By contrast, early humans emerged only about 300,000 years ago.

Caribou survived several glacial advances and retreats of the Pleistocene.  But it is the last advance, called the Wisconsin glaciation, that we know a bit more about in relation to caribou.  The Wisconsin glaciation occurred from about 75,000 to about 11,000 years ago, and reached its maximum about 25,000 to 21,000 years ago.  The advancing ice moved caribou into two main refuges in North America.  One refuge was in Beringia, in the northwest, where the caribou first evolved.  It appears that this is where the ancestors of the barren ground caribou and many of the mountain caribou were.  Another refuge was in the Appalachian Mountains of what is now the eastern United States.   It is here that the woodland caribou were.  These were the ancestors of the few remaining Lake Superior caribou.

This refuge in the Appalachians had interesting characteristics that allowed caribou to survive south of the ice sheet.  Back then, the mountains there were mainly forested with jack pine and spruce and many had bare tundra tops – quite a bit different than the lush nut-producing hardwoods there now.  So the mountains would have been very good caribou habitat at that time, with lots of ground and tree lichens.  The animal community also seems to have been important.  The other main herbivores in the mountains were pig-like peccaries and tapirs, which were a bit smaller and more abundant than the caribou.  They may have diverted predation away from the caribou.

Even more interesting is the spatial separation from the large numbers of other Pleistocene mammals that occupied the flatter terrain to the west of the Appalachians.  This area to the west had abundant very large mammals like mammoths (up to 7300 kg, or 8 tons), mastodons (to 5400 kg, a puny 6 tons), ground sloths (to 1400 kg, the weight of a car), stag moose (to over 700 kg, our moose get to about 500 kg), woodland muskox (to over 400 kg), and giant beavers (to 125 kg, our beavers average 20 kg).  These herbivores supported very large predators like short-faced bears (up to 800 kg, black bears are usually less than 250 kg), sabre toothed cats (to 280 kg), and dire and gray wolves (to 80 kg).  These predators would make short work of the relatively small caribou (up to 150 kg).  It is thought that the caribou separated themselves from these other Pleistocene herbivores and their predators to avoid predation.  To this day caribou still use this strategy of separation to avoid the larger number of wolves and bears in areas with more moose and deer.

At the end of the Ice Age about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, most of the large Pleistocene herbivores and their predators went extinct.  The causes of these extinctions are not clear, but may be related to overhunting of both the herbivores and their predators by the first humans moving into the area.  This also resulted in changes in habitat, and there was some climate change thrown in.  Caribou may have benefited from the loss of these large herbivores and their predators, and were then able to move out of the Appalachians and all along the forest edge following the retreating ice across the continent.   

The ice left the north shore of Lake Superior about 10,000 years ago.  The area was actually reforested quite quickly after the glaciers left, so caribou would probably have been north of the lake at least 9000 years ago, and earlier along the south shore.

As the ice receded, the caribou would also have been accompanied by the first humans moving into the Lake Superior area.  Caribou were very important to these people for food, hides, and tools.  Yet caribou and people lived successfully together in this area for the next few thousand years.   

Then, less than 200 years ago, things started to change – and not for the better.  Today there are hardly any caribou left in the Lake Superior area, and we are about to lose the last few on the mainland there.

In summary:   From their start about 2 million years ago, caribou have survived the many glacial advances of the Ice Age, the Pleistocene large mammal extinction, and the first human invasion of North America.

Coming up next:   The recent history of the Lake Superior caribou and why there are so few left.

If you would like to know more about the Lake Superior caribou and how to save the last of the mainland caribou there, see www.lakesuperiorcaribou.ca

Your caribou stories and sightings are also welcome – no matter how old or young.

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Caribou Corner – Part 2

Caribou historic and future range

Story by Gordon Eason

caribou bits from the northeast corner of Lake Superior

#2:  Recent Status of the Lake Superior Caribou

Some people who read Caribou Corner 1 wanted to know what is going on with the remaining Lake Superior caribou.  So we are going to look at that now and come back to the diversity of caribou later.

In the 1800s, caribou were on the mainland all around Lake Superior and on all the off shore islands.  But now there are only a few left along the north shore and on the Slate Islands and Caribou Island.

On the mainland, the decline in caribou has been steady and relentless.  Most recently, caribou were lost from Pukaskwa National Park in the early 2010s.  There are now likely fewer than 10 mainland caribou left.  They are scattered along the shore between Marathon and Schreiber.

On the islands, there has been a recent and drastic decline in caribou.  In 2014, an unusually cold winter caused most of Lake Superior to freeze.   Wolves reached both the Slate Islands and Michipicoten Island.  By 2018, two wolves had eliminated all but two male caribou on the Slates, from a population of probably 100 to 200.  This is called functional extirpation because the remaining two caribou could not reproduce to rebuild the population.  Wolves also reached Michipicoten Island in 2014.  The initial three or four wolves increased to close to 20 and completely eliminated the roughly 900 to 1000 caribou by 2018.  This catastrophic loss of over 1000 caribou from these two islands, in just four years, amounted to one fifth of all the woodland caribou in Ontario.

Fortunately, a handful of the last caribou on Michipicoten Island were rescued in early 2018.  Nine were captured by net-gun and flown to the Slate Islands to restart that population with the two already there.  Six were flown to Caribou Island to provide a backup population in case wolves got out to the Slates again.  As of this past spring there were an estimated 30 caribou on the Slate Islands and around 15 on Caribou Island.  That’s not very many, but at least they are increasing.

The situation on the mainland is not at all encouraging.  The few caribou left along the north shore are likely in the situation where they are not finding mates, finding mates too late, or mating with close relatives.  With lower reproductive success and no immigration, even low mortality will eliminate this population quickly.  They may not last this winter.  Unlike the island caribou in 2018, no rescue of the mainland caribou is being planned.

Why should we try to keep the Lake Superior mainland caribou around?  

The mainland caribou are extremely important for their genetics.  They are the last of their kind exposed to the human development and predation on the mainland.  They have persisted where all others have perished.  They therefore have the best genetics for surviving in this area.  They would therefore provide the best stock for future restorations of caribou in the Lake Superior area.

More broadly, the loss of the Lake Superior mainland caribou is part of the 6th mass extinction playing out on Earth right now.  This extinction event is predicted to eliminate caribou and polar bears and many other northern species – through no fault of their own.  Caribou are already gone from half of their historical range in Ontario.  So, loss of biodiversity is not just something occurring in the Amazon or Africa, it is happening right here in northern Ontario right now.  Conserving the Lake Superior mainland caribou would be at least one step in turning that around.

In summary:   There are about 50 to 60 caribou left in the northeast part of Lake Superior.  Unfortunately the last few living on the mainland are about to be lost on our watch.

Coming up next:   The history of the Lake Superior caribou and why there are so few left.

If you would like to know more about the Lake Superior caribou and how to save the last of the mainland caribou there, see www.lakesuperiorcaribou.ca

Your caribou stories and sightings are also welcome.

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Caribou Corner – Part 1

                                         

Boreal caribou
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Story by Gordon Eason

caribou bits from the northeast corner of Lake Superior

#1:  What are Caribou?

Caribou are members of the deer family (Cervidae – from the Latin word for stag) along with moose, elk, and white-tailed deer of course.  There are also another 22 species native to North and South America, Europe and Asia.  The deer family are hoofed mammals with a rumen to help digest their vegetarian diet.  The rumen is the first of four stomach compartments.  It pre-processes their food which they then regurgitate, chew again, and send back down – just like cattle chewing their cud. 

Deer are distinguished from other ruminants in that the males of all species have antlers that are replaced every year.  Caribou are unique among the deer because female caribou regularly have antlers.  In the other ruminants both sexes have horns (bison and mountain sheep for example) or furred ossicones (on giraffes) – these continue to grow year after year.  

Caribou have a circumpolar distribution in the northern parts of North America, Europe, and Asia.  In Europe and Asia caribou are called reindeer.  There are some biologists who think that Santa actually has caribou pulling his sleigh because the North Pole is closer to the caribou of the Canadian High Arctic than to the Eurasian reindeer.  In contrast, the few caribou left in the northeast part of Lake Superior are some of the southernmost caribou or reindeer in the world.

The name caribou comes from the Mi’kmaq word qalipu, meaning “pawer of snow” because of their cratering to get food in winter.  Rein is from the old Norse word for the species, and deer comes from a middle English word meaning any wild animal.  There are also dozens of other names for caribou and reindeer in the local languages around the world where these animals are found.   In Ontario, caribou are called atik or adik in Cree and Ojibwe, as in Atikokan.  Their scientific or Latin name is Rangifer tarandus.  Rangifer comes from the northern European Saami word for reindeer and tarandus comes from the Greek word for reindeer.

Coming up next:   The Diversity of Caribou (and Reindeer)

If you would like to know more about the Lake Superior caribou and how to save the last of the mainland caribou around Lake Superior, see www.lakesuperiorcaribou.ca

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