Manitoulin Streams soldiers on despite COVID-19

ASSIGINACK – Manitoulin Streams garners international awards for its groundbreaking restoration and conservation efforts on the Island and its partnerships with private landowners have set the hallmark for stream and watershed rehabilitation across the globe. That work may have changed somewhat in form due to the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has remained stolidly undaunted in substance.

Project co-ordinator Seija Deschenes took some time out of her arduous schedule recently to outline how the organization’s work has progressed so far this season.

“We finally finished tree planting after two weeks,” said Ms. Deschenes. That two-week undertaking focused on Grimesthorpe Creek  started out under less than auspicious circumstances when the tree seedlings arrived late in the evening, necessitating unloading and distributing in the dark. “We were all pretty happy to see our beds that night, I can tell you,” laughed Ms. Deschenes.

Manitoulin Streams normally depends heavily on a large troupe of dedicated volunteers, but with the COVID-19 pandemic looming over the organization’s shoulders, the approach had to be changed considerably and the work conducted by paid staff.

“Thankfully, a couple of our workers are family and so they could work together,” said Ms. Deschenes, “but it was challenging to maintain physical distancing throughout the project.”

The project co-ordinator shared that the Grimesthorpe Creek Enhancement Strategy had identified sites S17, S18 and S19 as being in need of restoration and were ranked as a medium priority. “Environmental issues at this site included unrestricted livestock access with no designated livestock crossing or watering area; degraded water quality due to nutrient loading; bank erosion and lack of native trees and shrubs in the riparian area,” she said. “Our project goal and objectives were to control the 250-plus cattle accessing the creek; to plant 3,749 trees/shrubs to improve the riparian area  that covered 9,150 square metres; to rehabilitate 393 metres of stream banks; rehabilitate instream habitat of 590 square metres; to collect aquatic data; and to encourage other agriculture community members to partner with us for future projects.”

“This project is needed, not only for Manitoulin Island, but for the whole of Lake Huron,” continued the project co-ordinator. “By improving Grimesthorpe Creek, we are improving the health of an important cold-water brook trout creek that flows into Lake Huron and reducing any negative impacts.”

She noted that Manitoulin Streams “has worked on improving the health of our freshwater ecosystem through direct, on-the-ground initiatives at 69 previous sites. This project will add to our efforts to continue to contribute to the improvement of water quality through restoration of aquatic habitat.”

Restoration at these sites will safeguard the Island’s aquatic ecosystems by improving water quality, restoring and protecting in-stream and riparian habitat and improving biodiversity and protecting land for species at risk, noted Ms. Deschenes. “Stream restoration will prevent erosion which will reduce sedimentation over prime spawning habitat, improve the fish and aquatic habitat, reduce the effects of low water levels due to climate change and protect water temperatures from rising changing the thermal regime. It will encourage increased biodiversity amongst invertebrates that provide a food source for brook and rainbow trout. Restoring riparian buffers will help filter runoff before it enters the stream; stabilize banks; reduce soil erosion and sedimentation; trap and absorb excessive nutrients and other pollutants which will reduce algal blooms; slow and absorb floodwaters and rainwater runoff and help with preventing potentially damaging floods.”

This is the second year of a two-year effort on Grimesthorpe Creek. “In year one, approximately 800 meters of livestock restricting fencing was installed, 1,019 trees and shrubs were planted to reduce nutrient loading as well as coir matting and seeding were installed at each of these sites to reduce erosion and stabilize banks,” said Ms. Deschenes. “We also installed 14 root wads and a low water crossing/watering area was created to allow equipment/livestock to cross the creek to allow continued farming practices (i.e. crop production or rotational grazing) and reduce the impact of livestock watering throughout the entire reach of the cold-water creek.”

The plans for year two included the aforementioned now-planted 2,730 trees and shrubs in the riparian area to stabilize the remaining portion of the reach to provide shade and reduce water temperatures; reduce nutrient loading from grazing livestock, and provide habitat for wildlife and species at risk. “Once we enter the in-water working period spawning gravel will be added to the creek,” said Ms. Deschenes. “In 2020, 2,100 trees and shrubs were ordered through Har-Cor Greenhouse and 300 trees and 330 shrubs from the Manitoulin Streams nursery in Providence Bay. We wanted to support a local business,” stressed Ms. Deschenes.

Species included in the planting were diverse, including elderberry, chokecherry, nanny berry, black alder, speckled alder, flowering raspberry, service berry, dogwood, beaker hazel, common ninebark, eastern hemlock, balsam fir, eastern white cedar, balsam, tamarack, birch, white spruce, red maple and red oak, to name the lot.

“The only problem we had encountered was that the trucking company delivering the trees was delayed due to technical issues and showed up at 9 pm,” said Ms. Deschenes, “which at that point we had to off load the trees for about an hour-and-a-half by hand. Thankfully, Paul Dawson of Dawson Farms was able to remove the last crates off the transport with his tractor. Besides a couple of curious cows that would grab our empty pots and run off with them, for the most part we had great weather, with only one rainy day and no bugs.”

“A huge thank you goes out to Dawson Farms for partnering with us and the funders for this project that included the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry-Canada Ontario Agreement Fund (COA), the Government of Canada through Environment and Climate Change Canada-Eco-Action, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH Zone D), Takla Foundation, Echo Foundation, Patagonia and those that have donated to Manitoulin Streams,” said Ms. Deschenes. “Without the support of these and so many other small individual donations our work would not be possible.”