NCC resources and land management: problems and possible solutions

By Bailey Cooke

Bailey Cooke is a second-year University of Ottawa student in biology and geology. This winter, Bailey is volunteering with the OFNC through the Community Service Learning program.

On Wednesday, February 18, the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club held a workshop at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden to discuss natural history conservation in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. The evening kicked off with a presentation by Eva Katic from the National Capital Commission (NCC). Eva, manager of Natural Resources and Land Management – Greenbelt talked about various ongoing conservation initiates on NCC lands. A brief Q&A and an open discussion followed the presentation.

What is the NCC? What do they do?

Created in 1959, the NCC is a crown corporation of the government of Canada that seeks to protect, preserve, and promote natural heritage in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. The NCC administers land-use planning, water management, biodiversity conservation, and the sustainable use of resources, in various areas throughout the region, such as Gatineau Park, the Greenbelt, urban lands, official residences, and leased lands.

These lands are home to abundant wildlife and many rare species like the Eastern Red-cedar and the Peregrine Falcon. Over 27 ecologically valuable ecosystems & habitats have been identified; the NCC aims to conserve these areas.

Why conserve these lands?

Aside from their rich biodiversity and critical habitats, there are other compelling reasons for conserving these regions. The 55 identified at-risk species that find refuge on these lands leave the NCC with legal and ethical obligations to protect their habitat. Conserving these lands also mitigates risk to the water quality of nearby campsites and beaches, and aids control of waterborne diseases. NCC’s conservation efforts protect its lands from some of the land-use pressures that profoundly affect adjacent areas: habitat fragmentation, pollution and dumping, and unauthorized activities (ATVs, campfires). Control of invasive species (Emerald Ash Borer, Dog-strangling Vine, etc.) is imperative, as they are the second most important cause of biodiversity loss in the area. Another concern is the overabundance of some species that pose a risk to human safety and also alter ecosystem processes. As an example, Eva mentioned the White-tailed Deer’s herbivory of native vegetation, which is having a significant effect on forest succession.

What are some of the NCC’s current management efforts?

During her presentation, Eva outlined a few major management projects and scientific studies that have either been her focus in the last decade or will be the focus of upcoming years.

The Greenbelt Master Plan
In 2013, the NCC identified the Greenbelt as being crucial to natural ecosystems, agriculture, and outdoor recreation/educational opportunities. The NCC aims to increase local and international recognition of the Greenbelt, making it a welcoming outdoor space in the capital.

Natural areas in the Greenbelt increased from 50% in 1996 to 61% in 2013 and continue to be managed by the NCC. Currently, Greenbelt sectors such as Shirley Bay, Stony Swamp, Southern Farm/Pinhey Forest, the airport, Pine Grove, Mer Bleue Bog, and Green Creek are some of the regions of conservation focus by the NCC.

Restoration projects

  1. Pinhey Sand Dune: Along with the Biodiversity Conservancy, the NCC is working toward restoring three open sandy areas that are connected by trail to the Pinhey Sand Dune site to enhance the experience of Greenbelt visitors. (More about the project and winners of OFNC 2012 Conservation Award)
  2. Black Rapids Creek: The creek flows east from Greenbank Road (NCC experimental research farm) to Prince of Wales Drive (Black Rapids Locks), where it empties into the Rideau River. In partnership with the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RCVA), the NCC seeks to restore the wetlands adjacent to Black Rapids Creek.

Research projects

  1. Bird monitoring – Least Bittern: This project involves volunteers locating and monitoring the Least Bittern in Ramsey Marsh (Greenbelt, Mer Bleue Bog).
  2. Stony Swamp – Dog-strangling Vine: The NCC is conducting a 5-year pilot project (2013-17) to determine how to control this invasive species in Stony Swamp. Tarping, cutting, and spraying methods have already resulted in the removal of 72 patches of Dog-strangling Vine.
  3. Butterfly habitat – Monarch: In the coming season, the NCC hopes to partner with multiple levels of government, local universities, and local stakeholders to restore meadow habitats to enhance Monarch butterfly habitat in the Greenbelt and urban lands.

What can we do?

The NCC is seeking volunteers to help with the documentation of bird species and the restoration of meadow habitat beginning this summer. A familiarity with bird identification is an obvious asset. Volunteer labourers for forest/wetland restoration and to tackle threats to healthy habitats (invasive species removal) are also needed. Please contact ottawaofnc@gmail.com for further information on how to get involved in these initiatives.

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