The federal government will invest $1.95 million over four years to support conservation efforts across the Eastern Georgian Bay region of Ontario, according to an announcement from Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson on Jan. 28.
The funding comes through a government initiative that plans to distribute $15.6 million over four years in support of community-led projects that protect species at risk. The initiative aims to conserve habitat and support the survival of 46 Canadian species including the massasauga rattlesnake and the Blanding’s turtle. The Georgian Bay Biosphere Mnidoo Gamii and co-applicants, including the Shawanaga First Nation, the Magnetawan First Nation and the Georgian Bay Land Trust, will lead the project. Greg Mason, general manager of the Georgian Bay Biosphere, said in the announcement that the work brings together the expertise of each partner “to create a powerful, shared knowledge base to identify priority species’ habitats.”
“We are currently building the tools and strategies needed to protect and steward the high biodiversity within The Thirty Thousand Islands of Georgian Bay,” Mason said. “Our success will depend on nurturing long-term collaborative relationships, and this project funding gives us the capacity to do more, do it better, and have a lasting impact on how we govern this UNESCO biosphere landscape together.”
The Georgian Bay Biosphere was designated a UNESCO biosphere in 2004 for its biodiversity and ecological significance. It’s also the world’s largest freshwater archipelago. The project will include data collection for the area as well as the planning and implementation of methods to address wildlife threats such as roads and railroads, invasive plants, and climate change.
Recent work done by the Biosphere team and their partner organizations includes the collection of turtle eggs prior to culvert-replacement work in 2020. They collected over 1,110 turtle eggs and once the turtles hatched, they released them safely back into their original wetland. The project incorporated traditional Indigenous knowledge throughout the initiative as a whole and in the day-to-day work.
“Since time immemorial, the Anishinaabe people of this area have managed the lands and resources, including air and water,” said Sherrill Judge, Maawaanji’iwe (Gets People Together) manager for the biosphere, in the announcement. “Through this connection to the land, we are learning that scientific principles must be based on the traditional knowledge of the original people to further a cohesive partnership among all who walk this earth. This will enable us to live sustainably and provide protection for all species, both endangered and flourishing.”
A “significant amount of time and resources” for the project are being devoted to road-focused projects, according to the announcement. Participants will conduct road surveys to identify “hotspots” where snapping turtles, painted turtles and snakes cross and to study techniques to keep wildlife safe wherever roads impact their populations.
In addition, seven new towers along the Eastern Georgian Bay coast will track the size, movements and migration paths of small flying species that have been tagged. The towers will track the information using a collaborative research network known as the Motus Wildlife Tracking System.
“As the human footprint moves to all areas of the earth, we must take into account these species and their habitats,” Judge said. “Through this funding, we are moving toward a practical management plan that includes both science and natural law.”
To learn more about the Georgian Bay Biosphere Mnidoo Gamii, visit their website.