Conservation Reserve Proposal for PEC's South Shore

Proposal for Conservation Reserve designation for Ostrander Point Crown Land Block and Point Petre Provincial Wildlife Area

                   

                                      Photo by Myrna Wood

Executive Summary: 

Conservation Reserve status is sought for Ostrander Point Crown Land Block and Point Petre Provincial Wildlife Area on the northeast shore of Lake Ontario.  The two provincial public areas are located within the Prince Edward County South Shore Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA). The biodiversity value of the South Shore is very well documented and support for conservation is very strong locally and beyond. This proposal enables (1) existing wildlife policies and legislation to be addressed; (2) huge opportunities for natural education and engagement of the public in nature –related activities; (3) a potential contribution to various aspects of the human economy including millions of dollars in revenue from eco-tourism; (4) a significant contribution to terrestrial Ontario-wide diversity protection; (5) addresses and helps to mitigate climate change through protection of important natural habitat.  

Figure 1. Government land parcels on the south shore of Prince Edward County.

South Shore Joint Initiative:

South Shore Joint Initiative (SSJI) is a coalition of individual members and partner organizations working to protect the Prince Edward County South Shore Important Bird and Biodiversity Area in order to maintain or increase the biodiversity of its terrestrial and marine ecosystems.   

Members are Prince Edward County-based individuals who support the objectives of SSJI.  Partners are those individuals and organizations who wish to support particular objectives and initiatives of SSJI as part of the larger coalition to protect the South Shore Important Bird Area.

Partners include: Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory (PEPtBO), Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PECFN), County Coalition for Safe and Appropriate Green Energy (CCSAGE), Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County (APPEC), Bird Studies Canada, Quinte Field Naturalists, Kingston Field Naturalists, Nature Canada, Ontario Nature.

 Location, ownership, and description of the South Shore Important Bird and Biodiversity Area:

 Prince Edward County is at the eastern end of Lake Ontario west of Kingston between approximately 43.9370, -76.8590 and 43.8389, -77.1555. The South Shore IBA area includes 26 square km of land and 65 square km of near shore waters. The area includes three parcels of public land including Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, Ostrander Point Crown Land Block and Point Petre Provincial Wildlife Area (Fig. 1). Additional public land exists at Little Bluff Conservation Area owned by Quinte Conservation at Halfmoon Bay.  The Point Petre Antenna Site at the western end of the peninsula is owned by the Department of National Defence. The Miller Family Nature Reserve (MNRF) is a 491 acre property owned by the Hastings Prince Edward Land Trust approximately midway between Point Petre and Ostrander Point. Nature Conservancy of Canada has recently purchased the Hudgin–Rose property along the eastern side of Ostrander Point Road and the Brodeur Property to the immediate western side of the Ostrander Point Crown Land Block. (Fig. 2) Ducks Unlimited has recognized the significance of the area and has acquired two parcels in the vicinity of Gravelly Bay (Fig. 2) in additional to constructing two berms creating two large wetlands in the Lighthall Rd and Simpson Rd areas. The public lands correspond to approximately one-half of the South Shore area. The other half is privately owned, including 60 land parcels as well as many smaller shoreline lots. 

The natural habitat is varied and includes open and treed alvars, meadows, savannah, woodlands, wetlands, marshes, shrub thicket. Most of these habitats are the result of natural succession on former marginal agricultural or logged lands.  Agricultural land use is not extensive and includes a mix of cattle or sheep grazing, with vineyards closer to Lake Ontario and some hay fields. The soils are very thin as a result of glacial scraping over limestone bedrock. The area of concern is in the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone in southern Ontario (Ecological Stratification Working Group, 1995) where biodiversity loss is greatest and loss is greatest and conservation opportunities are limited.

Figure 2. Southern Prince Edward County showing the boundary of Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Focal Area (map used with permission)

Conservation Reserves

  • permanently protect representative ecosystems, biodiversity and significant elements of Ontario's natural and cultural heritage
  • provide opportunities for ecologically sustainable land uses, including traditional outdoor heritage activities and associated economic benefits
  • allow for scientific research and provide points of reference to support monitoring of ecological change on the broader landscape

                                                                                 Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act 2006

 Biological importance of the South Shore provincial lands:

Six species of vascular plants present at Ostrander Point Crown Land Block alvar are rare and tracked by the Ontario Natural Heritage Information Centre and some of the alvar communities are globally imperilled. At least 28 regionally rare species occur on this property and others occur elsewhere in the IBA including some normally found only in the Carolinian Zone on the Lake Erie shore. The entire south shore is important for concentrations of migrating bats, butterflies and dragonflies. In 1995, Prince Edward Point was designated an International Monarch Butterfly Reserve as a result of its importance to migrating Monarchs.  The Point Petre Provincial Wildlife Area contains one ANSI one candidate ANSI and Provincially Significant Wetland complexes. The Ostrander Point Crown Land Block is bordered by a Provincially significant coastal wetland. The area is home to several species at risk including Blanding’s turtle (listed as threatened provincially and endangered federally).  At least 12 avian species at risk have been documented breeding in the south shore including wetland species: Least Bittern, grassland species: Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark and insectivores: Eastern Whip-poor-will, Barn Swallow that are all experiencing significant population declines.  Of particular interest is the identification of nesting Canada Warbler (SARA Threatened and SARO Special Concern) in the Provincial Wildlife Area in 2018.  The South Shore is identified as an area of high biodiversity in the Draft CWS Ontario Landscape Conservation Atlas and Plan (Environment and Climate Change Canada 2017).  

 Local interest in biodiversity conservation:

  • Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory (PEPtBO) is a Canadian Migration Monitoring Network station located in the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area. PEPtBO’s mission includes a commitment to increasing the appreciation, knowledge and understanding of birds and to providing the community with opportunities to support and engage in the conservation of bird populations and habitats by sponsoring spring and fall birding festivals and publishing their “Nature Matters!” brochure highlighting Nature Events in the south shore throughout the year. The Bird Observatory hosts thousands of visitors annually. As Caretaker of the South Shore IBA, the Bird Observatory conducts regular avian surveys for various groups of birds (Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory 2018).
  • Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PECFN) provides an educational forum dedicated to the study, promotion, appreciation and conservation of the flora and fauna within Prince Edward County. PECFN has carried out a major initiative to protect the flora and fauna of Ostrander Point (Callaghan 2015) and has led six annual South Shore Bioblitzes with published records (Anderson & McKay-Kuja 2014, McKay-Kuja et al. 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019).
  • Hastings Prince Edward Land Trust (HPELT) acts to protect the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the Hastings and Prince Edward Counties through land acquisitions. The Land Trust manages the Miller Family Nature Reserve on the south shore that was acquired with assistance from the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Ontario Heritage Trust.
  • Nature Conservancy of Canada Canada’s leading not-for-profit, private land conservation organization has recently purchased the Hudgin –Rose Property to the east of Ostrander Point Crown Land Block and the Brodeur property on its western border bookending the provincial public land with protected areas.
  • The Prince Edward County Draft Official Plan recognizes the South Shore as an area of natural significance by identifying it as a Natural Core Area in its Natural Heritage Strategy.
  • Many thousands of people come to the County each year to enjoy the natural landscape.

    Regional bird migration significance:

    Prince Edward County’s south shore is an area of significant terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity that has been recognized as a globally significant Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA).  The marine portion of the IBA supports globally-significant populations of three congregatory species providing winter habitat for approximately 200,000 Long-tailed Ducks, up to 15,000 White-winged Scoters and 40,000 Greater Scaup.  The IBA also serves as a natural corridor for land birds crossing Lake Ontario in the spring and fall with 298 species recorded at the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory (Menu 2014). During fall migration, large numbers of raptors, both diurnal and nocturnal, move over the IBA. Up to 2,000 hawks a day can regularly be observed.  Large numbers of Northern Saw-whet Owls also move through the area in the fall resulting in up to 1500 banded in one season at PEPtBO, the largest movement of these owls recorded anywhere in the world. Valuable conservation information has been derived from studies of migratory birds throughout the south shore area. 

    Value of nature and the natural landscape to human economy:

    An increasing number of visitors from major urban centres in Ontario and Quebec as well as from nearby US states has a unique opportunity to experience nature and appreciate avian migration in Prince Edward County. Enjoyment of the natural landscape is a major reason for people to visit the County and this brings millions of dollars into the local economy. This can be greatly increased by improved access, accommodation, paths and interpretation.  Cautious development and due diligence required by federal and provincial wildlife protection legislation will enable appropriate human activities at the same time addressing the needs of wildlife according to established policies and legislation (Migratory Birds Act, Species at Risk Act).  There is additional benefit to be gained from this mostly natural habitat in its contribution to reduction of the impact of climate change.

    Addressing the effects of climate change:

    “Through the biodiversity they support, habitats like forests, woodlands, grasslands, alvars, hedgerows, rivers, streams, swales and wetlands collectively play a huge role in pulling carbon out of the atmosphere; protecting us from drought, erosion and flooding; removing pollutants from our land, air and water; improving physical and mental health and ensuring that we have air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat. And they do it all for free.” (Bodman, Amy)  Adding Ostrander Point Crown Land Block and Point Petre Provincial Wildlife Area to Ontario’s Conservation Reserve inventory helps to meet the government’s commitment to improve the resilience of natural ecosystems. (Ontario’s Environment Plan Action Areas)

    Conclusion:

    The designation of Point Petre Provincial Wildlife Area and Ostrander Point Crown Land Block as Conservation Reserves is supported by the following conservation criteria.

    The South Shore fulfills all five of the criteria for designation as a National Wildlife Area:

    1. See “Regional Bird Migration Significance” above, for overwintering of three congregatory species in the waters of the IBA as well as avian spring and fall migration. Also, thousands of migrating dragonflies stage across the south shore for their fall migration, as do bats and Monarch Butterflies.
    2. The Species at Risk present include a significant population of Blanding’s Turtle (threatened provincially and endangered federally) and twelve avian species including Whip-poor-will and Least Bittern (see “Other Biological Values”).
    3. Critical nesting habitat for Blanding’s Turtle and Whip-poor-will (and the eleven other SAR).
    4. Undisturbed Great Lakes shoreline marshes (one of the habitats most at risk in southern Ontario and here designated as provincially significant); alvar assemblages of vascular plants with associated animal species (globally significant); disjunct Carolinian vascular plants (e.g. Twinleaf, White Trout Lily). All of these are in jeopardy of being lost elsewhere through human development (infilling, pollution, car racing tracks, urban expansion, etc).
    5. Appropriate management of the landscape could allow for the re-establishment of previously nesting SAR including Henslow’s sparrow, Upland Sandpiper and Loggerhead Shrike. It should be noted that the Chuck-will’s-widow has been observed in the same area of the South Shore for the past four years and might represent the first possibility of nesting in Ontario (and northward expansion of the species into Canada).

    The South Shore fulfills all four of the criteria for designation as a Migratory Bird Area:

    1. See “Regional Bird Migration Significance”
    2. The area is vulnerable to area-specific threats e.g. development, especially wind and solar projects that could disrupt nesting and migration, or draining of wetlands for marinas, etc.
    3. Nesting of Whip-poor-will (COSEWIC, threatened status) which is a species vulnerable to human disturbance and has restricted habitat requirements
    4. See “Regional Bird Migration Significance” for overwintering waterfowl in surrounding waters

        The biological importance of the South Shore has already been identified by the province: 

  • The South shore IBA contains one large Life Science Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI), one candidate Life Science ANSI and three designated Provincially Significant Wetland complexes.
  • Habitat of Blanding’s Turtle (listed as threatened provincially) where it can flourish without the threat of increased (lethal) roads.
  • Nesting of twelve avian Species at Risk including Whip-poor-will, Least Bittern, Barn Swallow, and grassland species.
  • Six species of vascular plans tracked by the Ontario Natural Heritage Information Centre and at least twenty-eight regionally rare species.

References, Literature, Documentation:

Anderson C., and S. McKay-Kuja. 2014 Ostrander Point Bioblitz. Prince Edward County Field Naturalists. 27 pp

Bodman, Amy. 2019 letter to the editor Toronto Star https://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editors/2019/11/23/fans-and-foes-of-doug-fords-cancellation-of-energy-projects.html

Callaghan, C. 2015. Landmark decision halts Ostrander Wind Farm Project on the grounds of serious and irreversible harm to the Blanding’s Turtle. News & Comments. Can. Field Naturalist

Campbell, S., J. Davies, I. Robertson. 2009. Prince Edward County: An illustrated History p 86-89

Catling, P. M., S. M. McKay, B. Kostiuk, and A. Kuja. 2012. Ostrander Point – will it still be a hotspot? Trail and Landscape 46(3): 117–132

Catling, P.M., S. McKay-Kuja, B. Kostiuk, and A. Kuja. 2013. Preliminary annotated list of the vascular plants of Ostrander Point Crown Land Block. Prince Edward County Field Naturalists. 39 pp. http://canadianfieldnaturalist.ca/index.php/cfn/article/view/1704/1698

Environment and Climate Change Canada 2017.  The CWS Biodiversity Atlas: Southern and Central Ontario Draft. Environment and Climate Change Canada, Toronto, Ontario

French, Orland. 2013. Wind, Water, Barley & Wine: The Nature of Prince Edward County                                             Wallbridge House Publishing p 47-54

Kristensen, D. 2013. Biological surveys of Prince Edward Point and Wellers’s Bay National Wildlife Areas. Ecological Services for Environment Canada. Appendix 16 PEP NWA Floral Species List. 7 pp.

McKay-Kuja, S.M., D. Bree, M. Burge, P.M. Catling, M. Christie, K. Felkar, J. Foster, K. Gunson, B. Kostiuk, A. Kuja, C. Lewis, W. Rendell, L. Stanfield, T. Sprague, and M. Wood. 2016. 2016 PECFN Bioblitz at Little Bluff Conservation Area, Prince Edward County, Ontario. Prince Edward County Field Naturalists. 38 pp.

McKay-Kuja, S.M., C. Anderson, D. Bree, D. Buchbinder, M. Burrell, M. Christie, J. Foster, P. Fuller, K. Gunson, D. Kristensen, A. Kuja, C. Lewis, R. Morris, M. O’Mahoney, W. Rendell, L. Stanfield, T. Sprague, and M. Wood. 2016. 2015 PECFN Bioblitz at Point Petre, Prince Edward County. Prince Edward County Field Naturalists. 34 pp.

Menu, S. 2014 Birds of the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area 2001-2013

Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory. 2018. www.peptbo.ca

Ontario Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks: Preserving and Protecting our Environment for Future Generations: A Made in Ontario Environment Plan 2018

Snetsinger, R. 2001. Prince Edward Point to Ostrander Point, Natural Heritage Area – Life Science Check sheet. Pp 120-122 in M.A. Snetsinger and I.D. MacDonald, Life Science areas of natural and scientific interest in site district 6E-15.

SSJI PARTNERS: