Managing Natural Resources in Canada

Natural Resource Management issues faced in Canada are not that dissimilar to those in Australia according to Randy Milton, Manager of Wildlife Resources with the Ecosystems and Habitats Program, with the Department of Natural Resources in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Randy Milton

Randy Milton

“A lot of the issues are the same though the scales may be different,” says Randy, a colleague of Institute Director Professor Max Finlayson. Randy first met Max in 1999 at a Ramsar meeting in Costa Rica. Like Max he is a member of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands’ Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP).
The two have worked together on the United Nations Environment Program’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a couple of academic papers, and, as STRP members, on documents for various resolutions.
His week- long visit to Australia in March was a social one – to catch up with Max for his 60th birthday and “to get away from two metres of snow back home.”

“People are moving away from the idea of managing individual parcels of land to integrated landscape management and are now  looking more at how the different pieces fit together both temporally and spatially,” says Randy. “These are issues that are being addressed, or trying to be addressed, now world-wide again at different temporal and spatial scales.”

Randy, who has been in his current position for 22 years, began his career in ornithology and has worked mostly in habitat management. Since joining the Department he has been involved in a major international wetland conservation program, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, with Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. The long-standing conservation program began in 1986 and is a partnership of a diverse group of people and organisations including Government and Non Government Organisations and private individuals.

“Within that program we acquire lands, manage lands and work with partnerships to deal with land management,” says Randy. “One of the programs we have in my area is a stewardship program which deals with agriculture where we work with individual farmers.”

Conservation Plans

At Cape Clear, Margaree River Wilderness Area)

At Cape Clear, Margaree River Wilderness Area)

Farmers are contacted individually by the stewardship coordinator to see if they are interested in developing an Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation (ABC) Plan for their farm. If they are the coordinator then comes out to walk the property, discuss some of the biodiversity issues, do a riparian health assessment if there is a stream going through the property for example, look at any woodlots on the property, and discuss what the farmer is doing well as where there could be room for improvement. Then, if applicable, the coordinator puts the farmer in contact with Ducks Unlimited Canada, one of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan partners, who then work with the farmer to manage and/or restore wetlands on their land.

Randy says farm sizes in Nova Scotia are generally a lot smaller than in Australia ranging in size from 20 ha (50 acres) to 800ha (a couple of thousand acres). Mostly it is mixed farming, beef and dairy cattle, row cropping (turnips, carrots, potatoes, onions) and hay production.The ABC Plan links in with a property’s Environmental Farm Plan, done by Department of Agriculture, which focuses more on waste products from the farm and reducing the environmental risk of the farm operation itself. “Again this is not a regulatory activity, it’s working in partnership with the farmers,” says Randy. The program has been going for about seven years and has involved a couple of hundred farmers. Well-received by farmers, it includes a social research component which is being undertaken by an Australian researcher Kate Sherren who is with the School of Environmental Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Under the Waterfowl Management Plan significant properties/wetlands are acquired as Crown Land and designated for conservation purposes. “Or else we will work with conservation organisations such as Nature Conservancy of Canada or the Nova Scotia Nature Trust who acquire properties in wilderness areas and coastal areas which may include Ramsar sites for example which are then managed for conservation,” says Randy.
(pictured below at Cape Clear, Margaree River Wilderness Area)

Like Australia Nova Scotia is facing the challenge of climate change adaptation. The impact of climate change on Nova Scotia is similar to what has been forecasted and is happening in south-east Australia i.e. increased temperatures, more extreme weather conditions and also a change in rainfall patterns.
“Rather than continuous rain and storm events we are expecting more intense falls in spring and fall [autumn],” says Randy. However, unlike Australia, droughts are not really an issue for Nova Scotia though they can be in other parts of Canada.

“Fire is an issue for us but not to the same extent as here,” he says. “When summer comes you get into the fire season and there is a heavy emphasis on forest fire prevention. However the larger fires are more likely to occur in the northern arboreal areas of Canada – Northern Ontario, Quebec, Northern Alberta etc…which are a very different landscape and there is less capability to deal with those big forest fires.”

Rising sea levels

Rising sea levels are impacting on the management of the Nova Scotia’s agriculture dykelands soils “which are probably our most productive and valuable agricultural land.”

The dykes were first built in the late 1600s, early 1700s by French settlers, the Acadians, as a way of converting salt water marshes into agricultural land. The dykes were maintained until the First World War when a lot of them broke down but after the Second World War they were rebuilt. “These soils are below sea level so, because of rising sea levels, we have to keep raising the dykes,” says  Randy. “There is now a move and reassessment of which lands to maintain and which ones to allow to revert back to salt marshes.”

Another climate change adaptation that Randy is involved in has to do with the impact of climate change on North America’s iconic species – the moose- also an important food source for the aboriginal population.
“Within North America there are four populations (sub-species) of moose,” he says. “Some populations are doing OK, the ones in Alaska for example, but for some other populations particularly ones in the southern part of their distributional range, there is concern about their declining populations and there isn’t a complete understanding as to why that is occurring.  There is a hypothesis that climate change may be a factor as these animals are very susceptible to temperature extremes.”

Moose have a very thick winter coat and are adapted to winters of minus 10 to minus 20 degrees Celsius.  “But when the winter temperatures are between 0 and -5 degrees Celsius these animals start to get heat stress,” says Randy.  “So they have to seek out cool areas essentially to cool themselves down.”

Moose, a North American iconic species, are under threat from climate change.

Moose, a North American iconic species, are under threat from climate change.

Conversely the animals can cope with summer temperatures up to 15 to 20 degrees Celsius. Any higher than that and the animal experiences thermal stress. Again their mechanism for coping is to seek out cooler areas such as wet areas under mature tree cover.Significant research is being undertaken taken in the northern U.S. in states such as Minnesota and Massachusetts where moose population decline has been dramatic over the last number of years.

“We’re starting to get involved in this issue particularly where it relates to forest management practices,” says Randy. “Moose require mature forest cover so there is this tension between harvesting to maintain jobs and retaining cover for moose.”

Nova Scotia is divided between the mainland and Cape Breton Island which has areas much higher and colder than the mainland.“Up there the moose population seems to be doing pretty good but it’s also a different sub-species to the ones on the mainland,” says Randy.    (The moose on Breton Island are a larger size moose originally from Alberta introduced to the island in the late 1940s as the indigenous moose had died out.

Endangered species

“Our mainland moose however are listed as an endangered species in Nova Scotia so our forest management practices have to take into account the maintenance and recovery of that species.”

Another consequence of increased temperatures has been an increased prevalence of the winter tick.“As the climate gets warmer the moose are getting higher infestations of winter tick which only starts to engorge in January and February the coldest months of the year,” says Randy. Uncomfortable from increased numbers of ticks – one animal can have 40- 50,000 ticks – the moose can rub their coats off which puts them not only at thermal stress but nutrient stress as well. “Moose can die from a severe tick infestation,” he says.

About ilwscsu
The Institute for Land, Water and Society is one of four Centres of Research Excellence within Charles Sturt University, Australia. Its principal focus is on integrated research which contributes to improved social and environmental sustainability in rural and regional areas.

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