Thursday 26 September 2013

Giving Nature a Voice at the Urban Planning Table: Saskatoon's Northeast Swale

We often take nature for granted in our urban built environments. And yet, we remain a part of it. We rejoice to see geese flying overhead, and we are devastated when flash floods damage our homes and businesses. 

For many years, most Saskatoon residents were oblivious to the Northeast Swale, an ancient river channel that stretches for 26 km to the northeast of Saskatoon, starting at Peturrson’s Ravine, just north of the Regional Psychiatric Centre. Now, however, Saskatoon is expanding and planning new neighbourhoods that will encircle the Swale.

 The Swale, a corridor connecting native prairie uplands and linked wetlands, has a quiet, subtle beauty. Hundreds of ducks nest in the wetlands; herds of deer and a wide variety of plants, including a rare fern less than 5 centimetres high, share the rocky outcroppings. It provides water drainage and retention, clean air and recreation.

Just as the river, with its network of trails and paths has been a defining feature of Saskatoon during the past 100 years, the Swale has the potential to be a central feature of our community in the future, similar to Stanley Park in Vancouver or Nose Hill Park in Calgary.

The Meewasin Valley Authority has led the way in identifying the importance of the Northeast Swale and in determining how it can be protected. “We can’t preserve the Swale. It will change. It can’t help it with urban development right beside it.” says Mike Velonas, Manager of Planning and Conservation. “Our goal is to establish the limits of acceptable change.”

Responding to New Information 
In 2002, the City of Saskatoon and the Meewasin Valley Authority approved a set of Guidelines for Development prepared by Stantec. However, as time passed there was growing awareness of the importance of the Swale, and the City agreed to reopen the discussion and update its development plans for this area.

Meewasin and the City recognized that developing a resource management plan for the Northeast Swale would be far-reaching, covering everything from road construction to wildlife habitat preservation, and it was agreed to open up the planning process to outside experts, including the Northeast Swale Watchers, a group of concerned citizens intent on preserving a healthy Swale for future generations.

“We’ve had a very positive, fruitful collaboration with the City while developing the Resource Management Plan,” Mike Velonas says. “Without collaboration, this kind of thing isn’t possible. There are too many interests – from land developers, to naturalists, to stormwater management. We needed to find a way to balance all these different interests.”

A Balancing Act 

The Resource Management Plan provides background information on the geology and ecology of the Swale, including detailed information compiled during several bioblitzes. Here are just a few of the key items from the resource management guidelines.

Roads and Bridges
Establishing a network of roads to connect new neighbourhoods with the rest of the city could fragment the Swale and disrupt the natural movement of wildlife in the area. Of particular concern are the roads leading to and from the proposed North Bridge, and the route has been adjusted so as to bypass the most sensitive parts of the Swale.

The planners did not believe there was a large enough mammal population to justify wildlife crossings. Instead, they hope to avoid collisions by maintaining an urban feel to the roadway so that traffic will stay at 50 km/hour. Curbs and gutters and same-width lanes will be used, and there will be no median. This should be effective with traffic approaching from developed neighbourhoods to the south, but it will be harder to stop drivers coming off the six-lane bridge from speeding up in what appears to be an undeveloped area.

No vegetation will be planted along the roadway that might hide or camouflage animals, and the planners may incorporate below-grade amphibian crossings.

The Province has expressed an interest in constructing a perimeter highway and bridge. Current plans for the highway show it crossing a large body of water within the Swale and the two proposed bridges would split the swale twice in a very short distance. The Province says that it cannot alter its plans as they have already been posted and approved by affected landowners. Hopefully, they can be persuaded to reopen the discussion as current plans pose considerable risks to the ecosystem:

“The highway will increase fragmentation within the swale and isolate the Northeast swale from the greater swale. The increased noise and light associated with the highway may disrupt mating of birds and amphibians, as well as their natural cycles. Unless wildlife crossings are constructed, wildlife may not be able to cross the road safely. There are further potential risks such as changes to the quality and quantity of surface and groundwater, direct impact from construction, and the likelihood of invasive species encroachment.” (p. 46, Resource Management Plan)

Neighbourhood Buffers
The Management Plan calls for the development of greenways to provide a transition zone between the Swale and the backyards facing the Swale. The greenways would provide a buffer from grass and yard plants that can be invasive and would filter out the fertilizer from runoff water.

There is also an opportunity for commuter cycle trails along the greenways.

Access to the Swale
The Management Plan recommends the development of a Recreation, Education and Interpretation Plan for the Northeast Swale that will encourage naturalists to visit and provide educational opportunities for young people while discouraging overly intensive use (e.g. mountain biking, unplanned trails, off-leash dog parks) that could erode the soil, introduce invasive species, destroy native plants, and disturb wildlife.

Northeast Swale Watchers 
In 2011, after a public showing of a film about the Swale, Louise Jones invited other concerned citizens to establish an advocacy group that would speak out to conserve and protect the Swale.

The Northeast Swale Watchers was formed and has become a voice for nature, encouraging the City to be proactive in recognizing the Swale as the “Green Heart of Saskatoon’s northeast” and advocating for protection of the Swale as new neighbourhoods are developed.

Members of the Swale Watchers provided technical expertise on wetlands, wildlife, and vegetation in the development of the Resource Management Plan.

A group of 18 to 20 people continue to meet on a monthly basis. Speakers at the monthly meetings update the group on specific topics, such as stormwater management and the Province’s plans for the perimeter highway, ensuring that the group’s members are informed and knowledgeable advocates.

The Big Picture
The Swale Watchers emphasize the importance of protecting the greater swale, which stretches for 26 kilometers northeast of Saskatoon and recommend the establishment of a regional planning model in order to address development concerns outside Saskatoon in Corman Park and Aberdeen.

 “We would like to find ways of obtaining legal protection in perpetuity for the swale,” Louise Jones says. “Land prices are so high. It’s hard to get people to put conservation easements or restrictions on their land.”

The group has hosted a bus tour of the entire swale for City of Saskatoon councillors and administrators as well as two public tours in collaboration with the Saskatoon Nature Society. Louise suggests that other interested groups provide a similar bus tour for the general public, perhaps during the Nature City Festival.

Giving Nature a Voice
The Swale Watchers welcome new members. Contact Louise Jones for further information and check out the group’s Wikispace.

Note: The Resource Management Plan and the film about the Swale will be available shortly on Meewasin’s website.

Photo Credits: DAFT (aerial view), Meewasin, Swale Watchers

See Also:
The Northeast Swale: Ancient River Valley, Urban Nature Reserve
Meewasin Valley Authority
Nature in our Backyard: Saskatoon's Naturalized Parks

Tuesday 17 September 2013

EcoSask News, September 17, 2013


Birding in China, Sept. 19
Ron Jensen will talk about birding in Sichuan and the Tibetan Plateau, from alpine grassland species to rare ibises in farmers’ fields with side trips to a Giant Panda breeding facility and the Terra Cotta Warriors. The Saskatoon Nature Society presentation begins at 7:30 pm, September 19, in Room 106, Biology Building, U of S.

We Are Many, Sept. 24
We Are Many is holding an open public meeting at 5 pm, September 24, in St. Joseph's Rectory. They will be discussing garlic distribution and planting, the Share Fair on October 5, and ways in which WAM can support community-based environmental initiatives. All are welcome.

World Rivers Day, Sept. 29
Visit Friendship Park from 12-4 pm on September 29 for a wide variety of activities to celebrate World Rivers Day, organized by the Saskatchewan Eco Network. Activities include an interactive water fair, a water & permaculture workshop, river walks and clean-up, music and spoken word entertainment.

There will be an evening event from 7-9 pm at Grace-Westminster United Church about assigning heritage designation to the South Saskatchewan River.

Whooping Crane Symposium, Oct. 5
The public is invited to attend a symposium on whooping cranes from 1-5:30 pm, October 5, in Room 106, Biology Building, U of S. World leaders in the conservation and restoration of whooping crane populations will share their latest research findings and insight.

Share Fair, Oct. 5
We Are Many is hosting a Share Fair from 6-11 pm on October 5 at St. Joseph’s Hall on Broadway. In addition to food, drink, music, and presentations from community groups, there will be an information fair.

Community-based organizations are invited fill out this form if they would like to set up a display.

SOEEA Nature Retreat, Oct. 18-20
The Saskatchewan Outdoor and Environmental Education Association is hosting a nature retreat at Ness Creek, October 18-20. Programming includes solo time, art making, a sweat, yoga/stretch, nature walks, music and campfires, and evening slides about the forest.


Building Saskatchewan Green, Oct. 25
Check out the great line-up of speakers for the Building Saskatchewan Green conference on October 25. There will be a pre-conference workshop on Green Buildings that Work and an Adaptive Reuse Neighbourhood Tour led by Curtis Olson.

Kids Gone Wild for Wildlife, Oct. 26
Don’t miss the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Saskatchewan’s annual family fun and educational event, Kids Gone Wild for Wildlife, on October 26. There will be live animals, displays, speakers, and a silent auction fundraiser. 600 people attended last year’s event.

Greening Saskatoon’s Events
The City of Saskatoon Environmental Advisory Committee is drafting a policy to help the city’s events and festivals become more environmentally friendly by providing grants. They are looking for input and will be holding a focus group on October 30. Contact before October 23 if you are interested in participating.

Penny McKinlay, EcoFriendly Sask’s writer in chief, is having hip replacement surgery on September 20. We’ll be back online again as soon as possible.

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. Additional upcoming events can be found on our Calendar.

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Tuesday 10 September 2013

EcoSask News, September 10, 2013

bee on rose

Regina Public Water Meeting, Sept. 11
A Public Water Town Hall Meeting is being held in the Education Auditorium, University of Regina, from 7-9 pm, September 11. Speakers include Maude Barlow, Marley Waiser, and Pierre Hammett. Waiser worked for Environment Canada and has published papers on chemical pollutants. Hammett has done a number of studies on P3s.

Community Action Network Training, Sept. 28
Saskatoon CAN! Community Action Network Training and Networking Session will be held on September 28 at Station 20 West. There will be speakers on environmental, social, and economic justice as well as skills-building workshops on social media, direct action, lobbying, and public speaking.

Nature Society Presentations
The Saskatoon Nature Society’s line-up of speakers for the 2013-14 season looks very interesting:
September 19 – Ron Jensen talks about his recent birding trip to China, especially Sichuan and the Tibetan Plateau
October 17 – David Donald reports on the well-being on wood frogs in Saskatchewan amidst world-wide concern for the status of amphibians
November 21 – Joe Schmutz explains why grass and birds need cowboys, with an update on the future of Saskatchewan’s community pastures
December 12 – Kevin Shook will talk about sloughs and why they rise and fall, come and go
January 16 – Nettie Wiebe will talk about the fine balance between human needs and the needs of the natural world
February 20 – A huge part of the northern plains was once covered by a lake larger than the Caspian Sea. Alec Aitken will explain what happened to Lake Agassiz
April 17 – Stuart Houston, Frank Roy, and Al Smith will talk about the making of the “Great Big Book of Saskatchewan Birds”

Geese, Cranes & Urban Birds
Join the Saskatoon Nature Society on one of their upcoming field trips. Additional information is available on their website.
September 28 – Outlook Goose and Crane Trip (1:30-9 pm)
September 29 – Cosmopolitan Park Bird Walk (8:30-10 am)
October 12 – Whooping Crane Outing (8 am – 5 pm)


Whooping Crane Symposium, October 5
The Saskatoon Nature Society is co-hosting an international symposium on whooping crane conservation on October 5.

Developing the City’s Wetland Policy
The City of Saskatoon is seeking community input in developing a wetland policy for the identification, preservation, and management of wetlands in the City’s growth areas. Wetlands are important areas as they replenish the ground water supply, reduce flooding, provide a home for birds and animals, and are a pleasant place to visit.

Swale Ecoblitz
Students and volunteers continue to document the plants and animals to be found in the North East Swale. They’ve found some plants that are quite rare or potentially threatened, including a tiny fern about 5 cm high.

Laundry Detergent in Strips
Canadians throw out 134 million laundry detergent jugs a year! That’s 134 million jugs that have to be manufactured, shipped and then thrown out. Dizolve, a new Canadian company, has come up with an alternative. Dizolve detergent comes in a tiny, pre-measured strip the size of a bookmark that you simply toss in the washing machine. “The strips are made with a patent-pending formula of concentrated eco-friendly cleaning agents and dissolve completely when wet.” (via Sierra Club Canada)

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. Additional upcoming events can be found on our Calendar.

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Thursday 5 September 2013

Natural England: Working with Developers to Protect Wildlife and Natural Areas

Hazeley Heath, Thames Basin Heaths (RSPB)
Canada has vast amounts of open space, averaging 3.75 people per square kilometer. The United Kingdom on the other hand is small and crowded, with an average of 260 people per square kilometer. Urban and rural, wildlife and people, intermingle and share common boundaries.

The potential for conflict becomes clear when you look at the proposed high-speed train route (HS2) from London to northern England. An environmental impact assessment by The Wildlife Trusts indicates that more than 200 natural habitats lie on the route or within 500 metres of the railroad extension, including the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and 14 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

It’s immediately apparent that Great Britain (England, Wales, Scotland) has gone to some effort to map the land and identify important natural areas. Wikipedia defines SSSIs as the basic building blocks of site-based nature conservation legislation, based on the wildlife (species and habitats) and/or geology of the area. Rather than focusing on specific details, AONBs are designed to conserve areas of outstanding natural beauty and have the same status as National Parks in the planning system. At present, around 28% of England’s land surface is covered by SSSI, AONB, and/or National Park designation (Natural England, 2012).

A key player in protecting England’s natural environment is Natural England. As the government’s advisor on the natural environment, the arms-length body supports the Government’s wider strategic policies and fulfills the aims and objectives set by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It is responsible for protecting, conserving, and enhancing England’s natural environment by providing practical advice, grounded in science, on how best to safeguard England’s natural wealth.

Stewart Coles 
Stewart Coles worked for several years as an Environmental Planning Adviser for Natural England. He is now living in Saskatoon and shared some of his work experiences, indicating how they could apply locally, particularly in regards to the management of the North East Swale.

Stewart’s responsibilities at Natural England included working with local communities, planners, and developers in the Thames Basin Heaths, a European-designated Special Protection Area (SPA), containing tracts of lowland heath stretching over parts of Surrey, Berkshire, and Hampshire in southeast England. The Heaths support internationally important populations of three ground-nesting birds – the Dartford Warbler, Nightjar, and Woodlark.

Based on the recommendations of an established Delivery Framework, prepared to address the long-term protection of the Heaths, Natural England works with and provides advice to all local authorities affected by the Thames Basin Heaths. Developers are advised that net increases in residential development within 5 kilometers of the Heaths could harm the rare bird population due to a growth in the number of walkers, cats, and dogs. Before work can begin on a new housing development within 5 km of the SPA, developers must demonstrate that their proposal can avoid any likely significant effect on the integrity of the designated features of the Heaths.

If it is likely that a net increase will have a significant effect, methods for avoidance, mitigation, and/or compensation are considered. With residential developments of 50 or more dwellings, this usually involves a requirement to provide adequate on-site or neighbouring green space to divert the pressure development could otherwise inflict on sensitive heath habitat.

As part of the planning process and conditions of any approval, the developer is legally accountable for the immediate and future costs, in perpetuity, of any required mitigation and must set out the contingency for these funds prior to determination of the planning application.

North East Swale, Saskatoon
Development in Saskatoon 
Saskatoon’s population is growing rapidly and suburban expansions are putting pressure on the City’s infrastructure. They are also putting pressure on the land, its plants, and wildlife. This is particularly evident in the case of the North East Swale, an important wildlife habitat and watershed, which is rapidly being surrounded by new housing.

Whilst much of Stewart’s work centred on the protection of European-designated sites, he is of the view that the principles of avoidance, mitigation, or compensation can also be applied to protecting important local habitats, such as the North East Swale. Ensuring their connectivity to the wider environment is an essential component of the broader efforts of nature conservation, flood risk management, and greater environmental awareness.

From his training and experience with Natural England, Stewart recommends taking into consideration the following points as Saskatoon moves ahead with its plans for new subdivisions and roads near the Swale.

  1. Develop a formal regulatory structure or delivery framework so that you have the authority to protect the land and resources. 
  2. Map the area in advance. Be aware of what is currently there, in terms of geology, plants, and wildlife, so that you know what needs to be protected, mitigated, or compensated and have the information you need to assess proposed development. 
  3. Plan in advance. Start working with developers when they are still in the master planning stage, so it’s easier to make adjustments and obtain buy-in from all parties. 
  4. Collaborate with developers to identify ways in which they can reduce any harmful impacts to the natural area. 
  5. If mitigation is impossible, due to site restrictions, limitations, and/or permitted development, require developers to make compensation for their impact on natural areas, such as the Swale. For example, expect them to provide protection for or create land of a similar nature in another area. And, if the land they are altering is irreplaceable, the compensation should be greater. 
  6. Ensure that developers cover the costs of both actual and future mitigation. It should not be passed on to local residents. 

“Every opportunity should be seized upon to avoid any unnecessary depletion and/or fragmentation of recognized local and regional habitat, for the benefit of both flora and fauna,” Stewart says.

Photo credit: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Tuesday 3 September 2013

EcoSask News, September 3, 2013


“Sustainability is not a technological fix for a wasteful lifestyle” (Tyler Caine)

That Tastes Good! Sept. 17
Join Penny McKinlay at 7 pm on Tuesday, September 17, at the Frances Morrison Library where Penny is giving a presentation entitled That tastes good! Good for me, good for my community and good for the earth: Tips to help you and your family support sustainable food production and consumption.

The presentation is part of the Saskatchewan Environmental Society’s Library Speaker Series. There will be a display of books and a tasting organized by Slow Food Saskatoon.

Falling for Colours Photography Tour, Sept. 20-22
Branimir Gjetvaj is offering an instructional photography tour of Prince Albert National Park landscapes and waterscapes from September 20-22. Branimir will lead participants to first-class photographic locations and lead photo critique sessions in the evenings.

Beaver Creek Interpretive Hikes
Find out how animals and plants prepare for winter on an interpretive hike at Beaver Creek every Sunday afternoon at 2:30 pm during September and October.

Additional Upcoming Events
EcoFriendly Sask maintains a calendar of upcoming events. Here are some you won’t want to miss:
September 12 – Saskatoon Community Wind public meeting
September 21 – Soil workshop
October 4 – Environmental Education workshop
October 21-23 – Below Your Watershed conference


Recycle SK
Recycle Saskatchewan has launched a new website to answer your recycling questions.

Life in the Trees
Among Giants is an online video about ‘Farmer’ who tree-sits to protect a growth of old-wood redwoods in California. The tree-sitting was successful and at least 1,000 acres of redwoods will be preserved.

Interesting Reading
Nike’s newest concept store is built with 100% trash – pop cans, plastic bottles, and old CDs

Green buildings – it’s more than just energy efficiency – think water and recycled content as well as need

Population explosion – is there a future for the human species? a conversation with Alan Weisman

What can we do to save the bees?

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. Additional upcoming events can be found on our Calendar.

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).