Humans relate to living things at a very fundamental level. We value living beings. Most households have something living in them. Cats, dogs, birds or houseplants. Sometimes snakes or turtles.

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We relate to the Biodiversity of our watershed in similar ways but at a greatly expanded level. In the Salmon River watershed where we live, near the edge between the Canadian Shield and the Napanee limestone plateau, we have come to expect a grand variety of living things and satisfyingly high numbers of many kinds of animals and plants. We depend on our watershed to continue to supply that wealth.cub at shore crop+text

The biodiversity that we enjoy depends in part on the fact that we see living things from both the more northern ecological regions and the more southern. We enjoy animals and plants more common in the mixed conifer-deciduous environments of the Canadian Shield but we also have those common in the limestone areas closer to Lake Ontario.

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The diversity of living things isolated on a small area – – such as a one hectare building lot – – would decline over just a few years even if the habitats stayed the same. This happens because the living things on each small area in the watershed depend on connections with much larger areas and with other distant habitats. Without that connection to and support from the rest of the watershed, you would not see any Great Blue Herons where you lived. The heronry where those birds are hatched will be elsewhere. Somewhere else in the watershed that provides the requirements for nesting. In turn, the adults must fly back and forth to other areas where they can catch fish and frogs and shuttle them to the growing young. Without the support of the watershed, you would not see the occasional black bear or moose or coyote. Without the support of the rest of the watershed you also would have a much reduced variety of birds at your winter feeder. And the northern parts of the watershed would not have the wild turkeys that have spilled northward from releases on the limestone plain. The grouse might have had more winter food without those turkeys.Columbine (exc) & bee+text200dpi3.5X  10 DSC_0009 1

red maple single blossom black bgrnd crop+text 200dpi3Xadj cropThe most basic kind of care of the watershed that will support living diversity is to try to fit our actions gently into the        watershed. Our human structures and activities can affect both the mix of living things and their numbers. Our presence    unavoidably affects some of the habitats needed by some species. Our noise alone can degrade habitat. Degradation of the habitats where we live and play makes the other parts of the watershed even more important in maintaining the biodiversity that attracted us here in the first place.

Maintaining the original natural habitat types and their ecological relationships up and down the watershed is the best way to maintain the diversity of living things. Adding new species into those relationships usually has unpredictable and unmanageable outcomes – -sometimes disastrous for native species and costly for us. Skink with regrown tail.+text200dpi4XPurple loosestrife and zebra mussels are here to remind us.  Conservation of habitat types and their distribution in a watershed can’t be planned or organized without monitoring to track the inevitable changes in types, amounts and geography of habitats across the watershed. Up-to-date remote imagery satisfies this need increasingly. Together with some ground checks by volunteers, the watershed’s support for biodiversity can be monitored by satellite.

Iris in sedges +text 200dpi3.5X DSC_0018Planning and monitoring habitat relationships require cooperative management in order to protect biodiversity. This sort of cooperative management for a watershed is often most successfully achieved by a combination of: awareness created through information, followed by community engagement resulting in socially supported programs of stewardship. Regulation is not a short-cut to an improved social attitude. It is effective mainly to inform and to apply legal enforcement to behaviour outside the socially accepted norms by a few who can’t be reached by community engagement. Policy relying on legal and regulatory enforcement should be used only as a secondary approach when persuasive engagement in habitat and biodiversity stewardship has failed.

Indian pipe exc crop text 200dpi4Xbuttonbush closeup flower+text 200dpi4XValuing living things and especially the outstanding biodiversity where we live is intuitive in many of us. We don’t want to lose the variety or the numbers of living things. The danger is that we can be causing losses and not notice. We easily assume that if we live gently on the land, we will not degrade the biodiversity but the habitat quality sensed by wild species is easily made unacceptable to them by our very presence. Light and noise from our houses, bird-killing windows, noise from machinery, bladderwort blossoms dk bckgrnd exc100dpi6X TEXT DSC_0001frequent loud voices in the environment, dogs and cats ranging farther than we expect are enough to make natural habitat unacceptable. Similarly, isolated changes to the landscape can change large-scale ecological relationships that escape our notice or our understanding. For example, uncoordinated forest cutting can fragment and disconnect the remaining uncut forest areas. This can make difficult the movement of plants such as trout lilies and animals such as grouse between the remaining forest patches. A watershed stewardship plan and associated community engagement can prevent that and protect watershed biodiversity.

Many people in many lands would dearly love to have the biodiversity that we enjoy. It is a rich natural wealth – – a basic feature of our natural capital – – well worth protecting. Not just for us but also for our children, grandchildren and onward to those seven generations that the original peoples so wisely include in their view. We would not enjoy the rare treasure of biodiversity that is the envy of the world if that biodiversity was not produced and maintained by our watershed.


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