I enjoy pretty much everything there is that has to do with the outdoors. Some of my most peaceful moments have been while walking through the forest, sitting on a beach, or boating (minus the loud engine). Accordingly I have a great respect for nature and enjoy learning about the plants and wildlife therein. My plan is to continue that learning process and hopefully enhance it by sharing what I learn. I intend for this blog to serve many purposes, but in the immediate future it will be a place for me, and hopefully others, to share ideas about reducing our individual impact on this planet, protecting wild spaces, and in general just to comment on the things we enjoy most in the great outdoors. I welcome all opinions as otherwise you cannot consider every aspect of a subject. However, I would ask that every opinion be expressed in a respectful way and considered with an open mind. Often there is no single right answer. Thanks.

Monday, January 31, 2011

For the ladies (and non-squeamish men)...

After I published my post last night I was taking a quick look at msn.ca.  One of the headlines caught my eye with regard to a shortage of o.b. tampons.  I clicked on the link and was treated to a Maclean's article entitled 'The case of the missing tampons'.  Essentially the manufacturer of o.b., which is a division of Johnson & Johnson, has discontinued one type of o.b. tampon.  Somehow this has also resulted in disruptions in the supply of other tampons in the o.b. line, which is causing some tampons to sell at a premium on Ebay, and creating some very upset women.

A quote from Madeleine Shaw, co-owner of Lunapads International Products Ltd., caught my eye as the company is based out of Vancouver, BC.  Lunapads was started in 1993 and they have been producing and distributing Lunapads, a non-disposable menstrual pad, ever since.  Their product line has been expanded to include Lunapanties and the DivaCup.  Both the Lunapads and Lunapanties are manufactured in Vancouver.

I switched to o.b. in my quest to reduce our household waste.  I must admit that although I have often wondered what solution there could be for phasing out the few pads that I still use, I did not take the time to actually search for one.  Another mother at school mentioned the DivaCup to me a few weeks ago, but I had not taken the time to look for it, or research it any further.  I was delighted to stumble upon Lunapads' website last night and find a solution to both pad and tampon waste.

Depending on your perspective there is a certain 'gross factor' involved in either an o.b. tampon, or the DivaCup.  I figure if I can get over the o.b. tampon 'gross factor', which is minor, the DivaCup is just the next step.  All that is left to do is select my kit and fabric, and order.  I will let you know how it goes...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A different outlook...

I should start by saying that I thoroughly enjoy hiking and always have.  I am fortunate to have an Uncle who is an avid, experienced hiker and at the age of 13 I was able to accompany him on the Cape Scott Trail and subsequently the West Coast Trail when I was 14.  Life gets busy and finally in the summer of 2009 I was able to venture out on a multi-day backpacking trip again.  This time we tackled the North Coast and Cape Scott Trails and my husband came along for his first big hike.

While hiking is one of my favourite things, it is certainly not my husband's cup of tea.  There are many other pastimes he would rather pursue, but he is a good sport and, without too much trouble, I was able to talk him into hiking near the Bugaboos in August 2010.  Many of our friends think we (mostly me) are crazy to endure the discomfort of blisters, sore knees, rainy weather, boring/disgusting food, and small tent space.  Most recently a friend commented that my Uncle must be a bit of a 'wild man' to be willing to take us into areas inhabited by cougars and bears.  Being that I consider most of my Uncles to be 'wild men' in their own right I was amused that hiking near cougars and bears would be considered a criterion for that title.

My friend then asked if I would take my children into areas like that.  Without hesitation I answered "Yes I would".  It was an easy answer for me, and in fact I have taken my children on short walks in areas where there have been posted cougar warnings.  I chat with them about the danger, and ask that they remain in sight always.  I run to catch up, or call them back as I need to.  I grew up in Campbell River and on occasion there would be cougar sightings near our home, or near the elementary school only a couple of blocks away.  I do not recall fear being my primary emotion.  I believe that education and awareness are the best tools to combat fear.  This statement holds true for many things in life, not just wild animals.

I hold animals such as grizzly bears, cougars, and black bears in high regard.  They are impressive, beautiful creatures and yes, these animals can be dangerous to humans.  Accordingly, they are deserving of respect and before you venture into their territory it would be prudent to do a little research.  For me the benefits of hiking adventures far outweigh the risks.  I also want my children to grow up with a knowledge and respect for nature's wild spaces and the living creatures therein.

Near the Bugaboos there were warnings of a grizzly bear in the area, on the North Coast Trail we saw cougar tracks, and many signs of bear.  We saw bears at a distance one evening on the beach and, near the lighthouse on Cape Scott, we saw a black bear just a short distance up the trail.  My Uncle stopped short and most of our group of 6 calmly pulled out the bear spray, while a couple of us pulled out our cameras.  We did not panic, we did not run, and we did not start firing bear spray all over the place.  We simply stood there and watched the bear while he/she watched us.  After posturing a little bit and staring at us for what seemed to be a couple of minutes he/she turned and walked away into the woods.  We waited a couple of moments to give it a head start and then we carried on.  By the time we got to the place where the bear had been standing we could not tell where it had gone into the woods, nor could we hear any sound.

I get the sense that many people see bears and cougars as wild animals that lie in wait for the next unsuspecting human who will unwittingly become their next meal.  I do not see it that way at all.  My sense is that most cougars look for deer and other small prey, while bears are omnivores and would much rather eat berries and fish than try to wrestle with a human.  Yes, there are exceptions to every rule.  Perhaps the animal is sick, perhaps it is hungry.  Maybe it attacks because it feels you are a threat to itself, or to it's young.  Anytime you decide to venture out into the wilderness you are taking a risk.  Anytime you get in your car and drive on a highway you are taking a risk.  Take the time to educate yourself before you go out, and perhaps you will not feel that around every wooded corner there is a carnivorous animal waiting to bite your head off.  I choose to hike despite the risk because in my mind the reward is far greater.

How many of you go hiking/camping?  Over the years how many times have you seen a bear, or cougar, if ever?  Would you know what to do if you did see one of these animals?

Monday, January 24, 2011

You want to what?!?

A friend of mine was walking through Mt. Doug Park the other day with her mother, who is a lovely woman, and commented on the ivy infestation in one area of the park.  Her mother lamented that she had been trying to get some ivy to grow on her property, but it just was not taking.  Yikes!

I can see the draw of ivy for people who are looking for a lush, evergreen groundcover.  Especially one that expands its area of coverage rapidly.  However, with ivy I think you get a little more than you bargain for.  Unless you are planning to strictly maintain the area that your ivy lives in - look out!  Here is a picture I took today walking through one area of Mt. Doug Park.  The ivy extends as far as the eye can see, crawling over, and up, anything in its path.

I did a google search for invasive species and the top result was the Invasive Plant Council of BC.  Here is a quote from their website:  

 "As native plant communities are replaced by invasive plant infestations, biodiversity declines and habitats change. These impacts are often irreversible and restoration can be extremely difficult, if not impossible; therefore, preventing their establishment and spread is key!"

I would encourage anyone who is looking for an evergreen groundcover to consider native plant options first.  There are many to choose from and it does not take much research to find the right one to fit your existing soil and sun/shade parameters.  Here are a couple of options:

Oregon Grape

This is one type of Oregon Grape.  It is low to the ground, evergreen, has small yellow flowers in the spring and edible, albeit tart, berries in the summer.  This plant likes dry to fairly moist soils and prefers shade to partial shade.

Salal is also an evergreen, creeping plant that is very common in coniferous forests.  It has small white/pinkish flowers blooming from May to July which yield to dark, juicy, edible berries.  It prefers moist, shady areas.

In addition to the plants pictured above there are many varieties of ferns, and other evergreen groundcover that fit different light and soil requirements.  I have been incorporating native plants into my garden for the last couple of years and I have also introduced more native plants into the courtyard garden at my childrens' school.  I have purchased most of my plants from the Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary at their semi-annual plant sale.  If you check out their website they have a great section about native plant gardening and they also offer workshops on the subject in conjunction with the CRD Water Department.  I also found a website by Russell Nursery that has a section on native plants with information about size, light requirements, and soil preferences.

I must say that learning about native plants and incorporating them into my garden is one of my favourite things.  In fact, if it helps, I would even offer to help plan, and plant my friends' mom's garden to keep her from planting ivy :)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Holly Work Party

I made it to the work party at Mt. Doug today!  While I did pull a few pieces of English Ivy our mission today was actually to remove Holly.  There were four people to start, and the numbers grew to a whopping six before we were finished.  I was provided with some handy gardening tools and offered a pair of gloves, which I probably should have taken, and I worked a little section on my own moving from one holly plant to another.  It was not hard to find the next one given that most of the plants seem to be runners from a larger "mother-ship".  I did not ask how many hours the little crew has spent in that area but, as you can see by the snarled mass in the centre of the picture, they have a pretty good pile going.  

What you see in the picture is only a portion of what has been pulled. One of the jobs is to drag this heap up to the side of Churchill Drive and add it to the substantial pile already there.  It will be picked up by a Saanich Works crew and taken away to be composted.  Since it is an invasive species it is composted at a high heat to ensure that nothing survives to be unwittingly spread to other areas.

I have scratches on my wrists where my gloves did not quite cover and I was stabbed in the ass multiple times by rogue holly leaves, but I spent two hours this morning quite happily pulling the beastly stuff.  When we finished at noon I hopped in my vehicle and had a smile on my face all the way home.  It is one thing to walk through the park, see what needs to be done, and hope someone else gets around to it.  Is is another thing entirely, and much more satisfying, to be part of the group that actually gets to it and makes a difference.

Given that the current size of Mt. Doug park is approximately 182 hectares (450 acres) more hands would be greatly appreciated.  The group I met today was very friendly and welcoming.  For anyone who is interested you can check out the January schedule posted on their website.  I will be back there next Thursday for another round with the Holly.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mary Lake

Mary Lake is a small lake within a 107 acre property in the District of Highlands that is currently zoned for residential development into 11 acreages.  It is an important piece of land for many reasons.  It provides a wildlife corridor between Gowland Todd Provincial Park and Thetis Lake Regional Park, it has an existing network of trails and would be a key addition to the Southern Vancouver Island trail network, the Sea-to-Sea Greenbelt, and a proposed regional trail between Gowland Todd and Thetis Lake parks.  Of course, the area is also home to a wide variety of mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and plants.

In October of 2010 the Mary Lake Conservancy, formed by a group of residents from the District of Highlands, began a fundraising campaign to raise $1,000,000 by January 20, 2011 and the balance of $3,500,000 over the next couple of years, with a final goal of an official park opening on January 1, 2014.  Reaching the first million is critical as it unlocks financing to purchase the property.

I heard about the Save Mary Lake campaign a couple of months ago and have visited their website several times since to see how their fundraising efforts are going.  There has been a fair bit of media coverage both in print and on television, but they still have a long way to go in a short period of time.  On the surface one million dollars seems like a lot of money, but broken down into $10.00 chunks it would only take 100,000 people $10.00 each in order to help the Mary Lake Conservancy meet their initial goal.  Considering the population of the Capital Regional District alone, and the fact that they are using social networking to raise awareness, I am still hopeful that a large mass of donations could pile in and save the day.

Take a couple of minutes and check out their website http://www.savemarylake.com/.  It is set up quite well, informative, and very easy to donate in several different ways.  If you like what you see I would encourage you to send in a contribution and pick out your little square of Mary Lake.  I sent in our donation of $40.00 at the end of December and have a little piece of lakefront with the names of our four family members on it.  I sincerely hope that I will be able to walk through that park in three years and show my kids our names on a plaque.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mt. Doug - I might finally make a work party!

I decided to head out for a walk yesterday and since neither of my kids were interested I had the luxury of going where I wanted, at my own pace.  Plus I did not have a running commentary of "I'm tired", "My legs are sore", "When is the downhill part?"...  I do love taking them with me, but sometimes it is nice to actually enjoy the silence.

We are fortunate to live only about a ten minute walk from Mt. Doug park, so that is often my destination of choice.  The network of trails is lengthy and I am sure I have only explored half of it - maybe less.  I made the mistake of exploring a different way down from the top with my kids last year.  I thought it was great fun until it took a little longer than anticipated to get back to the parking lot.  We were heading in the general direction of the parking lot, but there seems to be many trail options in certain areas and as you would expect most trails do not run exactly straight.  We certainly got more of a walk than we bargained for and they kept asking if we were lost.  I am a little more conservative in my trail choices now :)

On several occasions over the last couple of years I have seen one person, or small groups, hard at work removing ivy and/or holly from different sections of the park.  I stopped and had a chat with someone last summer about the work he was doing.  If I remember correctly they have divided the park into sections and are methodically moving through each section removing holly and, of course, ivy.  Right now you can see large piles of pulled ivy along one of the main trails.  If it were not for dedicated volunteers much more of the park would look like the area I walked by yesterday near the Glendenning entrance to the park.  The ground is a shallow sea of ivy and on nearly every tree you can see the vine travelling higher and higher up the tree trunk.  As you can imagine there is not much else to see but ivy in these areas.

I have had wonderful intentions to join one of the work party's put on by the Friends of Mt. Doug Park Society.  So far my intentions have fallen flat and I have not made it to any.  However, I visited the website again yesterday and there is another work party this Thursday from 10:00 to 12:00.  So, I have it down on my calendar and, as long as noone else in my house starts vomiting like my daughter was this past Thursday evening, I should be good to go.  It will be a great excuse to get outside, get some exercise and do something useful at the same time.

For anyone who is interested in learning more about invasive plants in Southwestern BC I found this great link today http://www.shim.bc.ca/invasivespecies/Title.htm.  Also, the Mount Douglas Park Society has an informative website with dates of work parties, newsletters, and maps of the park.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

From Plastic to Altwood Lumber

I am always interested to learn what happens to recyclable materials after I take them to Pacific Mobile Depots, or leave them in my curbside bin.  For one type of material at least, I actually know the answer.  After I mentioned Syntal in my post on January 8 I contacted the manager, Brian Burchill, who is an acquaintance of mine.  I wanted to pick his brain about how the company is doing, and get a refresher on how the plastic recycling process works at their plant.  Syntal has been around since 1998 but has suffered, in part, due to a lack of a reliable supply of clean plastic. 

In order to produce its Altwood Lumber Syntal can only use certain types of plastic.  Milk jugs, laundry detergent containers, and shampoo bottles are some of the examples, but essentially they will accept anything in categories, 1, 2, 4, or 5.  The crinkly plastic containers that your spring mix salad, strawberries, or deli sandwiches come in is not the right type.  You should set that aside for your blue box, or take it to Pacific Mobile Depots.  If you want to recycle things like car seats, old plastic wagons, or buckets you must ensure that all metal parts are removed first.  The other important point to remember is that the plastic must be clean and dry, i.e. all oils, liquid detergent, lotions, gels, etc removed.

Sometimes I find that it is hard to follow a process when you do not fully understand the reasons behind its creation.  So, for anyone like me, here is some insight as to why it must be metal-free, clean, and dry.  The first step the plastic goes through is essentially a shredder, which cuts the plastic into ribbons.  As you can imagine a piece of metal at this stage would damage the blades and down goes your machinery.  Then the plastic is put through a grinder which renders the plastic into pellets.  During the shredding and grinding stages dust is formed, therefore, any significant moisture can create clumps and/or cause the dust to stick in pipes.  I think the clean part is self explanatory.  For example, it would be hard to shred and grind a plastic peanut butter, or mayonnaise container, if it was still gummed up with either of those substances.  After the shredding and grinding the plastic is melted into molds to form standard sized lumber.

This lumber can be used to build such things as planters, outdoor furniture, sundecks or fences.  If I can get my wooden, raised veggie garden to grow I will likely need to replace the wood within the next couple of years.  Altwood has been approved by the Pacific Agricultural Certification Society (PACS) for use by organic growers as it does not leach.  I am also currently working on getting some Altwood benches put into the school courtyard at my childrens' school.  I think it would be great for the kids to see what the end result of recycling can be. 

Now, back to the supply problem that I mentioned in the beginning.  When the CRD began collecting rigid plastics I figured that Syntal would be getting this supply.  I was surprised to learn that is not the case.  The glass, metal, and plastic, that are collected are mixed together in the recycling truck.  Given that Syntal is not equipped to mechanically sort out any metals or glass that become stuck in the plastic they are unable to accept the curbside pickups.  Also, the CRD has a contract with Metro Waste Paper Company, which does not expire until 2012.  Metro Waste sends all of the things we recycle at the curb to buyers on the mainland where some of the plastic is then shipped overseas.  Syntal's largest regular supply of separated plastic comes from Nanaimo and the Gulf Islands. Syntal also has a bin at it's location on the corner of Keating Cross Road and Bertram Place where you can drop off your plastics for free.  Unfortunately, some people treat this bin as a dumpster.  Please note: anything that is not useable plastic will be sent to the landfill so do not dump your stuff here hoping that Syntal will sort and recycle it for you.

Fortunately, things seem to be looking up in the supply and demand department.  Syntal is currently under contract to provide 2x6's for walls designed to control the flood waters of Lynn Creek in North Vancouver.  This project will utilize over 60 tonnes of scrap plastic.  Currently, you can purchase Altwood lumber at Lumberworld, and Slegg Lumber in Sidney as well as several other locations mid-island, and in the lower mainland. 

Over the last few months Syntal has had some great media exposure and more individuals and companies are starting to redirect plastic to their facility.  Some examples are plastic pallets from an import company, hard hats from the construction industry, and damaged trash totes.  Hopefully the supply will keep coming and this company can continue it's growth.  Keep Syntal in mind for your hard plastics.  Store them up, chat with some like-minded neighbours, and take turns driving them out to their facility.  Just remember: metal-free, clean, and dry.

Besides the information I got from Brian directly here is a link to a Times Colonist article that he directed me to: The pursuit for plastics

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Litterless Lunches

The school my children attend has made the change to litterless lunches.  Litterless lunches mean that any garbage your child takes to school they must take home with them.  Among other things the school is encouraging parents to avoid buying individually wrapped snacks and instead buy bulk.  Then send these bulk items to school in smaller, reusable containers.

I currently have a stash of ziploc containers that I use for sandwiches, cut fruit and veggies, and dry snacks.  It works for the most part, but given that they are not super expensive, I have not taken the time to put labels on them and, therefore, I am sure my supply is getting smaller and smaller.  Also, an odd assortment of sizes and shapes makes it tricky to fit into the lunch box sometimes.  In chatting with school staff and other parents about the many alternatives to plastic bags I have been introduced to a few different sites with some great options.  (http://www.tinygiggles.ca/, http://www.fenigo.com/, and http://www.tupperware.ca/.) Of course items like these can be pricey and it may be worth your time to check out some second hand stores, or use less expensive options.  Whatever works for you!

I can see that some people may see this change as being more trouble than it is worth.  But where does the garbage go when the landfill is full?  Sure, that will be many years down the road.  But I do not think it is fair to say "It's not our problem" and push it forward for our future adults to deal with.  Would you want the next landfill down the road from your house?  Why would anyone else?  By nature of their size, and the amount of time people spend there, schools can have a huge impact on diverting waste from the landfill.  The fact that many schools are promoting these types of recycling programs, despite the effort and time required, is a very positive step forward.

Just as I learned more about germs, and how to prevent sharing them, from my children as they went through preschool, hopefully parents will take the time to listen and implement the important lessons their children are learning in regards to waste reduction.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Recycling and more recycling...

This afternoon I had two foil garlic bread wrappers, a foil chip bag, and various other items of soft plastic taking up a healthy amount of real estate on my counter.  I have sinced rinsed out the foil and turned them upside down to dry and then I can put them in my bin under the counter.  Except the bin under my counter that holds the soft plastic and foil is overflowing so I guess I will have to finally give in and take the bin to the garage. (Sigh)

We, along with several other families I know, recycle almost everything.  My lovely husband humours me and participates in the recycling although if there is rinsing and drying to be done it is usually my job.  He actually chose washing dishes over dealing with the foil!  If you know where to look for information you will find that almost anything can be recycled.  I have read a couple of articles over the years about people who have one small bag of garbage per month, or one small bag per year.  I cannot claim to be this diligent at recycling, and I could probably make some better choices as far as buying food with less packaging.  However, our family of four has one garbage can (not completely full) every two weeks.  I see some houses with two garbage cans parked at the end of their driveway every two weeks.

You have your regular curbside pickup, which takes many items including glass, metal cans, paper, etc.  We also do our kitchen/yard waste pickup with reFuse as I mentioned in a previous post.  That takes care of all food items, paper napkins/towels, paper plates, etc.  For a full list of acceptable materials check out their website at http://www.refuse.ca/.  Prior to starting the composting I found out about Syntal (http://www.syntalproducts.com/).  This is a company that recycles rigid plastic into plastic lumber for benches, planters, lawn and garden edging...the list goes on.  Before curbside recycling took plastic milk jugs we sent our stuff out to their facility.  I still direct my hard plastic recycling to them despite the fact that the Capital Regional District (CRD) has been taking it curbside for several years. 

Within the last couple of years I also learned about Pacific Mobile Depots (http://www.pacificmobiledepots.com/).  This website is definitely worth a look if you are interested in increasing your recycling.  The range of electronics and other materials they take is fantastic.  You may have noticed one of their roving depot locations at Reynolds Secondary School or Fernwood Community Centre.  They have 10 in Victoria as well as 4 locations in the Metro Vancouver area.  If you have the space and you want to save up your recycling they offer pickups as well.  We recycle our styrofoam meat trays, styrofoam packing material, soft plastic, and foil.  I purchased a couple of wire frames from Canadian Tire, put the large, clear, plastic bags over them and store them in a corner of the garage.  It is rather amazing how quickly the soft plastic collection grows.  Yes you have to pay to take your items to the roving depots, or for a pickup, but I find the prices to be very reasonable.  Also, as the prices are all listed on their website there is no surprises.

If you do not see what you are looking for on the Pacific Mobile Depots website check out this link to a CRD recyclopedia (http://myrecyclopedia.ca/).  You can enter the item you are trying to recycle, or click on the "Products A-Z".  Pick an item and you will get an "environmental story" as well as information on where you can take it for recycling.  Everything from mattresses and box springs to plastic motor oil containers and carpet underlay is listed on this site.

I am not afraid to say that sometimes I find recycling to be a large pain in the ass.  However, recyling options are becoming more prolific and it does not take a lot of effort to find a home for your unwanted items.  Perhaps you feel that just one household cannot make that big of a difference.  Try setting aside everything that is recyclable for a week, or a month.  Then you will see what your efforts can accomplish.  Tell your friends and before you know it there will be plenty of households keeping tonnes of recyclable materials out of the landfill.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Alien Species Exhibit

Well, I made it to the museum this morning.  Things were looking a little sketchy since my daughter is fighting a cold, but both kids made it to school and after a walk at the Cedar Hill Golf Course to kill some time I headed downtown.

I only bought parking for 1.5 hours and figured that would be sufficient.  I guess in a sense it was.  I spent my whole time browsing through the Behind the Scenes Exhibit and then the Alien Species Exhibit.  For a self proclaimed nature dork it was fantastic.  I spent a lot of time reading the articles they had posted and especially enjoyed the sections about plants, reptiles & amphibians, and birds.  The alien species exhibit was much smaller, and quicker to go through, but just as interesting.

I already had an awareness of many of the alien species, but there were probably equally as many that were new to me.  I would consider scotch broom, bullfrogs, starlings and eastern grey squirrels to be some of the usual suspects.  A few that I was surprised to see were manila clams, pacific oysters, a type of ladybug and some types of earthworms.  One distinction that I found useful to note is that while most species that exist here now, and are considered "native", had to come from somewhere they usually made it here on their own.  Possibly by birds in the case of plants, or eventual migration in the case of animals.  On the other hand alien species arrive with the help of humans either accidentally or intentionally.

An example of a species that had a helping hand would be starlings.  They were introduced in New York around the time of 1890 or 1891 by a group of Shakespeare enthusiasts.  Their goal was to bring over all of the birds mentioned in the works of Shakespeare.  Depending on where you get your information either 30, or about 100, of the birds were released in Central Park.  By 1945 they had made their way to British Columbia and today there are in excess of 200 million starlings in North America.

Eastern Grey Squirrels have been introduced all over the world.  Their natural range was from the Gulf of Mexico in the south, to the eastern United States and maritimes, as far north as southern Ontario and Quebec and as far west as southern Manitoba.  Now you can find them in the United Kingdom, Ireland, many other parts of Europe as well as in Western Canada.  This is not an exhaustive list.  In many cases the squirrels escaped from zoos, or other captive accommodations.  In 1914 they were introduced to Stanley Park in Vancouver.  They began their colony on Vancouver Island in 1966 after two females and one male escaped from a game farm in Metchosin.  Eastern Grey Squirrels have proven to be highly adaptable and produce offspring twice per year.  In most cases they become more successful than native squirrel populations.

Of the alien species not previously know to me manila clams caught my eye.  I guess invasive shellfish hadn't really crossed my mind since it is more common to hear about the invasive plants and squirrels, or bullfrogs.  Manila clams were introduced to BC waters in the 1930s along with Pacifc Oyster larvae.  People were trying to establish a population of Pacific Oysters, but the conditions for reproduction were not ideal and so they continuously brought in the larvae.  It is thought that 6 species of clams and mussels, 7 species of snails, and 4 species of worms were imported with the larvae.  Manila clams were highly successful and today they are commercially harvested.  According to the exhibit at the Royal BC Museum it is not uncommon to allow for beaches to be modified in order to increase the yield of this popular clam.

As you can imagine I could go on, but to spare anyone who might actually read this I will stop there.  Suffice it to say that there are many alien species present in our ecosystem and those around the world.  In some cases their introduction does not have a huge impact, in too many cases their impact can be devastating.  There are many volunteer opportunities in the Victoria area to help groups who are trying to eradicate, or at least control, invasive species.  Every time I walk through Mt. Doug park I am reminded of the fact that many more hands are needed to get a handle on the ivy growth that threatens to take over portions of the park.  I suppose awareness of the different species is a good place to start. 

In addition to what I learned today browsing through the exhibits at the Royal British Columbia Museum I also read several articles I found on the internet.  I have included those links below.



Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Where did the day go?

Well today flew by and I just spent over 20 minutes trying to figure out why I couldn't create a new post. Now that it's sorted I'm pretty much done for the day. A note with regard to yesterday's blog. I just read a media release from the CRD dated December 10, 2010. The CRD Board has decided to delay the implementation of the kitchen scraps collection program until late 2013.

Oh, and the alien species exhibit is still at the museum so I did not miss it - yay! Off to the Royal BC Museum tomorrow morning and, as a side bonus, it is entry by donation week.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Food waste = Composted Soil

I'm sure that I am not the only one who feels a twinge of guilt throwing away the scrap food left uneaten by their family.  The big one that gets me is the sandwich crusts.  No matter how many times I feed my kids lines like "it's no different than the rest of the bread", or "take a bite of the crust with the rest of the sandwich and then you won't even notice" they still only eat their crusts probably 5% of the time.  Then of course there's the food that has been handled, or played with on the dinner plate and belatedly offered to mommy or daddy to eat since they are "full".  I could go on, but I think you get the picture.  There are scraps that are legitimately scraps and some that are not so much.  This is where the composting comes in.

I have separated my compostable materials for close to 3 years now and I am still impressed by how much material is being diverted from my garbage can and ultimately the landfill.  There are a couple of different ways to approach composting.  The two main choices being either do it yourself, or have it taken away.  There are arguments for and against both options, but for me, I prefer to have it taken away.

In the Greater Victoria area we are fortunate to have several different composting options.  If you prefer the do-it-yourself approach and are wondering how to get started you should check out the Greater Victoria Compost Education Centre (http://www.compost.bc.ca/).  I find their website easy to follow and it contains many different options for composting in your backyard, including a fact sheet for each option detailing, among other things, how much effort is required and what you can include.  There are options for single family home and apartment/condo dwellers alike.

If you prefer the take-it-away approach there are three companies in town that I know of providing this service.  I currently use reFuse (http://www.refuse.ca/).  I started with them about three years ago because at the time they took the widest variety of compostables.  The waste they collect is tipped into a container and taken up to an in-vessel facility in Cobble Hill where it is turned into high grade composted soil.  Community Composting (http://www.communitycomposting.ca/) is another pickup service.  They collect your compostable waste every 4 weeks and drop off a free 20L bag of composted soil in exchange.  However, they have a narrower range of acceptable materials than the other two providers.  Depending on your diet this could work just fine for you.  The third is Pedal to Petal (pedaltopetal.blogspot.com).  This pickup service is powered by bicycle, which should appeal to those of you who take into account vehicle emissions.  The range of acceptable materials has increased since I last looked at their blog.  Their composting is done in people's back yards and the resulting soil is given to groups and individuals.  All of the above mentioned compost educators/service providers have well laid out, informative websites.  What I have provided is but a tiny fraction and they are continually improving their service.

So what about the cost?  As I mentioned previously I currently use reFuse for my pickup service.  We pay a rental fee for a large, green, pest-proof bin ($7.50/month), and $22.50 for a pickup when it gets full.  With a family of four and some garden waste (depending on the season) I call for a pickup once every 6-8 weeks.  To put that into perspective that works out to about $20.00 per month.  Take a minute and think about the "little extras" that you spend $20.00 a month or more on.  So what are you waiting for???

Yes, the CRD has proposed a ban on food waste at the landfill by May 2012, but I can't think of a good reason to wait until then.  Living in an apartment or condo is no longer a good excuse either.  Find some like minded neighbours and implement a plan.  reFuse and Community Composting already have existing pickup arrangments with apartments and condos.  Many commercial operations, and public schools are also utilizing this service.  I started a composting program at the elementary school my children attend just over a year ago.  If I can do it so can you!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Well here goes nothing...

My first blog post ever.  I have been thinking about starting a blog for the last few months, but was having trouble deciding on a topic and quite frankly was scared to start.  In addition to being a novice ecologist I am also a novice writer.  I decided the other day that never trying was worse than failing.

As far as topics go ecology and nature are so obvious I can't believe it didn't occur to me before.  My husband calls me a nature dork, my kids call me a bird dork (thanks to my husband) and there are few other topics that spark my interest in the same way.  For example I enjoy learning about native plants, invasive species, clean energy, options for recycling/reusing, and eco friendly cleaning products.

I have decided that I would like to learn more about ecology and sustainability and I figure blogging will be a useful tool to keep me on track.  Also, one of the best ways to retain what you learn is to teach someone else.  Therefore, I'm going to renew my efforts to learn more about environmental topics and then share what I have learned here in the hopes that it will stick.  I'll also include my ideas, my interests, and ways that I already try to reduce my impact on the environment. 

If any other novice ecologists read this blog please feel free to share your comments, ideas, and suggested readings.  If any accomplished writers happen across this blog please feel free to offer your constructive feedback on my writing.

My first goal is to see the exhibit at the Royal BC Museum on alien species.  A close second goal will be to pay more attention as the exhibit has obviously been around for awhile and I just heard about it yesterday.  I think I will aim for Thursday when the kids are in school...hopefully it's still there.