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, February 28, 2011

Managed vs. Natural Ecosystems

Since my walk through Viaduct Flats I have been thinking a lot about managed vs. natural.  The Viaduct Flats, which I toured almost two weeks ago on a Restoration Walk, is a managed park.  Managing the deer population, managing the rabbit population, managing invasive species...these are topics that appear frequently in our local Saanich News and other publications.  I was listening to a radio interview with a man from the Raincoast Conservation Foundation a few weeks ago and the topic of discussion was conserving and managing the cougar population in British Columbia. 

It seems to me that we as humans are unable to touch a place without completely muddling up the ecological balance.  Whether by clearing of naturally occurring vegetation and it's inhabitants, introduction of alien plants and animals, or just general pollution, our species has a tremendous impact on our surroundings.  I wonder, if you had the time to add up all of the paid labour hours, volunteer hours, and cash that is pumped into "management" of areas that we humans have meddled with, what would the cost be?  Staggering would be my guess.  However, I agree with the premise that we cannot just meddle and move on.  Some attempt has to be made to set things back on track.  But as with any issue there is no one way that will satisfy everyone.

Two local examples are the rabbit and deer populations.  I have a giant soft spot for animals large and small and I have read many articles and letters to the editor with regard to these issues.  There is the argument that humans caused the problem and so we must fix it, but no agreement on the method.  There is the argument that it is not the fault of the animals and so they should be just left alone and we should do nothing.  My heart prefers the latter.  I would rather that all animals were left to their own devices and that nature could take care of itself, but Saanich, like many other ecosystems, is not a functioning, balanced ecosystem.  It is broken and we are responsible.

Some time ago one of my kids brought home a library book called "Wolf Island" by Celia Godkin.  I love this book as it contains a basic lesson on a balanced ecosystem.  A book review that I found describes it accurately as book that young children will be able to understand and that will give older children things to think about and discuss.  I would argue that most adults would also benefit from reading this book.  Based on fact, it is the story of an island on which resides a family of wolves.  The wolves leave the island and without the balancing role of the carnivores the island's ecosystem becomes dysfunctional and all of the other resident species suffer as well.  When the wolves are eventually able to return balance is restored and all species are able to thrive again.

The primary predators of deer on Vancouver Island are historically the wolf and cougar.  One interesting article I found from 2001 (In the Predators Domain) talks about how human activity has impacted these populations.  Given the fractured state of the green space in most urban areas deer populations are being cut off, and protected, from their natural predators.  My guess is that introducing predators into populated areas to naturally control the deer population is out of the question.  So that leaves management as the only other alternative since burgeoning deer populations are not sustainable. 

I love the deer and the thought of not having any in our neighbourhood depresses me.  The wider variety of wildlife in my new neighbourhood was one of the reasons we chose to live here rather than near downtown.  If I have to choose between managing the population and keeping them around, or getting rid of all them like the bunnies at UVic, I choose management.  So how do you manage these beautiful creatures?

I would not go hunting myself, but I can respect it if it is a managed hunt and the animal is not wasted.  I doubt that it is done much in modern times, but in some cultures prayers were offered as an acknowledgment of the gift an animal's life was in terms of the food and supplies provided for your tribe, or family.  One viewpoint would be that these prayers are just to relieve some of the guilt that we should feel for taking an animals life.  My point is that I would rather a deer's life serve a purpose, such as feeding families, rather than be drugged, cremated and wasted.  One letter to the editor I read with regard to the rabbits denounced the idea of feeding rabbit meat to the homeless as why should we expect them to eat something that the average citizen would not.  I do not think that is a valid argument in the case of deer, but just in case someone is thinking along those lines, my dad hunts occasionally and I have eaten deer and moose.  I do not consider it as being beneath anyone.  I also cannot think of any way of humanely killing an animal, but I do not imagine that being run over by a car, or wandering around with an arrow through your body, is all that humane either. 

Whatever management option is decided upon in our municipality I doubt that I will like it.  My heart will break for the deer population that is subject to the "management plan", but my brain knows that "natural" methods of population control are no longer an option here.  We have meddled and left our mark and now it is up to us to fix it.  I hope that one day we will learn to better coexist with nature, green belts will be left intact, people will learn to minimize conflicts with natural predators, and management plans may not be so desperately needed.  Imagine if we could be part of a balanced natural ecosystem instead of disrupting it completely.  A utopian view for sure, but one can always hope.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Viaduct Flats Restoration Walk

Some time ago I was looking for opportunities to learn more about environmental topics and came across a program offered by UVic.  Specifically the UVic Restoration of Natural Systems Program and Division of Continuing Studies.  People were able to sign up for three different "Restoration Walks" taking place during the month of February at sites around the Capital Regional District.  The options available were Rithet's Bog, Viaduct Flats and Ogden Point.  They have since opened up another walk the first week of March at Esquimalt Lagoon.

To quote the UVic site, where you can get more information and/or register, the purpose of these walks is to enable "participants to see first hand restoration efforts occurring in Greater Victoria’s “lost” streams to improve their value as natural habitat."  I felt that the walks were a great way to not only learn more about some of the projects going on in our area, but also check out a couple of places I had not been before.  I was obviously a little behind as when I attempted to register I had to put myself on a wait list for all three of them.  Much to my delight I got an email informing me of the added session at Esquimalt Lagoon, which I promptly signed up for, and then another email a day or so later saying that a spot had opened up on the Viaduct Flats walk.

I have never been to the Viaduct Flats before and as I slowly cruised down Interurban Road I was relieved to see a gentleman in a very bright yellow coat, with binoculars around his neck marking the entrance to the parking lot.  This friendly fellow turned out to be Val Schaefer, the Academic Administrator of the Restoration of Natural Systems Program, School of Environmental Studies, who was accompanied by Jessica Miles, a graduate of the UVic Environmental Studies Program.  Our local expert for this walk was Hoke Holcomb who has been involved with restoration of this area since approximately 1997. 

To give you an idea of the history of this area I will include a quote from the pamphlet we received: "Once covered with ice and essentially a shallow ocean, the area dried to a freshwater lake and then marsh after glacial recession."  Fast forward to the 1980's and this land consisted of plowed fields growing potatoes and daffodils.  In the late 1980's and early 90's, after the agricultural lease expired, studies were undertaken to determine how this area would be preserved as parkland.  In 1993 a lone beaver made its way to the area and built a dam.  The resulting open water led to an increase in bird activity and when the beaver died in 2001 the decision was made to install artificial weirs in order to maintain the water level.

As this area was created with the intention of being a publicly accessible park certain parameters had to be considered as planning began for a trail network through the 38 hectares.  Essentially the goal is to have a closed canopy Douglas Fir forest with several open meadows.  The committee that manages the area feels that maintaining several meadows is important to the overall aesthetics of the park from a public perspective, but have planted thousands of trees in an effort to connect the existing Douglas Fir "islands" with forest corridors.  Over time, if left untended, much of the meadow areas would naturally revert to thick forest including walls of English Hawthorne and Himalayan blackberry, so these meadows will have to be artificially kept up by periodic mowing.  In addition to the extensive efforts on land, there is still work to be done as far as the creek is concerned.

The Viaduct Creek is fed by a Spring and is a tributary of the Colquitz River.  According to Hoke, salmon come as far up the river as Quick's Bottom, but the committee is hopeful that after some creek rehabilitation there will eventually be salmon fry residing in the shallow water of the Viaduct Flats.  Currently the focus is on a section of Viaduct Creek which would benefit from the addition of "large woody debris" to help slow the water and reduce erosion of the banks.  To be brief erosion causes silt and this is not conducive to salmon spawning.  I also learned that "large woody debris" can mean whole trees, with root system still attached, being laid in the creek.  There is of course a fairly large price tag associated with the restoration work and I was not clear on whether funding is already in place. 

Overall the scenery was beautiful, the trails were easy walking, and the area is like a bird watcher's paradise.  There was a diverse group of birds swimming in the open water, a heron flew in shortly after I arrived and I was thrilled to see a pair of bald eagles, which I am told have nested in the trees here at the Flats for the last two years.  Hopefully they are back for year number three.  I found it very interesting listening to Hoke describe the history of the area and not only the work that has already been done, but also his vision for the future.  He passed on much more information than I have shared in this post and I would recommend the Restoration Walks for anyone who is interested in more than just a place to walk.  I have definitely added the Viaduct Flats to my list of places that I would like to show my kids.  Next up - Ogden Point...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

For the ladies: The Verdict

For those that have been reading you will remember that I had a previous post about the ob tampon shortage and finding the Lunapads website.  There I found out a lot more information about the DivaCup and also the reusable menstrual pads offered by lunapads.  I decided to order a DivaCup kit and give them both a try. (Order Kit - Check!)  I would rate my overall experience with the DivaCup and LunaPads as a 9/10. 

The directions included with the DivaCup are pretty straightforward.  They recommend two different ways to fold the DivaCup and the first one I tried I did not like, plus I think my technique could have been better.  However, the problem was a minor comfort issue and it sorted itself out pretty quick.  I used a different fold the next time around and I found it did not take long to become comfortable putting it in.  I had a very small amount of spotting, but I have a feeling it was not leaking - perhaps just a small amount that caught under the DivaCup when putting it in or taking it out.  The comfort level was excellent and you would not even know it was there.

The next challenge was taking it out.  There was a moment of "Um, where is it?" and my friend's concern over somehow losing it, or not being able to get it out, crossed my mind.  There is actually a statement in the instructions that says "Don't Panic" so I didn't and found it easily enough.  As they say in the instructions you do have to "bear down" to help get it out so that was a bit different.  Removing it certainly requires a little more intimacy with my body than I have been used to, but it is my body after all and there does not seem to be any sense in getting squeamish.  I found it slightly uncomfortable as the wider part came out, not from a gross factor, but from a physical perspective.  Given that I have had two children, however, this is rather minor in comparison.  I did not find it any more 'messy' than using ob tampons.

I was able to do all the changes at home so I was a little unsure as to how it would work if it was necessary to use a public washroom.  A friend of mine, who I just found out has been using the DivaCup for the last couple of years, says that she hung on to her older one as a backup in those cases.  She can put the used one into a little bag, or container, and put the new one in while in the bathroom stall.  Then she just cleans it at the first opportunity. 

The lunapads were also very comfortable.  I did not have any trouble with bunching, or movement.  On one of my last days of very light flow I wore it to my tap class and had no issues whatsoever.  I did find that when I washed them the fabric came out of the dryer bunched, but I was able to smooth them back out for the most part, and they were still comfortable.

I have put two pictures below.  The left one shows how many pads, etc I would typically use during one cycle.  This is actually on the low side I think, but I was running out of all my supplies so I made do with what I had.  The second one shows what I used this time around.  Next time I would not use anything except the DivaCup and lunapads.  From my point of view the pros of these products far outweigh any cons.  The only downsides I can think of are minor inconveniences that are easily surmountable.  If you do not already use these products I hope you will give them a try.  For me it is a no-brainer and I will not be going back to pads and tampons.

Minimum Monthly Usage

This month

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Upcoming Events & Invasive Plant Brochure

I received an email from the volunteer coordinator of the Mt. Doug work parties, which contained a newsletter released by the Coastal Invasive Plant Committee (CIPC).  Among other things it contained a link to a brochure (CIPC Brochure) that I thought was very useful. 

It outlines how the Invasive Plan Council of BC defines invasive species, why they are a threat, and the various economic, environmental, and ecosystem impacts, among others.  It also includes pictures of some of the 'priority invasive plants' found on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and the Sunshine Coast.  It is a two page brochure that is well worth the read for any gardener, or nature lover.  If I could go back in time I would love to talk some sense into the person who planted a spreading, ivy like plant in my yard.

This variegated leaf plant dies back in the winter, but rises again in the Spring.  I have dug it out of certain areas in my garden, but it stretches along most of the length of my backyard, has moved forward into my grass, and is very persistent.  Its roots are long and spaghetti-like, reaching way down into the soil, and spreading out sideways.  If I leave even a hint of root a new plant pops up healthy as ever.  My only hope is to keep it under control in the areas it is most prevalent, and hope that I can stop it from spreading further.

I am a much more selective shopper at gardening stores now.  I stay away from ivy-like plants, or types that boast of qualities such as fast spreading.  Having a beautiful, diverse garden is possible without using these types of plants.  Also, just think of the amount of labour involved if you plant them, they flourish, and then you change your mind.  You might get rid of it, eventually, but you will wish that you had taken the time to consider your choice more carefully.

Also included in the newsletter was a section about upcoming events.  I will list them briefly below.

LECTURE: "Humboldt Who?  The Two Century, Two Tradition Quest for Living Ecosystems".  Admission is Free. Everyone is Welcome.  Tuesday, February 15, 7:30 at the Swan Lake Nature House.  Adolf Ceska – 250-477-1211

EVENT: Central Vancouver Island Botanical Society’s 16th Annual Spring Garden Festival Celebration of Island Growing Show. Takes place in Nanaimo from March 11-13. Click here for more details, which will take you to the Central Vancouver Island Botanical Garden Society website.

WORKSHOP: 'Cut It Out' Invasive Plant Workshop Series in Burnaby.  This is a three part workshop series taking place over three Saturdays in April (2nd, 9th, and 16th).  To register click here, which will take you to the City of Burnaby WebReg.  For more information, call 604-294-7690 or email invasiveplants@burnaby.ca.

EVENT: Ecological Effects of Invasive Plants: Western Society of Weed Science Symposium.  This one takes place on March 10, 2011 at the DoubleTree City Center Hotel, Spokane, WA. Registration fee is $75.00.  For more information contact: Phil Banks, WSWS Business Manager 575-527-1888 or wsws.  For online registration information you can click here to go to the Western Society of Weed Science website.@marathonag.com

If anyone gets a chance to attend any of these events I would be interested to hear how they were.  Looks like all of them will be great opportunities for learning.  I am hoping to catch the one at Swan Lake if there is still room.

Take care.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Order Kit - check!

Well I got my kit from Lunapads today.  First thing I noticed was that rather than use a plastic tape to seal the envelope they used something closer to paper.  I thought it was a nice touch.

What you see in the picture above are the contents of the package minus the plastic around the DivaCup (Made in Canada by the way) and a couple of informational pamphlets.  The lunapads have a simple one snap closure on the wings of the pad which, I think anyone who has inadvertently gotten a hair stuck in pad adhesive, will be able to appreciate.  Also, the pink fabric of the lunapads is extremely soft.  My fabric choice was "Cocoa Kaleidoscope" so obviously I would not wear these under white pants, however, there are cream coloured options as well.  I suppose once you get used to the DivaCup you would not worry so much about having the backup?  It might take me awhile to get there.

One of my friends commented that they would be worried about not being able to get the DivaCup out.  If you look carefully at the picture you can see that it actually has a little nubbin, if you will, at the bottom.  There are also barely noticeable ridges around the bottom, which I figure would be helpful for keeping your grip.  I only know one woman who has recently switched to the DivaCup and from my conversation with her I gather that there can be quite a learning curve for this product.  Anyone else??? Stay tuned...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Odds & Sods

I was belatedly reading through an insert (Community Green Scene) from the Saanich News, which contained a bunch of interesting articles and a schedule for some upcoming green events.  I figured I would post a couple of the events that caught my eye in addition to a couple of other short updates.

The deadline for donating funds to the Save Mary Lake campaign has been extended.  I cannot tell from the website for how long, but donations are apparently trickling in at this stage.  There is a tweet on the site asking if people can tell four friends.  If you would like to donate, but still have not, or if you know of anyone who might like to donate please act soon.  The organizers have made it very easy for you: donate by text, cheque, or credit card online.
Red Currant


Broad Leaf Shooting Star
One of my favourite events is coming up on the April 16/17 weekend.  That is the Swan Lake Native Plant Sale.  I have been to the last two or three plant sales and I cannot wait to go again.  I just have to make sure I figure out what I am looking for before I get there as I find it way too easy to overspend.  It is kind of like going to the grocery store hungry, and without a list.  The variety of native plants available is great and the organizers make it easy for you with a simple guide that details light and soil requirements and labels at the plant sale that indicate whether the plants attract butterflies, hummingbirds, etc.  Prior to the plant sale I am hoping to get myself signed up for one of the free Native Plant workshops so I can focus some of my grand ideas into more manageable chunks. 

For information on the Native Plant Sale, or the Native Plant Workshops check out the Native Plant Gardening section of the Swan Lake website.  The above pictures are also from the website, taken by Terry Morrison, and there are many, many more for anyone who wants to see some examples of native plants.

There is an event taking place at the Victoria Conference Centre on February 19 called "Seedy Saturday".  I remember hearing about this from a friend last year who quite enjoyed it.  It runs from 10:00 to 3:00 and features many speakers on a variety of topics.  A couple of examples are 'Starting from Seed: the basics' with Philip Young, 'Backyard Bounty: grow the most food in the smallest space' with Linda Gilkeson, and 'The Zero Mile Diet' with Carolyn Herriot.  Admission is $7.00 and each presentation takes an hour.  For further event details you can check out the James Bay Community Market website.  I wish I could go, but I'll be away :(

There is a section on the CRD website right now that contains documents with regard to the Regional Sustainability Strategy (RSS).  There are nine topics, which include: Climate Change, Transportation, Resource Management, Social Wellbeing, Sustainable Development, Food Security, Affordable Housing, Economic Sustainability, and Ecological Health.  I am sure it will not come as a suprise to know that I took a look at Ecological Health first :)  It is a little late in the game considering the cut-off for the first round of responses is February 11, but they are accepting responses and input after that date.  The responses received before February 11 will be used in preparing for a Forum of Councils.  You would have to be very disciplined and have a fair bit of free time to review all of the nine documents, but I would encourage anyone who lives in the CRD to start with one that interests you and go from there.

 I would be interested in hearing feedback from anyone who attends the Seedy Saturday event, or any other 'green events' around the city.  I am hoping to attend more of these throughout the year.