Monitoring is an important part in managing our natural resources. It helps ecologists and land use planners in obtaining the quantitative information they need to establish targets and make informed decisions for the planning, management and/or rehabilitation of our natural resources. In 2005, Conservation Halton implemented the first year of its Long Term Environmental Monitoring Program (LEMP). Designed to monitor species, ecosystems and changes to the watershed over time, it ensures that Conservation Halton’s mission of “protecting and enhancing the natural environment from lake to escarpment for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations” is being fulfilled.
Monitoring is completed on a two-year cycle with a focus on a particular watershed and/or watershed group each year. Here are the reports for the following watersheds, published in October 2009:
At the end of the cycle, a complete watershed report card is published on the health of the watershed, the latest Watershed Report Card can be found here. Organized in a tiered approach, the program examines the following indicators:
Tier 1 Indicators:
Fish communities can be used as indicators of localized, temporal environmental conditions such as:
- in-stream habitat
- water quality
- and water temperatures.
Comparing these fish communities over time can tell us about alterations in water quality and habitat. Fish community sampling has been added to the LEMP to monitor changes in the CH watershed. Using backpack electrofishing units, sampling is conducted at numerous stations through the Ontario Stream Assessment Protocol. Fish are collected, measured, weighed and released back to the stream unharmed. Analysis of the fish community follows the Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI).
Benthic invertebrates are biological indicators of water quality and stream health as they inhabit the stream over a portion of their life cycle, thereby reflecting long term impairments to water and stream quality. Benthic macroinvertebrates are animals without backbones that are visible to the unaided eye and that live on, under and around rocks and sediment on the bottom of lakes, rivers and streams during some period of their life. Typical invertebrates include snails, crayfish, leeches, clams, sowbugs and the larval stages of mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies and beetles. Benthic invertebrate samples are collected according to the Ontario Benthos Biomonitoring network, whereby three replicate transects are sampled across the stream width within a single station. The invertebrates are then sorted and individual specimens are identified to the family level. Analysis uses a number of indices based on community composition.
In-stream habitat and temperature
In-stream habitat is sampled according to the Ontario Stream Assessment Protocol and uses the point transect methodology. In doing so, a number of transects are spaced along the stream from bank to bank. Crew members then take measurements of the stream velocity, substrate and the presence or absence of woody debris and vegetation. Additional measurements taken along the stream banks help to determine bank slope and the amount of vegetation. Habitat monitoring helps to determine species suitability for the area and identify large-scale changes in stream habitat which may require rehabilitation.
Temperature monitoring provides additional information on the health of the stream. Fluctuations in water temperature may affect specific fish species and long term increases in stream temperature may result in large-scale changes to the fish community. Temperature monitoring identifies potential problems and indicates possible sources of change. Water temperatures can be decreased by shading the creek with vegetation and removing on-line ponds.
Conservation Halton monitors surface water quality as part of the Provincial Water Quality Monitoring Network (PWQMN) to ensure safe water conditions for both human and aquatic life. In doing so, grab samples are taken from March to October in streams across the watershed. Samples are then taken to the Ministry of the Environment laboratories where they are analyzed for a number of parameters including major ions and nutrients, metals (fixed with acid), suspended solids, biochemical oxygen demand conductivity, pH, alkalinity, temperature and turbidity.
Conservation Halton monitors groundwater quality and quantity as part of the Provincial Groundwater Monitoring Network (PGMN). Sites are sampled for water quality annually from groundwater wells in order to safeguard the important groundwater resources of the watershed. Water quality samples are collected and analyzed to determine levels of major ions and nutrients, metals (fixed with acid), pesticides, volatile organic compounds and certain other parameters.
Groundwater levels and temperatures are recorded automatically every 15 minutes by a Levelogger and regularly transferred to a database, either automatically by telemetry or uploaded manually.
The Provincial Groundwater Monitoring Network enables an accurate assessment of current groundwater conditions. It provides an early warning system for changes in water levels or in water quality, and provides information for making sound land use planning decisions. The groundwater monitoring network is integrated with other relevant databases, including the province’s low water response strategy.
Frog and Marsh Bird Monitoring
Conservation Halton incorporates marsh monitoring into the LEMP through the Marsh Monitoring Program (MMP) (http://www.bsc-eoc.org/mmpmain.html) an established program of Environment Canada, which monitors frog and bird populations within marsh wetlands. Amphibians and marsh nesting birds can be used as indicators to assess impacts of human disturbance and restoration efforts on wetlands, as both groups are dependent on wetland areas during part of their life cycle. The objective of this monitoring program is to determine the presence of significant impacts on important marsh communities within our three major watersheds. Three marshes are monitored by staff on Conservation Halton properties located within the Sixteen Mile, Bronte and Grindstone Creeks. Additional marshes are monitored through dedicated volunteers who visit selected marshes three times a year for frog surveys and twice a year for bird surveys. Information collected is shared with the marsh monitoring program.
Forest Bird Monitoring
The forest bird monitoring program (FBMP) is an established monitoring program in Ontario designed to monitor habitat-specific population changes of Ontario breeding birds in mature forests. Sites are monitored twice a year during breeding season to document all birds either seen or heard during a ten minute period. Breeding evidence and bird behaviour is also recorded. Forest bird monitoring has been completed across the watershed in areas such as Hilton Falls, Kelso, Mount Nemo, Crawford Lake and Speyside.
The forest health monitoring program was established in 1992 in an effort to monitor gypsy moth populations on Conservation Authority lands. The monitoring is completed using two methods. The first method uses a 10m X 10m plot where all egg masses are counted to determine the number of egg masses/hectare. The second method involves pheromone trapping of the male gypsy moth. The traps are set out in the permanent sample plots prior to July 1st, and remain in the plots until just after Labour Day. The moths are counted twice weekly and recorded. The monitoring provides details of potential outbreaks of gypsy moth and an annual record of trapped male moths in the permanent sample plots.
Forest Biodiversity Monitoring
“The Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network (EMAN) is made up of linked organizations and individuals involved in ecological monitoring in Canada to better detect, describe, and report on ecological changes.” (Quote from the EMAN website, 2007) The EMAN Coordinating Office is responsible for developing / adapting standardized monitoring protocols and training the organization and individuals that make up the network. These protocols are designed to work together in permanent monitoring plots and are used to collect information regarding the health and abundance of different species of trees, shrubs, ground vegetation, birds, amphibians, and insects. The EMAN protocols also address environmental factors such as air pollution, soil temperature and decay rates, parasitism, and invasive plants.
As of 2006, Conservation Halton is a contributing member of EMAN, and, therefore, is able to pool its monitoring efforts with the rest of the network. This will allow Conservation Halton to assess the health of forests within its watershed, both over time, and as compared to forests in other areas of Southern Ontario, and across Canada.
Currently, Conservation Halton has 3 established monitoring locations - one near Waterdown; one near Oakville; and one within the Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area. Plant, bird, and salamander abundance and diversity, as well as tree health, regeneration, and the amount of down woody debris are monitored at these three locations. In addition to Conservation Halton forest biodiversity monitoring is also completed by Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment (ONE) Monitoring Program of the Niagara Escarpment Commission at a plot, established in 2000, within Hilton Falls. This sampling is conducted to monitor regeneration and ground cover biodiversity.
Ecological Land Classification
Ecological Land Classification uses a hierarchical scheme to identify recurring ecological patterns on the landscape in order to simplify complex natural variation into a reasonable number of meaningful ecosystem units. Conservation Halton started conducting limited ELC in 2001, which mainly involved interpreting air photos to community series in support of specific watershed studies or similar undertakings. Over the course of 2003-2005, Conservation Halton participated in the Halton Natural Areas Inventory (HNAI) in partnership with local naturalists’ clubs, municipal partners and other stakeholders. By April 2005, all environmentally sensitive areas (ESA) and candidate ESA in the watershed were mapped to community series using 2002 stereo pairs, and many areas identified as HNAI study sites will have been mapped to vegetation type through field visits. These data will form the basis for monitoring long term changes in vegetation communities.
Habitat loss and fragmentation is widely recognized as the most significant factor contributing to declining biodiversity; thus, to explain changes in species or vegetation community composition within a given area, changes to habitat should be examined first. In doing so, the LEMP has incorporated GIS-based landscape modeling to assess certain metrics related to landscape configuration that have been implicated in ecosystem integrity. These metrics will be evaluated against Environment Canada’s habitat rehabilitation guidelines (Environment Canada 2004), which provide science-based targets for various attributes related to wetland, riparian and forest habitats.
Sources of Change
Although it is useful to be able to relate changes in species diversity and abundance to changes on the landscape, it is even more compelling to be able to isolate the root cause of change. Are communities changing as a result of natural succession, or are there specific undertakings that exert a dominant influence on the landscape? Tier 3 monitoring will investigate the sources of change to provide staff with some of the answers.
As part of the Tier 3 monitoring, Ecological Land Classification information will be reassessed through GIS to determine if there are any changes in size or composition of the vegetative community. As a result of the reassessment, any changes in community class will be attributed to one of the following categories:
- Succession/ reforestation;
- Residential development;
- Commercial/ industrial development;
- Watercourse diversion/ damming; changes to water table;
- Golf course.
Significant changes noticed will help direct appropriate management decisions and long-term planning.
If you are seeking access to a property owned by Conservation Halton to conduct monitoring or scientific research, please submit Scientific Permit Application (In Word) or in PDF and faxing or emailing it back (Terrestrial: Attn Kim Barrett, Aquatic: Attn Rachel Martens).