The leading cause for species being added to the species at risk list is loss of habitat or pollution within a habitat. This can be in the form of development of land, changes in agriculture or pollution of waterways to name a few. Several steps are being taken by the Ontario government, including tougher legislation to protect both species at risk and their habitat. In an effort to increase Monarch butterfly numbers, a species at risk in Ontario, Milkweed was removed just this past week from the noxious species list. There are many things the average citizen can do to help species at risk.
Understand what species are at risk in Ontario, their habitat and do what you can to protect them. For example, when out hiking, stick to the marked trails. If there are signs up stating that a trail is closed, obey them. There is a reason for the trail being closed. It could be because an endangered or threatened plant is growing on that trail and rejuvenation efforts are in place. Maybe there is a species of bird or animal living or breeding near that trail that shouldn’t be disturbed. Just because it cannot readily be seen, doesn’t mean it is not there. Keep dogs on a leash so they are not running loose, potentially damaging endangered plants or chasing and stressing threatened wildlife. This problem is prevalent in London’s ESA areas. Unfortunately many people don’t understand or respect that ESA stands for Environmentally Significant Area. The Eastern Meadowlark is a species of bird that nests on the ground and is threatened in Ontario. They can be found within Westminster Ponds ESA, where many people let their dogs run freely throughout the grassy fields potentially damaging the nests, eggs or chasing these birds from the area. If you bring food or beverages with you, be sure to take the packaging back out. I’m always surprised at the number of empty coffee cups on the ground in ESAs. My personal feeling is if it can be carried in full, it can be carried out empty. I like to carry bags with me to carry out my own trash, plus I can pick up the trash left behind by others. My dog even does her part, while walking on leash she’ll often carry out an empty water bottle in her mouth that she’s found on the ground!
Creating or preserving current habitat on your property is another way to help. If you have one of these species on your land, do everything you can to protect it. With the recent news on the decrease of Monarch butterflies, planting Milkweed and creating butterfly gardens is something we can all do to preserve their habitat. There are many kinds of Milkweed and any member of the Asclepias (milkweed) family will do. Milkweed can be purchased from most garden centers and nurseries once spring arrives. This can be extended outside your own garden by encouraging schools, churches and community gardens to plant milkweed. For more on how to help the Monarch Butterfly see my blog post Do Your Part To Help The Monarch Butterfly.
Do what you can to educate others and spread the word about species at risk. If you see someone damaging or potentially damaging habitat, say something to them. When I encounter someone letting their dog run free throughout the Meadowlark’s habitat, I attempt to politely explain the potential consequences of their actions. Many are quite appreciative of the knowledge shared, thankful I spoke up and quite willing to change their behavior. It’s important we make this effort to inform others because many honestly don’t see the harm in a dog running through a field.
Volunteer with local groups within you community. Find out what groups in your area are doing initiatives to help species at risk and what you can do to help. Report all sightings of species at risk or any illegal activity regarding plants or wildlife to the Ministry of Natural Resources. For more information, including a list of all of Ontario’s Species at Risk visit the Ministry of Natural Resources website here.
Let’s not let these species decline further or become extinct. Get involved with one of the groups in your community, start your own, or do something in your own backyard. Help educate others to preserve the beautiful nature we have in Ontario. Remember extinction is forever.