by Samantha Cunningham
Winter in Canada officially lasts a total of 4 months, although sometimes it can feel much longer! This season can be a difficult one, especially for wildlife. Canadian species have either evolved to migrate to warmer climates, hibernate, or adapt to these seasonal changes. Some of these adaptations include hibernation, storage food, physical changes, and other location dependent characteristics. The increased development of natural areas has placed stress on species throughout the year but particularly in the wintertime. The silver lining is that there are things you can do to help support your shoreline wildlife this winter.
- Support Native Plants!
Prioritizing native species on your property has year-round benefits. Native plants are more suited to Canadian climates meaning they are typically more winter hardy, and often fill an ecological niche throughout each season. For example, black chokeberry (pictured below) blooms lovely flowers in early spring that support pollinators, provides cover and edible greenery during the summer, then grows edible berries in the fall that last throughout the winter. Even native plants that do not act as a direct food source will provide valuable habitat and help diversify the landscape. If you have specific animals you want to support or see, you can look up native plants they frequent and plant those species next growing season!
- Naturalize your Shoreline!
A naturalized shoreline not only provides valuable habitat for animals year-round, but it can also provide benefits such as soil stabilization, flood mitigation, and climate control. It has been shown that some freshwater fish species prefer the near-shore area during the wintertime, especially if the area has overhanging vegetation present. As well, leaving areas of woody debris, large cobbles, or other such natural features is beneficial in supporting both aquatic and terrestrial species. The Natural Edge Program can help support you in planning and planting your shoreline with your choice of native vegetation!
- Limit your disturbance
The best way to limit your impact on the shoreline is to create pathways through your property and stick to them. This can be beneficial year-round, but especially impactful in the wintertime. Many terrestrial creatures take shelter in and under snow piles, typically at the interface between the snow and earth. Try to avoid near-shore activities that disturb the water under the ice. In winter, terrestrial or aquatic animals have metabolic limitations and finite food supplies. It is important that they limit their movement to preserve energy and not increase their risk of predation. There are options and opportunities to create or help enhance winter habitat, like restoring in-water structures for local fish species (pictured below).
- Start planning for spring!
Nothing helps beat the winter blues quite like planning next season’s gardens. Winter is a good time to look into local programs, like Love Your Lake and the Natural Edge Program. You can also check out your local Conservation Authority or Lake Association for additional programs. If you are more of a do-it-yourself type person, check out the Native Plant Database to find native species for your eco-zone.
If you are planning to do major work along your shoreline or in the surrounding areas, look into environmental guidelines and local by-laws for any potential permits needed. This is especially important if you are doing any in-water work as spawning times of fish should be considered. Finally, winter is a great time to look back into your maintenance records and see if any upkeep is required. If you have a septic tank, when was the last time the honey-wagon paid a visit? If you have eavestroughs, do they need to be cleared out? Often, it is good to book these services ahead of time as they can book up quickly right when you need them.
- Winterize your chemicals.
Any chemical compound, especially in liquid form, should be stored year-round in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place, away from heat sources, and in an area that is not susceptible to flooding. This can be in a garage or shed outside the home that is well set-back from your shoreline. It is important to store all materials according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This is because many commonly used chemicals can freeze, expand, break their container, or leak if they are not stored correctly. These chemical spills pose a threat to human health and environmental health. The accidental leaching of chemicals into the surrounding environment or the cleaning of spilled chemicals can often lead to harmful contaminants entering the local watershed. Proper storage is also important to ensure the product is usable post-winter. For example, freezing will ruin many types of paint and alter the colour of the product, which would be a nasty surprise when you want to use it in the spring! Do not wait for winter to hit to store your fertilizers, pesticides, paints, and gasoline. Many of these common chemicals have a freezing point above 0°C. The best thing to do is to read the instructions on the label or look up the specific Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) online.
Winter can be a tough time out in the natural world, but by following these five simple tips and tricks, you can make a positive impact on your local ecosystems. Summer might seem like a long way away, but it is never too early to reach out to start planning for better weather. Watersheds Canada has many different programs, partnerships, and free resources that are available to help you support your shoreline health.
This blog post is part of an education and engagement series that is generously funded by the RBC Foundation through RBC Tech for Nature, a global, multi-year commitment to support new ideas, technologies, and partnerships to address our most complex environmental challenges. To learn more about Watersheds Canada’s project that is funded through RBC Tech for Nature, please read this media release.