If you were looking for one word to describe Ducks Unlimited Canada’s approach to conservation you wouldn’t go far afield by picking the word, pragmatic. We’re looking for solutions that help everything, and everybody. How can we tackle projects that increase and make cleaner and safer the habit of important and endangered species? How can we improve the health and happiness of urban communities? How can we work with governments and corporations so their core values and missions are addressed by particpating with us on projects that resonsate with our own values and purpose? We ask those questions every day. And the answer sometimes comes in the shape of a bottle. A Coke bottle in the case of this episode. I had the chance to speak with a fascinating hydrogeologist named John Radtke. John leads the water sustainability programs for Coca-Cola North America. He’s also an avid fly fisherman and backpacker. He’s lived in the outdoors since tramping around Southern Illonois as a kid. But, in 2005, after going through college as a geologist John became a consulting geologist. One of his clients, Coca-Cola brought John on board fulltime. Coke is a multinational company that used billions of litres of water to make it dizzying array of beverages. Coke hired John on at a troubled time for the company. Its water use in parts of India turned into a public relations disaster for the company .
But, it was also a sobering wake up call for the company. It learned important lessions about its responsibilty for managing, stewarding a replacing the water it uses.
With John’s help, Coke weathered those troubled waters. Now, via the Coca Cola Foundation, it works worldwide with groups like Ducks Unlimited Canada to balance the water it uses with the water it replenishes. How? You’ll find out soon, but I began the interview with that watershed moment for Coke, and John, in India.
Dave Phillips, the chief climatologist for Environment Canada this country's homespun, homegrown weather guru. The Don Cherry of weather in terms of fame on the CBC anyway. For decades now he’s been the avuncluar go-to guy for journalists from coast-to-coast who want a folksy, informed dose of weather history, retrospective or prognostication. Why was it so hot in Calgary last August? Ask Dave. What’s with all the rain in Halifax. Ask Dave.
But these days Dave Phillips, now 72, is answering a different, deeper question. Why has the weather been so aggressive, so persistent and, well, just plain weird lately?
I caught up with Dave as he was about half way through a Canada wide tour answering those questions in a talk he calls: Weather and Climate: Not What Our Grandparents Knew”
The exhausting tour is Environment Canada’s way of celebrating Dave’s 50 years as this countries most famous civil servant. And, as you’ll hear, its also a chance for an older, wiser Dave Phillips to share his concerns and hopes for a country and and world facing what he considered to be the most important issue of the day - extreme weather and climate change.
We talked about that with a special emphasis the role natural habitats, and especially wetlands, play as buffers against the increasing hard blows of amplified weather. As Dave says, it used to be that we worried about what falls from the sky. Now we need to worry about the surfaces it falls on. What happens with urban landscape replace and ignore the natural? Find out as I chat with Dave Phillips.
A map of Lake Ontario, like one in an old geography textbook, might miss Cootes Paradise. Without detail it can seem this great lake runs dry at western shore of Burlington, about 50 kilometres from Toronto. Some more careful maps have it end in Hamilton Harbour. But no, Lake Ontario fades out in a little 320 hectare triangle of marshland called Cootes Paradise. It’s really a river delta, but a remarkable one. On either side over two dozen streams, the largest being Spencer Creek, flow over the Niagara escarpment and the shallow basin.
Once, those waters made this a hunting and fishing Mecca. Then its location at the head of the lake and some industrious canal work n the 1820s turned Cootes Paradise into a short-lived shipping lane. A century later it almost became an airport. It’s also been home to shantytown of “canal rats”, a ragtag community. Those homes, sometimes on stilts, clung to the marsh’s shores in the 1920s and 30s. Residents playing hockey on its frozen surface in the winter and sometimes hosted hobos from the railway that ran across the sandbar that separated it from Hamilton Harbour.
These days, though, the shantytown is long gone. So are much of the indigenous plants and waterfowl. They’ve been upstaged by voracious carp and relentless phragmites and manna grass. In a canoe, as the sun creeps to the horizon, you can see the trouble in paradise. In the murky marsh, carp jump and shimmer. A paddle shaft vanishes from sight two feet down. High water a couple of years ago submerged a barrier that was to keep the bullying bottom feeders out.
Now what was once so dense a marsh it was surveyed as land, is now open water. In 1941, when the environmental trouble from industrial and urban runoff was becoming obvious, the Royal Botanical Gardens was given stewardship of Cootes. It’s been a hard row to hoe for the environmental champion. Bad luck, climate change, urban expansion, oxygen-sucking algae have set the RBG’s plans of recovery by years.
But there is a hero in this story, the man who’s in charge of saving paradise. His name is Tys Thysmeyer, the head of natural lands for the Royal Botanical Gardens. I spoke with him about his work and his passion for saving a remarkable wetland.
This episode begins with an engraving that was tucked into the corner of a 18th century map of North America, a beaver map. The engraving depicts an almost Hieronymus Bosch-like scene. One that’s a psychedelic, fever dream of beavers in Canada. In the background a bifurcated Niagara Falls tumbled into a broad river. In the mid- and foregrounds are rodentesque creatures, dozens of them. These are part beaver, part bear, part human animals that have the orderliness and industry of a work crew of navvies.
Some carry logs on their shoulders like the seven dwarfs hefting shovels, some carry cowpats of mortar on their tails. Others seem to be barking orders from neatly constructed ramps. The beavers, an inscription on the engraving tells us, are building a Great Lake through their organized labour.
To understand that map, and beavers' relationship with the landscape I spoke with Glynnis Hood, a professor of environmental science at the University of Alberta, Augustana Campus.
Glynnis is a beaver expert. She’s studied the big-toothed rodents impact on the Canadian landscape. She’s especially interested in how its industry and ingenuity has keep water on the land, even in times of drought. And, how its ecological engineering has created and maintained wetlands for centuries.
Ducks Unlimited Canada folks, like many Canadians, have a relationship with the beaver that is, well, complicated. As Glynnis will explain, the fur trade almost wiped out the entire population castor condensis, our native species of the rodent. In the late 1930s Ducks Unlimited wanted to enlist beavers as ecological good soldiers. It encouraged a beaver comeback, that was pretty successful. But these days, loggers, folks in the oil and gas industry and cottagers have seen the reborn beaver populations flood their lands and thwart their industries.
Even Ducks Unlimited Canada researchers find their wetland water control efforts confounded by busy beavers.
I spoke with Glynnis about all of that, and how Canadians can best make peace with our little rodent friends.