Arboriculture & Endangered Species, Part 2 of 2

January-February 2010

THE ONTARIO ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT (ESA), unchanged since 1971, finally received a major update in 2007. In the second part of this series, we continue looking at how the ESA relates to the arboriculture profession in Ontario. While the first installment concentrated on introducing the Act, this feature will have a more practical focus. If you haven’t read Part 1 in the previous issue of Ontario Arborist you should probably do that first, even if only to acquaint yourself with some endangered species lingo. You can also read it online.

A Quick Recap
• The ESA protects native plant and animal species and their habitat.
• All species have a status ranking that is commensurate with their rarity.
• Protected species are listed, by status, in Regulation 230/08 under the Act. They are collectively, and individually, often referred to as species-at-risk (SAR).
• Arborists are directly affected by the ESA because, as of this writing, there are ten tree species in Ontario with risk status.
• Arborists are also indirectly affected because almost any tree may be serving as critical habitat for one or more individuals of an endangered species. Some examples: a grey fox den, a red-headed woodpecker nesting cavity, or an eagle nest.

It should be noted that many of the species protected under the ESA are also protected federally. Ottawa’s version is the Species At Risk Act and, while its scope is national and the species list is longer, its essential premise, content, enforcement and punishment mechanisms are very similar. It is also worth noting that, though we’re primarily concerned with trees and other woody species, much of what is discussed here applies to every endangered species.

Identifying SAR
As a professional in the field of arboriculture you don’t need to know how to identify every listed species. You’re not going to get busted because you don’t know how to properly ID rare mosses and odonates. I would suggest, however, that selling yourself as a professional (or being employed as one) does oblige you to at least know the native tree species and always be aware of the possibility of encountering an endangered one.

Having to say “I didn’t know that tree was a .....” is not going to enhance your (or your company’s) reputation and credibility. It could also put you, your company, or the people you work for, on the receiving end of a lawsuit, fines and/or embarrassing media coverage. One should probably assume that those who preside over courtrooms and other hearings may reasonably expect a professional arborist to know and be aware of certain things directly related to their occupation or business.

Documenting SAR

Critical Information
We can’t aid in the recovery of our at-risk tree species if we don’t know how many are out there and where exactly they are. As just one example, there is an ongoing search to find a strain of canker-resistant butternut and hope prevails with each newly-reported butternut location. The minimum data required for a meaningful occurrence report applies to any SAR:

• Species’ name: preferably in English and Latin, but only if you’re 100% positive of your ID; no guessing allowed!
• Exact location of the species: easting, northing, datum, zone and accuracy (refer also to Recording a Location).
• Date of the observation.
• Principal observer: name and contact info; MNR staff may need to contact you for additional info or to verify something.Voucher photo(s): taken with any flavour of camera. Try to clearly capture diagnostic features, but otherwise don’t worry if they’re not perfect shots.

SAR occurrence reporting does not have to be work-related either. Do you hike, mountain bike, hunt or birdwatch? No matter what you’re doing, you’re a great pair of eyes to have out there on the landscape. After all, you know your trees and you know which ones are in trouble.

Recording a Location
A SAR occurrence report is of little use if the species’ location is not accurately described. There are numerous acceptable ways of doing this, including latitude/longitude, decimal degrees, northing/easting, municipal address, etc., but the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) system is highly preferred by the research community and MNR’s Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC). Using UTM for new occurrence reports will help ensure compatibility and seamless aggregation with the majority of existing datasets. It’s also more accurate than having to convert your point data to UTM later on. As an early adopter of the UTM system, Ontario has been the envy of conservation agencies across the continent for over 30 years. UTM is, on average, about ten times more accurate than good old-fashioned latitude/longitude readings (which always vary somewhat depending on projection, scale and map series).

For starters, you will need a hand-held GPS. Garmin, Trimble and Magellan are popular brands. The two specs you definitely want are (1) the ability to use UTM coordinates and (2) the unit is capable of accuracy to within 10 metres. Optional nice features:

• Software support for uploading topography and other map layers, as well as uploading and downloading waypoints.
• Good power management.
• Casing that is rugged, waterproof and brightly coloured.

To properly set up your GPS, you will probably need to change some of the default settings, including the coordinate system and the basic units that the GPS will use when displaying information. Set things up as follows:

• coordinate system: UTM
• datum: NAD83
• orientation: true north
• all units: metric

Good location data, for reporting purposes, includes all of the following:

• Easting (6-digit number in Ontario): only six digits because you can ignore the first digit (i.e., don’t bother including the leading zero).
• Northing (7-digit number).
• Zone (2-digit number and a letter): in Ontario, the zone will be between Zone 15 (westernmost) and 18; the letter (T or U) is optional.
• Datum: must be included for the coordinates to make sense.
• GPS accuracy at the time of the reading: expressed as +/- X metres.

Using the Data
Some of the data parameters described in the Critical Information section are useful in other ways. This is particularly true for location info and pictures. Photos not only corroborate an occurrence where you’ve identified the species correctly, they are also a very useful aid for someone else trying to establish or confirm a positive ID. Get shots of as many potential diagnostic features as you can. These would include the leaf, twig, bark, flower, fruit, form, etc. And what happens to pictures you submit alongside an occurrence report? If you submit them to the NHIC, you are ultimately offering to contribute your pictures to the public record. Their eventual destination is probably a museum archive, where they’ll sit waiting to be studied by future generations of scholars and other various researchers.

Precise spatial data is vital for relocating a particular tree on the landscape. For accurate identification, you may need to return when the tree/shrub is in leaf, flowering or fruiting. For example, Vaccineum stamineum is just another non-descript blueberry that is very difficult to ID except during a short yearly window of opportunity when it is flowering. Even if an accurate ID has been established, you may want to show the tree to a colleague. MNR biologists may want to confirm your report and see it for themselves. A resource technician will probably want to do genetic sampling of any butternut that is reportedly healthy-looking.

Remember that the purpose of the ESA and occurrence reports is to aid in the recovery of endangered species and get them delisted. The rationale is that reporting an occurrence increases our understanding of the abundance and spatial distribution of a given species. Such understanding will presumably result in more informed decision-making about where, and how, to best allocate strategic recovery efforts and resources.

Working with the ESA
So, you’re probably wondering how one avoids getting on the bad side of provincial (or federal) nature cops. Here are some suggestions:

• Be informed. Getting you started down that road is the main point of this two-part feature article.
• If you don’t know what that plant or animal is, just leave it be. If it happens to be a SAR, you must have a permit to not leave it be.
• If you do recognize something as a SAR, document it and report it directly to the property owner or MNR.
• If you don’t consider yourself qualified to declare that a job site or land parcel is devoid of endangered species, engage someone who is. Alternatively, get written assurance that an ecologist has already been there, and found nothing, before you begin your work. That said, keep a lookout anyway – they might have missed something.
• Always make sure there’s a valid permit if you’re going to be working with, or in close proximity, to a SAR tree or shrub. A SAR tree that is deemed hazardous or unretainable may still be removed, but be convinced that a permit for the work has been issued. A permit is also required if anyone wishes to collect samples for research, consulting or diagnostic purposes. I have no comment on permit approval rates or application turnaround times.

Final Remarks
Hypothetically the ESA just might, over time, force a higher standard of professionalism upon the province’s tree care industry. Chainsaw-toting yard apes, with no academic credentials, training certificates or recognized professional affiliation, are probably prime candidates for breaking this law. Enough tree-related contraventions may help to permanently sideline the fly-by-nighters, and other dubious players in the industry, by ushering in a licensing scheme for the arborist profession.

Realistically, your chances of having to deal with an ESA-related issue are slim. Arborists tend not to find themselves working in wetlands, which are the critical habitat of many SAR flora and fauna. Most arborists I know also don’t do a lot of tree work on undeveloped land. However, as the recently-discovered presence of a cucumber-tree in Cobourg demonstrates, even the largely synthetic ecology of most urban areas isn’t necessarily devoid of endangered species.

Oliver K. Reichl is a consulting arborist and ecologist in eastern Ontario. His latest project was with the Eastern Ontario Model Forest and involved outreach work, field surveys, sightings confirmation, website design, and database creation for a new Ontario Herpetofaunal Atlas.

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Ontario Native Tree Species With ESA Status

American chestnut, Castanea dentata, Endangered
Butternut, Juglans cinerea, Endangered
Cherry birch, Betula lenta, Endangered
Cucumber tree, Magnolia acuminata, Endangered
Red mulberry, Morus rubra, Endangered
Common hoptree, Ptelea trifoliata, Threatened
Dwarf hackberry, Celtis tenuifolia, Threatened
Kentucky coffee-tree, Gymnocladus dioicus, Threatened
Blue ash, Fraxinus quadrangulata, Special Concern
Shumard oak, Quercus shumardii, Special Concern

Recommended References

Popular guides to Ontario’s native woody species:
Farrar, J.L. “Trees In Canada.” Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Ltd., 1995. You can get this one through the ISAO Bookstore, but under a slightly modified title.

Soper, J.H. and M.L. Heimburger. “Shrubs of Ontario.” Toronto, ON: Royal Ontario Museum, 1982. The biology and ID tips are still relevant, but the range maps are woefully outdated and sometimes weren’t very accurate to begin with.

And for the hardcore among you, consider:
Gleason, H.A. and A. Cronquist. “Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada” (2nd ed). New York, NY: New York Botanical Gardens, 1991. Complete keys covering every species of flora.

Holmgren, N.H. “Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist’s Manual – Illustrations of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada.” New York, NY: New York Botanical Gardens, 1998. Awesome! Has at least one drawing of every species in the manual, along with handy cross-indexing to quickly locate the corresponding key.

Burt, W.H. and R.P. Grossenheider. “A Field Guide to the Mammals of America North of Mexico.” Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976.

Harrison, H.H. “A Field Guide to Birds’ Nests.” Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975.

MacCulloch, R.D. “The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario.” Toronto, ON: Royal Ontario Museum, 2002.

Peterson, R.T. “A Field Guide to the Birds (Eastern Birds).” Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980.

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