Welcome to FieldWork, I’m James Sidney.
Part of nature’s appeal is the freedom it represents. Later in the broadcast, we’ll meet Kaitlyn Mitchell of EcoJustice, who discusses the legal fight to include nature in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We’ll also hear from artist and filmmaker Cory Trenpanier, whose found his artistic freedom in the vast expanses of the Canadian arctic.
But we start with Stéphane Menu, the station scientist at the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory. He not only enjoys the independence of living several months of the year at a remote outpost, but spends that time monitoring the otherwise free migration of songbirds through the boreal forest. I met with him, at the research station, near Cabot Head, Ontario.
Here we are at the Cabot Head research station. It’s on the Cabot Head Nature Reserve on the Bruce Peninsula, in Ontario. It’s an non-profit organization that does among other things, bird migration monitoring. We’re part of the network which is called the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network, and there’s about twenty-five observatories or banding stations across the country from Newfoundland all the way to the west coast and up in the Yukon as well.
One of the main goals is to actually determine population trends of the songbirds that go in the boreal forest. It’s very hard to monitor in the boreal forest, because there’s very few roads, very few people, so we don’t really know what happens to these species. But the idea is, if we can monitor them in the spring when they return back from their wintering grounds into the boreal forest, and then again in the fall when they leave to back to their wintering grounds then maybe we have an idea of what’s going on with them.
We have mist nets, which are those fine nets that are strung between two poles that we open every day. We start thirty minutes before sunrise. We then walk the path. We open every single net, and then we check them every thirty minutes for six hours.
You extract all the birds. Put them in a cloth bag. You bring them back to the banding lab. You put the band on. You check the wing length, the fat contents—so again the fat’s the feul they use for migrating—and then age and sex if it’s possible. We weigh them, and then we let them go. We do that every single day from mid-April to mid-June about in the spring. And the fall is season is like mid-August until the end of October, so it covers most of the migration period for these species.
We still have so much to learn actually. We don’t know that much. Obviously we know when the species come back, but we don’t know the numbers, and we don’t know the fluctuations year to year, so even in terms of local natural history for the Bruce Peninsula we’re still learning. Like, now we know that Golden Eagles, actually, every spring, move through the peninsula. And so we don’t really know much about them, and actually even governmental agencies like the Canadian Wildlife Service kind of depends on us, on the data we collect, to put conservation plans, so just like, the knowledge and also the conservation aspect are very important for what we do here.
I’ve, I’ve always liked birds like so it’s hard to say why when you were eight and you still, when you were looking at your backyard feeders and looking at birds, so that’s something I’ve always wanted to, and I think I’m actually very privileged to make a living out of it.
Pretty soon the first hummingbird will come back, and you’ll be like, “Yay! Hummingbirds!” you know, and it’s exciting.
You don’t have to fly across the world to see wonders, like you see them here. It’s like, this massive movement of birds that you can see in your backyard if you pay attention. So it’s like, pay attention of where you are, and what you can see, and it’s a big world, you know. So…ya…
Kaitlyn Mitchell is a lawyer at EcoJustice, Canada’s only national law charity. For more than twenty-five years, EcoJustice has gone to court to protect wilderness and wildlife, and to keep harmful chemicals out of the environment. I spoke with Kaitlyn about the ongoing campaign to make the Right to a Healthy Environment, a basic, Canadian, human right. We met at the EcoJustice offices in Toronto, Ontario.
When we started working on this it was really quite an unheard of topic. Not a lot of people were thinking about it, not a lot of legal practitioners were thinking about it, not a lot of environmentalists were thinking about it. But in the last few years there have been declarations passed in over a hundred and twenty-seven municipalities in Canada, and that’s a huge step. Those declarations indicate that there’s a large level of support amongst the Canadian public for a Right to a Healthy Environment.
Around the world, the Right to a Healthy Environment has gained recognition in the last fifty years or so, more than any other human right. And what it means is that individuals have a right to live in an environment that’s conducive to their health. It doesn’t mean that we have a right to live in a pristine world without any pollution, without any vehicles, for instance. But it does mean that you have the right to breath air and to drink water that’s not so polluted that it actually puts your health at risk.
Recognition of a Right to a Healthy Environment would mean a few things. Most importantly, it would mean that everyone, no matter where they live, no matter what their income level, no matter what their racial identity, that everyone has a right to live in an environment that doesn’t put their health at risk. In Canada we know that First Nations’ homes are ninety times more likely than the homes of other Canadians to be without clean, running water. That’s really despicable. It’s 2016. We also know that one in four low income Canadians lives within one kilometre of a major source of industrial pollution. A Right to a Healthy Environment would mean that simply put, that’s not okay. It’s not okay for anyone to have their health put at risk in that way.
It would also mean that governments recognize the interconnectedness between the environment and our health and our dignity. There’s a lot of evidence to show the serious health impact that environmental pollution can have, from premature death to asthma to cancers. These are completely unnecessary impacts that Canadians are really feeling and that they’re feeling today. So recognition of a Right to a Healthy Environment would also be a very important way for government and Canadians to really understand and draw the links between the environment and our health and our dignity as human beings.
It would mean that in the future, Canadian environmental laws would be stronger. That they would protect not only our environment at present, but that it would protect that environment for future generations. So it could have really, really long term benefits for Canadians not only today, but in generations to come.
1. Canada has 20% of the world’s freshwater, no national law to regulate drinking water quality.
2. Air pollution contributes to over 20,000 premature deaths in Canada each year.
3. 98% of Canadians view nature as essential to human survival.
4. 110 other countries have legally protected their citizens’ right to a healthy environment.
5. 85% of Canadians agree they should also have the right to a healthy environment.
Painter and filmmaker Cory Trenpanier is a member of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the internationally renowned Explorer’s Club. I spoke with him about his Into The Arctic collection of seventy-five paintings, produced during four expeditions to all seven Canadian arctic National Parks. Cory’s also produced a trilogy of Into the Arctic films documenting his journeys into the remote high arctic. Some of that footage, accompanies this interview. I met with him at his studio, in Caledon, Ontario.
I started painting the arctic about a decade ago in search for the wildest places in Canada. Turns out I found some of the wildest places on our planet.
My process begins in the field when I take my easel with me on location. I set up and paint plein air, the French term that’s been used for years to represent the idea of painting out of doors.
It’s rare that I ever complete a painting on location. But the process of trying to capture a view on site, plein air, just causes me to connect with that landscape in a way that’s so much deeper than just taking a picture and leaving.
Travelling the arctic has allowed me to experience things so different than what I am used to in southern Ontario. First it’s a landscape that’s so grand it’s on a scale that just makes you feel like an ant, I mean. And part of that experience really, sort of, creates a sense of humility and a respect for the land around you to realize that you’re so small and that you’re completely at the whim of nature. It’s kind of like walking into a land that’s been the way it was from the beginning of time.
Sometimes views that present themselves are just overwhelming. And so what I’m feeling out there is a sense of awe. It’s a sense of wonder. It’s a, it’s a sense of the power of nature, ‘cause it’s often changing, and the act of painting will take me often hours. And the beautiful part of that is I don’t just see a moment of time, of the light hitting that mountain, take a picture and I’m done. I’m seeing it unfold before me.
Now that I’ve had a chance to experience myself, it’s been the realization that other people need to experience this somehow.
If there’s a mission that I could apply to what I’m doing now, I guess, it’s—or it’s more of a hope, I suppose, as an artist—is that, in the years to come, through my work, more and more people may feel a greater appreciation for these landscapes. It’s just to see people connect with nature more, with their own passions, and take care of these places.
I started Into the Arctic as a project back in 2006. The goal: to paint the Canadian arctic. Initially, thirty paintings, three expeditions. Little did I know how much this experience of now having done four expeditions and over fifty paintings would impact me. And one of those ways has been to grow the size of my canvases. Ah, it goes back to feeling so small in such a huge land and trying to do justice to these places. And so in some cases I’ve come back and done nine foot paintings, and now the largest painting I’ve ever done is fifteen feet by five and a half feet.
The goal, I figure, if I can do a piece large enough that it can take in someone’s field of view when they’re standing before it, and in some way give them that sense of experience that I had while there in person—well that’s the whole goal of going bigger. Is to really bring the grandness of these places across to people. And I really hope that through it all, people can sense the passion through the brushstrokes.
NEXT TIME ON FIELDWORK
Through our efforts, things have definitely become better. I think we’ve created quite a bit of awareness that these streams all flow into the Great Lakes.
But the church has to also be about addressing the problems that created those situations in the first place.
The field of sound ecology and acoustic ecology is an interdisciplinary field, in fact.
Thank you for joining us on this edition of FieldWork, and thank you for your continued support in sharing this broadcast online. Every week we’re reaching more people interested in stories of conservation. Until next time, I’m James Sidney. Thank you for watching.