A Fight to Save an Endangered Species

13/01/2009 04:13 PM

Old Mill in Scone, a Centre of Controversy

It may be small, as size goes in the world of wildlife but it is, nonetheless, a vital link to life and is in danger of becoming extinct.

It is the Hungerford's Crawling Water Beetle (Brychius hungerfordi).  Why is it important to Grey Bruce counties?  It is known to be found in only seven places in the world and one of them is Scone in Bruce County!  Imagine!  Nowhere else in this country is it found and it is found in only seven locations around the globe.  Is this little creature important?  In the grand scheme of things, it is a connection to life.

Hungerford's Crawling Water Beetle

To understand, we first have to take a look at the Hungerford's crawling water beetle. Firstly, it is very small at only 0.2 or 4.2 mm and is a distinctive, yellow-brown beetle with irregular dark markings and, males tend to be smaller than females.

Although streams surrounding the Great Lakes, especially in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ontario, have been extensively surveyed during the past 30 years, no additional populations of the beetle have been discovered ... and the only known population in Canada is in Scone at one specific site.

The Hungerford's crawling water beetle was listed as endangered on March 7, 1994 and is protected in the United Station, which includes prohibits take of the beetle.  Unfortunately, it is not protected in Canada and is not included in the recovery goals for the species initiated by the United States.  The largest population occurs in the East Branch of the Maple River in a pristine portion of stream on the boundary of the University of Michigan Biological Station.  The University actually built the Station around the habitat of the beetle in order to preserve it.

Threats to the beetle are not well understood but, in general, it can be assumed that threats include activites that modify or disrupt the pool and riffle environments of streams where it lives.  Recovery efforts would benefit from a research program that targets the beetle and its habitat.  Efforts will include reducing to a possible extent theatrs that result in habitat destuction and degradation such as stream-side logging and pollution and threats relating to fish management activites and human recreation.

Professor R.E. Roughley of the University of Manitoba, in 1991, described the North Saugeen River habitat as being very different than the usual type locality.  The Scone site is downstream from an impoundment dam with an epilomnion outlet.  Warm water from the impoundment passes through an old millrace and under a county road.

Prior to discovery of the beetle at this site, the stream had been dredged and disturbed by bridge construction.  The habitat is characterized by heavy deposits of a marl-like substance on stones and rocks.  Beetles were collected from gravel and algae along a narrow zone parallel to the stream.

According to wildlife preservation initiatives, site conservation plans should be updated as new information becomes available and, then, actions that are needed are:

1. Conserve known sites
2. Conduct scientific research to facilitate recovery efforts
3. Conduct additional surveys and monitor existing sites
4. Develop and implement public education and outreach
5. Revise Recovery Criteria and recovery actions, as appropriate, based on research and
new information
6. Develop a plan to monitor B. Hungerfordi after it is delisted

One of the keys of the American study is to "coordinate with Canadian officials regarding the North Saugeen River site.  Members of the Ontario government will be contacted and encouraged to monitor and conserve the known B. Hungerfordi site near Scone. Although this site is not included in the recovery goals of this Recovery Plan, it is still important for conservation of the species."
The United States Fish and Wildlife had placed it on their Endangered Species List in 1994 and just released a Recovery Plan in September of 2006, allocating up to $742,000 for its recovery.  The recovery Plan also states that Canadian Officials should be communicated with to coordinate monitoring and recovery at the Scone Site.

Conserve riparian buffers:

Riparian areas are the vegetated areas adjacent to the stream. Riparian buffers are important for water quality, and act as natural “bio-filters”, protecting aquatic environments from excessive sedimentation, polluted surface runoff, and erosion. They can provide shade that reduces water temperature and also help stabilize stream banks. Existing native vegetation should be retained to the extent possible, and efforts should be undertaken to restore the natural plant community composition and distribution when possible.

Conduct in-stream projects such as bank stabilization projects as
appropriate.

(next column)

(continued)

In addition to poorly designed or failing road/stream crossings, other activities also result in increased  edimentation in streams (e.g., logging, removal of riparian buffers, beaver dams). In some cases, it may be prudent to stabilize stream banks to reduce sedimentation (after identifying and reversing the cause of excessive erosion when possible). BMPs should be applied during in-stream restoration activities. Potential projects in the vicinity of occupied habitat must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to evaluate the potential risks and benefits to B.Hungerfordi.

Conduct other stream and watershed restoration activities that result in benefits to occupied watersheds, as appropriate.  Other activities may include programs for general watershed health.  These may include preventing polluted runoff from pesticides, fertilizers, or animal waste and preventing the introduction of invasive exotic species. In the watersheds where B. Hungerfordi is known to occur, these projects can have benefits through increased water quality and reduction of threats.

Investigate the potential for transportation of hazardous materials (e.g., oil and other chemicals) on roads within occupied watersheds and potential for spills. Coordination with the appropriate highway and county road departments should occur to determine the potential for transportation of hazardous materials on roads within occupied watersheds and the potential for a spill of gasoline, solvents, or other chemicals. If there is a significant risk, the possibility of restrictions on transport of dangerous goods in high priority areas should be evaluated.

Second Oldest Hydro Plant in Ontario

By now readers may be wondering why or how the Saugeen Times became involved in this issue.   One day, stopping by the Old Mill in Scone on the North Saugeen River, we learned of this situation from Professor Emeritus, David Dansereau, who owns the mill.  "According to the Natural Heritage Information Centre website this beetle has a global rarity rating of G1 (highest rarity rating), N1 (highest Canadian National Rating) and S1 (highest rarity rating for the Province of Ontario).  The mill houses a hydro-electric plant that is the second oldest in Ontario and which, in fact, produces hydro for sale to Hydro One."

Professor Emeritus David Dansereau

Apparently, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) has known of the beetle's habitat since 1986 when it was discovered by Dr. Roughley but, it was only through a release, that Dansereau was able to determine that OMNR had known of the beetle's habitat on his property under the bridge immediately below the dam.

In the summer of 2005, OMNR was called by angry campers behind the dam and downstream, complaining about low water levels.  Under the 'Occupied Water Privileges' inherent in Dansereau's deed, the privileges are protected within the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act so that repairs made to the dam were within his rights.

According to Dansereau, OMNR was attempting to keep secret the beetle's presence.  "They (OMNR) wanted me to sign a Water Management Plan which would make me responsible financially for the beetle's survival and costly repairs to the dam, because past research has shown that the beetle requires the presence of a beaver or human-made dam in order to survive.  It appears that OMNR was not going to inform me about the beetle until it made it to the Species At Risk in Ontario (SARO) list.  In other words, OMNR was deliberately trying to pass on financial responsibility for the Hungerford's Beetle to a private landowner."

It would appear that OMNR has been negligent in the conservation and recovery of one of the rarest species.  The  Stewardship Fund (SAR) appears to have been changed in a deliberate attempt to preclude the possibility of Dansereau's application succeeding, which in turn, means that the responsibility for this beetle's habitat still remains with the private landowner.

In the meantime, Dansereau has witnessed destruction of the beetle's habitat.  "I have witnessed ATV riders running right over the beetles' habitat and, what's more, the OMNR has allowed Arran Elderslie Municipality to cut down, at the very least, 50 trees along the shoreline within 100 feet of the beetles' habitat, even after I brought it to their attention in November last year (2007).

Dansereau insists that the OMNR continues to block his attempts to obtain funding for the sale or repair of the dam which is required for the beetle's survival ... to be cont'd