Bird conservation strategy for Region 12: Ontario and Manitoba boreal hardwood transition

- Abridged version -

Cover Photo

The abridged version of the strategy available here contains a summary of the results, but does not include an analysis of conservation needs by habitat, a discussion of widespread conservation issues, or the identification of research and monitoring needs.

Preface

Environment and Climate Change Canada led the development of all-bird conservation strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs) by drafting new strategies and integrating new and existing plans into an all-bird framework. These integrated all-bird conservation strategies will serve as a basis for implementing bird conservation across Canada, and will also guide Canadian support for conservation work in other countries important to Canada’s migrant birds. Input to the strategies from Environment and Climate Change Canada' (ECCCs) conservation partners is as essential as their collaboration in implementing their recommendations.

Environment and Climate Change Canada has developed national standards for strategies to ensure consistency of approach across Bird Conservation Strategies (BCRs). Bird Conservation Strategies will provide the context from which specific implementation plans can be developed for each BCR, building on the programs currently in place through Joint Ventures or other partnerships. Landowners including Aboriginal peoples will be consulted prior to implementation.

Conservation objectives and recommended actions in the conservation strategies will be used as the biological basis to develop guidelines and Beneficial Management Practices that support compliance with regulations under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994. Furthermore, these strategies will guide conservation action in support of The State of Canada's Birds 2012 (North American Bird Conservation Initiative 2012), which points to the strong influence of human activity on bird populations, both positive and negative, and presents solutions towards keeping common birds common and restoring populations that are in decline.

Acknowledgements

Brigitte Collins and Paul Smith were the main authors of this document that follows templates developed by Alaine Camfield, Judith Kennedy and Elsie Krebs with the help of the BCR planners in each of the Canadian Wildlife Service regions throughout Canada. However, work of this scope cannot be accomplished without the contribution of other colleagues who provided or validated technical information, commented on earlier draft versions of the strategy and supported the planning process. We would especially like to thank the following people: Graham Bryan, Mike Cadman, Alaine Camfield, Lesley Carpenter, Jean-Michel DeVink, Britt Dupuis, Christian Friis, Jeanette Goulet, Krista Holmes, Jack Hughes, Judith Kennedy, Sarah Mainguy, Shawn Meyer, Jocelyn Neysmith, Marie-France Noel, Michele Rodrick, Daniel Rokitnicki-Wojcik, Richard Russell, Paul Watton, Chris Wedeles, Russ Weeber, D.V. Weseloh and Scott Wilson.

Bird Conservation Strategy for Bird Conservation Region 12 in Ontario and Manitoba: Boreal Hardwood Transition

Map

Long description for Map

Map of the Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs) of Canada with BCR 12 Ontario (ON): Boreal Hardwood Transition highlighted. The extent of the map includes Canada, with Alaska, Greenland and the northern portion of the United States (U.S.) also appearing. The map is divided by BCR (12 Canadian BCRs in total), with various colours, and their exact locations and sizes are indistinguishable, aside from BCR 12 ON.

The highlighted BCR 12 ON is separated into two sections. The eastern portion stretches across central Ontario from Perth in the east to New LIskeard in the north, and along the northern shore of Georgian Bay to Wawa on Lake Superior. The western section runs from Thunder Bay in the east to Winnipeg in the west, and from the U.S. border north toward Lac Seul.

Legend: Bird Conservation Regions of Canada. 12ON - Boreal Hardwood Transition; Environment and Climate Change Canada logo and Government of Canada logo.

Executive summary

The Boreal Hardwood Transition Bird Conservation Region, BCR 12, covers an area of about 611 300 km2 from Quebec to Manitoba and south into the northern United States. A large portion of this region in Ontario, roughly 28% of the BCR, and a small portion in Manitoba (2%) are included in this strategy, while a separate strategy has been developed for BCR 12 in Quebec. Although reference information and data used in analyses for this strategy largely pertain to the Ontario portion of the BCR only, it was assumed to be sufficiently representative of the Manitoba portion of this BCR. These strategies will serve as a framework for implementing bird conservation nationally, and also identify international conservation issues for Canada's priority birds.

The Ontario portion of BCR 12 (BCR 12 ON) consists of a variety of forested habitats underlain by Precambrian Shield and interspersed with numerous lakes, rivers and wetlands. The region's forests are predominantly mixed, including elements of the temperate forests to the south and the boreal forests further north. The avifauna of the region reflects this transition; landbird species that are characteristic of both coniferous and deciduous forests occur here. The numerous lakes (including Lake Huron and Lake Superior), rivers and wetlands are used by a diverse assemblage of waterfowl, waterbirds and shorebirds.

Within BCR 12 ON, 260 species of birds regularly breed, overwinter, reside year-round or routinely migrate through the region.Footnote1 Of these, 100 species are identified as priorities in this BCR. All bird groups are represented on the priority species list, although the list is dominated by landbirds (61% of the total list). The list also includes waterbirds (15%), waterfowl (17%) and shorebirds (7%). Over half of the waterfowl (55%) and waterbirds (52%) occurring in BCR 12 ON are identified as priority species, as compared to 36% of the landbirds and only 24% of shorebirds. Among the 100 priority species, 24 are assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as "at risk," 18 are listed under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) and 23 are listed under Ontario's Endangered Species Act 2007 at the time of writing this strategy.

Identifying the broad habitat requirements for each priority species within the BCR allows species to be grouped by shared habitat-based conservation issues and actions. Priority species are associated with 10 habitat types in BCR 12 ON. Wetlands are used by the greatest number of priority species (28%), while mixed, deciduous and coniferous forests are a preferred habitat type for 27%, 15% and 15% of priority species, respectively. Waterbodies, including the Great Lakes, are used extensively by 21% of priority species.

The population objectives in this strategy are categorical and are based on a quantitative or qualitative assessment of species' population trends. Much of BCR 12 ON has good coverage by large-scale bird surveys, and the status of many birds in the region is adequately known. For 31% of priority species, monitoring data suggest declines with sufficient certainty to support an objective of increasing population size. In contrast, population sizes are sufficiently large to warrant a decreasing population objective for only a single priority species: the Canada Goose, Eastern Temperate-breeding population. Maintaining populations at current levels is the objective for 25% of the priority species in BCR 12 ON, while only 12% are assigned a population objective of Assess/Maintain because monitoring data is insufficient to propose an objective. A recovery objective is assigned to 23% of priority species, all of which are species at risk. Eight (8%) percent of priority species are identified as migrating through BCR 12 ON and are not assigned an objective, as those are set in other BCR strategies covering the breeding range of these species.

An assessment of threats identified a large number and diversity of conservation issues facing priority species in the various habitats of BCR 12 ON. Major threats to priority species relate to habitat loss and degradation from a variety of sources including residential and commercial development, biological resource use, pollution, and human disturbance. The lack of biological or demographic data for some priority species are also considered as important conservation issues in this strategy.

Conservation objectives have been designed to address threats and information gaps facing priority birds in the region. Objectives for many priority species are consistent with current forest management objectives, which aim to ensure that the supply of habitat types and forest attributes in each forest management unit and ecoregion is maintained within an Estimated Range of Natural Variation (ERNV). We recognize this rigorous, science-based approach to forest management in BCR 12 ON as a dominant vehicle for conservation of birds in the region. Also important is the need to continue efforts to improve bird population and habitat monitoring to gather the missing ecological and demographic information for some priority species.

Recommended actions indicate activities that will help to achieve the conservation objectives. Actions are strategic rather than highly detailed and prescriptive. Whenever possible, recommended actions benefit multiple species and/or respond to more than one threat. The majority of actions relate to developing and implementing effective policies and regulations, promoting the development and use of Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs), increasing awareness about conservation issues, developing partnerships, improving the scientific knowledge that underlies management decisions, and improving monitoring to track the effectiveness of conservation activities. Actions to address forestry-related threats in this region seek to improve implementation of existing guidelines, or to make small modifications that benefit particular priority bird species.

Priority species in BCR 12 ON also face threats that are difficult to analyze with the standardized methodology used in this strategy. These threats include widespread issues that may sometimes not apply to a particular habitat (e.g., climate change), research needs and population monitoring, as well as threats to migratory birds when they are outside Canada. An overview of these issues, the affected species and the recommended conservation actions is also presented.

Introduction: Bird Conservation Strategies

Context

This document is one of a suite of Bird Conservation Region Strategies (BCR Strategies) that have been drafted by Environment and Climate Change Canada for all regions of Canada. These strategies respond to Environment and Climate Change Canada's need for integrated and clearly articulated conservation priorities for birds in Canada to support the implementation of its migratory birds program, both domestically and internationally. This suite of strategies builds on existing conservation plans for the four "bird groups" (waterfowl,Footnote2 waterbirds,Footnote3 shorebirdsFootnote4 and landbirdsFootnote5) in most regions of Canada, as well as on national and continental plans, and includes birds under provincial/territorial jurisdiction. These new strategies also establish standard conservation planning methods across Canada and fill gaps, as previous regional plans do not cover all areas of Canada or all species of birds.

These strategies present a compendium of required actions based on the general philosophy of achieving scientifically-based desired population levels as promoted by the four pillar initiatives of bird conservation. Desired population levels are not necessarily the same as minimum viable or sustainable populations but represent the state of the habitat/landscape at a time prior to recent dramatic population declines in many species from threats known and unknown. The threats identified in these strategies were compiled using currently available scientific information and expert opinion. The corresponding conservation objectives and actions will contribute to stabilizing populations at desired levels.

The BCR strategies are not highly prescriptive. In most cases, practitioners will need to consult additional information sources at local scales to provide sufficient detail to implement the recommendations of the strategies. Tools such as BMPs will also be helpful in guiding implementation. Partners interested in implementation, such as those involved in the habitat Joint Ventures established under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP), are familiar with the type of detailed implementation plans required to coordinate and undertake on-the-ground activities.

Strategy Structure

Section 1 of this strategy presents general information about the BCR and the subregion (i.e., Ontario’s portion of the BCR), with an overview of the six elementsFootnote6 that provide a summary of the state of bird conservation at the subregional level. Section 2 provides more detail on the threats, objectives and actions for priority species grouped by each of the broad habitat types in the subregion. Section 3 presents additional widespread conservation issues that are not specific to a particular habitat or were not captured by the threat assessment for individual species, as well as research and monitoring needs, and threats to migratory birds while they are outside Canada. The approach and methodology are summarized in the appendices, and details are available in a separate document (Kennedy et al. 2012). A national database houses all the underlying information summarized in this strategy and is available from migratorybirds_oiseauxmigrateurs@ec.gc.ca.

Characteristics of Bird Conservation Region 12: Boreal Hardwood Transition

The Canadian portion of the Boreal Hardwood Transition, BCR 12, lies in the southern portion of the Canadian Shield and extends from Quebec to Manitoba (Figure 1) The region covers 611 300 km2, with a large fraction (170 868 km2, 28%) in Ontario (Ontario Partners in Flight 2008). The Ontario portion of BCR 12 (BCR 12 ON) represents approximately one fifth (17%) of the land area of the province and occurs in two disjunct sections. The larger southern section extends from the eastern shore of Georgian Bay and Lake Superior to the Ottawa River (and then on to Quebec). The western section extends from the western shore of Lake Superior to southeastern Manitoba. Both sections of BCR 12 ON and the approximately 12 000 km2 in Manitoba are included in this strategy. However, it should be noted that reference information and data used in analyses for this strategy largely pertain to the Ontario portion of the BCR only and were assumed to be sufficiently representative of the Manitoba portion of this BCR. Similarly, recommended conservation objectives and actions were assumed to apply in Manitoba’s BCR 12 landscapes. A separate strategy has been developed for BCR 12 in Quebec (Environment and Climate Change Canada 2013d).

Figure 1. Map of boundary changes to Ontario's Bird Conservation Region 12: Boreal Hardwood Transition.

Note: For conservation planning purposes, the original North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI)-defined boundaries of Ontario's BCR boundaries have been slightly modified to align with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Ecodistrict boundaries.Footnote7

Map

Long description for Figure 1

Map of Boundary Changes to Ontario's Bird Conservation Regions. The map shows all of Ontario, as well as eastern Manitoba, western Quebec, and the adjacent part of the northern United States; James Bay and the southern part of Hudson Bay are also visible.

The four BCR subregions in Ontario (7ON, 8ON, 12ON and 13ON) are shown in different colours, along with their original and modified boundaries. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources' Ecodistricts are also outlined.

The physiography of the region is dominated by the Precambrian Shield, with rugged, rocky terrain and varied topography. Several areas of notable elevation include the Algonquin highlands in the southeast of the region, the peaks in Temagami including Ishpatina Ridge and Maple Mountain, the Algoma Highlands east of Lake Superior, and the Nor-Westers west of Lake Superior. The region shows evidence of extensive glacial activity; exposed bedrock, thin soils, and glacial till are common throughout BCR 12 ON. The natural landscape of this region is a mosaic of deciduous, mixed and coniferous forest stands interspersed with open wetlands, riparian meadows and rock barrens. Lakes, rivers and streams are also common within the forest matrix (Figure 2, Table 1).

Figure 2. Map of land cover in BCR 12 ON.

Note: Riparian habitat areas are not depicted on this map because they represent a "zone" and are not a true land cover class. A map depicting the extent of derived riparian areas for illustration purposes can be found in the Riparian section of this strategy.

map

Long description for Figure 2

Map of the landcover in BCR 12 Ontario Region: Boreal Hardwood Transition. The map's extent includes most of Ontario, as well as eastern Manitoba, southern James Bay, northwestern Quebec, and the adjacent part of the northern United States; the borders of adjoining BCRs are delineated.

BCR 12 ON is separated into two sections. The eastern portion stretches across central Ontario from Perth in the east to New LIskeard in the north, and along the northern shore of Georgian Bay to Wawa on Lake Superior. The western section runs from Thunder Bay in the east to Winnipeg in the west, and from the U.S. border north toward Lac Seul.

The various habitat types that exist in the BCR are shown on the map, and are explained in the following bilingual legend (appearing to the right of the map):

  • Coniferous/conifères
  • Deciduous/feuillus
  • Mixedwood/forêt mixte
  • Shrubs and early successional/arbustes et régénération
  • Cultivated and managed areas/zones cultivées et aménagées
  • Wetlands/terres humides
  • Bare areas/denude
  • Urban/urbain
  • Water bodies/plans d'eau

The remaining text in the legend provides the data sources for the map (i.e. Land Cover Map of Canada 2005 (CCRS, 2008), the projection of the map (i.e. UTM 16 (NAD 1983)) and there is a visual representation of the scale of the map. For BCR 12 ON, the most common habitat types are deciduous (especially in the eastern section), coniferous and mixed wood (especially in the western section) forests.

 

Table 1. Major categories of land cover in BCR 12 ON and their proportions on the landscape.
BCR Habitat Classa Provincial Land Cover
(PLC 27 Class(es)
Area (ha) % of Total Area
Coniferous Forest Forest - Dense Coniferous 2 389 646 13.99%
Deciduous Forest Forest - Dense Deciduous 2 679 992 15.68%
Mixed Forest Forest - Dense Mixed
Forest - Sparse
7 819 472 45.76%
Shrub/Early Successional Forest Depletion - Cuts
Forest Depletion - Burns
Forest - Regenerating Depletion
443 054 2.59%
Cultivated/Managed Areas Agriculture - pasture/abandoned fields
Agriculture - cropland
385 825 2.26%
Bare Areas Sand/Gravel/Mine Tailings
Bedrock
233 668 1.37%
Bare Areas Bedrock Coastal shorelineb 44 807 Not Available (N/A)
Urban Settlement / Infrastructure 124 883 0.73%
Wetlandsc Marsh - inland
Swamp - deciduous
Swamp - coniferous
Fen - open
Fen - treed
Bog - open
Bog - treed
404 614 2.37%
Waterbodies Water - deep clear
Water - shallow/sedimented
2 502 402 14.65%
Ripariand 30 m inland from shoreline 661 489 N/A
Unknown Unknown, Cloud/shadow 103 325 0.60%
Total Area - 17 086 881 100%

a BCR Habitat Classes are based on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (2000) international Land Cover Classification System (LCCS).

b Length of coastal shoreline is 18 961km (based on Natural Resource and Values Information System [NRVIS] drainage scale mapping range of 1:10 000 for southern Ontario and 1:20 000 for the near north). Coastal shoreline area is defined as: 30 m of land adjacent to large body of water - eastern Georgian Bay, North Channel, Lake Nipissing, St. Mary’s River, portion of eastern and western Lake Superior and Lake of the Woods. Coastal shoreline areas are not included in the total area as they are "zones" and do not represent a true provincial land cover class.

c Coastal wetlands are not differentiated at the resolution of PLC data.

d Riparian areas are not included in the total area as they are "zones" and do not represent a true provincial land cover class.

Data source: Spectranalysis Inc., 2004 (Provincial Land Cover (PLC) 27)

This heavily forested region marks the transition from the temperate forests of the south to the conifer-dominated boreal forests further north (Figure 2). Forests in BCR 12 ON are a mosaic of deciduous, mixed and coniferous stands (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources 2002), with species such as sugar maple (Acer saccharum), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), and red oak (Quercus rubra) common in the southeast of the region, and boreal species such as black spruce (Picea mariana), white birch (Betula papyrifera), and jack pine (Pinus banksiana) more common in the north. The avifauna reflects this gradient of habitats; bird diversity in BCR 12 ON is high by Canadian standards (Ontario Partners in Flight 2008), with predominantly boreal species common in the north, and species characteristic of deciduous forests in the southern extent of the region.

BCR 12 ON is also characterized by the presence of numerous lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands (Figure 2). These diverse aquatic habitats support a wide variety of waterbirds and waterfowl. Swamps are widespread and common throughout the region, and a number of large inland lakes (e.g., Lake of the Woods) are important for breeding colonial waterbirds. The aquatic habitats in the region are also of great importance to migrants. The coastal wetlands, beaches and nearshore waters of the Great Lakes are migratory stopovers for many waterfowl, shorebirds and waterbirds. Although used extensively by a number of bird species, non-forested upland habitats such as alvars, natural prairie, rock barrens and human-altered habitats are significantly less common here than in BCR 13 to the south and BCR 11 to the west in Manitoba.

Over 10% of the land base in BCR 12 ON is specifically managed as conservation lands, which include national parks, provincial parks, conservation reserves and one National Wildlife Area (Eleanor Island). The three largest Ontario provincial parks, namely Algonquin, Lake Superior and Quetico, when taken together, ensure the conservation and protection of over 8% of the landscapes in this portion of the BCR (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Map of protected and designated areas in BCR 12 ON.

Note: This figure does not reflect the updated boundaries of BCR 12 ON (see Figure 1).

map

Long description for Figure 3

Map of protected and other designated areas in BCR 12 Ontario Region: Boreal Hardwood Transition. The map's extent includes most of Ontario, as well as eastern Manitoba, southern James Bay, northwestern Quebec, and the adjacent part of the northern United States. The borders of adjoining BCRs are delineated.

BCR 12 ON is separated into two sections. The eastern portion stretches across central Ontario from Perth in the east to New LIskeard in the north, and along the northern shore of Georgian Bay to Wawa on Lake Superior. The western section runs from Thunder Bay in the east to Winnipeg in the west, and from the U.S. border north toward Lac Seul.

The various types of protected areas that exist in the BCR are shown on the map, and are explained in the following bilingual legend (appearing to the right of the map):

Protected areas and other designated areas/Aires protégées et autres aires désignées

  • Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada/Agriculture et Agroalimentaire Canada
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada/Pêches et Océans Canada
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada/Environnement et Changement climatique Canada
  • Parks Canada/Parcs Canada
  • Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada/Affaires autochtones et Développement du Nord Canada
  • Provincial/Provincial

Other designated areas/autres aires désignées

  • Ramsar/Ramsar
  • Important Bird Areas/Aires d'importance pour les oiseaux

There is also a visual representation of scale for the map in the legend and the projection of the map (i.e. UTM 16 (NAD 1983)).The most common type of protected area shown is provincial. There are also several small Important Bird Areas.

The remaining text in the legend provides the data sources for the map (i.e. Land Cover Map of Canada 2005 (CCRS, 2008), the projection of the map (i.e. UTM 16 (NAD 1983)) and there is a visual representation of the scale of the map. For BCR 12 ON, the most common habitat types are deciduous (especially in the eastern section), coniferous and mixed wood (especially in the western section) forests.

Human settlements, agriculture and other forms of development are sparsely distributed across the region, in stark contrast to the highly developed BCR 13 to the south. However, humans have still had a pronounced effect on habitats throughout the region through forestry activities. Historically, Aboriginal peoples altered forest habitats through burning and harvest of forest materials on a small scale, but large-scale alteration of these habitats began 350 years ago with the arrival of Europeans (Thompson 2000; Ontario Partners in Flight 2008). Beginning in the 1700s, large, mature white pines (Pinus strobus) were harvested extensively for the British square-timber trade, and although this species remains widespread in the region, large white pines have never regained their former abundance. Logging increased in intensity throughout the 19th and 20th centuries due to expanded access corridors and increased mechanization. The extensive harvest of mature timber, along with the suppression of fire, has fostered a shift away from fire-dependent, shade-intolerant conifers and towards fire-sensitive, shade-tolerant deciduous species (Carleton 2000; Ontario Partners in Flight 2008).

A large majority of BCR 12 ON is forested (75%, see Table 1), and 85% of the productive forest is owned and managed by the Crown under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act (Government of Ontario 1994). The Act legally requires that Crown forest in Ontario be managed to conserve healthy, diverse and productive forests and their associated ecological processes and biological diversity (Pearce 2011). Management guidelines address harvest practices from a local to a landscape level, including consideration of everything from retention of individual wildlife trees to the distribution of age classes across a landscape. In recent years, management guidelines have been devised to emulate natural disturbance patterns and maintain forest attributes within a Simulated (or estimated) Range of Natural Variation (SRNV). The rigorous, science-based approach to forest management in BCR 12 ON is a dominant vehicle for conservation of birds in the region.

Conservation of migratory birds must occur throughout the annual life cycle and across the range. For the many long-distance migrants breeding in or passing through BCR 12 ON, conservation may only be achieved through cooperation on a hemispheric scale. Identifying key conservation priorities at this scale can be challenging, but preliminary assessments of threats throughout the annual cycle are provided in this strategy.

The goal of this strategy is to further the conservation of all birds in BCR 12 ON, and maintain or restore populations to target levels. Recent decades have already seen significant progress towards bird conservation through effective forest management planning, stewardship programs, development and adoption of BMPs, municipal and provincial land use plans, the strategic protection of lands by environmental non-government organizations, and the efforts of partnerships such as the Eastern Habitat Joint Venture. Building on past achievements and strengthening partnerships are key goals of this strategy. Indeed, implementation of the actions suggested here could only be accomplished through a broad partnership of governments, industry and other stakeholders pursuing a common goal of biodiversity conservation in BCR 12 ON.

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