by Freda Klassen, NGBA Representative to the GBA
Let’s look at the environment you and your family impact when spending time at your camp/cottage. Protecting the environment is a world issue however, it starts at home one person at a time. We have all heard about the practice of low impact camping: it is camping with the least amount of negative impact to the environment. Killarney Provincial Park requires this concept of camping on their interior lakes. Negative impact is the attitude we need to embrace. By practicing low impact living we can all be assured that our beloved wilderness will be here for future generations to enjoy. The NGBA seeks to provide our membership and friends with ideas and resources so we can all do our part. Enjoy!
Georgian Bay’s natural shorelines are a wonderful example of form meeting function: they are perfectly designed to filter waters that flow through them before reaching the lake. They are the perfect habitat for the wildlife that lives among them. And, at the same time, are a stunning natural backdrop for our own lives at the lake as well as our neighbours. A natural shoreline, rich in native vegetation, requires minimal maintenance, offers the best defense against damaging nutrient run-off and lakeside erosion, and keeps the whole local ecosystem healthy and working as nature intended.
On the other hand a manicured shoreline, aside from looking out of place anywhere on Georgian Bay, requires maintenance and could lead to the use of herbicides and pesticides which have an extreme negative impact to water quality and aquatic life, amphibians, and insect and bird life. Herbicides and pesticides have no place on your property. If you have a collection of them from over the years please take them to the Toxic Waste disposal. Those that have been brought in from the U.S. are even more harmful as they are not regulated to the same degree as here in Canada.
A shoreline in its natural state with vegetative buffers comprised of the decaying material is the single most effective protection for water quality, lake ecosystems, and essential wildlife habitat. For helpful ideas on how to naturalize your shoreline go to: loveyourlake.ca
Docks are a critical feature of our camps and can have an impact on the environment, especially the shoreline. Docks made from wood and steel that are anchored into the waterbed or shore disturb the aquatic ecosystem and shoreline vegetation. Floating docks are recommended over static docks as they do not disturb the vital natural shoreline and adapt to the natural rhythms of the water. The ability to adjust your ramp to the inevitable rise and fall of water levels is another convenience and a floating dock can also be easily moved to a protected bay for the winter to prevent damage from ice during spring breakup, both reducing the need for regular repairs leading to costs savings overall.
Yet, floating docks – in particular older DIY models – also come with their problems, in particular the use of polystyrene foam. In May 2021, the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed Bill 228. The bill, now titled the Keeping Polystyrene Out of Ontario’s Lakes and Rivers Act, is designed to require polystyrene foam used in docks and other floating structures to be encapsulated in order to prevent pieces from breaking off and polluting the waterways. DO NOT USE FOAM BILLETS THAT ARE NOT ENCAPSULATED! IF YOU HAVE EXISTING FOAM – REMOVE AND REPLACE IMMEDIATELY!
Do you know when the last time you had your septic system inspected by a certified inspector? Is your outhouse built according to provincial code (Class 1 Sewage System)? Do you know where your grey water is going? If you answered no or I don’t know to any one of these questions, chances are you are polluting the water where you and your family and dogs swim, your neighbours swim, and you get water for your camp.
Make this the year you do something about your septic system (or lack thereof). Place it on the TOP of your priority list!
Grey water should not be taken lightly. If you wash dishes, take a shower, or use a clothes washing machine you have grey water! This water is rife with microorganisms originating from food and the human body, which means it contains feca coliform which are associated with the pathogens that cause salmonella and dysentery among other things. Exposure can occur through activities like swimming. Key nutrients in grey water can fuel harmful algal blooms which cause mass ecosystem dysfunction by producing toxins, blocking sunlight, and clogging fish gills. After the bloom dies, the process of decomposition consumes locally available oxygen, creating aquatic dead zones. Human exposure can cause ear, eye, nose and throat irritation as well as respiratory distress, abdominal pain, diarrhea, liver and kidney damage, vomiting, seizures and paralysis. Wildlife and dogs are similarly affected. Grease and hair in the grey water that enters your septic system have a negative effect on its efficiency.
Micro Plastics in Grey Water
This is a hot topic these days as the results of research from around the globe has come to the forefront. Micro plastic filters are now widely available to install on your washing machine. To learn more about the many harmful effects of micro plastic in our waters you can learn all about it in an article the Winter 2022 (Vol. 13 Issue 1) Georgian Bay Forever newsletter (NGBA members receive the GBF newsletter along with their GBA Update quarterly mailings). Consider installing a filter!
Maintaining the effectiveness of our septic system may be the most important responsibility that belongs to each of us as property owners.
Failure to properly maintain our septic system impacts the quality of the water that we and our neighbours enjoy and wildlife depends on. To think that it isn’t really an issue because you only use your property for a short time every year is wrong thinking. It is an attitude too often taken and an excuse for not taking time and spending the money to do the right thing.
Even if we are very careful about what goes into our toilets and down our drains most of us don’t know how effectively our septic is operating. An expert is needed to identify possible issues because a failing septic systems can do serious damage to Georgian Bay. Early septic tanks in the 1960s and ’70s often involved draining cottage plumbing into a buried steel drum. By the 1980s many septic systems had improved steel tanks. Tanks from those eras likely long ago corroded and disintegrated leaving whatever goes down the drain and toilet to flow directly into the ground and eventually the lake without the benefit of the filtering process of a working septic system. Newer ones can have issues as well: shifting soil, tree roots, and overuse to name a few.
Due to bedrock and limited topsoil a conventional septic system is probably out of the question in most settings in our area. In the past, many camps resorted to simply “disposing” of waste in the woods and many still resort to using toxic chemicals to disintegrate waste. There are systems, however, especially designed for difficult locations that will pass inspection. They are built above ground and require less area for a leach bed. For information on an Ecoflo – Green system go to: premiertechaqua.com. In our area the Sudbury Health Department is responsible for approval and inspection.
All life relies on Earth’s predictable rhythm of day and night. It’s encoded in the DNA of all plants and animals. They depend on Earth’s daily cycle of light and dark to govern life-sustaining behaviours such as reproduction, nourishment, sleep and protection from predators. Artificial light has negative effects on many creatures including amphibians, birds, mammals, insects and plants. Glare from an artificial light can impact frogs and toads whose nighttime croaking is part of the breeding ritual. Many insects are drawn to light, but artificial lights can create a fatal attraction. Declining insect populations negatively impact all species that rely on insects for food or pollination. Some predators exploit this attraction to their advantage, affecting food webs in unanticipated ways. Your neighbours will also appreciate your lights out approach. Turn out the lights, say no to solar lights on your dock, balcony and walkways. Invest in flashlights and headlights, for hands free tasks. Enjoy the night sky!
We all know how much brush and debris from the forest can accumulate in a season. In a natural setting this provides the nutrients and habitat for healthy forest life. When clearing brush, pine cones etc. from around your buildings in an effort to be fire smart and clearing paths and walkways, create brush piles away from your outdoor living space rather than taking them to a fire pit. Brush piles are great for all kinds of wildlife as they provide food and shelter for rabbits, chipmunks, mice, snakes and birds. If rattlesnakes have a habitat they will have fewer reasons to enter your outdoor living space looking for food or shelter. For a brush pile to an effective wildlife shelter it needs to have a sizeable volume of material. When you close up your camp in the fall, a great addition would be a topping of balsam, pine or cedar boughs. These, just like for a human emergency survival shelter, provide a wind and snow stopping layer that creates a great little labyrinth for the smallest birds, butterflies and other insects.
We may not always realize that non-living things can be just as important as living ones. When a tree is dead or dying, our first inclination may be to take it down. If it is severely diseased or in an unsafe location, it may be best to remove it. However, if the tree has no disease and is located in a safe place, it can become a wonderful source of habitat. Dead tress, called “snags”, are used for nesting and perching, and as a reliable food source. They can harbour a huge variety of small insects, larvae and spiders and create an environment for moss, ferns, lichens, fungi and even tree seedlings. Woodpeckers love decaying trees and will create nest holes in them. These abandoned cavities are ready made nesting sites for other bird species, such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, wrens, swallows, bluebirds and even owls. These cavities also provide winter cover along with being a protected place to rest and hide from predators. Many native pollinators including bees and beetles use dead trees, either standing or fallen, to lay their eggs. Thirty percent of our native bees nest in holes in decaying wood. Fallen trees and logs are the mainstay of a healthy ecosystem and eventually decompose into rich fertile soil.
If you are having rodent problems consider getting an owl box! Owls are natural born predators that primarily hunt at night with their keen night vision and stealth. Another reason to turn off the outdoor lights. On an average night, these hunters can eat up to 12 mice. Fewer mice leads to fewer reasons for a rattlesnake to hang out. Plans to build an owl box can be easily found on the internet. Mount the nesting box 15 to 30 feet above the ground, in a shady, south facing spot. Bracket it to a tree trunk placing the box below the canopy, not in it, leaving a clear flight path for the owl.
Many of us may not have considered native plants when gardening at camp. A native plant to our area of Georgian Bay may be different than elsewhere in Ontario. Native plants help restore highly complex eco-systems, attract native pollinators including hummingbirds, native bees, butterflies, moths and bats, and provide protective shelter for many mammals. Native plants are the best choice for low-maintenance, low water consumption gardens. Most native plants are non-invasive and will allow all other plants to grow freely. Native plants tend to withstand the environment better than non-native plants.
This allows them to withstand harsh weather and grow back the following year. Native plants are typically more resistant to disease, drought, and other environmental risks. They can spread quickly and many grow in such a fashion that protects the soil from flooding which will keep the soil rich. Because they are adapted to the specific climate of the region, native plants can defend themselves against indigenous insects, fungi and disease. By not having to use pesticides on your plants you are helping to not pollute our environment and cause damage to other plants. For a guide of beautiful non-invasive plants for your garden go to ontarioinvasiveplants.ca and click on the Northern Grow Me Instead guide.Another interesting site: returnofthenative.ca
It is no secret that a diverse native garden will also be teaming with pollinators. Many insects we see (bees, butterflies, flies, etc.) are adapted to visit the plant species native to the region. When non-native are introduced, often existing pollinators have no established preference to them. Food chains are essential and habitats are systems where everything is connected. To learn more about conserving native pollinators, their importance and how you can help increase their declining numbers go to: feedthebees.org. Bumble bees are some of Canada’s best native insect pollinators. To learn more about the Humble Bumble go to: wildlifepreservation.ca