For almost a decade, Ecomuseum Zoo has been working with Kanesatake to preserve and restore the land’s biodiversity and natural habitats for generations to come.
“This project is very important to our community,” said Gabrielle Lamouche, the communications officer at Ratihontsanontstats Kanesatake Environment.
“And our collaboration with the Ecomuseum Zoo, who have been monitoring species at risk in Tiononteko:wa (our mountain), doing an inventory, not only of plants but of insects as well such as the rusty patched bumble bee.”
The project aims to identify sensitive areas within the community to locate species at risk and gather data through a series of surveys and inventories, which will then be shared with the community to determine next steps.
“We want to preserve, as much as possible, the existing traditional medicines present on our territory and their environment, not only for our current use but for the generations to come,” Lamouche said.
Pierre-Alexandre Bourgeois, a research and conservation biologist at Ecomuseum Zoo, explained that their work has been mainly focused on amphibians and reptiles since the 1980s.
He said that in 2010, as part of a larger project around the Lake of Two Mountains, the organization started working with Ratihontsanontstats on a project regarding map turtles. Then in 2012, they started a major herpetological inventory of the entire territory.
“We suggested to the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake to build the project around species at risk,” said Bourgeois.
“Over the years, the project has gone through different stages, but the whole idea is to locate the species at risk within the territory. So, locating the sensitive areas so that people can be aware and be more careful.”
The biologist said that the team has identified the shore as an important area for map turtles and explained that Blue Mountain contains very interesting habitats where a lot of old-growth forests, wetlands and even open areas can be found.
“It has a large diversity of species, animals and plants, but especially plants. For animals, there are two species of snake that are of interest and are found in the mountain: the ring-neck snake and milk snake,” he said.
Recently, the scientists have been surveying a few birds of interest, including the wood thrush that was found singing in the mountain, which according to Bourgeois is indicative of nesting. Additionally, the eastern wood pewee was also found in the area.
“Although it was not part of any surveys, there is a bald eagle nest on a small island that is part of the territory, which is also pretty cool,” said Bourgeois. “Last year, I saw them again. They mate for life, so they come back to the same nest every year, almost.”
In terms of plants, the team at Ecomuseum Zoo continues with its inventory and thus far, at least 15 very rare species have been found in the mountain.
“Trees and flowering plants and understory plants as well, so that is a very good variety of rare plants, and it shows that it is a very interesting area,” he said.
The bumblebee is also of great interest, with surveys taking place in 2019 and 2021. Bourgeois explained that the team has been searching for the rusty patched bumble bee, listed as an endangered species in Canada in 2012, to no avail.
He said that the rusty patched bumblebee has been declining rapidly across North America.
“It is disappearing, and there is only one site in Canada, and I don’t think they have found it in the last few years, so it’s probably extinct in Canada, extirpated,” said the biologist.
However, the team did locate the yellow-banded bumblebee – another endangered species.
It has been found in the mountain, in fields and also in canopy gaps and open areas in the territory.
The next phase for Ecomuseum Zoo will be to compile a report with all of the data gathered that will then be presented to the community to determine next steps. They hope to share their findings with Kanesatake by the end of the year or the beginning of 2023.
“We will meet the community, and we will ask them for their insight and knowledge and what is truly important to them. Any information coming from the community will be assessed and then merged with the more biological information,” said Bourgeois.
The scientists want to know what types of activities are taking place in areas of interest to find methods to preserve those areas that are compatible with the community.
“I know a lot of people gather traditional medicinal plants in the mountain so that can be combined with the biological information in order to come up with an action plan to maintain and conserve sensitive plants and medicines,” he said.
Although the management plan is still in progress, Ecomuseum Zoo has already begun to restore some places in the mountain, according to Bourgeois.
“We have been picking up buckthorn, which is an invasive exotic species. It’s a shrub that could invade the entire understory of a forest and basically wipe out its diversity which is a huge problem.”
As natural habitats in certain portions of the province continue to disappear, Bourgeois said people need to keep in mind that if we keep losing species year after year, the entire ecosystem and the ecological services they provide humans will collapse.
“If we keep losing species, it will have a bigger impact on us in our daily lives. Right now, we are only seeing the edge. We need biodiversity to function,” said the biologist.