Presented by Aleta Karstad at the Eastern Ontario Stewardship Forum at the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority headquarters in Manotick, Ontario, on 29 February 2012
I am the artist/naturalist administrative partner of what my husband Dr Frederick W. Schueler calls “a mom and pop research institute”, the Bishops Mills Natural History Centre. We manage the e-mail listserve, Eastern Ontario NatureList. The blog that shares my paintings and our combined nature journals is www.aletakarstad.com. I am also the President of Fragile Inheritance Natural History, a not-yet incorporated ngo. Fred has built a natural history database of 100,000 records and growing, for which he’s looking for collaborators to transform it into a web portal.
I am here to address the problem of unseasonable government funding for the study of species at risk. First I will give a brief summary which Fred has drawn up, by decade, of our involvement with species at risk from the 1970′s to the present, and then I will discuss the sad waste of government funds, and of time and resources, and suggest a way of working toward a solution.
1970′s – finding two of the outlying populations of Butler’s Garter Snake, filling 5-gallon drums with road-killed Fox Snakes, mapping Chorus Frogs across New York and northern Ontario, checking out Massasuagas and “Lake Erie Water Snakes” on Manitoulin… largely just encountering what turned out to be rare species in the course of museum collecting, general exploration, and chasing particular projects that weren’t motivated by the rarity of the subjects…
1980‘s: wrote the COSEWIC report for Hognose Snake, found the second Ontario aquatic fern Azolla, Musk Turtle in Kemptville Creek, set up conditions for testing range expansion in Butler’s Garter Snake… passed up an opportunity to write a book about Endangered Species and made it into the ecological impact of People on the whole continent, since these were so much more easily observed than the Endangered Species.
1990‘s: did the herpetology of the outer Bruce Peninsula, documented the Lake Ontario Waterfront, worked out a model for rarity in Pickerel Frogs, found Blanding’s Turtles around home and modelled them as the result of return of Beavers in the 1960′s, discovered Leopard Frogs were gone from NE Ontario, noticed Chorus Frogs disappearing around home, started chasing the regionally rare Unionids, noticing Ligumia nasuta melt away, and vastly expanding the known range of Obovaria olivaria.
2000‘s: co-revised the COSEWIC report for Chorus Frogs, expanding understanding of the Quebec declines across non-Carolinean Ontario, joined the Freshwater Mussel Recovery Team, discovered the only remaining secure population of Ligumia nasuta, worked out abundance of Potamilus alatus and Leptodea fragilis on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River, and of Alasmidonta marginata in eastern Ontario. began to apply for SAR funding, but were rebuffed in every application, except an emasculated bittern-painting raffle…
2010‘s: working with Conservation Authorities and NGO’s as part of their applications – finally an application for a project we could help with was approved, but high water levels made it impracticable, and no SAR were found. We applied for funding in 2011 with an NGO to survey the only remaining secure population of the COSEWIC-endangered Ligumia nasuta… Confident that the initial quantitative survey of this only secure population of a formerly abundant species would be granted, we waited all summer to hear that it was denied funding two days after the date of the end of the proposed field work. We spent the field season interviewing potential Science Horizons interns and finally had to tell the successful candidate that the project was not going ahead.
We all know that there are grave defects in the funding of ecological, conservation, and natural history research in the modern era. One of these defects is one that could be quite easily remedied: the apparently increasing tendency for funding agencies to delay the release or denial of funds for a project, or of required permits, until after the season when the field work ought to have been done. As we all know, this wastes the applicants’ time by not being able to commit to other activities during the delay, and the funder’s money when the work can’t be done in the appropriate season.
We actually benefited a couple of times from late receipt of funding – once when a summer-long survey of species at risk collapsed into a series of public articles and a contest to win an original painting by myself. A second instance of this occurred when funding for determining what species at risk were in an area didn’t come until October, and for that money Fred and a colleague spent a few weeks working out the species that ought to be found there, or were already in the NHIC database, without any hope of seeing any of these hibernating or migratory species.
When we recount an instance of this problem, other people confirm the seriousness of the issue with their own verbal accounts of similar situations, but never in writing. We are sure that the phenomenon is real, but we can’t provide extensive documentation. Tom Spears, environmental reporter for the Ottawa Citizen, expressed interest in this phenomenon of unseasonable funding, but the organizations that we’d known were victims of it were afraid to talk to the press, for fear of losing future funding, and others he talked to denied the phenomenon existed, though we’d known that at least one of these had been a victim.
Fred and I have tried to work around this “grave defect” by no longer expecting to depend on applied-for funding for our work. Our way of sidestepping the funding issues is “sponsored nomadism” where an agency or NGO promotes our blog and sale of “daily paintings,” to support the exploration which we feel is most important. This model has supported our work at New Brunswick Museum Bioblitzes in 2010 and 2011, and pursuing surviving & extirpated populations of Mussels, among other subjects, in the South Nation drainage in 2011.
But the waste goes on. How many times has this happened to you? I don’t blame you for not filing complaints, as no one wants to jeopardize future funding. Can we voice the issue as a larger group with the common goal of demanding timely and effective funding for Species At Risk? I hope that the meetings today will result in some next steps on this.