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This article was published 16/7/2016 (1917 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
"From flowers, birds and butterflies to rivers, creeks and streams, Naturalist Services is working to protect and manage ecologically significant natural areas within the City of Winnipeg. Natural areas found within our City are essential refuges for the many plants and animals that call these areas home. Our natural areas also provide the opportunity for recreation such as biking, hiking, fishing and wildlife viewing. These areas are significant contributors to our health, helping to filter out pollutants in our environment, cleansing our air and water."
— City of Winnipeg (Parks and Open Space) website
Rodney Penner is the City of Winnipeg’s naturalist and it’s his department that cares for the natural spaces within the city. That includes almost 7,500 acres of land identified as having some sort of natural plant community. He recently agreed to an email interview with the Winnipeg Free Press.
Free Press: What is the role the naturalist services branch plays in protecting and managing wild/green spaces within Winnipeg?
Rodney Penner: The naturalist services branch is part of the parks and open space division of the public works department. The branch has numerous roles related to natural spaces within the city. The Living Prairie Museum is part of the naturalist branch and is the heart of the environmental education component of our work. The Living Prairie provides programs for schools and groups of all ages with a focus on nature and ecology. The museum is a preservation of 30 acres of native tall grass prairie, which is one of the most endangered ecosystems on earth. Preservation of natural areas is an important component of the work we do and this includes controlling weeds, conducting controlled burns and managing activities and trails in nature parks so they do not have adverse impacts on the natural features.
Habitat restoration projects such as tree planting or prairie restoration to restore damaged habitat and expand the natural landscape are an important aspect of what we do. We also work closely with community organizations such as stewardship groups and volunteers to take care of natural areas and riverbanks around the city. From a planning perspective the naturalist branch provides information and input related to natural areas and is part of the review process for many initiatives. Wildlife management roles related to issues such as urban geese are also part of the naturalist services portfolio. When it comes to green spaces outside natural areas the branch also co-ordinates the city’s community and allotment gardens.
FP: How long have you been working for the department? What do you find most rewarding about this type of work?
RP: I have been with the department for about 16 years. The naturalist services branch has a team of experts in ecology, habitat management, urban wildlife and even beneficial insects. With the range of expertise and experience within the naturalist branch, it is a leader in terms of how urban natural areas are managed.
FP: How extensive are the city’s natural areas? Where are they to be found?
RP: There are approximately 7,500 acres of land within the city that have been identified as having some natural plant communities. They are found all across the city from riverbank areas downtown to patches of forest and prairie on the outskirts of the suburbs. Many parks have patches of forest which provide shelter and a stopover location for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Other parks such as Assiniboine Forest are large tracts of nature which can be a fully functional habitat where a diversity of wildlife can survive.
FP: What sort of indigenous flora and fauna can one expect to see in these areas?
RP: The city of Winnipeg lies within the Tall Grass Prairie Ecozone and on the edge of aspen parkland. Historically, open grassland with patches of river bottom forest would have dominated this landscape. Today, we have remnants of these habitats which form our natural heritage features.
We generally classify habitat within the city into five types: prairie, wetland, aspen forest, oak forest and river bottom forest. The highest quality remnants are distinguished by their diversity of indigenous flora. In our prairie areas this is where we find the native grasses like green needle grass or big bluestem and really unique plants such as breadroot or ground plum. Sites that have seen disturbance such as being tilled in the past or mowed down for years have generally lost this diversity and have more common plants but not the unique indigenous species.
In terms of fauna, there are a number of species which have become quite comfortable with the urban lifestyle. White-tailed deer, foxes and even the occasional coyote are some of the larger wildlife that are quite at home in our urban natural areas. The greatest biodiversity and species most unique to our natural heritage live in the insect world as numerous pollinators call the city’s natural areas home.
FP: What plans does the city have for the expansion of ecologically significant natural areas?
RP: Restoration of natural habitat has been a strong component of our work for years. There are ongoing programs often in partnership with community stewardship groups to plant trees and wildflowers at various locations around the city. Some of the most notable recent work has been along the Pioneer’s Greenway, which runs along Gateway Road. Working with the community, volunteers and school groups, new natural areas have been created along with wildflower planting and improvement to the biodiversity of existing habitat along the corridor.
The city has also been working to ensure our biodiversity remains truly indigenous and unique to Winnipeg by propagating plants and seeds from our natural heritage areas for use in restoration of new areas. Along with these initiatives, the recent developments in areas such as Sage Creek and Waverley West have had strong natural components to their landscapes which are improving the overall ecological value of habitat within the city.
FP: Should people be feeding wildlife, including birds, within the city?
RP: Backyard bird feeders for songbirds are OK, but please don’t feed geese or other wildlife. Wildlife can become habituated to being fed and this usually leads to conflicts between wildlife and people. Often, the food that wildlife are being fed is also not appropriate for them. The wrong kinds of food can result in increased mortality for a number of wildlife species.
FP: Is there anything else you’d like to say to your fellow Winnipeggers about our natural areas?
RP: Go out and spend some time in nature. It will improve your whole day!