Sustainability and the Re-Use of Wetlands

 

Banner Photo: Mer Bleue as seen from the Boardwalk. Ottawa, Ontario. Photo Taken by Nick Walker

Case Study Prepared by Nick Walker- Carleton University

Key words: Mer Bleue, Bog, Sustainability, Peat, Climate Change, Natural Heritage, Cultural Heritage, Ramsar Convention. National Capital Commission.

Description:

The Mer Bleue Bog is located within the Greenbelt in Ottawa, Ontario.  The green belt is a rough circle around Ottawa that consists of land that has been protected from being built on.  The Mer Bleue Bog is roughly 3,447 hectares of pristine peat and marsh lands and it is home to some extremely rare or endangered plants and animals, effectively increasing the already intensely rich Natural Heritage of the region.  The bog boasts an age of over 8,000 years as it was originally formed by the Ottawa River when it used to flow through the area, yet since then, the land has gone through some immense changes and facelifts, both naturally and by human interaction which are both interesting to take note of.  Many of the farms that used to call the area home have moved on as the National Capital Commission has claimed the land as protected within the Greenbelt.  Mer Bleue has been a hub for studying since the 1990’s due to its intricately balanced relationship with climate change, as well as for the unique forms of Flora and Fauna that exist there. (“Mer Bleue”, n.d)

National Capital Commission logo. Photo from CTV Ottawa, December 2017.

Lessons Learned:

The initial hypothesis going into this case study was that the Mer Bleue Bog would have an effect on the surrounding atmosphere and air quality as well as possibly affecting the acidity in the ground of the surrounding area.  I came to this hypothesis because I simply figured that decaying ground material must release some sort of toxic material or gas from the decay process.

Before any research began a second hypothesis was also formed, believing that there would be some form of plan in place for the sustainability of the bog, a plan that would take into account the importance of the natural landscape as well the cultural heritage that the land has.  Luckily for myself, I happen to live close by to the bog and I was aware ahead of time that such plans do in fact exist.  Additionally the future of the bog has been talked about in Government Policies as well as City planning documents. One such example is that the grounds had been converted into an educational piece, which was one of the plans for the bog originally (Bardecki, 1982)  This ultimately lead to a curiosity over finding out about any other further future plans they may have for the area.

The overall lesson learned that can be taken out of the research is quite the opposite of what was initially the hypothesis regarding the bog.  The hypothesis being that it is actually climate change itself that is having adverse effects on the bog and their carbon balances, in turn affecting the plants and wildlife that call the Bog home.  However, on a positive note regarding the second hypothesis, there definitely seems to be a realization, since the land has become open to study, that what we have at Mer Bleue holds an immense amount of Natural Heritage that needs to be sustainable for future generations.  Meaning that for everyone that uses the bog, if use of the land continues in a respectful way, the Bog should hopefully still be around in the future for generations to enjoy.  Both the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the NCC have plans for the bog in the future that involve the use of the land with care taken to reduce the human footprint on the land (“Introduction to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands”, 2016; “Mer Bleue”, n.d.).

What has been learned from researching this case study is that the bogs relationship with the environment is one that is extremely fragile yet has also proven to be surprisingly resilient.  It is generally studied by universities to assess the sustainability of the bog as the risk of climate change keeps increasing.  Scientists are not sure that the bog will be able to be sustainable, environmentally speaking, for future generations to enjoy; however, as mentioned they are also pleasantly surprised with how resilient it has proven to be so far.

Another important lesson that was learned was that the reuse of the land into an educational piece in an attempt to draw more people to the wonders of the area really seems to have worked.  They put in a really nice covered picnic area as well as a new boardwalk and there are upwards of 20 informative signs on the boardwalk that have increased the amount of visitors, specifically children that are able to get something out of the experience (Bardecki, 1982).

As mentioned many of the projects have fairly clear objectives and that is to determine the role of Climate change on the poorly balanced environment of the bog.  The Mer Bleue bog is not dissimilar to other bogs in that the controlling of its environment is extremely difficult, meaning it requires lots of attention when it comes to studying it.  The landscape and the environment of the bog is unlike many other landscapes, the level of acidity and carbon in the soil makes it hospitable for only certain, particularly hardy plants and animals.  The balance in the bog is also extremely unstable and is extremely subject to be thrown off of equilibrium by the rising amount of Carbon in the air (Demitrov, et. Al., 2010).

Old land plots in the Mer Bleue area. Photo from “Hidden Histories”. August 17, 2017.

Time Line:

8,000 years ago- The Ottawa River flowed through the region that is now the Mer Bleue Bog.  The river eventually seceded and left a shallow lake in its place.  This lake was eventually overgrown by the peat that has since claimed the bog and plays a large role in the ecosystem in its current state. (“Mer Bleue”, n.d.)

1783-The land that was eventually named “Gloucester County”, the land on which the Bog was located, was bought from the Local Metis people in the area. (Clark, n.d)

1820- The land originally began to be settled by farmers who migrated down the Rideau River and eventually settled in the Gloucester region.  It took the farmer’s years to finally establish a foothold on the area and some continued to farm right into the 2000s, with only a couple of them still remaining till today. (“Hidden Histories”, 2017)

1942- The area was used as a bombing target practice area during World War 2.  This marks an interesting state of mind at the time, it is clear that they did not understand the importance of the land at the time, and oddly enough, only 16 year later it was designated as part of the NCC’s Greenbelt (“Hidden Histories”, 2017).

1945- Aerial Images show that there were many well established farms in the area at this time; however the bog itself had been largely untouched as no one had established an effective way to drain it and commence farming (Geo Ottawa, 2017; “Hidden Histories”, 2017).

Late 1990’s- Many universities began to get permission to study the unique environments for not only its relationship with the surrounding environment but also its active relationship with climate change and how this relationship is ever shifting (“Peatland Carbon Study”, 2004; “Bogs and Beers”, n.d.).

1995- The Bog was designated under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.  Their goals include using the land in a way that does not take away from it, yet also may add to its importance (The Wise use of Wetlands, n.d.)

Stakeholders:

There are many stakeholders for the Bog:

The first being the NCC and all of their employees, they are the owners and operators of the land and are largely responsible for the maintenance and future use or planning of the land.  Any and all requests to study the land must get permission by the NCC before they commence any active research.  It should be mentioned that the NCC seems to mention the economic importance of the land quite often.  They focus some of their energy on the wise use of the land and its continued use for future generations, however they also mention the fact that the land holds a very unique value and should be taken into consideration for future expansion of the city (“Mer Bleue”, n.d.)

The next stake holder would be anyone who was involved with The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.  They designated the Bog as part of their convention in 1995 due to the role it plays as a significant wetland.  They seek to make wise use of the land so that the land can be enjoyed by future generations.  In contrast to the NCC and their goals, they seldom mention the economic importance as the land.  They seem to focus their energy solely on the Natural and Environmental Heritage of the bog and how, because of its heritage, it is vital to save and continue its use with as little effect on the environment as possible (“The Wise use of Wetlands”, n.d.)

The government of Canada would also be an institutional stakeholder in the bog as they are responsible for over-seeing almost everybody that governs the land.  For example the NCC is a part of the government of Canada and therefore, any and all things the NCC does regarding the bog, such as the replacement of the boardwalk, will go back to the Government for approval before it is set into place (Government of Canada, 2012).

When I had originally started my research I had thought that the bog was designated as a UNSECO biosphere reserve, however as I continued my research, I found out that UNESCO is actually a sponsor for the Ramsar Convention.  They are not directly tied to the bog, however through their relationship with The Ramsar convention they are a stakeholder in the future of the Mer Bleue Bog (Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, 2016).

The surrounding Inhabitants and frequenters of the bog are also important stakeholders.  They are the ones who are the primary users of the land and therefore have inside importance or responsibility over the wellbeing and the future of the land.

The final stakeholder that I would like to mention is the students and the schools that use the land for its educational purposes.  As briefly mentioned previously, the land has been transformed into an educational piece through the placement of approximately 20 or so interactive signs that have varying kinds of information regarding the land, the studies that have been done on it, and just what makes it so important, Naturally, culturally and socially as well (Bardecki, 1982)

 

A bench along one of many trails through the Bog.

Photo by Nick Walker, September 2017

Natural Heritage:

The Natural Heritage in the area of the Mer Bleue Bog is unlike many other places in the world with an ecosystem that is similar to what would be found in many Northern Tundra’s and it has been growing from thousands and thousands of years since the shallow lake was taken over by Peat.

The area is home to some 22 species of Fauna, many of which are endangered such as the spotted turtle, spotfin shiner and a few rare beetles that also call the bog home.  Not only is there significant fauna found in the area but the flora in the area is also extremely important and lends to the lands immense Natural Heritage.  The land is surrounded by old growth forests that consist of over 30 types of flora.  Many of these plants are rare or regionally significant such as Porsilds Cottongrass, Southern Tway Blade and Torreys Manna Grass (“Mer Bleue”, n.d).

The forests that surround the bog consist of the following types of trees, Beech, Maple, Cedar, Hemlock, Black Spruce and Larch, all of which are regionally significant trees.  Not to mention, the sheer age and history of the land lend to its Natural Heritage as not many places are able to claim such a unique history and significance (“Mer Bleue”, n.d).

  Aerial Photo of Farms. Photo by Hidden Histories, August 17, 2017

Cultural Heritage:

The Cultural Heritage of the area is not quite as predominant as the Natural Heritage of the land, however with that being said it is still present and does still play a role in the bogs future and our understanding of it.  The land used to have many farms that were perched on the surrounding ridges that overlook the bog.  Today, only a few of these barns still stand, yet the foundations of the ones that no longer exist can still be found as well as the chimneys of residences that once stood.  Many of these barns date back to the early 1800s when the land was just initially beginning to be tilled for use in farming (“Hidden Histories”, 2017).

One more cultural heritage piece that I think should be touched on is that there are also a few old scientific instruments that lie in the fields.  They can be seen from both the roads leading to the bog as well as a few places on the paths in the bog.  I would argue that these instruments add to the cultural significance as they mark a realization of the fragility and importance of the land and also mark how far we have come in understanding the sustainability of the land.

The foliage that is able to grow in these areas is essentially the same as the foliage that would be seen in a Tundra like setting, something that would be extremely inhospitable to most other plants, further adding to its unique landscape.

I found this interesting as it doesn’t really fall under what we would consider a “Heritage site” at first glance.  There is very little built heritage, apart from the abundance of informative signs and a small roofed area I assume to be a rain shelter. (“Mer Bleue”, n.d.)

Presentation:  Here is a link to my class presentation of my Case Study on Mer Bleue Bog.  It was presented on November 28th 2017. Link: CDNS 4403

 

One of many information signs at the Mer Bleue Bog. Photo by Nick Walker. September, 2017

Measures:

Policy #1: There was a plan in place that wished to use the bog lands as an Educational ground to increase the number of kids and schools that will use the area. The plan was implemented a few years back and it seems to have succeeded in drawing more schools and kids to use the area (Bardecki, 1982).

Measure A- The addition of informative signs seems to have had an effect as the schools now have a resource that is on the land itself, the kids will learn as they walk around the boardwalk. (Bardecki, 1982)

Measure B- The addition of a covered picnic area for use by small or large groups definitely seems to have added to the flow of people as there is now a spot to picnic, rest, or just enjoy the weather.  This small addition is believed to have made an impact on the number of people willing to visit the site. (Bardecki, 1982)

Policy #2: The wise Re-Use of the land to not only increase the number of visitors but will allow for future sustainability of the Bog.  There are studies ongoing on to how to allow the bog to continue its use without being a detriment to the land itself. (Bardecki, 1982)

Measure A- It was turned into an educational ground which I believe was an extremely effective use of the land.  It requires little to no building and it allows people to genuinely learn about the history and the land that they are standing on and it allows them to connect to the history of the area.

Measure B- There has been a conscious effort to limit the size of the manmade footprint while building the boardwalk and picnic area so as to keep it as natural looking as possible.  Another thing that has been done is they’ve planted a small pine forest just behind the picnic area, the only issue is that it has clearly been planted by hand, all the trees line up in perfect columns and this seemingly takes away from the naturalistic aura of the area (Government of Canada, 2012).

Rows of planted trees at Mer Bleue.  Photo by Nick Walker. September, 2017.

Measure C- Allowing for studying of the land for its relationship with Climate Change so that the use of the land can be altered to assure there is little to no damage being done to the natural landscape.  It has been effective as I personally noticed numerous signs warning people not to step off the boardwalk as they could damage the extremely sensitive flora, as well as not to pick any of the berries that grow wild, both of these things would not have been known had the land not been studied, and it could be argued that more damage would have been done to the area if people had been allowed to roam as they wished and pick whatever plants they thought looked nice.

The Blue Lab-Mer Bleue Research Project at Trent University. Photo from Trent University, 2004.

Sustainability:

The Environmental sustainability of the area could possibly be drawn into question in the near to near-distant future as scientists are starting to realize how fragile the bog really is as an ecosystem.  It requires a delicate and balanced relationship with the surrounding environment, and due to climate change, the bog has been changing more rapidly than ever over the course of the last 10 years. It is extremely important to figure out some sort of way to protect the bog from the effects of climate change as the Bog holds significance to the many stakeholders involved. (Siems and Blodau, 2012)

The social and Cultural sustainability is the one that I believe is arguably the most sustainable of the four sub categories of sustainability.  The bog, as mentioned has transformed the area, into something that can be used by anyone of any age and is also wheelchair accessible is need be. Many families use the park as a place to bring their kids to not only expend their excess energy, but also to enjoy the outdoors and to learn about the unique landscape that we happen to be fortunate enough to live within its vicinity.  The Bog has something upwards of 20 or so informative plaques scattered around the trails that offer tidbits of information regarding the unique landscape, how it came to be and what wildlife and plants it is capable of supporting.  I believe that because of all that has been done to make sure the land is usable by people, supports its future social sustainability as it will continue to be used, by free, by people who are looking to experience something outside the city and connected with Nature.  Additionally all of the scientists that are able to do their work within the bog, tie into the cultural sustainability of the land.  These scientists are responsible for studying the effects of climate change and have a direct link to the future and sustainability of the bog (Climatology at Trent University, 2004)

Lastly the economic sustainability of the region could also be in question for a few different reasons.  The first being that while I was looking into the NCC’s goal for the land they constantly mentioned that the bogs unique economic status was one that just couldn’t be ignored, and if the time came they could consider it for future city expansion.  The land that the bog sits on is quite old, holds a lot of heritage and also, inarguably, holds a lot of economic value.  It is unfortunate that the owner of the land does not put the natural and cultural heritage and sustainability, over the economic side.  The uniqueness of the land should exempt it from any sort of major physical changes unless it has been discovered that the bog is not sustainable due to environmental reasons and therefore must be turned into something else (Roulet et. Al., 2016).

 Resources:

Books/Journals

  • An Introduction to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. (2016) 7th ed. (Previously the Ramsar Convention Manual). Ramsar Convention Secretariat, Gland, Switzerland.
  • Hidden Histories. (Aug 17, 2017) The Mer Bleue: Rise of the Ridge Community.
  • Wu, J. Roulet, N. (October 1st2014) Climate change reduces the capacity of Northern Peatlands to absorb the atmospheric Carbon Dioxide: The different responses of bogs and fens. AGU Journal

Websites

  • National Capital Commission, Mer Bleue. (N.D.). Retrieved November 21, 2017, from http://ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places-to-visit/greenbelt/mer-bleue
  • Clark, G. (n.d.). The Gloucester Historical Society. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from http://www.gloucesterhistory.com/history.html
  • Bogs and Beers. (n.d.). Retrieved December 08, 2017, from https://carleton.ca/geography/bogs-and-beers/
  • Government of Canada, Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. (2012, December 05). Archived – Replacement of a floating boardwalk segment within the Mer Bleue Bog, Ottawa, Ontario. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from http://www.acee-ceaa.gc.ca/052/details-eng.cfm?pid=59668

Policies/Reports

  • Carbon Study, PCARS. (2004) Measurement and Modelling of the Contemporary Carbon Sequestration in Peatlands.  Climatology at Trent University.
  • Waddington J, M., Quinton W, L., Price J, S., Lafleur P, M. (Januray 23rd 2013) Advances in Canadian Peatland Hydrology. PP 139-148
  • Roulet, N. Humphreys, E. Wu, J. Frolking, S. Talbot, J. Lafleur, P. Moore, T. (April 2016) Can Continental Bogs withstand the pressures from Climate change?
  • Basiliko, N. Knowles, R. Moore, T, R. (June 6th2003) Roles of Moss Species and Habitat in Methane consumption Potential in a Northern Peatland. The society of Wetland Scientists. Department of Geography and Centre for Climate & Global Change Research.
  • Demitrov, D, D. Grant, R, F. Lafleur, P, M. Humphreys, E, R. (December 31st2010) Modelling the Effects of Hydrology on Ecosystem Respiration at the Met Bleu Bog. Journal of Geophysical Research.
  • Siems, M. Blodau, C. (February 2012) Drainage-induced forest growth alters belowground carbon biogeochemistry in the Mer Bleue Bog, Canada.
  • Bardecki, M.J. (1982) ” Educational use of wetlands in southern Ontario.” Wetlands Research in Ontario. Ryerson Polytechnical.