One of Ottawa’s greatest natural treasures is its abundance of wildlife. You don’t have to go far in urban or suburban Ottawa to see hundreds of species of local, migratory and even Species at Risk birds, in addition to deer, raccoons, beaver, foxes, porcupines, turtles, frogs … the list goes on.
Several studies have found that human health is intrinsically linked with biodiversity and ecosystem health. So we have a vested interest in maintaining wildlife populations of all species, and protecting enough habitats to sustain them.
That’s why it is essential that both urban wildlife and urban biodiversity have a voice at City Hall.
On Wednesday, City Council will consider the terms of reference for various committees. Under the current structure, the Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee (ARAC) oversees wildlife issues, but this committee is only responsible for Ottawa’s rural areas. Other committees such as Planning and Transportation deal with wildlife issues on an ad hoc basis.
Our three wildlife organizations – the Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Centre, the Ottawa Carleton Wildlife Centre and Safe Wings Ottawa – are advocating that the Environment Committee act as the city’s main voice for urban wildlife and biodiversity. It stands to reason that a committee that is already responsible for green space, natural areas and the urban forest would also be responsible for the birds and other wildlife that rely on these areas for their survival.
The Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Centre predicts more than 3,300 birds will come through its doors this year. The vast majority of these sick, injured and orphaned wild birds come from within Ottawa’s urban and suburban boundaries.
About half are victims of impacts, particularly with windows. Many of these birds are brought to the Wild Bird Care Centre by volunteers with Safe Wings Ottawa, a volunteer initiative of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club that collects data on collisions, rescues injured birds, educates the public and advises building owners on how they can save birds’ lives through window treatments, architecture and landscaping.
The city’s wild mammal population faces similar challenges. The Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre reaches more than 1,000 students annually through its school program, helping to shape their understanding and appreciation for local wildlife. Its Community Outreach programs serve thousands more, giving people the practical tools to resolve wildlife conflicts humanely.
Each of our organizations provides a valuable community service that reduces human-wildlife conflicts and empowers people to live successfully alongside wildlife in an increasingly urbanized world. Taking a proactive and progressive approach to urban wildlife also reduces the need for lethal reactive responses that are less effective, more costly and upsetting to residents.
Cities such as Oakville and Edmonton include birds and other wildlife under their environment committees. Other municipalities, including Sarnia and Burnaby, have gone even further, striking committees to deal exclusively with urban wildlife management.
Promoting our natural treasures is an opportunity. Next year, Ottawa will be at the centre of Canada’s 150 birthday celebrations. Let’s ensure that we do everything in our power as environmental stewards to ensure Ottawa continues to enjoy its wildlife and biodiversity for the next 150 years and beyond.
Debbie Lawes is a board member, Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Centre; Anouk Hoedeman is the Coordinator of Safe Wings Ottawa; Donna DuBreuil is the President of the Ottawa Carleton Wildlife Centre.