The Wildlife of Omand's Creek
|By Doug Collicutt||(Click links for more images.)|
For many biologists in Manitoba, winter tends to be "down-time". Not that there aren't important aspects of nature in Manitoba to be investigated at this time of year. It's just that most of us tend to go like crazy all throughout the growing season, working on this or that project, then shut down our field studies for the winter, and begin the arduous and far less glamorous task of writing reports. While the studying, analyzing and inventory of wildlife and natural ecosystems is what attracts all biologists to the profession, we have to earn our keep by producing something tangible in the end. The synthesis of our observations and studies - the reports documenting our findings - is ultimately "what biologists do". We leave behind information; information that, hopefully, will be put to good use. We all hope that what we finally produce will be used to help others make the right decisions about how to treat the planet and its precious living resources.
So, I thought it might be interesting to post one of my study reports for you to have a look at. It's a wildlife inventory of a small stretch of Winnipeg's Omand's Creek. It happens to be a site that's close to my heart, as I grew up on Strathcona Street, right next to the creek. When I was a kid, my mother always knew where to look for me, down at the creek. I'm convinced that the experiences I had there and the exposure to the plants and critters of the creek is the reason I became a biologist in the first place.
Background to the Wildlife of Omand's Creek
Omand's Creek is one of several small waterways that run through the City of Winnipeg. It originates to the northwest of the city, near the town of Rosser, and flows southwestwardly to meet up with the Assiniboine River near the centre of the city. The present day creek is really a hybrid, formed when the former Colony Creek, which flowed into the heart of the downtown area of Winnipeg, was diverted into the channel of the much smaller Omand's Creek. In 1985, when controversy stirred over proposed commercial developments along Omand's Creek that would have seen a huge stretch of the creek paved over, local residents, with the help of the Manitoba Naturalists Society, intervened. They were successful in persuading the provincial government to broker a "land-swap" deal with the developer to protect that section of the creek, which today stands as Bluestem Nature Park. I wasn't involved in the initial debate to protect the creek, but got involved later, when the government initiated its proposed park development plans.
An abused creek in 1985.
Throughout the previous debate, I'd kept track of things, and had become aware that one thing was missing in all the back and forth about the "value" of the creek for nature and wildlife. Nobody really knew what the wildlife resources of the creek really were. The locals "knew" in the sense of appreciating the creek as place of beauty, somewhere to watch ducks and muskrats swimming by, but this was always expressed in a qualitative sense. The scientist in me realized that what was needed was a formal documentation of the wildlife of the creek, hard facts and figures that could be waved in the face of developers and bureaucrats to add weight to the emotional pleas of residents. Even though the initial development controversy was over, we all knew that others would arise. And it was with this in mind that I set forth to inventory the wildlife of Omand's Creek. Nobody paid for this study, I was still at university, studying zoology, and I did it in my spare time. This was to be a labour of love. I thought I could pay the creek back for all it had given me.
In the spring of 1986 I began my study. By the time I was completing it in the fall of that year, I found myself seconded to a resident's committee that was struck to determine the fate of the site that was to become Bluestem Park. The documentation I had amassed ended up playing a role in helping to sway the province into developing the area into a "nature park". Believe it or not, the residents had to dissuade the government from installing a full scale Victorian park landscape on the site! The residents' voice was unanimous: "leave the site alone and let us enjoy it as we always have". In the end, much of what was done to create the park was still contrary to the wishes of the residents. The government had money to spend, and they were going to spend it, whether we wanted them to or not. (My, how times have changed!) I still wince at what the development of Bluestem Nature Park cost the public purse - around $460,000.00. And I have to admit to being the recipient of some of that money, for my wildlife inventory led me to be hired by the landscape architects in charge of the park development, to help ensure the biological integrity of the project. It was my first contract as a professional biologist, and it set me on my current path as an independent biologist and environmental consultant. I'd set out to do something for Omand's Creek and, in the end, the Creek was helping me.
Development to preserve the creek.
Well now that I've laid out all that background about the 1986 inventory I conducted, I have to apologize and tell you that that's not the study you'll see here. It is, in fact, the follow up study to my 1986 work which appears here. In 1992, I repeated the inventory (and had hoped to redo it again since that time, but times change for us all) and the data and text from this study were compiled digitally. I bought my first PC (a 086, twin-floppy-drive clone) in the winter of 1987, so my first study never got digitized, and I've just never had the time to input all the data since. (Maybe posting this study will get me off my butt to finally do the comparison of the two studies, and maybe even redo the inventory again?)
Actually, that brings up a good point. Wildlife inventories shouldn't be treated as static documents. They are "snapshots" of the flora and fauna of a particular site or region at a particular point in time. To have true value, such inventories must be done on a regular and ongoing basis. You wouldn't run a business by taking stock once, then basing all your management decisions on that one inventory forever, would you? Of course not. You'd make regular stock inventories an important part of managing your business. Hopefully, this is an idea that will catch on more widely in the management of Manitoba's natural heritage. It's only recently that our various governments have taken the notion of wildlife inventories seriously, beyond their traditional use in assessment of targeted (pun intended) species. Nowadays, as we rush toward the 21st century, biological inventory has become a respectable part of wildlife biology. It seems we're all trying to find out what biodiversity we've got, before it's gone.
What it's all about! (People enjoying the creek!)
Yeah, yeah, I'm getting to the wildlife of the creek. Just one more bit of preaching, or rather encouragement. Wildlife inventory, like the ones I've done at Omand's Creek are not hard to do. As you'll see when you read the rest of this article, inventory techniques need not be complicated to produce valid data. In fact, the opposite is usually true. If people can't figure out how you got your information, and it looks like mathematical/statistical mumbo-jumbo, then they're not likely to appreciate your findings. Simple, unbiased, replicable information gathering makes for sound data. And what I'd really like, is for your to give it a try! Go ahead! Pick a favourite spot, somewhere close at hand, where you walk by every day, and record all the wildlife you see over the course of a summer, or for a whole year. That's a valid wildlife inventory! So if someone ever threatens your favourite little wildlife enclave, you'll be ready. Hard data and hard facts will not only help to win support, but they tend to harden your own appreciation for your little bit of the planet.
Carry on for More about the Wildlife of Omand's Creek
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