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The 300,000 wild orchids that shouldn't be here, but are anyway

29 May 2017 23:54:43 Ottawa Citizen - News

Once in a while, nature finds a way to tease us about how little we understand our world. And a delicate red and white flower is doing that right now, near Arnprior. The ram's-head ladyslipper is a wild orchid. It grows almost nowhere: a few isolated pockets in Ontario around Manitoulin Island and the Bruce Peninsula, and in some northeastern U.S. states. Even fewer on the Prairies. Nova Scotia. A few in China. The ram's-head is ultra-choosy about its habitat. It will only grow in alvars, a rare landscape found mostly near the Great Lakes and in northern Europe where very thin soil covers limestone bedrock. Many isolated pockets have a few dozen plants; 150 would be a large population. The exception? Outside the village of Braeside, west of Arnprior, where there are at least 150,000 by one professional estimate, and maybe half a million. It is the only such group of these flowers known anywhere. As if that weren't enough, the same patch of thin, alkaline soil and cedar forest is also home to an estimated 160,000 of another rare species, with the apologetic name of neglected milk-vetch. Something beside this quarry is ecologically special, but no one knows what. It's an alvar forest, but some mysterious factor sets this alvar apart from all the others, and makes one patch of land the best in the world for the obscure task of growing ram's-head ladyslipper orchids. But how? “You’re looking at more ram’s-heads right now than most botanists would see in a lifetime,” field ecologist Dan Brunton says, pointing at the ground in one clearing a dozen metres wide. Orchids draw plant lovers, and rare orchids are a special prize, just as a rare bird will bring enthusiasts from miles around. For at least 15 years, people have been sneaking onto the Braeside Quarry property to see a single patch of ram’s-head ladyslipper known to exist near the front of the property. (It's strictly off-limits: The quarry does blasting, and there are steep cliffs.) But the real story was a few hundred metres back in the bush all the time, unrecognized. The Miller Group, which owns the property, applied several years ago to expand the area from which it takes aggregate. It needed an environmental assessment and hired Brunton, who found there were more of the orchids than anyone had realized. Early on he estimated there were 8,000, already a ridiculously huge number for this little plant. As the approval process moved along, they got to the stage where they had to do regular monitoring of environmental conditions, including the state of the orchids. That demanded a more careful count. Brunton started doing “transects” — measuring long, straight sections of the site, counting orchids one section at a time, and extrapolating from there. He was stunned by the total: 150,000 of the little plants, more than anywhere in the world. One transect indicated the number could even reach 190,000. It went against everything biologists know. A classic reference book called Native Orchids of the United States and Canada, Excluding Florida says: “the nearly legendary ram’s-head ladyslipper remains a rare orchid, seen but by a few students of nature.” That wasn’t all. The neglected milk-vetch likes the same alvar conditions, and it was also present in vast numbers — more than 160,000. It’s not quite as rare as the ram’s-head, but like the little orchid it normally grows in small numbers. Again it was an unprecedented find. "When milk-vetch plants are mature (late summer) the tiny, hard seeds rattle around inside the papery seed pods when they are disturbed by the wind or a passing botanist," Brunton says. "The plants are so numerous, in fact, that it sounds like you’re disturbing a nest of rattlesnakes when you brush against the plants while crossing some glades." Wild orchids close to Braeside Quarry near Arnprior Ontario Friday May 26, 2017. In each case, he now estimates that the full total in the Braeside area could reach 500,000. On the quarry itself, they are mainly contained within a defined area where the landscape suits them. But along a ridge of high land running west of the village of Braeside, bits of alvar keep “popping up” on the surface. “So, what’s my explanation? I haven’t got one,” he said. He has some guesses, however. For example, it could be that the Braeside site has been disturbed less than other alvars. “A lot of them were grazed by cows,” he notes. “Some guy would arrive from Europe to farm and he’d say, ‘Look, there’s a clearing. Let’s put the cow in there.’” It’s also possible that the conditions at Braeside are a little wetter than on other alvars, such as the well-known Burnt Lands Provincial Park, near Almonte. Braeside is full of tiny pockets that look like wetlands only a metre or two wide, places where the limestone surface has a slight dip lie a shallow bowl, and is able to retain water. Brunton adds in a written summary of his work: "Why here? Obviously the harsh, seasonally dry then seasonally soaked, limestone based habitat is perfect for these plants. They also are in a secure and naturally self-sustaining landscape. Still, why these two are that abundant at Braeside and not in seemingly comparable alvar forests like those in the Burnt Lands remains a mystery. Solving that would make a nice graduate thesis for some up and coming biologist one day!" In late May, Brunton led the Citizen into the forest in time to catch these little orchids in bloom. “I’m stepping from a landscape that is 11 years old into one that is 9,000 years old,” he says, leaving the dirt lane and entering the still, shady, cedar-spruce-fir forest with sunny open glades. It has never been cleared. In these open spaces, a newcomer has to have the orchids pointed out. The flowers are a dull red and not very large — pretty, but not flashy. And the majority of plants don’t have flowers, at least not this year. It’s possible they’re waiting until next year, or they may wait for several years. These plants are very poorly known because they are so rare. But as you walk and peer carefully down, you get to recognize their shape easily until you see two, then five, then 20 or more in a small patch of ground. There’s a sprinkling of the (far better known) yellow ladyslipper as well. Of the more than 25,000 species of orchid around the world, the ladyslippers are a small group that share one feature: The lower part of the flower is a long, rounded shape and someone once thought this looked like a slipper. "This is a sodden desert. Half the time it’s soaking wet, like now, and half the time it’s completely dry," Brunton says. “There are only a few inches of soil. Under that it’s limestone bedrock. And it’s flat, so the water doesn’t drain.” That creates conditions like a wet sponge in spring. But when this water evaporates away in summer, the ground underneath the surface has no reserves of water and the whole place just dries out. It is prone to fire every few decades, which clears out the trees and lets small plants pop up in glades. After this wet spring, the land looks green, though this is illusory. There is no fertile garden here — just the opposite. The soil is poor in nutrients. Much of the greenery under foot is scrubby evergreen species (such as bearberry) only a fe

Vice null Time29 May 2017 23:54:43


Flooding hits the 'reset button' for river life, scientists say

19 May 2017 20:06:53 Ottawa Citizen - News

The flooding that is so hard on people is at the same time "an ecological bonanza" for life in the river and surrounding land, experts say. "High water levels are beneficial to wetlands. For example, they will flood out invading terrestrial (land) plants that would otherwise have invaded the wetland. And they set the upper limit of wetlands," said Paul Keddy, an internationally known Canadian ecologist. "Then a couple of years later you have an extreme low, and all sorts of buried seeds that have been in the mud germinate, and start expanding the area of wetland. "So the biggest wetlands are along the rivers where you still have high highs and low lows. As soon as you start putting dams in, and minimizing the highs and lows … the area of wetland shrinks, as does the quality, simultaneously." Keddy taught at the University of Ottawa and later Southeastern Louisiana University. He has just been awarded a lifetime achievement award from the Society of Wetland Scientists, and now does consulting work for the International Joint Commission. "The key word is 'pulses,'" he said: Wetlands need periodic flooding that does not last long, and short periods of drought. "From a human point of view, this is a reminder that floodplain mapping has a purpose," he said. "Areas that look dry — I can go into them and find wetland plants," a sign that sometimes they flood. "But the average observer will say: 'Oh, it looks dry to me'." Floods are similar to forest fire in bringing periodic renewal, he said. Some plants (fireweed) produce seeds that lie buried until fire clears away the trees. Others, like the jack pine, have cones that stay sealed until fire melts their resin coating and pops them open like popcorn. With flooding, "the highest highs and lowest lows are what are driving that system. The intermediate years — well, they're less important in understanding the expanse and species composition of the wetlands." This holds true for bodies of water ranging from local rivers up to the Great Lakes, Keddy said. Ottawa naturalist Dan Brunton called the flood an "ecological bonanza. This flood is, in its crudest form, a big-time flush of debris and encroachments off the river shores and out of adjacent riparian (shoreline) natural habitats," he wrote in an email. "Not just human debris (like litter, lawns and such) — though there’s massive amounts of that — but the decades-long unsuppressed growth of non-native upland and shore plant life that displaces native vegetation. "There is also a huge nutrient recharging of the river system going on right now, with all the fine debris in the water (evident in the slightly brown colour even in the rapids) being injected into shoreline and riparian natural habitats to a degree far exceeding that of the usual spring floods." "The benefits of that likely will not be apparent this year but the native shoreline and shallow-water aquatic flora and fauna should experience long-term benefits from this. These huge natural change events reset the ecological clock, as it were. Just like a fire will restart the unceasing cycle of growth and development in a forest, so too does a flood in a river system." The Canadian Wildlife Federation also argues that floods are natural and necessary to the health of wetlands. They "do provide an influx of nutrients to an area, so that is generally quite a good thing for wildlife, for plants, for the ecosystem in general," said James Pagé, a species-at-risk expert at CWF. Debris too often collects in an unnatural way along waterways "because we regulate our water levels so closely," he said. The flood "kind of cleans everything out," and brings sediments and nutrients. Some animals may suffer hardship during the flood, he noted: Turtles are laying eggs this month and their nesting areas may be flooded out. But the water will help create more near-shore nesting areas in future. CWF is marking the International Day of Biodiversity Monday. It invited people to post photos of Canadian wildlife and habitat on the website in order for scientists to get a clearer picture of our national wildlife inventory. Canada has 140,000 species but only half have been identified. Visit and for more information.

Vice null Time19 May 2017 20:06:53

Warm summer means risk of forest fires

17 April 2017 16:44:36 Brampton-News (from

Warm summer means increased risk of forest fires, meteorologists say

Vice null Time17 April 2017 16:44:36

Capital Facts: A forest near Ottawa houses one of the world's rarest birds

15 April 2017 01:31:31 Ottawa Citizen - News

In celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, the Citizen is rolling out one fact each day for 150 days until July 1, highlighting the odd, the fascinating and the important bits of Ottawa history you might not know about. A tiny patch of pine forest near CFB Petawawa west of Ottawa is home to one of the world's rarest birds. The tiny Kirtland's Warbler is thought to nest in only one other area — a small number of counties in central Michigan. The bird prefers to nest on the ground in sandy, well-drained pine forests, a habitat often created by forest fires. The species is considered endangered with fewer than 4,000 birds left. — Blair Crawford

Vice null Time15 April 2017 01:31:31

Scanlan: Kids are now heavier, rounder and weaker — the fix ought to be simple

24 March 2017 00:17:00 Ottawa Citizen - News

A 12-year-old millennial is taller, heavier, rounder and weaker that a typical child a quarter-century earlier. So says a professor of pediatrics and a leading expert on childhood obesity. Part four of a four-part series by Wayne Scanlan on youth fitness and sports specialization. Here's a doctor who gives the diagnosis straight up. The patient, in this case, is the country of Canada. Asked to rate Canadian youth on their health and fitness levels, Dr. Mark Tremblay, a professor of pediatric medicine at the University of Ottawa, speaks bluntly, almost sadly. “Statistically, we're not doing so well,” says Tremblay, director of the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (HALO) based at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute. “Not just statistically, but meaningfully.” Several years ago, Tremblay published a scientific paper comparing a 12-year-old boy and girl from 1981 to a typical 12-year-old in 2007 (based on Statistics Canada data collected from 2007-09). The changes were telling, if hardly surprising. “It's profound, just to summarize, that a 12-year-old is taller, heavier, rounder, weaker, less flexible and less aerobically fit than a generation ago,” Tremblay says. One can surmise the fitness gap would be even larger today, based on the 'F' grade doled out by Participaction — a non-profit that promotes active living — under the Sedentary Behaviour category in a 2016 report card on youth fitness. According to Tremblay's report, the waist circumference of a 12-year-old girl increased by six centimetres in the 1981/2007 comparison. The grip strength of a boy declined by 10 per cent. As Tremblay says, these findings make sense when we imagine the cultural shift in childhood activities over the past 30 years. Children were outside every free moment, climbing trees, throwing balls and wrestling after school. They gripped sticks and fired snowballs. “Just thinking about grip strength, children today grip, very gently, their smart phone, not a tree branch, and not the scruff of someone's neck,” says Tremblay. At 55, he grew up playing outside, as did most of his generation. “These are very profound and from a health perspective, very important changes we've seen over time.” According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for mortality, contributing to an estimated 3.2 million deaths world-wide each year. Ian Janssen of Queen's University reported that sedentary behaviour cost the Canadian economy an estimated $6.8 billion in 2009. Continuing down this path with climbing rates of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, the resulting hit to the economy due to health costs and absenteeism will be massive. On the flip side, the Conference Board of Canada notes in a 2014 report that a simple intervention of increased physical activity and reduced sedentary behaviours would reduce health care spending by more than $2 billion by the year 2040. And still we sit idle. The data on adult fitness is even more grim. In 2015, Health Canada reported that 54 per cent of Canadian adults were considered overweight or obese, compared to 23.1 per cent of adolescents 12-17. “Scientifically the fitness of our nation has declined,” Tremblay says. “We've demonstrated quite recently that aerobic fitness in children around the world has declined, in a systematic way across the last several decades. Again, not that surprising. “The decline is slower in mid and lower-income countries where they walk to school, do their chores, and need to lift things.” Get outdoors How to change this picture? Dr. Tremblay draws a sigh, based on years of delivering a message unheeded. A culture change is required, as fundamental as a glance back to Canada's past, a simpler time when we spent hours outside engaged in work and play. Those same electronic devices holding adults and children in a spell deliver overwrought tales from around the globe of danger lurking around the corner. “If you send your eight-year-old out to play on his own some nosy neighbour is going to call child services and a whole orchestration is involved,” Tremblay says. In the 1960s if a child wasn't outside playing, neighbours would have thought that family strange. Fear permeates our culture, and not just because of the latest terrorist attack. Dr. Tremblay notes dryly, “you can't go out in the morning because of mosquitoes and the risk of West Nile (virus). Later in the day, there is rush hour traffic . . . pollution. Sun causes skin cancer. “So, you can't go out at any point in time.” MORE: Senators strength coach alarmed over declining youth athletic skills The solution seems simple. Shake the fear and open the door. Instantly, activity levels rise, sedentary behaviours wane. Bone density improves. Stress evaporates. Texting and walking becomes difficult, but the smart phone will dutifully record an active step count. Later in the day, sleep should be better. “Incidental eating is reduced,” Tremblay says, of the bi-products of going outdoors. “Steps increase. Connection with the environment is improved. The chances of authentic interaction with people, animals, plants is infinitely greater. And on it goes.” Tremblay calls the widespread opportunity of an activity outdoors, as rudimentary as a walk, the “low hanging fruit” against a building health care crisis. “I'm looking out my back window right now,” says Tremblay, watching his dogs wrestle playfully. “It's there. It's free. I can go there right now and do something and so can everyone.” The majority of Canadians live within a kilometre of a public park. There is a movement, gaining strength, of advocating not just outdoor play but slightly more risky play, such as running UP a slide or climbing trees. Activities of yore. Dr. Mariana Brussoni led a study in British Columbia that showed risky outdoor play promoted health, but also creativity, social skills and resilience in youth. ALSO: In high schools, teens increasingly channeled into just one sports stream We have the doctor's diagnosis. Now, the summation of a remedy: “You've got to eat well, move well, sleep well and avoid toxins. It's as simple as that,” Tremblay says. “We can make it as complicated and as sexy as we want. Sell supplements and fancy gadgets or whatever, but the basics always rise to the top.” Frontier reputation Two weeks ago, Tremblay delivered the keynote closing address at the 2017 Canadian Parks conference in honour of Canada's sesquicentennial celebrations. He was struck by the irony presented to him, marking an active, glorious past during this period of inertia. “As we reflect back on 150 years, we have a heritage as frontiers people — nature and the outdoors are almost synonymous with what it was like to be Canadian, whether it's canoeing across a lake or snowshoeing through a forest,” Tremblay says. “And the great outdoors is still there. We are the second biggest country in the world, probably the most beautiful, and physical activity opportunities are endless.” But wait: There's good news for Canadians who can't find the time to exercise Vacuuming the family room counts. Dr. Veronica Poitras, a researcher with CADTH, a not-for-profit health care resource, led a comprehensive review by the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (HALO) in 2015 that illustrated how even a modicum of exercise delivers health benefits. Focusing on school-aged children and youth (5-17), the review included findings from 16

Vice null Time24 March 2017 00:17:00

Unsolved in the Ottawa Valley, Part 2: The locals call it death row

14 March 2017 13:15:25 Ottawa Citizen - News

In April 2014, two people out for an evening stroll in rural Morewood came across a human skull in a ditch running with spring meltwater. The body was badly decomposed: It had been exposed to the elements, and preyed upon by insects and animals. Ontario Provincial Police cordoned off the area, and launched a forensic investigation. An autopsy determined the individual, a man, had been the victim of foul play. For strategic reasons, however, the police did not release his cause of death. They deemed it “hold back material,” information that would be known only to the killer. Such material can sometimes identify a false confession, or seal a conviction if drawn from an interview subject. DNA testing was required to identify the body and, two months later, the OPP confirmed what others in the community had already theorized: The victim was Raymond Collison, a Winchester Springs man who had disappeared in September 2009. Collison’s family had reported him missing three weeks after he was last seen getting on his bicycle outside the McCloskey Hotel in Chesterville. Raymond Collison Collison, 58, lived with mental illness — schizophrenia — and had disappeared before for weeks at a time. His family knew something was wrong only when his mail began to pile up and his government cheques went unclaimed. The discovery of Collison’s body solved one longstanding local mystery in North Dundas Township. But it also breathed new life into a startling assortment of old, dark ones. • Locals call it death row. The flat, four-kilometre stretch of Thompson Road, just outside of Morewood, is home to a smattering of family farms, some vast cornfields and a gravel pit. Patches of forest mark division lines between properties. It looks like any other rural road in North Dundas Township. Yet this stretch of quiet country road in “Canada’s dairy capital” has seen more tragedy than most inner city streets. The decomposed corpse of Raymond Collison was found at the corner of Thompson Road and Steen Road. A few kilometres away is the bungalow where Randy Rankin was shot and killed on a winter’s night in February 2007 . His defiant widow, Dorothy, continues to live in the house: “No one is going to scare me out of my own home,” she says. Randy Rankin death remains an unsolved mystery. Morewood’s death row has known other tragedies. In September 2002, the charred remains of 58-year-old Fern Patenaude were found inside his burned out Ford pick-up truck in a field on Lafleur Road, just off Thompson Road. Patenaude, a part-time farmer, had suffered four years of anguish: An unexplained series of fires on his property had destroyed an old house, a barn, a machine shop, and a number of vehicles, including a vintage 1936 Chevy. Fern Patenaude tends to a wounded horse. But it was the scene that he encountered on the afternoon of March 4, 2002 that would leave him, he later told reporters, “just about at the end of my rope.” That day, when he went to feed his two Belgian draft horses, he found Pirate, a four-year-old, dead on the ground from a gunshot wound. The horse’s genitals had been mutilated. The other horse, Prince, had also been hit with a shotgun blast, but would survive. “I just don’t know who in the devil would do that,” Patenaude said at the time. Two young offenders were later convicted of shooting the horses and mutilating Pirate. The OPP initially concluded that Patenaude’s death was accidental. Forensic tests showed he did not suffer any injuries — broken bones or gunshot wounds — before being overcome by smoke and flames. His body was found splayed out the back window of his cab, halfway into the bed of his truck. Investigators said careless smoking might have caused the fire that killed him. But police reviewed the case in the aftermath of the Collison killing, and now consider it a suspicious death because of one gnawing question: Why didn’t Patenaude escape out a door instead of pushing out the solid window of his cab? What’s more, the fires that had plagued the last few years of Patenaude’s life did not stop with the arrest of the two young offenders. By 2006, a serial arsonist was believed to be sowing fear across the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry. Dorothy Rankin’s father, Ray Thompson, was one of the arson victims. A late night barn fire on his Thompson Road farm killed two horses and a pig. One of the horses, a standardbred named Laddie Starr, had finished in the money only days earlier. More than two dozen barns, storage buildings and farmhouses burned to the ground in the county under mysterious circumstances in 2006 and 2007. Hundreds of cattle died in the blazes, a handful of which were found to be arson; the rest were deemed “suspicious.” No one has ever been charged with those crimes. Yet, as bizarre as it may seem, the barn fires are not the most notorious string of unsolved crimes in the area. Not by a long shot. • Many young people in North Dundas Township don’t know the story of the Ottawa Valley serial killer. Even the township’s 29-year-old mayor, Eric Duncan, had not heard of the case when asked about it recently by a reporter. The case gripped the region in the 1980s, but has never been solved. No one has ever been charged in the four to six homicides linked to the killer, who tended to prey on people living alone in isolated houses. The killer sometimes burned the homes of his victims after slaying them. Three were shot in the head. The case is legend inside OPP detachments in Eastern Ontario. But when investigators started working the Raymond Collison homicide case in 2014, OPP Det. Insp. Jim Gorry warned his detectives not to look to the past. He instructed them to examine the case based on its own unique set of facts. “We looked at the Collison case and said, ‘We don’t want to get tunnel vision: We want to do it independently, and where it leads us, it leads us,’” Gorry says, referring to the start of the Collison investigation. “And that’s exactly what we did.” TOMORROW : Unsolved in the Ottawa Valley, Part 3 . EARLIER: Unsolved in the Ottawa Valley, Part 1: The killing of Randy Rankin

Vice null Time14 March 2017 13:15:25

When they wander: If someone you love has Alzheimer's or dementia, it's the nightmare scenario

03 March 2017 22:28:27 Ottawa Citizen - News

Jeff Marier remembers the panic he felt when he came home from a rare dinner out with friends four years ago to find the lights blazing and the front door wide open. It wasn't his valuables he feared was missing. It was his mother. "At the time, I could still leave her alone. At least, I felt I could leave her alone," says Marier, 62, an only son who lived with his mother and was her only caregiver. "I walked in and there was no one there. I was scared. But there was a message on the phone from my neighbour. They said 'We've got your mother here. We found her outside wandering around.' Luckily she knocked on their door. She said she was lost." Mary Marier, now 90 and living in a long-term care, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2006. Mary had wandered twice before, but nothing as serious as this. Jeff Marier holds a photo of his mother, Mary, while visiting her at her long term care facility in Ottawa. Tony Caldwell "That was the final straw," Jeff said. "From that point on, I knew I could not leave her alone. That changed everything. That meant I was here. There was no running to the store, no running to the bank. Either I'm taking her with me or I'm not going. It's a scary feeling when someone disappears like that." Mary had become one of the "the wanderers" — patients with dementia or Alzheimer's disease who see a doorway as a route home — even if the home they're thinking of is one they haven't lived in for decades. Ottawa police don't collect stats on how many of the 1,600 adult missing persons cases they investigated last year involved dementia, but Sgt. Reno Rushford of the Missing Persons Unit knows the number is rising quickly. "After 30 years of being here, I can tell you without a doubt that those numbers are higher than they were even five years ago," Rushford said. “It’s the ones where you go to an elderly couple’s house and they just don’t want to leave their home that are so heartbreaking," Rushford said. "You have an elderly lady and she says, ‘He was doing fine. He was sitting in his chair. I thought I would have 20 minutes to at least take a shower today. But I came out and he was gone. "Then the search is on." More than half a million Canadians are living with Alzheimer's disease or dementia, a number that's likely to double in the next 15 years, according to the Alzheimer's Society of Canada. There is no cure, not even a proven treatment to slow the disease's progression. About 60 per cent of those afflicted experience at least one incident of wandering during their illness. Those who don't are probably just too disabled to walk, says Dr. Frank Knoefel of Bruyère Research Institute's Memory Program. "If everyone with Alzheimer’s was physically fit, then there would come a time where everyone would have a period of (wandering)," Knoefel said. "As the disease progresses, physically you’re still very well, but cognitively you don’t remember. And if you don’t recognize that you’ve been to this place before, then your mind map starts breaking down." "Mind maps" are nothing more than a collection of memories built up over time: We know that to get home, we turn left at the church then right at the gas station. Alzheimer's and dementia strip away memories like peeling layers off an onion, Knoefel said. "Bits and pieces of the map disappear. I'll see the gas station but if I don't remember to turn there, I'll just keep going." Often someone with dementia reverts to an earlier time in their life. Mary Marier became outspoken about her experience with Alzheimer's. "If when I was 40, my morning routine was to go out and get my coffee then buy my newspaper, then that's what I'm going to do, even if I don't live in the same place I did when I was 40. When I step outside, suddenly it's 'Where am I? Where's home?'" That can be profoundly disturbing for loved ones. Jean's husband, Dan, was a forester who used to tend a 1,400-acre woodlot near Sault St. Marie and a sailor who could precisely navigate his 27-foot sailboat the length of Lake Superior in heavy fog. Jean was one of about 70 people who attended an information session on Alzheimer's disease last month hosted by MPP Lisa MacLeod. (The Citizen agreed to not use the couple's real names to protect the family's privacy.) "The forest was his home," Jean said. After the couple moved to Ottawa, he still loved to walk. Then in 2015, Dan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. "He used to walk through the neighbourhood. Then he started not coming home. That’s when I got scared." Jean bought a GPS tracker for Dan to wear like a watch. Once he disappeared and they found him wandering in a construction site two kilometres away. Another time, he wandered on to a golf course. "My fear is that he would get tired and just lie down somewhere. It was summer, but on a golf course, who's going to find him? I was very scared.” Dan now lives in a secure retirement home in Nepean. Most searches end quietly and quickly — about 95 per cent are found within a half kilometre of home — but occasionally they are gone for hours or are found kilometres away. When the weather is harsh, wandering can be deadly, especially since the loss of "executive function" in the brain can make people walk out into sub-zero weather without proper winter clothing. Earlier this week, police spent the night looking for a 70-year-old man with dementia and diabetes who wandered away from the retirement home where he lived during the confusion of a shift change. He was missing for 20 hours until officers found him the next morning walking on Heron Road. He couldn't say where he'd spent the night. "He hadn't been seen since noon and we weren't called until that night so already we were six or eight hours behind," Rushford said. "He was OK, but imagine what would have happened if it had been -20 that night." Sgt. Reno Rushford is head of the OPS Missing Persons Unit for the Ottawa Police Service. Rushford remembers one man who went missing in Billings Bridge who turned up hours later in a coffee shop near Parliament Hill after walking straight up Bank Street. In another call in Orléans, the man walked to a fire station where the firefighters called police. "We were able to get him back, but it was difficult because he was very aggressive," Rushford said. "He said, ‘I don’t need your help. I’m a grown man. You’re embarrassing me.’ His wife was there and she was completely drained. It’s just very sad to see that deterioration of someone." When a call for a missing senior comes in, front-line officers must decide whether it must be treated urgently. Is the person on medication? Do they suffer mental-health issues? Have they wandered before? Is there a pattern to their wandering -- to old neighbourhoods or former workplaces? Finding wanderers is also more difficult today because few people know their neighbours anymore. "It used to be, I could go to a house on a street and say, ‘Have you seen Mr. Jones?’ and everybody on the street would know who he was," Rushford

Vice null Time03 March 2017 22:28:27

Why alien species can have catastrophic economic consequences

28 February 2017 17:17:01 Ottawa Citizen - News

The invasion of alien species should be treated as a natural disaster, says a Canadian researcher who will be among the headliners at a national conference on preventing the spread of invasive species. Like natural disasters, species that enter a biological niche where they have never before existed can be difficult to control and predict and can have catastrophic consequences, says Anthony Ricciardi, a professor of environmental science at McGill University. On the east coast of Canada, Japanese seaweed is wiping out native kelp. Dutch elm disease, known since 1945 in Canada, is spreading into Western Canada. And piranhas, native to South America, have been found in the Great Lakes. While they are not able to overwinter so far, climate change could change that. "Every time we think we have seen the worst, there's something else," says Ricciardi. "You could see it as biological pollution. It should be treated with the same concern as oil spills." The National Invasive Species Forum, which runs in Ottawa from Tuesday though Thursday, has attracted about 100 people, from scientists to government officials and representatives from the pet industry, says Gail Wallin, co-chair of the Canadian Council on Invasive Species. Ricciardi argues that biological invasions are a matter of "biosecurity." Invasions cost the fishery, forestry and agricultural industries billions of dollars every year. They can even result in the extinction of native plants and animals. Alien species should be treated like oil spills, says Anthony Ricciardi, a professor of environmental science at McGill University. The cost to the economy of alien species exceeds that economic impact of natural disasters, says Ricciardi. "I think of it as a national security issue. But we don't treat it that way." In 2004, the strategy for Canada said a preliminary review of the costs of invasive species pegged them conservatively at $13.3 million to $34.5 million annually for only 16 species. Meanwhile, there is an unprecedented pace of introduction of alien species because of global travel. The movement of plants and animals is a natural process, but it has been hijacked by humans, says Ricciardi. "On any given day, ships are transporting several thousand species. Travellers carry plant spores and seeds on their shoes and don't even know it. Some species are sold as pets." Ricciardi said he would like to see a shift from the focus on the "monster stories" of individual species. One of the greatest dangers is that some alien species create synergies with other aliens, with disastrous consequences. As more invaders are accumulating in ecosystems, it can be expected that they will be more disruptive, he says. For example, the synergy of zebra mussels and quagga mussels in the Great Lakes along with another invader, a small bottom-dwelling fish called the round goby, as well as bacteria, have been linked to the deaths of fish-eating birds such as loons and mergansers. Invaders that have appeared to be innocuous for many years may suddenly become dangerous as the result of changing factors such as climate change, he says. Ricciardi urges a precautionary approach, as Australia and New Zealand have done, and rapid federal response management. The principles that apply to disaster preparedness should also apply to invasion preparedness, he says. "Invaders are like hidden taxes. They are invisible, but the cost doesn't go away. The cost of prevention is minuscule compared to chronic costs." One of the things to be discussed at the conference is a federal database and a list of species to be shared among the provinces. But ordinary people are part of the solution, says Wallin. Many invasive species are moved by people, from gardeners who buy ornamental plants to children who release their goldfish into waterways. "When you give people the right tools, they will make the right decisions." Most unwanted Here are a list of some of the top "species of interest" that have invaded Canada according to Gail Wallin and Barry Gibbs, co-chairs of the Canadian Council on Invasive species. Giant hogweed: This was introduced as an ornamental garden plant but it has escaped and taken over roadsides in many parts of Canada. It may cause skin burns if touched. The emerald ash borer. Knotweed: Widespread across Canada, its roots have caused damage to foundations, roads and bridges. Knapweed: This purple-flowered weed was imported into North America more than a century ago and has since established itself in fields, forests and prairies, out-competing native species and reducing the amount of forage available for wildlife and livestock. Zebra mussels: Widespread in waterways in Eastern Canada as far west as Manitoba, these bivalves change the freshwater ecology, stripping nutrients from the ecosystem and clogging up water intakes. Emerald ash borer: This Asian native has killed millions of ash trees in Ontario. While they travel slowly on their own, they are dispersed by people moving firewood, logs and lumber. Asian longhorn beetle: This forest pest introduced in the 1990s has no natural North American enemies. It kills all broadleaf trees but prefers native maples. Feral pigs: Also known as wild boars, these Eurasian natives have escaped from farms where they were raised as meat animals. Known to be aggressive, they also destroy cropland and natural habitat because they tear up the ground while looking for food. They are also prolific in the wild. It is believed there are more than a million feral pigs in Saskatchewan. They have also be sighted in Ontario, including rural areas east of Ottawa. Wild boar, raised for meat, have escaped farms. Flowering rush: This pond plant, which produces a pink flower, was introduced as an aquatic ornamental. When it establishes itself on natural shorelines, this plan forms dense stands at interfere with recreation, crowd out native plants and harm fish and wildlife. Saltcedar: This native of Asia has been sold as an ornamental small tree or shrub for many decades. It produces a leaf litter that increases the salinity of the soil, discouraging native plant species. European fire ant: Found across Canada, this species lives colonies and is known for its painful bite. Colonies are hard to destroy once established. Asian carp: There are several species of Asian carp that have been found in North America, including the St. Lawrence River. They multiply quickly and displace native fish species, presenting a danger to sport and commercial fisheries. Northern snakehead: Also known as the "frankenfish" this toothy predator native to Asia has been found in several U.S. states. It was likely dumped into ponds, lakes and rivers from fish markets or pet shops. It been called the "walking fish" for its ability to travel on land for short distances by wiggling forward. It can survive out of water f

Vice null Time28 February 2017 17:17:01

Here's what gives a summer sunset its pretty colour

03 August 2016 19:19:00 Ottawa Citizen - News

This summer, Postmedia’s Tom Spears brings you the often offbeat science behind the season that calls us to go outdoors. It’s all part of a series we call the Science of Summer. Today’s story is on the science behind what makes a sunset pretty. The vivid colours in the sky at sunset look like art, but underlying them is the physics of light and colour, as fascinating as the colours themselves. Wayne Hocking of Western University's physics department has spent years studying our atmosphere, and knows a lot about what it does to light. Sunlight begins with all the colours of the rainbow combined, until our air breaks them apart. This happens because light bounces off molecules of nitrogen, oxygen and other gases in the atmosphere, a process known as scattering. Blue lightwaves are short compared to the warm colours of red and orange, Hocking explains, which makes blue light the most likely to scatter. Longer waves of red and orange light push through the air without scattering as much. "So the blue light scatters more than the reds and greens and yellows," he said. "Because the blue scatters more intensely, that's why the sky looks blue (in the middle of the day). "The red light, relative to the blue, sort of comes straight down to Earth, whereas the blue light coming from the sun scatters a bit more. So we have this bluish haze to the sky." Sunset introduces a new angle, literally. As the sun sets on the horizon, light is entering the horizon at a shallower angle. Late evening sun is cutting sideways through the atmosphere — passing through more air than the daytime sun coming nearly straight down. Now a second factor comes into play: absorption. The atmosphere actually absorbs some lightwaves, blotting them out completely. And the light it absorbs most is blue and green light — the short waves. The long trip sideways from a sun near the horizon filters out most of these colours. Red light is scattering around the sky and spreading its colour, meanwhile, and by evening it no longer has a lot of blue light overpowering it. "So by the time it (the sun) sets, the blue light has pretty much been absorbed and we're just left with the red light, and we're left with this reddish tinge," Hocking said. Dust particles in the atmosphere, pollutants and sooty particles from forest fires or even volcanoes will change the colour of a sunset. These make it more red, Hocking said. That's because these are relatively large particles (compared to molecules of nitrogen and oxygen), and therefore they are better able to scatter the long waves of red and orange light. The result is that large fires even many hundreds of kilometres away can send enough smoke downwind to change the colour of the sky, even when the smoke itself is not visible. Humidity can also add a reddish, hazy look, he said. Hocking has even seen a green sunset, also known as a green flash. It happens mostly near the poles, he said. With the sun dipping to the horizon, "the light will actually bend as it passes through the atmosphere. It's called refraction. "You can have occasions where it sort of bends the red light out of the way and the blue light is heavily absorbed, and you are left with a sun that actually looks green. "It's kind of cute.You can say, Hey, I've seen a green sun." Hocking was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2014 in recognition of his work.

Vice null Time03 August 2016 19:19:00

Forest fires in Canada, by the numbers

05 May 2016 00:04:08 Simcoe County-News (from

A by-the-numbers look at the number and size of forest fires in Canada

Vice null Time05 May 2016 00:04:08