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Lower Great Lakes Watershed Priority Area

Map of Lower Great Lakes Watershed priority area. See text that follows.
Lower Great Lakes Watershed Priority Area

The Lower Great Lakes watershed priority area includes the watersheds (and connecting waterways) of lower Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, as well as the upper St. Lawrence River and its associated tributaries. The ecosystems contained in this priority area provide habitat for a high diversity of aquatic species, including 46 species of fish and freshwater mussels that are listed under the Species at Risk Act or have been assessed as at-risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). As these watersheds are home to a significant percentage of Canada’s population, associated urban development and prime agricultural areas, aquatic species at risk in these areas face many threats. These threats range from habitat loss and declines in water quality due to sedimentation, nutrient loading and water contamination, to habitat modifications preventing fish movement, changes in channel structure and flow, the removal of aquatic vegetation and the introduction of aquatic invasive species. Declining fish populations are also a significant threat for the mussels in these watersheds, as they depend on fish for reproduction and their early life cycle stages.

Conservation efforts currently underway

A focus of conservation efforts within this highly agricultural watershed is on minimizing habitat degradation caused by human activities. The Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA) is implementing projects to improve and preserve natural habitat within the Ausable River watershed by encouraging landowners to adopt best management practices to help minimize nutrient and sediment runoff, such as the use of cover crops and erosion control structures. ABCA is also implementing species and habitat monitoring programs that will provide valuable information related to the occupancy, abundance and critical habitat conditions and characteristics of local species at risk. A similar outreach and habitat restoration project led by the Halton Region Conservation Foundation is also engaging landowners along Bronte Creek, Fourteen Mile Creek and Sixteen Mile Creek in stewardship activities to improve water and habitat quality. This project is mitigating the threats posed by physical habitat alterations, invasive species and pollution on identified priority species at risk, including American Eel and Redside Dace. These projects are mobilizing landowners to help foster a culture of environmental stewardship that will have lasting effects on the protection and recovery of aquatic species at risk.

An important part of motivating Canadians to help protect species at risk and their habitat is providing the necessary education and tools to help them to participate in existing stewardship programs or start their own environmental projects. The St. Clair Region Conservation Authority is addressing this need by organizing conferences, workshops and outreach activities to provide local landowners, farmers, stakeholders and students with the knowledge and resources necessary to participate in conservation projects within the Sydenham River watershed. These outreach activities will improve awareness of aquatic species at risk, healthy watersheds and provide local residents with practical best management practices that benefit the environment, contributing to aquatic species at risk conservation. The project is also building the public’s capacity to undertake future conservation activities by raising awareness of the needs of aquatic species at risk and ways to mitigate the threats impacting these species.

Given that the lower Great Lakes watershed is home to a range of diverse species and habitats, which are impacted by unique threats, effective recovery plans must be adapted to address the needs of each species and habitat. Using a multi-pronged approach, the University of Toronto is undertaking a project that is evaluating the habitat requirements for selected fish and mussel species at risk, assessing the threats to their habitat and determining the availability of additional suitable habitat. This project is improving our capacity to address specific threats facing different species at risk and increasing the amount of suitable habitat available to these at-risk populations. For populations experiencing severe declines, captive-breeding methods are being investigated to ensure the population’s survival and longevity.

The Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority and their partners are also conducting a multi-faceted project that involves planning, outreach, restoration and monitoring for aquatic species at risk and their habitat in the watersheds of the Lower Thames River and western Lake Erie. The aim of this project is to improve 36.5 hectares of riparian habitat and 3.5 hectares of wetland habitat that support 14 mussel and 17 fish species at risk by conducting restoration activities to improve water quality, including the enhancement of riparian habitat, filtration of overland runoff (i.e., sediment, nutrient and contaminants) and reduction of water temperatures.

Protecting species at risk in such a highly agricultural yet densely populated area is an ongoing challenge. Many of the Canada Nature Fund for Aquatic Species at Risk (CNFASAR) funded projects outlined above look to mobilize these communities and maximize local stewardship and outreach. By supporting projects that are conducting research, education, outreach and stewardship, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and its partners are contributing to the protection of aquatic species at risk within the lower Great Lakes watershed priority area.

Learn more about projects in this area

Restoration and mitigation for Ausable River Species at risk in Ontario

Restoration and mitigation for Ausable River Species at risk in Ontario

Recipient: Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority

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The Ausable River and the Old Ausable Channel are nationally-important areas
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Tree planting is one of the projects that benefit the fish and mussels species of the Ausable River Watershed

Project goal: The main objective of this four-year project is to improve aquatic habitat in the Ausable River for at-risk freshwater mussels and fish species by addressing the threat of habitat degradation. This project aims to restore natural areas through the reduction of nutrient and sediment inputs, and to mitigate impacts of working landscapes through the use of cover crops, and the installation of fencing and erosion control structures.

Funds are also being used to develop landowner interest and awareness through social media, newsletters, postcards and media news releases that provide information about funding incentives that are available.

Monitoring of aquatic species at risk will be undertaken to determine the presence and abundance of each species, as well as identify the critical habitat attributes at each site. Monitoring data is being analyzed and compared with the data collected in previous years to track changes and identify improvements in habitat as a result of the implementation of best management practices and other stewardship activities.

Fund Allocation: $813,000

Time Frame: 4 years

Species that benefit from this project:

Aquatic species at risk outreach and habitat enhancements in the watersheds managed by Conservation Halton

Aquatic species at risk outreach and habitat enhancements in the watersheds managed by Conservation Halton

Recipient: Halton Region Conservation Foundation

Project goal: The primary objective of this four-year project is to encourage stewardship practices and habitat restoration projects that focus on multiple species at risk in Bronte Creek, Fourteen Mile Creek and Sixteen Mile Creek, in the Lower Great Lakes Watershed Priority Area. The aim is to empower and enable landowners to implement water quality and habitat improvement projects that enhance conditions for aquatic species at risk.

This project aims to address threats to aquatic species at risk including (1) physical habitat alterations such as changes in channel structure, flow alterations, increased stream temperatures, removal of riparian vegetation and barriers to fish movement; (2) invasive/non-native species, including Phragmites and Northern Pike; and (3) pollution that affects water quality including sedimentation, nutrient loading and the introduction of contaminants.

To address these threats, various activities are being carried out including outreach, riparian plantings, fish habitat enhancements, mitigation of physiological barriers, invasive/non-native species management and continued monitoring of aquatic species at risk.

Finally, the project implementation is actively establishing long-term partnerships with many watershed residents, community volunteers and conservation organizations, with more partnerships likely to be established over the course of the project.

Fund Allocation: $255,000

Time Frame: 4 years

Species that benefit from this project:

Targeted Lower Thames Valley & Lake Erie sub-watershed improvements for aquatic species at risk

Targeted Lower Thames Valley & Lake Erie sub-watershed improvements for aquatic species at risk

Recipient: Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority

Project goal: This four-year project aims to restore riparian and wetland habitat for aquatic species at risk found within the Lower Great Lakes Watershed Priority Area. First, an aquatic species at risk threat assessment is being conducted in order to identify and prioritize the most at-risk sub-watersheds. As threats and areas are prioritized, restoration activities are being carried out to improve water quality, including the filtration of overland runoff (i.e., sediment, nutrient and contaminants). Additionally, a long-term aquatic species at risk monitoring program is being established.

Collaboration with local groups and public engagement is contributing to an improved understanding of aquatic species at risk in the Lower Thames Valley sub-watershed, what threatens them, and what actions can be undertaken to recover them. This project aims to ensure a long term, lasting impact towards the recovery and conservation of aquatic species at risk within the Lower Thames Valley sub-watershed now and into the future.

Fund Allocation: $650,000

Time Frame: 4 years

Species that benefit from this project:

Ecosystem approach for recovery of species at risk in the Sydenham River in Canada

Ecosystem approach for recovery of species at risk in the Sydenham River in Canada

Recipient: St. Clair Region Conservation Authority

Project goal: This four-year project aims to support habitat improvement activities that address (1) nutrient loading and suspended solids from overland runoff and livestock; (2) ammonia from overland runoff of manure; and (3) thermal effects from loss of riparian buffers in agricultural and urban catchments. Working with landowners on a voluntary basis, this project will install erosion control structures such as in-field berms, riprap tile outlets, and wetlands; fence livestock from watercourses; retire fragile and marginal land; and create and enhance riparian buffers as means to reduce nutrient and sediment inputs.

This project also supports education and outreach programs about aquatic species at risk for farmers, rural landowners, students, and various stakeholders and community groups. Social media venues, local community and agriculture-focused events, general mail service and site visits are also being used to inform the local communities of processes and policies in place for current species at risk.

Fund Allocation: $1,117,000

Time Frame: 4 years

Species that benefit from this project:

Implementation and evaluation of recovery actions for aquatic species at risk in the Lower Great Lakes Watershed

Implementation and evaluation of recovery actions for aquatic species at risk in the Lower Great Lakes Watershed

Recipient: University of Toronto

Project goal: This four-year project aims to implement recovery actions that benefit fish and mussel species at risk in the lower Great Lakes watershed. Project elements include evaluating the threats to the species at risk, identifying the habitat requirements, and undertaking habitat restoration activities. The project is also developing captive-breeding methods for selected at-risk fish species that require population enhancement.

These activities are benefitting aquatic species at risk by (1) identifying the causal mechanism of threats that, in turn, will allow for the development of effective mitigation strategies; (2) increasing the amount of habitat available for aquatic species at risk; (3) allowing the development of fish populations for use in threat-elucidation experiments, thereby reducing impacts on wild populations, and enabling future reintroductions of fish into the waterbodies; and (4) making stakeholders more aware of aquatic species at risk in general, leading to greater awareness, concern and stewardship, which should result in greater protection for these species.

Fund Allocation: $1,790,700

Time Frame: 4 years

Species that benefit from this project:

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