Lake expert seeks Highland support to improve environment »Minden Times


By Darren Lum

Putting action into words is what Dr. Norman Yan of ASH Muskoka does and hopes he can inspire others to follow the model he leads in a region.

Yan, who is a leading expert on lake health in Canada, spoke to a large audience about how taking wood ash can replenish calcium levels in soil and water at the 12th Annual Lake Stewards meeting on Saturday May 14 at the Royal Canadian Legion. in Haliburton.

Organized by the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners Association (CHA), the event allowed Yan to give his presentation, Ash Muskoka “Ecological Osteoporosis”, the loss of calcium in watersheds.

From the ASH Muskoka website, we will explore in depth this idea that wood ash can be safely used to repair the well-documented damage to forests and lakes caused by the widespread decline in calcium (Ca) at Muskoka.

“Our goal is to identify, develop and foster solutions to monitor watershed stressors,” Yan said. “I’ve come to believe that knowing what to do in the world is enough to fix anything as long as our democracy works and the core values ​​that underpin the generation of this knowledge are humility and hope.”

ASH Muskoka is an effort led by Friends of the Muskoka Watershed.

Two years of work allowed to establish HATSEO – Hauling Ash To Solve Ecological Osteoporosis. It is a successful demonstration that wood ash recovered from residential woodstoves in Muskoka is both chemically safe and biologically appropriate for replenishing calcium levels in soil and water, as stated on the website of ASH Muskoka.

Yan is an authority on lake health, being one of four Canadians to have received both the K. Patalas Award for Research Excellence in Applied Limnology, or the Study of Lakes, and the FH Rigler Memorial for Limnological Research of the Canadian Society of Limnology. . He is also co-author of over 200 publications on Canadian lakes.

He invited up to six people from the public to be part of the implementation in the Highlands. Yan said volunteers are the backbone and have been integral to the fight against invasive species regarding snail removal in Haliburton County, and said that in Muskoka, more than 1,200 volunteers have collected ashes.

“I’m such a fan of it. If you can find the right thing that people care about to help solve a problem and learn how to generate knowledge and willpower at the same time. The knowledge of what to do and the will to do it, then you are halfway to solving a problem,” he said.

He noted how every creature and plant needs calcium.

A question has been raised as to whether calcium levels are decreasing in the environment, is this a problem? This has led to the recognition that calcium reduction needs to be addressed. There are three sources of calcium: the air in the form of rain or dust; soil or bedrock; downstream.

A question arises regarding the watersheds and if they suffer from osteoporosis, but what about the wildlife. Those animals that need calcium to be healthy understand what you expect, like those with shells. And yet, there are fish like bass that have more calcium than humans. They have it not only in their teeth and bones, but also in their scales. In a 2019 report on Haliburton Lakes, he said about 15% of the lakes had less than two milligrams per liter of calcium, which leaves crayfish in danger and dying. He said the lakes were at three milligrams per liter and the mystery snails feed on five milligrams, so the goal is to raise calcium levels, but less than five.

Data collected over four decades to assess calcium levels in lakes in the Dorset region showed a 35% drop in calcium levels.

“I mean, it’s a remarkably rapid change, and something that would have been unique in the post-glacial history of these lakes. It wouldn’t have happened at any other time in the last 10,000 years,” a- he said. “But the absolute level of calcium today is more important than the trend. A 30% drop, if you started with 50 milligrams per liter to 40 milligrams per liter won’t hurt, but if you started at two and go down to one and a half, it starts to hurt.

He said if the lakes are low in calcium, then the land is also going to be low in calcium, so he took his whole life of effort from the lake inland. Eighty-five percent of the land in Muskoka and Haliburton County is forested.

“Just as there are differences between animals, there are huge differences in calcium needs between animals, there are huge differences in calcium needs between plants,” he said.

Information from Haliburton Forest showed that maples had three times the percentage of calcium in their wood than birch and conifers, while maple bark had 1.3% compared to birch bark, which had 0.1 and conifers only 0.2. Maple and birch leaves were equal at 0.8 while conifers were half.

Yan said that calcium in plants like animals binds cells together and “has a supporting function in acids, nerves and muscles, in plants its signaling and wound repair and stomatal functioning and all sorts of important mechanisms”.

A Trent University paper published this year, Yan said, presents a model of what has happened to soil calcium levels for a stand of maple trees in Haliburton Forest since 1850. He said, showing a graph, that there was half a ton of calcium per hectare lost over the past 150 years

“So this is damn serious,” he said. “When the soil begins to lose an essential nutrient.”

For the first time since the discovery of the importance of not only calcium levels, but also magnesium, potassium and sodium levels.

“The big story for us was the decline in calcium, but if you look at the width of the other three bars, they’re also declining,” he said, referring to nutrients, especially potassium and magnesium.

As for why calcium levels drop, he cited the analogy of an ATM.

“So that’s how much money you have in the bank based on deposits and withdrawals. So ice cream parlors are like your grandparents who might have opened your bank account with the first $100. Ice cream parlors have contributed or could have removed the initial calcium, then the weathering of the rock will contribute to the bank, especially if it is limestone or dolomitic or calcium-rich rock, but not so much if it is granite and then there is dust and precipitation inputs, which can sometimes be very substantial,” he said.

He remembers how the alarm bells were ringing for acid rain in the 1980s and how that led to cleaner air, which actually left the air with less calcium than before.

Continuing the analogy with ATMs, he said, withdrawal is done through the growth of trees in Muskoka and Haliburton County.

He said that 80% of the watershed’s calcium is in the trees.

Cut down the trees and all that calcium is removed with no chance that the trees can grow back to the same height as there is no calcium to support their growth.

“We need to think more like gardeners and less like miners, you know, when it comes to the health of our farms,” ​​he said.

The Friends, which are made up of volunteers including scientists, have taken a four-step approach to realizing the vision.

First, tracking major watershed threats or issues such as low calcium levels. Second, identify and implement a plan as needed in terms of work gaps, particularly with how the government is not acting on the “legacy problem” of acid rain. Third, the belief that the public can help solve the problem.

He said the Friends had about two and a half years of effort, which included tracking, identification, fundraising, and were on the verge of implementing action based on public will.

Yan said his presentation was as much about informing as it was about motivating the audience to join the cause he has been involved in for the past two years. He said it led him to recognize the importance of environmental psychology and how it plays a role in how people perceive issues such as climate change and are then moved to help.

CHA President Paul MacInnes said he attends a three-day scientific conference every year where there are many presentations on lake health. He said that at the end of these presentations, he asked the scientists how they intended to solve the problem presented.

“And most of them look to me like a deer caught in the headlights like they have no idea. It’s not something they do. Norm is a guy who sees a problem and says , let’s go and solve it. And he did,” he said. “I mean, if you think about the implications of this wood ash project, there’s a Huge potential climate change, reduced flooding, healthier trees.”

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