Implementing A Lake Ontario LaMP Biodiversity Conservation .

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LAKE ONTARIO ) "' -" Illv ; Implementing a Lake Ontario LaMPBiodiversity Conservation StrategyIllApril 2011):zLakeOntario

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April 2011To our biodiversity conservation partners:The attached Lake Ontario Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP) report, Implementing a Lake OntarioLaMP Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, April 2011, is the result of years of stakeholder consultation,solicitation of expert opinions, and consideration of existing biodiversity conservation program goals andobjectives. The results of this broad stakeholder consultation process were summarized in the report TheBeautiful Lake, A Binational Biodiversity Strategy for Lake Ontario, April 2009, which identifiestwenty-six shorelines and watersheds of greatest value to Lake Ontario’s biodiversity. The attached LaMPimplementation strategy lists the key recommendations provided in The Beautiful Lake report to beformally adopted by the LaMP. The LaMP will work to promote these actions, report on progress,identify resource needs and recommend additional actions as necessary to conserve Lake Ontario'sbiodiversity.The key elements of the Lake Ontario LaMP’s Binational Biodiversity Conservation Strategy are: 1) theintegration of action priorities into existing programs and “place-based” planning activities especiallywithin key watersheds, an activity best done by local governments and organizations and; 2) regionalcoordination of lakewide scale biodiversity monitoring and restoration activities. Given the enormousamount of work needed to restore and protect Lake Ontario’s biodiversity, the LaMP recognizes that thekey to success lies in our ability to build and foster cooperative partnerships throughout the Lake Ontariobasin. To that end, we ask that you consider the strategies and key steps outlined in this report as you planand undertake activities to restore and protect Lake Ontario’s biodiversity.Sincerely,Kevin GuérinManagement Committee Co-ChairLake Ontario Lakewide Management PlanEnvironment CanadaMario Del VicarioManagement Committee Co-ChairLake Ontario Lakewide Management PlanU.S. EPA Region 2

Implementing a Lake Ontario LaMPBiodiversity Conservation StrategyLake Ontario Lakewide Management PlanApril 2011Prepared by Lake Ontario LaMP Work Group and Technical StaffMichael BasileU.S. Environmental Protection AgencyBuffalo, New YorkBarbara BelascoU.S. Environmental Protection AgencyNew York, New YorkGavin ChristieFisheries & Oceans CanadaToronto, OntarioRick CzepitaEnvironment CanadaToronto, OntarioConrad DeBarrosOntario Ministry of the EnvironmentKingston OntarioMarie-Claire DoyleEnvironment CanadaBurlington, OntarioSandra E. GeorgeEnvironment CanadaBurlington, OntarioHeather HawthorneOntario Ministry of the EnvironmentKingston, OntarioSteve LaPanNew York State Department ofEnvironmental ConservationCape Vincent, New YorkAudrey LaPennaOntario Ministry of Natural ResourcesPicton, OntarioFrederick LuckeyU.S. Environmental Protection AgencyNew York, New YorkAlastair MathersOntario Ministry of Natural ResourcesPicton, OntarioBruce MorrisonOntario Ministry of Natural ResourcesPicton, OntarioTom StewartOntario Ministry of Natural ResourcesPicton, OntarioBetsy TrometerU.S. Fish & Wildlife ServiceAmherst, New YorkDon ZelaznyNew York State Department ofEnvironmental ConservationBuffalo, New YorkTracey TomajerNew York State Department ofEnvironmental ConservationAlbany, New York

AcknowledgementsThe development of the Lake Ontario Lakewide Management Plan’s biodiversity conservation strategy wasfunded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting theGreat Lakes Basin Ecosystem, The Nature Conservancy, and The Nature Conservancy of Canada.Special thanks to David Klein, The Nature Conservancy, and Daniel Krauss, Nature Conservancy ofCanada for soliciting and coordinating the input of over 150 experts representing 53 agencies, conservationauthorities, universities, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on behalf of the LaMP. The finalreport that summarized stakeholder and biodiversity expert input, The Beautiful Lake: A BinationalBiodiversity Conservation Strategy for Lake Ontario, completed in 2009 helped to guide thedevelopment of the LaMP’s biodiversity conservation strategy.Cover photo of Prince Edward County, Ontario shoreline courtesy of Wasyl Bakowsky, Ontario NaturalHeritage Centre.i

Table of ContentsSectionPageAcknowledgements .i1.The Beautiful Lake.12.Lake Ontario’s Biodiversity .53.Developing the Strategy .74.Implementing Biodiversity Conservation Action Recommendations.115.Priority Lake Ontario Biodiversity Conservation Action Needs.196.Next Steps.257.References and Background Literature .27AppendixALake Ontario Biodiversity Maps.33Migratory Fish – Condition .35Coastal Wetlands – Biological Significance .37Coastal Wetlands – Condition .39Nearshore Zone – Condition .41Lake-to-Tributary Connectivity .43iii

List of Tables and FiguresTablePage1Ten Things Every Resident of the Lake Ontario Basin Should Know .22New York Priority Action Sites: Biological Importance and RecommendedActions.123Ontario Priority Action Sites: Biological Importance and RecommendedActions.144Binational Priority Action Sites: Biological Importance and RecommendedActions.17FigurePage1Lake Ontario Natural Land Cover .32Lake Ontario LaMP Biodiversity Conservation Priority Action Sites.9v

1.The Beautiful LakeLake Ontario is the last lake in the chain of Laurentian Great Lakes and is shared by Ontario and NewYork. It is the smallest of the Great Lakes, with a surface area of 18,960 square kilometers (km2), but hasthe highest ratio of watershed area to lake surface area. It is a deepwater system, with an average depth of86 meters and a maximum depth of 244 meters, second only to Lake Superior. Approximately 80% of thewater flowing into Lake Ontario comes from Lake Erie through the Niagara River. The remaining flowcomes from Lake Ontario basin tributaries (14%) and precipitation (7%). About 93% of the water in LakeOntario flows into the St. Lawrence River; the remaining 7% is lost via evaporation. Lake Ontario has over3,900 kilometers (km) of shoreline, dominated by bedrock shores and bluffs. While the western portion ofthe Lake Ontario coast has been heavily urbanized, most of the basin is dominated by agricultural andrural lands (Figure 1).The name "Ontario" comes from a native word, possibly "Onitariio" or "Kanadario", looselytranslated as "beautiful" or "sparkling" water or lake. (Government of Ontario 2008)Lake Ontario and its watershed support a rich diversity of plants and animals. The physical environmentsupporting this biodiversity is rich and variable ‐ there are island archipelagos, sand and cobble beaches,sand dunes often interspersed with rich wet meadows and fens, productive shallow embayments, numerousand varied tributaries, and a bedrock geology deriving from both Precambrian and Paleozoic periods.Native fish populations of walleye, yellow perch, and other species continue to be an important resourcedespite numerous threats. American eel is present in Lake Ontario and its tributaries, but has declined tothe extent that it is now listed as Endangered in Ontario. Lake Ontario once supported lake trout andAtlantic salmon, and programs have been established to restore these species. Islands provide nestinghabitat for colonial nesting bird species like black tern, Caspian tern, ring‐billed gull, and the coast andnearshore areas provide migratory stopover habitat for birds, insects, and bats. The central and easternLake Ontario coastal dunes, marshes, and barrier beaches are ecologically very significant. Rare duneecosystems can be found at Presqu‘ile and Sandbanks Provincial Parks and on Wolfe Island. Globally rarealvars can be found along the coast.The lake’s water quality and ecology have undergone major changes in the last two centuries. Today, over10 million people live in the basin. The Canadian population in Lake Ontario is the most rapidlyexpanding population in the Great Lakes basin. The population in this region has grown by over 40% inthe last two decades and it is projected that the population in the western end of Lake Ontario will growby an additional 3.7 million people by 2031 (Environment Canada and United States EnvironmentalProtection Agency 2008). Many residents of the basin remain unaware of biology and ecological servicesprovided by Lake Ontario (see Table 1). The lake provides drinking water to almost 8 million people andhas supported substantial commercial and recreational fisheries. The character of the fisheries has beenradically altered from the effects of historic over‐fishing, habitat alterations, invasive species such as alewife,dreissenid mussels and round goby, extensive stocking of non‐native trout and salmon, fluctuations innutrient loading, and contaminants from industrial, agricultural, and residential sources around the basin.Since Lake Ontario is the lower‐most Great Lake, it is further impacted by human activities occurringthroughout the Lake Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Erie basins.1

Table 1Ten Things Every Resident of the Lake Ontario Basin Should Know1.Lake Ontario is the 14th largest lake in the world; it is a deep, coldwater ecosystem that supports lake trout and whitefish.2.A critical link in the Lake Ontario food chain is a small freshwater shrimp.3.American eel lives in Lake Ontario in its tributaries, but spawns in the Atlantic Ocean.4.There are almost 100 species of native fish in Lake Ontario.5.It is one of two Great Lakes with water levels that are regulated through dams in outlet rivers (the other one is Lake Superior).6.Over 8 million people get their drinking water from the lake.7.Only the western portion of the watershed is highly developed, most of the basin is characterized by rural landscapes.8.The western part of Lake Ontario is the fastest growing area in the Great Lakes basin.9.The open lake is significantly cleaner than it was 20 years ago.10.Improving the health of the lake improves the quality of life for people in the basin.2

Figure 1Lake Ontario Natural Land Cover LakeOntario- ··Nature I Covet- Density- 0·3 31- SIJI1oWatef'Shed Outer Boundacy-51- SO.81-IOO'IIoMup b pl:an:uUonn. . . 1JI"'(Sb'0.- IIJ-O.O"""""Oi',. SIINiotC::.IDr . . L.-. .--.--.,. . . . . . . OncltoiiM.Utl lo ,.,.,.,. . ,. . Vtld: . . . tlrh N:IIIft . , ."'bnGN' . . . . . . --- ., nr.gr1121-. .,nMCfl.,., .,. C SmaiWIIte-·-- -c.31 · SCM51 - IIO' HUe.--.(Niolr'lbri.t - · -Large Wa-. .v,,,II · IIM*3

2.Lake Ontario’s BiodiversityLake Ontario contains a rich and diverse array of species, communities, and ecosystems that includeaquatic, terrestrial, and wetland biomes. This project identified seven biodiversity targets within LakeOntario. These biodiversity targets represent and encompass the full array of biodiversity found in LakeOntario. Each biodiversity target includes a suite of nested species and communities with linkedconservation needs. For example, by conserving islands in Lake Ontario, the needs of colonial nestingwaterbirds will be met. Additional detail and maps of these biodiversity targets is provided in Appendix A.Benthic and pelagic offshore system: This target represents the deepwater ecosystem in Lake Ontario,including the open waters and bottom of the lake in permanently cold water greater than 20 m in depth.This zone once supported an abundant and diverse fish community dominated by lake trout, lakewhitefish, and deepwater sculpin. The Atlantic salmon was once the top predator in this system.Native migratory fish: Many of Lake Ontario’s fish depend on migration for part of their life cycle. Thisincludes species that migrate to rivers (e.g., walleye), coastal wetlands (e.g., yellow perch and NorthernPike) and even the Atlantic Ocean (American eel). Protecting these migratory species requires protecting allof the habitats they utilize during their life cycle.Coastal wetlands: Lake Ontario has over 35,000 hectares/86,450 acres of coastal wetlands. These wetlandshave a hydrologic link to Lake Ontario as their water levels are directly related to the water level in thelake. Wetlands also provide a critical link between land and water, and they support a high diversity ofspecies.Nearshore zone: This zone occurs from the 20-meter depth contour to the high water mark along thecoast. These shallow waters are the most productive zone of the lake and often include rich beds of aquaticvegetation that support fishes and waterfowl. Dynamic sand and cobble beaches also occur in this zone.Coastal terrestrial systems: This biodiversity target includes a wide diversity of natural habitats that occurfrom the line of wave action to 2 km inland. This zone is over 3,900 km long, and supports sand dunes,alvars, and coastal forests and provides important stop‐over habitat for migrating birds.Rivers, estuaries and connecting channels: There are hundreds of streams and rivers that flow into LakeOntario. These systems and their associated riparian areas provide habitat for many fish and other aquaticspecies, and have a significant influence on the diversity and health of nearshore waters.Islands: Lake Ontario has almost 2,000 islands. These islands provide nesting habitat for colonialwaterbirds and often contain unique assemblages of plants and animals due to their degree of isolationfrom other terrestrial systems. Islands in the eastern basin and the upper St. Lawrence River provide“stepping stones” in the linkage between Ontario’s Algonquin Park and the Adirondacks in New York.5

3.Developing the StrategyThere has been a long‐running spirit of cooperation between Canada and the U.S. to protect and manageLake Ontario. Lakewide Management Plans (LaMPs) developed out of the 1987 amendments to the GreatLakes Water Quality Agreement signed by the United States and Canada provide a framework to assess,restore, protect, and monitor the ecosystem health of the lake. The LaMP is used to coordinate the work ofall the government, tribal, and non‐government partners working to improve the lake ecosystem. TheLaMP process requires public consultation to ensure that the plan adequately addresses the public'sconcerns. The stated goals of the 2004 update to the Lake Ontario LaMP (LaMP 2004) were: The Lake Ontario Ecosystem should be maintained and, as necessary, restored or enhanced to supportself‐reproducing diverse biological communities; The presence of contaminants shall not limit the uses of fish, wildlife, and waters of the Lake Ontariobasin by humans and shall not cause adverse health effects in plants and animals; and We as a society shall recognize our capacity to cause great changes in the ecosystem and we shallconduct our activities with responsible stewardship for the Lake Ontario basin.It was within this context that in 2006 the LaMP Management Committee initiated a process to create abiodiversity conservation strategy for Lake Ontario that was bi‐national in scope (LaMP 2004). The LaMPtasked the Nature Conservancy of Canada and The Nature Conservancy (U.S.) to support thecoordination of partners to develop the strategy.The Binational Biodiversity Conservation Strategy (Strategy) was prepared through the participation andinput of 150 experts from over 50 agencies, universities, and organizations. These experts participated infour bi-national workshops that focused on developing different sections of the Strategy. The purpose ofthese workshops was to assemble Lake Ontario experts from Canada and the U.S. and develop consensuson the scope and goals of the Strategy, identify and assess the health of biodiversity targets, identify andrank threats to biodiversity, and to develop both basin-wide and place-based conservation strategies: Workshop 1 (June 21 - 22, 2006): defined project scope and identify biodiversity targets and health Workshop 2 (October 5 - 6, 2006): identified and described threats to the biodiversity targets Workshop 3 (February 28 - March 1, 2007): identified strategies Workshop 4 (December 5 - 6, 2007): refined place‐based strategies and implementation stepsThe project scope identified by workshop participants was “to develop bi‐national strategies for conservingand restoring the biological diversity of Lake Ontario, including its coastal habitats, pelagic and benthiczones, tributaries, and connecting channels.” Since the focus of this project is to foster bi‐national action to7

address the biota of Lake Ontario, the scope for recommended actions included the watersheds oftributaries to the extent that they affect the biodiversity of the lake, including the Niagara and St. Lawrencerivers.Goals identified for this project were to: Reach a consensus on the key threats to biodiversity;Develop a bi‐national action agenda of strategies to abate these threats;Identify priority action sites for implementation of strategies;Identify a suite of indicators of the health of biodiversity targets; andAchieve greater integration of efforts toward common goals.The final report, The Beautiful Lake, A Binational Biodiversity Conservation Strategy for LakeOntario, hereafter referred to as The Beautiful Lake, completed in 2009, includes detailed summariesand maps of key components of Lake Ontario’s biodiversity, such as coastal wetlands, forests andtributaries, is available on-line at: biodiversity.pdf.The Strategy identified broad categories of action recommendations. The LaMP selected the following fiverecommendations to be a focus of LaMP coordination and management activities with a special emphasison implementing these actions at Priority Action Sites: critical lands and watersReduce the impact of aquatic invasive speciesRestore connections and natural hydrologyRestore native fish communities and native speciesRestore the quality of nearshore watersA significant achievement of the Strategy is the identification of 26 “Priority Action Sites,” high valuewatersheds, tributaries, and coastal areas of critical importance to Lake Ontario’s biodiversity. ThesePriority Action Sites, and

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources : Picton, Ontario : New York, New York ; Picton, Ontario : Bruce Morrison Tom Stewart Betsy Trometer Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Picton, Ontario Picton, Ontario Amherst, New York . Don Zelazny Tracey Tomajer

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