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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Simcoe may experience more changes in the next 20 years than it has in the past 100

LETTER: Conservation authority needs funds to save Lake Simcoe Monday, July 16, 2007

Lake Simcoe may experience more changes in the next 20 years than it has in the past 100. The ecological balance of the lake, which evolved over several thousand years, has been upset. This is our major conclusion from a review of 193 reports, scientific papers and studies on the ecology of Lake Simcoe and the Laurentian Great Lakes. Simcoe appears to be engulfed in what scientists have called an "invasional meltdown." The lake has recently undergone a wave of species invasions dominated by exotic invertebrates zebra and quagga mussels, fishhook and spiny water fleas plus a vertebrate, the round goby. These invasive species come from outside the Lake Simcoe ecosystem and can degrade habitat, kill and/or displace native species and short-circuit food webs and energy flows needed to maintain and rehabilitate biological resources.
'These invasive species do not have any natural predators to keep population in balance, and some have life-history characteristics promoting rapid population growth. This has happened with zebra mussels, the most visible of the invasive species. They completely cover spawning beds, contributing to the decline in fish reproduction. Not nearly enough is known about the changes in the ecological balance of the lake. A number of expert and dedicated scientists are studying Simcoe for example, Jennifer Winter, David Evans, Jake La Rose, Stephanie Guildford, Rob Baldwin and Bob Hecky. There is no plan for a co-ordinated scientific study of the environmental problems in the lake. But the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority has identified a number of practical steps to reduce pollution that should be undertaken now. To make an immediate and important impact on solving the problems of Lake Simcoe, (the province must) provide the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority with $5 million a year. In 1985, when the Ontario cabinet established the Lake Simcoe Environmental Management Strategy, the conservation authority was designated the "lead agency." However, it was never provided sufficient funds to properly pursue the management strategy. In fact, over the years, funding to the authority has been reduced. The $5 million would allow the authority to move ahead on two fronts: - Undertake a 10-year multidisciplinary study of the ecology and biodiversity of Lake Simcoe. This will involve co-ordinating and funding current research and hiring more scientific staff at the authority. During the 10 years, a major effort will be made to develop methods and strategies to control invasive species. - Second, continue its program of mitigation and retrofitting, which will reduce phosphorus levels to acceptable limits. We have discussed the $5 million with Gayle Wood and Mike Walters of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, and they feel this would allow the authority to move ahead with a significant program to improve the quality of the Lake Simcoe environment.

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