Think Energy

Summer Recharge: The Birds and the Bees About Pollinator Meadows

Aug 1, 2022

Without pollinators like bees and butterflies, our food supply suffers drastically. It’s incredible to think these small insects play such a large role in our existence. With climate change, increased pesticide use, and other limiting factors, pollinator populations are declining drastically. It may seem unlikely, but utilities like Hydro Ottawa are actually suited to help restore the environments these pollinators need to thrive. Relive our conversation on how this is possible with restoration ecologist Tracey Etwell of the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Meaghan McDonald, lake planning and shoreline stewardship coordinator for the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority. 

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  • Tracey Etwell, LinkedIn:
  • Meaghan McDonald, LinkedIn:
  • Canadian Wildlife Foundation
    • Website:
    • LinkedIn:
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  • Rideau Valley Conservation Authority
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    • Website:


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Dan Seguin  00:06

This is thinkenergy. The podcast that helps you better understand the fast changing world of energy through conversations with game changers, industry leaders and influencers. So join me, Dan Seguin, and my co-host, Rebecca Schwartz, as we explore both traditional and unconventional facets of the energy industry.  Hey everyone, welcome to the summer rewind edition of the thinkenergy podcast. While we recharge our batteries during these lazy hazy days of summer, we're bringing back some blasts from our podcast past. We'll be reintroducing some of our most popular interviews that garnered a lot of attention and interest. There's been a lot of talk about the future electrification of energy on the path to net zero. The episodes we've selected are very future focused with themes around green innovation, renewable energy, and our impact on the environment. So I hope you enjoy the summer rewind edition of today's episode. In the meantime, have a happy summer. And we'll be back on August 15th to kick off another exciting season. Cheers.  Hey, everyone, welcome back to another episode of the thinkenergy podcast. On today's show, we're going to talk about the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees literally. Did you know that across North America, the populations of monarch butterflies, bees and other pollinators are in a steep decline due to herbicides, pesticides, climate change, and a reduction in natural pollinator habitats. Pollinators are responsible for a third of the world's food supply, so they are extremely vital to our existence in Canada. There are more than 1000 species of pollinating animals that are responsible for billions of dollars worth of Canadian farm produce flowers, and ecosystems that rely on pollination. In short, without pollinators, food supply would suffer drastically. It may seem like an unlikely union, but utilities like Hydro Ottawa are ideally suited to restore these environments, thanks to a number of utility corridors and properties in their service territories, not to mention their kilometers of power lines, and right aways along roadsides. Moreover, vegetation along utility corridors are compatible with these types of vegetation necessary to support pollinators. In 2019, Hydro Ottawa began civil construction of its largest ever municipal transformer station in the south end of Ottawa situated on 24 acres of land since the new transformer station requires only five acres of property, Hydro Ottawa partnered with the City of Ottawa, Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, and the Canadian Wildlife Federation to create one of the largest pollinator meadows of its kind in Eastern Ontario, adjacent to this future station. The agreement means that 15 acres will be dedicated to a pollinator meadow, which is scheduled for seeding. In the spring of 2021, a four acre tree reforestation area was reforested in 2020, with 2750 trees thanks to the Rideau River Conservation Authority. So here's today's big question. What goes into a successful pollinator meadow? And how can we as an industry, and as ordinary citizens help the movement by building more pollinator meadows? Maybe in our own backyards? I have two guests joining me today for this podcast. My first guest is Tracey Etwell, a Restoration Ecologist with the Canadian Wildlife Federation. Tracey supports the Right of Way program, which helps restore pollinator meadows for monarch butterflies and other pollinators in Eastern Ontario. My second guest is Meaghan McDonald, Lake Planning and Shoreline Stewardship Coordinator for the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority. There are 36 Conservation Authorities in Ontario responsible for furthering the restoration, development and management of watershed and they're now soil resources across the province. Thank you both for joining me today. So, Tracey, let's start with the Canadian Wildlife Federation. What are pollinators? What important role do pollinators play? And what does pollinator habitat look like?

Tracey Etwell  05:21

Great question, Dan. So as a group, there are many species that are pollinators. Many people aren't aware there's things like native bees, flies, moths, butterflies, beetles, and even our hummingbirds are pollinators. But when we talk about our pollinator habitat in our project, we're really focusing on the insects, such as our native bees, flies and butterflies, and pollinator habitat varies depending on each species. But all insect pollinators benefit from open meadows full of wildflowers and grasses. And these native flowers provide the pollen and the nectar and the vegetation in general for the species to hide and nest and over winter. And also, some of these flowers are very specific hosts for butterflies and moths, where they require that specific plant for their lifecycle.

Dan Seguin  06:04

Now, this question is for both- do habitats vary depending on where they're located in the province and country? If so, what's unique about Eastern Ontario? Wondering, Meaghan, if you can expand on this? And then what about you, Tracey?

Meaghan McDonald  06:21

Yeah, sure. So obviously, our country is massive. So there's a big variety of habitats, we've got mountains, prairies, plaines, forests, wetlands, all sorts of things. I think what's kind of unique about Eastern Ontario, maybe in comparison to our southern counterpart there is that we do have still quite a lot of natural areas available to us. The development pressures out here are are building just as they are in the southern region. But I think in Eastern Ontario, there's a really good opportunity to sort of preserve what we already have and protect the resources that we already have as that development occurs. So I think that's kind of a unique feature out here.

Tracey Etwell  07:02

So our focus on in Eastern Ontario is based on two things. One is that the threatened monarch butterfly range in Canada is heavily focused in Ontario and Quebec. So obviously, we're overlapping that region. And secondly, our funder, which is the Ontario Trillium Foundation has sponsored our work in the Eastern Ontario region. There are also tons and tons of rights of way here which we define as roadways, transmission lines and pipelines. And as Meaghan said, we do have habitat across Canada. And the management of this vegetationcalong with rights of way is compatible with meadow habitat, which benefits these pollinators. And we're hoping that rights of way meadow projects will catch on across Canada. And we're busy creating a national network of rights of way managers to encourage meadow habitat restoration across the country.

Dan Seguin  07:47

Okay, Tracey, I know that there are many factors that are contributing to the decline in pollinators and their habitats. Based on your experience, what are those reasons? And is there one in particular, that's been identified as the most destructive force?

Tracey Etwell  08:05

Yeah, so you're correct. There are many forces that contribute to this. The biggest one is thought to be the loss of habitat, which is consistent with a lot of species. When land is developed, that habitat is lost. Also, these insects need large quarters of habitat to travel around. So when these pieces get disconnected, it's harder for these pollinators to find that habitat. Also, in Eastern Ontario, the invasive plant species, while personal, which some people may be aware of is another threat. It's spread rapidly throughout the area and is out competing or native wildflowers. It's hard to control. In many places they spray and frequent mowing, or the ways that control it. Then, so when that's done controlled, then those native species that would have been there are now removed. So we're hoping once wild parsnip can be under control, better meadow habitat restoration can support these populations.

Dan Seguin  08:59

Back to you, Meaghan, can you tell us about the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority and what types of stewardship projects you're involved with?

Meaghan McDonald  09:10

Sure. So in partnership with our Foundation Branch, the Rideau Valley Conservation Foundation, we offer a number of stewardship programs that are really aimed at largely private landowners, but also municipalities and public landowners as well. Our main one would really be our forestation and tree planting program. We plant about 200,000 trees just in the Rideau watershed alone every year. We also have a shoreline naturalization program, which helps a lot of shoreline landowners create sort of a natural buffer along their waterways. We have a lot of lakes and rivers in our watershed that we're fortunate to have so we like to help help landowners protect what they have on their property. We also have a rural clean water grant program which is aimed at helping farmers do clean water projects on their property. And then, in addition to that, we also do some stream monitoring, wetland restoration, invasive species removal, and garbage cleanups, especially in the City of Ottawa with our city stream launch program

Dan Seguin  10:17

With respect to pollinator meadows, Meaghan, what can you tell us about your organization's role? Do you bring your regional expertise about Eastern Ontario's environment and its native plants?

Meaghan McDonald  10:29

Yeah, so we don't have a huge focus on pollinators in our organization; we've historically been a lot more focused on water quality protection projects, which is why it's so important for us to have partners like the Canadian Wildlife Federation to partner with on on projects like this. So we don't have a major role in the pollinator project realm. Where we do bring our regional expertise is more for tree planting, shoreline naturalization, so your trees and your shrubs and items like that through our stewardship programs, we also partner with our nursery or nurseries or suppliers, the Ferguson Tree Nursery, which is located down in Kemptville. And they've been working lately with us and a few other groups in the in the Ottawa Valley on expanding their product line, away from just trees so that they also can be a source of native pollinator species as well in Eastern Ontario. Right now, it's really aimed at potted plants for landowners if they want to, you know, create a little habitat pollinator habitat in their own property. But they are looking at expanding that so that they can be a local source source for native seed as well. It's very important that we kind of keep that local seed source in the area, because when you are bringing in plants from different regions they are sometimes not quite as adapted to our current climate conditions as as, say, Southern Ontario or other parts of the country. So yeah, really, The Canadian Wildlife Federation is is kind of the expert on this project that we're working with and we're very happy to have their their expertise onboard.

Dan Seguin  12:17

You both are playing integral parts in the 15 acre pollinator meadows that Hydro Ottawa is building in the south end of the city. I understand it's one of the largest in eastern Ontario. Tracy, why are utilities a key player in Canadian Wildlife Federation's pollinator recovery efforts?

Tracey Etwell  12:40

Oh, so CWF was very excited to be partnering with Hydro Ottawa and RVCA on this initiative, which is one of the largest projects as you mentioned. So utilities are a key player in our pollinator restoration efforts as they maintain over 160,000 kilometres of transmission lines; 1000s of generation stations across Canada, which has huge potential for pollinator habitat restoration, also their linear design are relatively easy for pollinators to find. Since utilities need to control the woody species over the long term along these facilities. It provides a great place for the wildflowers and grasses to grow. And it provides a great opportunity for you utilities to just demonstrate environmental leadership and provide the habitat. That's that's a win win for the utilities and the pollinators.

Dan Seguin  13:27

And now for you, Meaghan, what kind of follow up work does Rideau Valley Conservation Authority do for a project like Hydro's 15 acre pollinator meadow?

Meaghan McDonald  13:40

Yeah, so um, for this project, we're actually already going to be on site for a related tree planting project. So it's kind of why we are involved in the in the pollinator side, because it does take a little bit of work to establish native pollinators seed, many of the native seeds, for example, they might take one, two, maybe more years to germinate, and really a few years before they really establish and take over. So it's really important that we manage that area for invasive species so that they don't take over or that an opportunity- opportunistic species, like Tracey mentioned, poison parsnip, for example, or Manitoba Maple seedlings that they don't move in. So this will be done really through annual to semi-annual mowing of the site. So we wait till the until the right time to sort of do a mow so that we can remove some of the unwanted species, allowing the native ones to really come up. And we'll probably also do a little bit of spot removal of the undesirable plants as that as they as they come up as well. And we'll do some monitoring as well. Plots throughout the meadow that'll let us sort of measure how well the native plants are really coming along and at what rates which will be great because it will be a great learning experience for us. Since we don't personally have a lot of experience, it'll just kind of be a great way to see what works and what doesn't. And what goes into a project like this so that hopefully we can be involved with more in the future.

Dan Seguin  15:12

The Rideau Valley Conservation Authority has also planted 2750 trees on four acres at this site. Meaghan, is the reforestation connected to the meadow? Or is it a separate but complementary initiative?

Meaghan McDonald  15:30

Yeah, I think it's kind of it's kind of cool that it is on the same site. The trees were planted last spring. And they kind of form a little bit of a barrier around the outside area of the pollinator garden, or the prop line or inside the pollinator meadow. So it's, it does create a nice barrier between the meadow and the adjacent highway and adjacent farmer and farm field. So it's going to create a nice little windbreak. It will also help with some of the salt spray that's coming off the highway. And these trees were really planted as part as a compensation for the station that's being built there. And we found that having the combination of the trees as the compensation and also the opportunity for the pollinator habitat was just such a great opportunity at this particular site, just because we don't so we don't really want to get trees planted too close to the station, especially with the the tornado that came through a few years ago. So it's nice to have those trees at a distance, but also have that nice low growing easy to maintain pollinator meadow in the areas directly surrounding it. So it's a nice combination there.

Dan Seguin  16:45

Now understanding that without pollinators, Canada's food supply is threatened. Tracey, how is the Canadian Wildlife Federation building resources and support for these projects?

Tracey Etwell  16:58

Yes, so the Canadian Wildlife Federation is committed to supporting pollinators for both our diverse biodiversity and our food supply. As you mentioned, many of the nutritious plants we eat such as fruits and vegetables rely on insect pollination, and 90% of the world's flowering plants rely on insect pollination. So it's critical that as a global society, we support these insect pollinators. Now our project is focused on a variety of support such as technical expertise in building these meadows, increasing the native seed supply in Ontario, and providing case studies of the costs and benefits of restoring meadow habitat. We work with interested managers to develop their respective projects. And we've also only recently formed the Canadian branch of rights of way within the US rights of way habitat working group to enhance our network so that we have more access to resources, case studies and best practices.

Dan Seguin  17:48

I'm really looking forward to your thoughts on this next question, Tracey. Road right aways are a major push for Canadian Wildlife Federation's pollinator initiative. Why build them there?

Tracey Etwell  18:02

Yeah, so like transmission lines, road rights of way are another area of great potential for habitat. If you think about the over 1 million kilometers of roads across Canada, that's a lot of space for pollinator habitat. There's also a lot of interest in maintaining and reducing the mowing and the herbicide use that goes into maintaining roads. And by using native plants that can allow for that reduction in those two aspects. And it may even save municipalities municipal maintenance costs by reducing these efforts. And also, it's a great opportunity to share the initiative with the public that are driving by and can see these beautiful displays.

Dan Seguin  18:40

Now for my last question for both of you. How can landowners improve pollinator habitats on their properties? And what could citizens do to support this work? Or our pollinator friends in general? Meaghan, let's start with you and the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority.

Meaghan McDonald  19:00

Sure! So we always promote the use of native plants on properties for a number of reasons. They obviously have benefits to pollinators. But they also are often like low more low maintenance and typical ornamental plants. So we would encourage folks that that are gardening or are looking for something to plant on their property, then maybe consider some of our native plant species just because they do have that added benefit to the pollinators. We will also of course, promote the use of Cree native plants along natural areas like shorelines in addition to sort of the, the the wildflowers and the meadow species that we're using in this project, there's lots of native trees and shrubs as well that they can consider that are beneficial to pollinators. I was just gonna say and then supporting your local native nurseries. There's a there's a few in the Ottawa Valley that people can consider. And sometimes it just takes a little bit more searching and then digging to find those native native plants for your garden, but they're out there. And if we all support our local native nurseries, then they'll be able to continue supplying those plants for us.

Dan Seguin  20:24

And now, Tracey, what about from the Canadian Wildlife Federation perspective?

Tracey Etwell  20:28

Right, so we also support backyard gardens planted with native plants. It's a great start. We offer many webinars and guides online to help people get into this mode of planting. Some other things that people can do, that they might not have considered is leaving leaves on your lawn and garden in the fall. Many of these pollinators actually, overwinter and they'll use that that habitat to protect themselves from the winter conditions. Lastly, if you can resist mowing those dandelions until more spring flowers bloom. And that's one of the first floral resources that are available for pollinators. And the spring is actually one of the hardest seasons for them to get going because there's very little for them to feed on and they're very hungry, obviously. So something else you can also do is overseed. With clover in your garden, then clover is a great resource for pollinators. In terms of bigger things, you can contact your local councils and ask them to become a bee city, which is a specific designation, which means they support pollinators and you have projects that support that. And also contact your municipality and ask them if they can support meadow habitat restoration projects in their area.

Dan Seguin  21:40

Okay, Tracey, and Meaghan, are you ready to close this off with some rapid fire questions? We'll start with Tracy and then we'll follow up with Meaghan.

Tracey Etwell  21:50


Meaghan McDonald  21:52

Sounds good.

Dan Seguin  21:53

 What is your favorite pollinator?

Tracey Etwell  21:57

My favorite pollinator is the Gypsy Cuckoo Bumblebee, which is an endangered Bumblebee with a great name.

Meaghan McDonald  22:05

I was just gonna say our native bees, there's many species and I think they're all important. So I don't have quite a specific answer, but native bees.

Dan Seguin  22:15

Now, what is your favorite flower?

Tracey Etwell  22:18

My favorite is the Brown Eyed Susan, which is a native plant, of course, a powerhouse for pollinators and very easy to grow.

Meaghan McDonald  22:27

I like Wild Bergamot. It's again, easy to grow. And it's got a really cool kind of purple flower on it.

Dan Seguin  22:35

Moving on, what is one thing you can't live without?

Tracey Etwell  22:41

Chocolate? Always chocolate?

Meaghan McDonald  22:45

And I would say coffee.

Dan Seguin  22:49

What habit or hobby have you picked up during shelter in place?

Tracey Etwell  22:55

For me, it's been sourdough baking, making my own.

Meaghan McDonald  23:01

I've been starting a lot of craft projects and not finishing them. We also got a canoe last year and new cross country skis this winter.

Dan Seguin  23:09

Okay, if you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Tracey Etwell  23:14

For me it would be to fly to travel and see the world.

Meaghan McDonald  23:18

Also to fly

Dan Seguin  23:22

This is an interesting one. If you could turn back time and talk to your 18 year old self, what would you be telling her?

Tracey Etwell  23:30

I would tell her to enjoy life more and not to be so serious.

Meaghan McDonald  23:36

I would say save and also travel and spend time with friends and family as much as you can while you can.

Dan Seguin  23:42

Okay, what excites you most about these pollinator projects?

Tracey Etwell  23:49

I get excited to see the new life emerge. So when new plants start to blow when the insects start to come in and use that habitat that just fills me with joy.

Meaghan McDonald  24:00

And I'm excited about kind of learning something new because these projects are new for us and being able to bring some of that knowledge to our landowners and then also to some of our conservation areas as well.

Dan Seguin  24:11

And lastly, what do you currently find most interesting in your sector?

Tracey Etwell  24:18

For me, I would say it's the new application of new technologies that are coming online that help us support the conservation projects and answering specific questions that we need help with.

Meaghan McDonald  24:29

And I really like working with landowners and sort of seeing them connect the dots on how what they do on their property really impacts nature and it's always fun to see.

Dan Seguin  24:40

Well, Tracey, Meaghan, we've reached the end of another episode of the thinkenergy podcast. I truly hope you had a lot of fun. And thank you so much for joining me today. Cheers.

Tracey Etwell  24:54

It's been great. Thank you, Dan.

Meaghan McDonald  24:56

Yeah, thank you.

Dan Seguin  24:58

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the thinkenergy podcast, and don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review wherever you're listening. And to find out more about today's guests or previous episodes, visit thinkenergy I hope you will join us again next time as we spark even more conversations about the energy of tomorrow.