Email from Félix Plante, University of Sherbrooke

“The inventory of creek salamanders was successfully completed last Thursday by the members of COGESAF and myself.
We were able to find and count all three species of creek salamanders, the purple salamander, the two-lined salamander and the northern dusky salamander.
As mentioned previously, since this is a long-term study, the complete and popularized results will be transmitted only after the 10 years of inventory planned for the project.
The inventories will therefore continue each year, and will be carried out by the COGESAF team.
I thank you again for your precious collaboration, it is much appreciated.”

A Forest and a ‘Food Forest’
What is the difference?

A forest is a wild place where trees and plants grow. However it is also a place where you can find food. For example, many people think of mushrooms but there are many other types of food to be found in the forest if you know what you are looking for. This topic will be the focus of our future adult learning conferences that are in development.

Just ask Gérald Le Gal and his daughter Ariane Pare-Le Gal about foraging wild food1. An old friend of theirs, Patrick Garcia, is a new friend of ours. He too is a specialist in indigenous plants and picking.

Finding food in the natural environment has been the mainstay of our existence for hundreds and thousands of years. Just ask indigenous communities and they will tell you all about it.

A “ food forest” is a man-made environment planted in a manner to imitate nature and produce a variety of edibles. Forests have creeks and rivers flowing through them. Food forests are watered and controlled by people.. 

In many countries of the world, forest gardens or food forests are common. They are probably one of the oldest forms of land use by humans seen along river banks and in the foothills of monsoon villages.  From the Kandyan forest gardens of Sri Lanka to the Huertos familiars in Mexico and the Pekarangan in Java, Indonesia, they can be best described as low maintenance landscapes with dense vegetation that mimic natural forests in their various stories.  They use less water than regular gardens and have better soil quality with fewer weeds.

One of the early proponents of food forestry in the more temperate climate of the western world was Robert Hart2. He started in 1960, when he saw that his farm was not working as well as he wanted and noticed the natural forest where plants were growing better than on his farm. He developed his methods and his theories over time. They were later explored by Martin Crawford2 and the Agroforestry Research Trust. Forest gardens have become increasingly popular as part of the whole permaculture scene. They can be found throughout the temperate world.

Food Forest strategy lies in the concept of layers. There are either 7 or 8 layers depending on the gardener’s choice.

  1. Overstory consisting of large mature trees
  2. Understory consisting of smaller fruit and nut trees
  3. Shrub layer filled with fruit bushes such as currants
  4. Herbaceous layer made with perennial vegetables that spread horizontally
  5. Ground cover layer consisting of edible plants that spread horizontally
  6. Root layer with plants grown for their roots and tubers
  7. Vine layer which is essentially vertical consisting of vines and climbers such as beans
See the illustration by Graham Burnett who is another great source of information and inspiration on this topic4

A well-managed food forest will yield fruits, nuts, herbs and vegetables at close proximity helping to reduce CO2 emissions. Once established it requires very little artificial energy, no chemical fertilisers or pesticides and minimal labour. However Robert Hart does suggest daily supervision and to cut back plants that try to encroach on each other. Mulching is also a key element in the health of the soil and the organisms within. Like a natural forest, the trees in a forest garden helped to store CO2. As the trees grow and the soil remains undisturbed, the amount of carbon locked up inside the earth increases.

Thanks to Mother Nature we are learning to copy her model and produce food in better growing conditions.  These gardens can be adapted for any amount of space be it in the country, a backyard or an urban setting. They are a way to incorporate edible and useful trees and bushes. The concept can be adapted even to small spaces such as balconies!

1 Gerald Le Gal et Ariance Paré-Le Gal, Forêt, Les Éditions Cardinal inc., Montréal, 2019. This book contains wonderful stories, photographs and recipes for wild food. For a quick story about the man behind the company Gourmet Sauvage watch the podcast
2 Robert Hart describes Food Forests in this video. His book: Forest Gardening: Rediscovering Nature and Community in a Post-Industrial Age
3 Martin Crawford has written books including: Creating a Forest Garden: Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops. His book is also available in French FORÊT-JARDIN (LA) : CRÉER UNE FORÊT COMESTIBLE EN PERMACULTURE POUR RETROUVER AUTONOMIE ABONDANCE Watch him on this video
4 A website created by Graham Burnett offering tips and explanations as well as products for sale.

View our August newsletter on Mailchimp


View our July newsletter on Mailchimp



They are: conservation, research, recreation and education.

  • Conservation
  • Recreation
  • Research

And now, in our 11th year, we are building the education tenet.
Our Objectives and Desired Outcomes over the next 5 years:

  • Nature Education, Physical Fitness, Team Building with primary school age children.
  • “Teach the teachers!” Give pre-service teachers a hands on experience of outdoor education in order to build the future team, use the conserved land for research with local universities
  • Physical Well-Being with outdoor education, build community participation and sense of belonging with adult and family education programs
  • Support active family life by creating more incentives for families to experience quality time together in nature.
We ran a pilot project in the Spring of 2022. What did we find?

  • There are no outdoor education programs in the local region
  • The main obstacle for school trips is the cost of buses
  • Outdoor education can be intimidating for teachers not trained in outdoor education
  • Having a facilitator run the class is key to its success
  • Children share their outdoor experiences with their families
  • Children can become advocates for conservation, the environment and possibly become citizen scientists from a young age.

We are taking small steps to start. We have invited 8 regional schools to join us at Scowen Park with educator Jessica Adams (Nature Nerding).

  • Curriculum aligned outdoor education aimed at primary school children.
  • The Massawippi Foundation and Massawippi Conservation Trust will pay for each outing and will supply the pre and post outing materials, transportation, the facilitator and a healthy snack. Each school is invited to come 3 times (Fall, Winter and Spring) to experience the seasonal changes.

Look out for our sandwich board at Scowen Park. It will be up when the students are visiting.
Stay tuned for more educational developments.

We have two salamander studies currently underway on the Massawippi Trust conserved lands.
Why study these particular creatures?

They are small and mighty indicators of the health of the environment.

They are one of three orders of amphibians which include frogs and toads and Caecilians (limbless amphibians found only in the tropics). There are approximately 400 species of Salamanders worldwide ranging in size from 4 cm to 1.5 m! One third of the planet’s amphibian species are threatened with extinction.
Quebec is home to 10 species of salamanders, including two species that are found only in Quebec: the purple salamander and the mountain dusky salamander. The purple salamander lives on our protected lands in the Lake Massawippi watershed.They are mostly short-bodied, long-tailed organisms with four legs and moist skin. The purple salamander, a variety of the brook salamander, has no lungs! How does it survive? It “breathes” through its moist skin. It can only survive near very small, medium-sized mountain streams. It needs flat rocks and clear, pure water. A high water flow probably indicates the presence of fish, its predators. It lives at the top of the stream, in the shade, in the forest, where the water is fresh. It lays its eggs on the underside of rocks. As its life cycle is characterized by a long larval period (from three to six years), the environment and the climatic conditions must be stable to ensure its survival.


They are nocturnal creatures. They spend their days underground or under the cover of moist leaves, so unless you are a midnight hiker, chances are you won’t see them. They are sensitive to any changes in water quality, air temperature, and humidity. They are both prey and predator and as such are often used as an indicator of ecosystem health. These cold blooded creatures have such specialized ecological niches, which are threatened by climate change and rising temperatures, that they are considered bio indicators (species used to assess the quality of the environment and its changes over time) of climate change.
Salamanders control pests by eating insects like mosquitos. They also eat tadpoles and aquatic invertebrates. They are food for larger animals like birds, mammals, snakes and other invertebrates. They occupy an important position in the food web. Anything which impacts their prey or their predators will be reflected in the salamander population. Other organisms rely on them.
A change in acidity in breeding ponds or a drop in ambient water and they die. Their moist, permeable skin makes them vulnerable to drought and toxic substances. They are considered the “canary in the coal mine” because they are so susceptible to small changes in the habitat and as such as are exceptional indicators of ecosystem health.

In Quebec, agricultural and silvicultural effluents, causing the addition of sediments and the alteration of water quality, constitute the threat the most negative impact on the species according to the experts. They give it a high impact rating. Among the other threats, three categories also have a moderate impact on populations management and water use, transportation and service corridors, and logging. (Translation of text found in ref. page 7 French version is the official version.)

Salamanders promote resilience in the ecological niche, they…

  • control the population of pests by eating them.
  • contribute to soil health by secreting valuable micronutrients from their skin as the burrow underground.
  • Maintain carbon stores by controlling bug population who would otherwise eat off the leafy woodland floors. By maintaining the leaf coverage, they also help store the carbon.
  • Help contribute to the maintenance of healthy headwater streams

“Their contribution to headwater stream maintenance is one of the most important offerings they (unwittingly) make to the human world. The health of our major waterways — rivers, lakes and streams — emanates directly from headwater stream health, and these waterways feed into underground aquifers that supply clean drinking water to humans.” said Sarah Jay in Discover Magazine (
Her article is based on the finding of scientists Best, M. L.; Welsh, H. H., Jr. 2014. The trophic role of a forest salamander: impacts on invertebrates, leaf litter retention, and the humification process. Ecosphere 5(2): article 16. (ref.
Impactful research and findings!

Other researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia as reported in the Science Daily said:
“Salamanders typically live underground. They live in places most people don’t see, and they live in these small, headwater streams where there are no other fresh-water vertebrates. Fish can’t exist in these small streams. This is where water seeps out of the rock, where all streams begin life as a stream. …salamanders comprise a huge amount of protein biomass for these headwater stream ecosystems,” Semlitsch said. “We that’s important because that biomass can then be used by consumers, such as predators, or could be used by decomposers in that system. The salamanders also are consuming aquatic insects. They are a key link, we think, in these headwater stream systems that has not been detected or uncovered before.
“The amount of biomass we’ve reported is much, much higher than has ever been reported before, suggesting these headwater streams are very important ecosystems and they deserve protection. In my view, they actually deserve more protection than further down stream. It seems logical to me to protect the water where it’s coming out of the ground to retain and maintain clean water and provide ecosystem services downstream.”

The health of important ecosystems, including the forests and wetlands where most amphibians are found, are valuable beyond words. These environments contribute billions of dollars to the economy by supporting recreation as well as the fishing and timber industries.

What does the Massawippi Conservation Trust do by preserving and protecting the forested ridge and water basin of Lake Massawippi? We protect the very land that the salamander needs to survive. His protection and his presence on our land contributes to our survival.

For your information

The two types of salamanders being studied on MCT land are the:

EASTERN REDBACK SALAMANDER (Trevor Scott, Université de Sherbrooke)
Plethodon cinereus
Appearance: This species has a slender body, a narrow head and small legs. Its back is striped (reddish or brownish) or without stripes. The belly has patterns similar to ash. The tail is cylindrical. It can measure up to 13 cm.
Habitat: Hardwood forests, mixed forests, coniferous forests and wet rocky areas.
Status: Common and widespread in Quebec.

SPRING SALAMANDER (COGESAF and the Nature Conservancy of Canada)
Gyrinophilus porphyriticus
Description: This salamander is pink or orange with darker spots. The tail has a carina and is laterally compressed. A pale line connects the eye to the nostril. The belly is pale. It can reach more than 20 cm.
Habitat: Found at high altitudes, it frequents mainly resurgences and streams with rocky or gravelly bottoms.
Status: Designated vulnerable in 2010 (provincial status). In Canada, it is considered a species of special concern (federal status). It is present in the Adirondacks, the Appalachians and on some Monteregian mountains.

Profile Dany Gagné
passionate about nature and a key trail building team member
Dany Gagné is a passionate man, a creative person who loves the environment, culture, learning, and digging deep, literally and figuratively.
He has worked for the Massawippi Conservation Trust since 2018. Previously, he worked with fellow trail builders, Matthew and Mahicans, on another project. He was happy when he was called to join them on the shores of Lake Massawippi. His specialty is building bridges and wood work. He enjoys working in the forest, in the middle of nature. When asked, he said, “ …building the trails makes me happy. It responds to my values.’ He appreciates that the Massawippi Conservation Trust gives the team the time to do a good job. He jokingly said, “There is no competition in the region, we are the best! We can take the necessary time and have the right equipment to make the best trails.” He describes it as a job for people with a passion, it can be a slow job but exciting when the vision for the trail comes to fruition. This is his 7th season working in the milieu.
He appreciates the biodiversity, seeing animals while he works, from foxes to owls and woodpeckers. He has only seen moose tracks and bear scat but has never encountered them in person. He appreciates the fact that the large tracts of land allow these animals to migrate. Working on the conserved land, building trails, he and the team are sensitive to the fragility of the ecosystem.
“If we’re going to give people access to the land, we have to design the trails so that people stay on the trail and we do as little damage to the land as possible. The more people that pass through, the more damage there can be. We need to create trails that keep people in one place.” Drainage and erosion are major considerations, as is avoiding sensitive ecological areas.
Trail building involves many skills such as carpentry, handling light machinery, physical strength and creativity to imagine and react to the environment. It also helps to have knowledge of plants and ecosystems, especially when building on our conserved property. The Trust seeks trail builders who will be sensitive to flora and fauna, ensuring that any potential damage to the protected environment is limited. The fact that most of the work is done by hand allows the team to “go gently on the land.”
Building bridges and trails is not his only talent. Dany loves music and culture. In fact, he was our DJ at Ethan’s Beach opening last summer. He brought his equipment and played a wide variety of early jazz and blues. He has participated in many cultural events over the years. He has also worked in construction and in the agricultural sector. He is a natural communicator and enjoys working with the community, bringing together like-minded people.
Dany is an important member of the team and we are happy to have him on board to build bridges and more!

The Canadian Wildlife Federation poster is free to download or to order as a paper copy.

We hear a lot about bees these days, how they are struggling to survive and how important they are to our food sources. Fortunately they are not the only pollinators. June 20-26th was Pollinator Week which brought awareness to the plight and positive actions being taken on behalf of these very important insects and winged creatures.
Pollinators are yes bees but also beetles, birds, bats, butterflies, flies, moths and even some small mammals.
Some facts from the David Suzuki website:

  • Insects makes up 2/3 of all life on earth
  • Insects are a key food source for birds and fish and play a vital role in forests and fields as decomposers.
  • Over three-quarters of wild flowering plants and one-third of the food we eat depend on insect pollination. Think about it that is one out of every three bites of food we eat!
  • More than 800 species of wild bees live in Canada.
  • If we want to talk dollars and cents, pollinators add 233 billion dollars to the global economy, and honey bees alone are responsible for between 395 million dollars in agricultural productivity in Ontario. (

The problem stems from the loss of meadow & wildflower habitat, pollution and the use of chemicals.

Last month we spoke about connectivity and the importance of conserving connected tracts of land to help wildlife migrate and move between various habitats. Think about this for insects and pollinators, the importance of gardens as a stepping stone to the bigger open pastures and fields. Up to 80% of Canadians live in urban centres. Gardens are havens. The open fields under electric towers, the un-mowed ditches on the sides of roads and railroads also create a much needed habitat. By planting native species we can learn about nature and help increase biodiversity around our homes. Even potted plants on balconies that reflect the ecosystems around them contribute. These small acts of conservation can have a huge ripple effect.
To learn more about how NCC supports Small Acts of Conservation, such as planting native plants, click here.Everyone can play a role by planting native species, reducing or better yet eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers, leaving lawns uncut in May when dandelions welcome the first Spring insects. (Read more about this initiative of the Nature Conservancy of Canada). Resisting the urge to clean out the dead leaves and old branches in order to create nesting spaces in the fall helps to create an over the winter habitat for native insects, pollinators and other backyard wildlife. Think of the forest floor which comes alive in the Spring as the wildlife wakes up from hibernation. Those leaves on the ground had a purpose.
What else can we do to help besides planting native species and creating spaces for nesting and hibernation?

  • Turn your lawn into a garden
  • Leave more lawn un-mowed
  • Think about water for the insects. A bird bath or pond may be too deep. A saucer or lid filled with a few stones (connectivity and to help them have a landing place) with fresh water is a good idea.
  • Support your local conservation organisations
  • Speak to your municipal government about changing the dates they mow the ditches, or leaving more municipal land untended or better yet creating more community garden spaces.

The Massawippi Conservation Trust has 1200 acres under conservation. Not all of it is forest, there are some fields and streams with wetlands that play host to so many insects and wild things. If you go for a slow walk along the trails in Scowen Park you will see in the uncut fields, insects moving from flower to flower. We have seen at the park and on the conserved lands, Daisies, Buttercups, Herb-Robert, Two leaved Toothwort, Northern Starflowers, Clover, Orange Hawkweed (also known as Devil’s Paintbrush!)  to name a few! Precious biodiversity!

Ecological connectivity
Breaks in ecological corridors
Forest fragmentation
Why is it important to connect parcels of land and maintain open corridors?

  • Did you know that you need to be 200 to 300’ from the forest edge for the sound of cars and lawn mowers to be muffled and to be able to find a cool, shady spot where the forest floor is still damp even during a 3 week drought?
  • It takes 14 acres of forest to have just one such acre in the centre where the truest forest conditions exist?
  • A residential pocket inside a forest affects up to 30 additional acres with disturbances?

Forest fragmentation occurs by the introduction of roads, agriculture, utility corridors, subdivisions etc. The greater the fragmentation, the faster the disappearance of the forest. Think about ice cubes. The smaller the cube, the faster it melts.

Many species are at the northern limit of their habitat. With the effects of climate change we will continue to see a movement of species, northward into our region.
“Ecological networks are a vital conservation strategy for supporting biodiversity as it responds to climate change. Changing climate conditions are forcing species to shift their ranges. Over the long term, connectivity science can respond to the risks posed by climate change by quantifying habitat and movement needs, predicting how they will change, and identify opportunities to protect large networks of habitat to safeguard connectivity and support species in the long-term.”
Excerpt taken from: A review of ecological connectivity science in the Region of Resolution 40-3 Executive Summary. An Assessment of the Science and Projects Describing the Ecologically Connected Landscape of the Northeast Region of North America.

  • Forest fragmentation leads to the loss of biodiversity, reduction in forest health and water quality, increased threat from invasive plants, species and pathogens.
  • Quebec wants to conserve 30% of its land by 2030, in 8 years. At the moment only 17% is protected.
  • 91% of the land in the Eastern Townships is privately owned. Therefore it is essential to speak about conservation methods and find ways to reach property owners, educate them about the benefits of conservation.

The Massawippi Conservation Trust currently owns or has under its protection, 1,200 acres of land (485 hectares of land). The vast majority is contiguous and on the western ridge of Lake Massawippi. This virgin forest is know for its clean water and healthy habitat which supports many species of salamanders. These important creatures may act as an indicator species of the ecological integrity of the forest they occupy together with the earthworm.

Land use planning is a tool that can be used to protect essential habitats.
As stated in the Appalachian Corridor website: Municipalities and MRCs have access to many tools to generate positive outcomes for the environment and can use their regulatory powers to contribute to the conservation of nature. Municipalities can capitalize on the following levers to foster the health and conservation of natural areas:
• Zoning bylaws
• City or town planning master plan
• Site planning and architectural integration plans
• Conditional uses
• Delivery of permits and certificates
• Municipal works agreements
• Tree planting and tree felling/logging regulations
• Vegetation cutting/mowing bylaws
• Outdoor lighting regulations
• Subdivision bylaws For instance, municipalities can adopt a nature-friendly approach to land use planning and bylaws, limiting the destruction or the degradation of the most sensitive features on a territory such as summits, steep slopes, or riparian areas.

Municipalities can also establish a legal conservation status on properties they own. Nature conservation can also be taken to a whole new level when neighbouring municipalities work together to develop and integrate a comprehensive and holistic conservation vision. In addition to supporting the region’s municipalities in advancing their projects for the conservation and protection of natural areas, Appalachian Corridor recently launched a guide to support municipalities and MRCs throughout Québec. This guide, structured in the form of two toolboxes, provides guidelines to encourage municipalities and MRCs to foster ecological connectivity and natural area conservation on their territories. These tools were developed as part of the Initiative québécoise Corridors écologiques.

You don’t own land?
How can you help?
Find out if your municipality has any environmental plans, has it updated its zoning laws to reflect current realities? Get involved with your municipality and local regional governments. Join an environmental committee. Use your voice and your vote.

We would like to thank the following people and organizations for the ideas collected and shared here.
‘Woods Whys’ by Michael Synder (published by Bondcliff Books) who wrote for years for the Vermont Woodlands magazine and who is currently a Vermont State Forester and Commissioner with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation.
Our affiliated partner Appalachian Corridor who organised a very informative webinar on the importance of ecological corridors and have participated in studies and research papers over the years on the importance of the corridors in our local area not to mention many other topics in line with conservation.

Nicolas Bousquet is the author of the following article. At the moment his major project that he is in charge of is a study of the wood turtle :This includes participating in the surveys; active protection of adult females in a gravel pit; nest protection; developing measures to protect all the turtles and maintaining the activity in the gravel pit; limiting the propagation of the Japanese knotweed in the designed wood turtle habitat to maintain a good quality of habitat as well as teaching classes to CEGEP and University students in the field about the wood turtles.

Despite a rainy and rather cold spring, the recent rise in temperature and the sunny weather are causing the turtles to become active. The warmth is a signal for them to come out of their hibernation in the riverbeds. Soon the three species of turtles, the painted turtle, the snapping turtle and the wood turtle of our sector will be visible during our outdoor activities or on the road! At first, they will be looking for some sunshine and will come out of the still very cold rivers and ponds to facilitate their thermoregulation.
Then, the laying period begins, which will last from the end of May to the beginning of July, but it is particularly in June that the majority of the turtles will be active for the laying. The adult females will seek sand and gravel, or a mixture of both, exposed to the sun to make their nest and bury their eggs. They may therefore go to the side of the road or onto footpaths or cycle paths to nest and thus become very vulnerable. In fact, every year we note turtle deaths along the edges of these structures, often adults, but sometimes also hatchlings that have emerged from their eggs. The passage from the aquatic environment to the terrestrial environment and vice versa for egg-laying is therefore an issue for the survival of adult females every year.
How can we help them to remain safe and sound during this period?

Simply by remaining vigilant! Whether you are driving, walking or cycling on structures bordering lakes, rivers, ponds or wetlands, you can remain vigilant to the presence of turtles and react appropriately in the event of their presence. You can slow down and let the turtle go on its way and warn other motorists of its presence for example. In an immediate emergency, you can help it cross, always in the same direction it was going. It is important not to put the animal back in the water or move it to another location. You can also take a photo and report its presence on the website
It should also be noted that the wood turtle is present in a few rivers in the Eastern Townships and is designated as vulnerable by its provincial status. Populations have suffered a recent decline and some are recovering with difficulty. The wood turtle is particularly vulnerable to injury and mortality on roads and by agricultural and forestry machinery, especially because of its very terrestrial nature. Since it is the most terrestrial of our turtles in Quebec, it is exposed to these pressures for longer than other species. Moreover, the degradation of its habitat does not help its cause, nor does the presence of predators that destroy nests, such as raccoons! Despite the efforts of local organizations and actors, the situation remains precarious for several populations in the Eastern Townships. In fact, since turtles in general are slow growing and slow to reproduce, the recovery of these populations takes several years… when it is possible.
However, there is hope! Habitat quality is an essential element in the recovery of declining species and many local organizations are working to maintain and conserve these quality habitats. There are also several actions underway to better understand the specific threats affecting our wood turtles in order to better correct them!

Nicolas Bousquet, biol.,
Coordonnateur de projets terrain