Friends of the Muskoka Watershed will be haulin’ ash in 2017!
The Hauling Ash to Solve Ecological Osteoporosis (HATSEO) project seeks to understand and address the diminishing calcium levels in Muskoka’s lakes and soils though a unique and innovative program of residential wood ash recycling and applied research. Evidence of decreased levels of calcium is already being seen in diminished yields in maple sap, especially in the north-east corner of the watershed, though evidence that larger areas of the watershed being affected are increasing. Appropriate levels of calcium in both soil and water is essential for aquatic and terrestrial life in the watershed. Getting out in front of a more widespread impact and finding ways to replenish calcium levels in soil and water will help to ensure a healthier and more resilient ecosystem, now and for the future.
Have you completed our HATSEO survey? Completing the survey will be a big help in making this program successful. Go to our Survey Page.
HATSEO will explore, create, test and refine an optimal way to collect, store, and distribute wood ash as an environmentally safe and sound means to replenish critically diminishing calcium levels within the Muskoka River watershed. The idea is to engage with year round and seasonal residents who will be asked to save ash at home and/or cottage to be collected within Muskoka’s 5 regions. We will also investigate opportunities involving commercial sources of ash within the Muskoka region. Collected ash will be distributed in yet-to-be determined quantities back to the forest floor as part of a forest management plan. Test plans will be created to measure the effects and will be utilized to refine and improve the process as required. This project will have a restorative effect, with benefits accruing across the ecosystem, including sustainable forest growth and sustainable improvements in lake and river chemistry and biology and, thereby, overall long-term habitat and water quality. Since water is such an important and integral part of life and livelihood in Muskoka, all residents – year round and seasonal – along with visitors will benefit from a healthier watershed. What we learn here may also be implemented within other critical watersheds in Ontario.
Along with testing the viability of such a unique and beneficial program, some of the research we will conduct will include:
- How quickly, completely and consistently does the wood ash dissolve in water and contribute to the Ca supply in pore water, stream water etc.?
- Are there any toxins in residential wood ash?
- Running a daphniid bioassay to measure any toxicity of wood ash. We will do this with a wood ash extract or suspension, and various dilutions, in comparison with the FLAMES medium, in collaboration with the FLAMES lab staff and Dr. Shelley Arnott from Queens.
- Which component of residential wood ash has the highest concentration of available Ca, the ash or the char component? How variable are the Ca levels among samples of wood ash?
Why this work is so important.
Calcium levels are falling in the Muskoka River watershed (MRW), decreasing by 30% since the 1980s. Based upon allowable harvesting from 10-year forest management plans, 38% of the lakes surveyed in the MRW will fall below the critical 1 mg*L-1. Since Ca is an essential nutrient for all living creatures, widespread Ca decline (“aquatic osteoporosis”) poses a severe threat to aquatic ecosystems. Potential additives include lime (i.e. calcium carbonate), calcium chloride (dust suppressant) or wood ash. Lime is not available in the watershed, and must be mined elsewhere and purchased. Calcium chloride could add too much chloride, itself a potential toxin. Wood ash is the best alternative to reverse aquatic osteoporosis. It is available locally; it solves a waste problem; and it contains the other minerals that came from the tree biomass. We are confident that taking wood ash back to Muskoka forests will close a cycle, returning that small mineral fraction of a tree which initially came from the soil. Developing and testing a wood ash recycling program could solve the problem of aquatic osteoporosis, speed watershed recovery from acid rain, support a local forestry industry, contribute to solid waste reduction and directly engage Muskoka residents.
When water calcium levels get low and Daphnia populations decrease in any lake, algal growth goes unchecked and blooms can occur.
The Muskoka River Watershed, including soils, lakes and rivers, along with Muskoka residents, both seasonal and year-round, will benefit environmentally and economically through wide deployment of a wood ash recycling program in order to offset calcium decline brought about by tree harvesting, acid deposition and thin Canadian shield soils.
This program will have the joint purpose of supporting sustainable logging practices, reversing the effects of acid deposition, and restoring calcium levels in forest soils and lakes which will protect the water quality and thus the native species in local lakes, improving the health and vitality of aquatic and soil ecosystems.
Thank you Ontario Trillium Foundation
This program is made possible through the generous support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation. We are grateful for having been selected as a 2017 Seed Grant recipient.