The Lake Erie Islands International Consortium held its annual meeting on Pelee Island, Canada

This years Pelee Island meeting was held on June 4-5. Representatives from three US islands — South Bass, Middle Bass, and Kelleys – also attended. The group’s mission is to share ideas and work to preserve the islands’ natural beauty and past culture and promote ecotourism so that all who visit will enjoy the natural splendor and history that the islands have to offer.

Members of the Consortium share ideas and methods relevant to the challenges and opportunities of the Lake Erie islands.  All four islands share a common ecological niche. Although the boundary between Canada and the United States separates the Lake Erie Islands into two countries, the islands have been historically, naturally and culturally interconnected to one another. At the confluence of two migration routes – the Atlantic Flyway and the Mississippi flyway – the islands are significant stopover sites for many species.

Birds cross the US-Canadian border to Pelee Island more easily than people do.

Boaters entering the US from Canada are likely to be helped by the new ROAM App allowing them to report entry using Mobile devices. The App is being offered by the US Customs and Border Protection and you can download it and register your information. It was not in full operation in Ohio at the time of the meeting but will be available shortly. When the new Pelee Islander II ferry goes into service this summer it will also improve access to the island but the big improvement will come a year later when there will finally be three big ferries serving the island after the older Pelee Islander is overhauled.

All participants in the Pelee Island meeting noted the challenges their islands face as a result of the high lake level.

Late spring storms have already caused significant erosion. Major roads and break walls have been damaged. Residents of all four islands are only beginning to deal with the challenges. Sumiko Onishi from the Pelee Island Bird Observatory led LEICC participants on an early morning bird census walk at the Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve. Erosion from the northeast storms this spring was much in evidence. Sumiko told a story of the strong surges of water while doing a survey during one of the storms. A lot of the point is underwater at this time with the beach moved up into the forest. Indigo buntings, cedar waxwings, eastern wood pewee, greater black-backed gulls, turkey vultures and of course red-winged blackbirds were among the tallied species.

Jill Crosthwaite, a conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), showed the group how the Conservancy is working to transform former agricultural fields on Pelee into meadows and wetlands. Each year NCC staff look for low, wet areas that could become future wetlands. Then, using contractors with excavators and bulldozers, these areas are dug deeper and wider, so that they will become ponds once the spring thaw and rain come. Volunteers and staff then collect seeds from native plants already growing on the island
and plant them in the meadows and newly created wetlands, restoring the landscape to what it once was: a rich, fertile habitat for many species.

Members of the consortium could see vivid examples of this process.

The land transformed into meadows and wetlands several years ago showed a much greater variety of plants than the land transformed more recently. The tour was through a restored field on NCC’s Florian Diamante Nature Reserve property – the field is 86 acres and the whole property is 455 acres. They started the restoration in 2015, breaking the field into 4 sections to allow NCC to collect all the seed on Pelee Island (they can only collect so much each year and don’t want to spread it too thinly). The last section will be planted this fall. Each year they plant 30-50 species of grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees, all collected locally. NCC also created almost 10 acres of wetland on the field by excavating depressions and breaking field tiles in the wet spots – the first one was ~2 acres and created in 2015 and the other three were done in 2016. Our group also saw the rare Wilson Phalarope bird in one of the wetlands. NCC has protected over 1,000 acres (390 hectares) on Pelee Island, the most southerly inhabited part of Canada.

“Wetlands help to keep down pollution levels by filtering out nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen.

These are currently a big problem for Lake Erie and Put-in-Bay because they cause toxic algal blooms. Wetlands also support many plants, which are important for insects, including pollinators that help produce our food,” said Jill. Beyond creating habitat for species at risk, the wetlands are also good for people. The restored ponds help with much-needed flood reduction, water filtration, erosion reduction, and nutrient retention. The group toured the site and backwoods of the former Strowbridge Quarry. Pelee Island resident Ron Tiessen, who manages the Pelee Island Heritage Center, gave a lecture on the geological formation of Pelee with evidence from the Strowbridge site.

The Pelee Island Winery, just south of the West Dock, offered the group a wine tasting and exclusive use of its guest house.

The winery is on the same latitude as the prestigious wine regions of the world (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, and France). At 550 acres, the Pelee Island vineyards comprise the largest private estate in Canada. Having control of its grape supply allows it to grow and care for each vine to specifications outlined by the World Wildlife Fund’s strict Sustainable Vineyard Practice. In brief, this means limited and controlled pesticide spraying and use of a 100% island grown natural fertilizer; sorghum grass. Varietals grown on the island include White: Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Vidal, Pinot Gris, Tokay Friulano; and Red: Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Baco Noir, Shiraz, Tempranillo, Chambercin, Gamay, Zweigelt, Lemberger.

The group had lunch at an impressive new Pelee Island restaurant, the Stone House 1891, near the west dock. It provides Canadian craft
beer and local Ontario wines. All of the food is made from scratch with ingredients from the island and regional farms and markets. It
uses an 800° wood-burning oven for pizza.