’50 in 50′ Series: Expanding Knowledge of Natural Areas – Rare Habitat Protection (1995)

50in50

Lower Trent Conservation is celebrating its 50th anniversary! To commemorate this milestone occasion, we have released our ’50 in 50′ historical blog series. This special series features 50 articles highlighting some of the achievements, milestones and events of the past 50 years. We hope you enjoy them!

Have you ever heard the saying, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”? It is akin to trying to improve your golf game or lose weight, but never keeping score or weighing yourself. It is also like trying to care for natural areas such as unique landforms, rare habitats, and wildlife hotspots without knowing where they are. Without measuring or evaluating natural areas, you can’t tell how well they are protected over time.

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Alderville Woods Natural Habitat Area

Prior to the 1990s, Lower Trent Conservation’s information about natural areas, especially those on private lands, was weak at best. Fortunately, the appetite for protection of nature was starting to grow in Ontario during this time. The approach was changing from the traditional strategy of buying lands to protect them from development, to cooperative programs encouraging voluntary private land stewardship. It became fashionable to inventory natural areas and funding became available for detailed field studies of our “natural wonders”.

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Black tern flying over a wetland area

In the 1990s, our knowledge of the unbelievably diverse natural areas within our watershed region started to grow. In 1993, the Waterfront Natural Areas Report included evaluations of natural areas along the Lake Ontario shoreline from Burlington to Trenton, including 37 in our watershed region. It was a very impressive start.

Then, in 1995, a series of Lower Trent Region Natural Areas reports were completed that provided assessments of an incredible 38 natural areas throughout the entire watershed region, recognizing most as “Sensitive Natural Areas”. Each natural area was scored for ecological significance using 10 criteria including:

  1. landform representation & rarity
  2. hydrological function
  3. vegetation community representation & diversity
  4. vegetation community rarity
  5. condition/quality of habitats & communities
  6. species diversity
  7. significant species
  8. habitat for seasonal concentrations of wildlife
  9. area size, shape & buffering capability
  10. linkage & clustering
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butterfly milkweed Asclepias tuberosa

An area was designated as a Significant Natural Area if at least 3 of the 10 criteria were met. In addition, 43 wetlands were also evaluated as part of the inventory work.

Many rare species were recorded, some for the first time in eastern Ontario. Habitats of note included old growth sugar maple forest, prairie, savannah, shore cliff forests, spicebush seeps, limestone alvar, and numerous others.

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Alderville Black Oak Savanna

The reports catalogued and mapped a remarkable field-based physiographic and biological inventory, focusing on vegetation communities, birds and plants, on a scale never completed before for the Lower Trent Conservation watershed region. This work was possible only because landowners granted access to private properties for in-depth field work.

The reports made recommendations for ambitious ecological restoration of several prairie and savannah sites. As a result, restoration efforts followed at remnant prairie and savannah sites at Keating-Hoards Natural Habitat Area, as well as Trenton Greenbelt, Goodrich-Loomis, Glen Miller, and Seymour Conservation Areas. Various methods have been tried, the most exciting of which were controlled burns, to prepare sites for planting of oak saplings, tall native grasses, and wildflowers.

Today, our natural areas are long overdue for a second on the ground look to “measure” how well they are being protected. If only we had the funding.

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