By Joseph Gentile
A look into the past, present and future of Canada’s remaining Carolinian Forest.
LINDSAY – Forests are perhaps the most diverse landforms that dot our geography. They support lifeforms of various species—on the forest floor, in the canopy, within freshwater streams and wetlands that coexist with woodlots, and deep within crevices of bark (University of Guelph, 1994). Canada’s forests are among the most intact and diverse in the world, with a multitude of species favouring the distinctive four seasons and climatic conditions of North America, and an increased value of recognition amid citizens with respect to the natural, economical and cultural assets that they channel (Windle, 2016). However, such understanding of environmental stewardship and the urge to protect natural commodities has not always been contemporaneous in earlier ages of society (Wood, 2016). As reflected in the Carolinian Forest of southern Ontario, human pressures are reaching a climax and are continually threatening natural landscapes, such as forests; but, with a new age of recognition towards human impacts on ecological systems will come a renewed chance for the reversal of these downfalls.
Tucked just to the south of a booming metropolitan corridor lays Ontario’s Carolinian forest ecosystem—or rather
what is left of it. Part of a larger ecosystem stretching south, covering American states such as Pennsylvania, Vir
ginia and the Carolina’s, Ontario’s Carolinian forest sits on the northern fringe of this forest system. This impressive vegetation zone only occupies roughly one percent (University of Guelph, 1994) of Canada’s total land area, yet it remains one of the most significant areas in the country. According to research conducted by the University of Guelph and funded by the Carolinian Canada Coalition, a Canadian-based agency which fosters research around all stakeholders of Ontario’s Carolinian forest that contributes to the planning and implementation of protection strategies, this forest zone is home to a substantial amount of flora and fauna species found nowhere else in Canada. This ecosystem also boats over 400 bird species—peaking during migration season; 33 percent of all threatened and endangered species—identified under the Species at Risk Act—across Canada; as well as over 200 (Nature Conservancy of Canada, 2012) provincially rare species.
Historically, the region of which the Carolinian occupies boasted a soaring population (Wood, 2016). Thousands of
economic refugees inundated the region for a higher quality of life and labour in the agricultural industry (Elliott, 1999). According to Chris Wood, an environmental journalist and author of ‘Dry Spring: The Coming Water Crisis of North America (2008)’, the steady arrival of European settlers, vying for some of the best arable lands in south-western Ontario, fostered the rigorous process of land cultivation; paving the way for, and developing, Canada’s agricultural industry, while unknowingly destroying vast extents of delicate Carolinian forest. Today, mentions Wood, all that remains in its place is an extensive corridor of farmer’s fields, conveniently following the contours of Provincial highway 401; stretching from Milton—just west of Toronto—to Sarnia, Ontario. The mature stances of deciduous growth that have largely comprised the Carolinian have vanished, the deep roots of the forest, that once served as anchorage
to the soil beneath them have perished, and all that is left behind is volume-less, chemically-enhanced masses of soil that are depleted of nutrients only gained through natural processes under a foliage canopy. Perhaps this is why Lake Erie faces the threats it is burdened with: because humans have stripped away the nutrients and stability from the very soil they depend on as a means for survival, inevitably leading to the persistent application of synthetic fertilizers and soil erosion.
From tree-planting and conservation action plan initiatives at schools and with community initiatives, to professional forums and lectures, educating today’s youth about the importance of biodiversity, there is an ever-growing effort towards preserving the last remaining Carolinian forest in Canada (Johnson, 2009). Students at the District School Board of Niagara understand the troubles their forests face, but also realize that there is much they can do to help restore ecosystems locally. The founding of an educational awareness program, sponsored by the Niagara Restoration Council, meant that 62,500 native trees and 11,000 wildflower species were planted by students within one year alone (Government of Canada, 2013). Meanwhile, the Carolinian Canada Coalition just underwent a reconfiguration to their social marketing strategies and conservation action plans to include collaboration and feedback from innumerable stakeholders—from First Nations communities to government agencies and stewardship councils (Carolinian Canada Coalition, 2018). They believe, in the topic of land conservation, communication is the key to success; especially, with youth. With the development of interactive and educational camps, programs and summits, a level of communication arises and, although the Carolinian forest cannot be brought back to its pristine state, recognition of such a critical ecosystem is achieved. The future of conservation lies with today’s youth that will, without a doubt, become tomorrows leaders.
Joseph Gentile – Editor and freelancer of environmental affairs, TheLumberjack.ca.
Carolinian Canada Coalition. (2018). Carolinian Canada Coalition. Conservation Action Planning for Carolinian Canada Biodiversity Hotspots. Retrieved from https://carolinian.app.box.com/s/wbvuqde2tty2usyyztkb
Elliott, K. (1996). The Forestry Chronicle. The forests of southern Ontario. Retrieved from http://pubs.cif-ifc.org/doi/pdf/10.5558/tfc74850-6
Government of Canada. (2013). Environment and Climate Change Canada. From Little Acorns, a Carolinian Forest Grows. Retrieved from http://www.ec.gc.ca/Ecoaction/default.asp?lang=En&n=F451289A-1&pedisable=true
Johnson, L. (2009). ON NATURE Magazine. Endangered ecosystem: Carolinian zone. Retrieved from http://onnaturemagazine.com/endangered-ecosystem-carolinian-zone.html
Nature Conservancy of Canada. (2012). Cision. Mature Carolinian forest conserved by Nature Conservancy of Canada. Retrieved from https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/mature-carolinian-forest-conserved-by-nature-conservancy-of-canada-510863881.html
University of Guelph. (1994). Carolinian Canada. The Uniqueness of Carolinian Canada. Retrieved from https://caroliniancanada.ca/legacy/FactSheets_CCUniqueness.htm
Wood, C. (2016). Tyee Solutions Society. On Nature’s Death Row: Ontario’s Vanished ‘Carolinian’ Forest. Retrieved from https://thetyee.ca/News/2016/02/04/Ontario-Carolinian-Forest/
Windle, J. (2016). Two Row Times. Six Nations holds a large parcel of surviving Carolinian Forests – but who cares? Retrieved from https://tworowtimes.com/news/local/cant-see-forest-trees/