Conserving Niagara’s Forests for the Future

Conserving Niagara’s Forests for the Future

The Niagara Restoration Council (NRC) has received a $100,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and a $90,000 grant from Environment Canada’s EcoAction Community Funding Program for their newest project, “Conserving Niagara’s Forests for the Future.” . The NRC plans to plant more than 34,000 trees over three years. They will also be installing bluebird and bat nesting structures and will provide outreach and education to landowners and the public about forests. The four main objectives of the project are to provide community education, forest health assessment, management planning and ecological restoration. The NRC’s aim is to work with the community to enhance biodiversity and resilience in the forests of Niagara.

The best available science provided by Environment Canada in “How Much Habitat is Enough” states that 30% forest cover is what is required to maintain ecosystem health. A recent inventory of natural areas has shown that just over 18% of Niagara’s watershed area is forested proving the fragmented nature of the landscape. These remaining forests are under further threat from impacts linked to climate change, invasive species, severe weather events, and direct loss from intensification of agriculture and development. Many of these remaining forests covered under the Tree & Forest Conservation Bylaw have been mapped by the NPCA. These maps provide a picture of how many forests in Niagara are already in need of ecological restoration due to various impacts. This project aims to work with the local community to address these threats and increase forest health in Niagara.

The Conserving Niagara’s Forests for the Future project is composed of four main objectives: community education, forest health assessment, management planning, and ecological restoration.

Community education: This project will educate landowners, interested members of the public, and students through direct transfer of knowledge from the experts to the target audience and also through the hands on experiences of participating in the forest assessment and ecological restoration efforts.

Forest health assessment: Each potential project site will undergo a forest health assessment by a qualified expert. This assessment will determine forest health based on a disturbance matrix/checklist called a Silvicultural Prescription.

Based on other work being done in Niagara we expect climate change and invasive species to be among the biggest threats to existing forests. For example, nowhere is it more evident than in the southern part of the peninsula where woodlands containing a high percentage of Ash have been devastated by the invasion of the Emerald Ash Borer. In these woodlands we would expect assessments to highlight issues of public safety and loss of habitat that could be mitigated through ecological restoration.

Management Plan: From the assessments undertaken, up to 20 properties per year will be selected and a management plan will be prepared by a team of local experts to address the issues found in the assessment. Within the management plan the landowner will be presented options for ecological restoration to mitigate the issues.

Ecological Restoration: Based on the targets of the management plan, properties will be actively restored by using good forestry practices. Sites will be enhanced using a diverse suite of native plant species. Climate change projections are uncertain of what will happen in areas like Niagara where we see species at the northern and southern edge of the range. It is the belief of the project team that we should include a wide range and high diversity of species in order to ensure resilience.

Despite the continual pressure placed on them, natural resources such as forests are becoming increasingly important to local communities. Their contribution to human health, education, economic stability and wildlife habitat can be difficult to measure but detrimental to ignore. Ecosystems in the Niagara Region including forests are currently vulnerable to rapid and drastic changes. Restoration efforts undertaken through this project will help mitigate these changes.”