Sustaining our Community Forests

By Rafay Agha, Interactive Media Writer | Conservation Halton

It is impossible not to marvel at the natural beauty and lush greenery of the escarpment. Driving west along Britannia Road towards Burlington from a very concrete and very bustling Mississauga, I enjoy when the roads narrow, the traffic lights fade and the sun peaks out from behind cloud cover to shed light on farm fields and the rich natural landscape that envelopes the escarpment.

It’s important to know that views like  this, of the Hilton Falls forests, shouldn’t be taken for granted. Conservation Halton’s Forestry Services department has a lot to do with maintaining these green spaces, which are not only scenic but also house an ecosystem filled with irreplaceable wildlife and unparalleled natural features.

Forestry Services, with the ecology department, concentrate on forest management, sustainability and stewardship. They know about the importance of trees. Forest cover provides habitat for tremendous wildlife and also cleans and purifies air, reduces carbon, protects streams and wetlands and maintains the ecological integrity of natural landscapes. Studies suggest that at minimum, a 30 per cent forest cover is required…

… to sustain watershed health. CH is 5 per cent away from this target. So what’s the solution? Reforestation, tree planting, is one option.

A mother sinks a worn shovel into the moist ground with strong force and a resounding thud. Her young daughter and son follow with their newer, smaller shovels. They’re almost giddy over the prospect of planting their own saplings. It’s not where one would expect 300 community volunteers to be on a chilly Saturday morning in April. But, like in years past, volunteers came out in droves to help plant trees at the Sixth Annual Trees for Watershed Health Tree Planting.

This year’s event at the former Milton Limestone quarry, which is now owned by Conservation Halton, saw volunteers help plant nearly 4,000 trees. Armed with shovels, rubber boots, layered clothing and an eagerness to make a difference, the volunteers consisting of toddlers, tweens, teens, families and seniors, and proudly representative of the various ethnicities from our watershed, all busily begin planting the locally sourced trees with the assistance of CH staff volunteers.

Seedlings are available each spring for landowners for the planting of windbreaks, shelterbelts and/or the reforesting of marginal or fragile lands. Tree and shrub planting programs help reduce erosion, enhance wildlife habitat, improve local water quality and can increase property values. Forestry staff can recommend appropriate species mixtures depending on your objectives and the conditions of the planting site.

Tree planting lends itself to naturalizing or improving forest cover in public unproductive agricultural lands, restoring ecosystems, landscaping urban areas and establishing wildlife corridors between forest fragments. Tree planting can be a private venture too. CH has assisted hundreds of landowners in water quality, tree planting and habitat rehabilitation/restoration projects.

A total of 315 local landowners participate in the Hamilton-Halton Watershed Stewardship Program. It began in 1994 with the mission of maintaining and sustaining healthy land, air and water for both current and future generations. Leah Casselman, landowner and Conservation Award of Excellence winner is a champion steward of this cause. Leah thoughtfully naturalized her half acre property by removing invasive or non-native species and replacing them with varied native species. This ongoing project of five years resulted in the creation of a stunning and functional wildlife sanctuary. Today, the property is filled with native trees, plants, wildflowers and a wildlife pond, provides food and shelter for much wildlife as well as source of pride for the landowner and neighbours alike.

With almost 90 per cent of the Ontario population residing in watersheds managed by Conservation Authorities, it is essential that community partnerships like these are forged. CH will see over 120,000 trees planted this year during the International Year of Forests.

Between completing property inventories, forest mapping, assessments, providing recommendations and assisting with provincial Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program applications, our Forestry staff have jobs that are as busy as they are rewarding.

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