Efforts underway to save birds and forest

The Simcoe County forest and habitat restoration project is one of international calibre and multiple benefits. The three-year project is set to begin this fall behind the county museum in Springwater Township to recover the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler.

Federal funding of $167,950 is in place via Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk (HSP), towards the projects total estimated cost of $340,800. American Forests, a not-for-profit conservation organization contributed $30,000 (USD), while $58,300 was allocated from the forestry reserve.

“This project will serve as an important environmental legacy initiative for years to come, while the restored forest will bring multiple benefits to county residents, local tourism, recreational groups and support Simcoe County Museum programs,” says Gerry Marshall, warden of Simcoe County.

Work on the tract, like tree clearing and a controlled burn, followed by replanting of native trees and over-seeding of native plants and shrubs is expected to be completed in 2020. The project was launched by the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and Savanta Environmental Consultants who identified the Museum Tract as the best opportunity to expand recovery efforts of the rare bird.

While nesting for the Kirtland’s Warbler should take place between 2023 and 2040, many other species of threatened or special concern will benefit from the habitat type. The dense conifer forest needed for its nesting habitat was commonplace in the county prior to European settlement, destroyed by continued land use conversion and fire suppression.

Graeme Davis, county forester, who oversees management of the forest notes the “multiple benefits” and that “Simcoe County is no stranger to restoring forests.” Despite their 100 year history, ‘this one is a little bit unique in the approach that we’re taking certainly, and the target the canary in the coal mine, so to speak,” he says.

The Kirtland Warbler also happens to be one of the rarest birds in the world, making this “an opportunity to see if we can make something happen in Ontario,” according to Davis. “Historically, there would have been wildfires through these areas and that the sort of post-burn habitat that we’re trying to create here,” he explains.

This isn’t just about planting trees; they’re also working with an ecological restoration specialist on the types of plants to reintroduce onto the site. This will all take a couple of years to get in place as the site is being prepared for controlled burn in 2018.

“That’s certainly a project in itself, so at the end that’s a very specialized science there,” says Davis. Their last controlled burn was in 2014 in Clearview Township. “It is a tool that we do use in forest management.”

“It certainly will be a very high visibility project, that’s for sure – you can’t do a controlled burn on an area like this and this close to Barrie and Midhurst … not without a very detailed communications plan, of course,” he says.

“All the components have to be right and that’s why we work with the experts to make sure it’s all done very, very safely and our communications are really clear. Certainly, people in and around Barrie are going to see the smoke, there’s no two ways about that,” says Davis.

The trees that do not belong on the site, like scotch pine and some jack pine, will be harvested with vegetation knocked down to create a condition for them to be burned next spring. Broader benefits that come with restoring a site like this include healthy forest, water quality, and air quality.


For volunteer opportunities and workshops for anyone wanting to help out with seed collection, visit: www.simcoe.ca.

(Image from Wikipedia)

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