EcoAction success stories: from little acorns, a Carolinian forest grows

Machine-planted trees
Niagara students visiting the Carolinian forest didn’t just learn about forest ecology--instead they pulled up their sleeves and learned how to properly plant trees from seedlings and acorns. They also planted wildflower seeds. The result was 62 500 native trees and 12 000 wildflowers.  

Spearheaded by the Niagara Restoration Council, the “Trees for Niagara” Wildlife Corridor Enhancement program focuses on reconnecting the native forest across several local watersheds. The program focuses on three key areas:

  • habitat education such as public plantings and information sessions;
  • habitat protection through conservation agreements and longer-term forest protection for private landowners applying for tax incentive programs, making the planting sites more economically viable; and
  • habitat restoration to reconnect the native forest and re-establish wildlife corridors fragmented by settlement, farming or logging.

Reconnecting a Native Forest

Reconnecting a fragmented forest was not an easy task. In this case, it required a combined commitment from volunteers and landowners. But, its success really starts with 25 forward-thinking private landowners who agreed to sign conservation agreements that identified their land as new planting sites for native trees and wildflowers. The idea is that the land will mature and provide a healthy habitat for wildlife species as well as corridors that allow them to move freely. Since the launch of the program, another 50 landowners have stepped up and asked for more information, making it possible to identify additional new planting sites.

What’s Special about the Carolinian Zone?

Despite representing only one percent of Canada’s total land area, the Carolinian zone has the greatest number of plant and animal species. Of these, 125 are considered to be “at risk” and another 400 are considered “rare”.  Habitat loss, particularly in Old Growth zones like this, is the greatest factor affecting the wellbeing of wild species. Without a healthy habitat the number of species has declined over the years, and with it the region’s rich biodiversity.

How Tree and Wildflower Plantings can Restore a Forest

Native trees, shrubs and wildflowers were planted using a combination of machine planting for large areas and hand planting in small areas. For instance, acorns were planted in small areas designated as Old Growth oak stands. Acorn planting proved to be a fun and inexpensive activity because acorns are light, easy to carry, and can grow even if they are dropped.

“The enthusiasm of our planting volunteers, the many landowners who wanted to protect forest habitat, and the promising new partnerships we formed were wonderful, surprising results. It was our first time working with Brock University students, and we now have stronger relationships with local schools, colleges, naturalist groups and Scouts.”- Corey Burant, Niagara River Restoration Council

Engaging the Next Generation

Planting provided hands-on educational experiences that engaged school groups, from primary schools to university students and included area scouts. It is the profound hope of the Niagara Restoration Council, which managed the “Trees for Niagara” program, that this new sense of pride will keep students and volunteers coming back to witness the progress of the forest and one day enjoy its rich, renewed biodiversity. And when they do, they just might bring along their children or grandchildren and say, “ It just goes to show how ‘a seed’ of an idea can grow a forest. Or, in this case, how from little acorns whole forests can grow.”

About the Niagara Restoration Council

The Niagara Restoration Council is a group of people who are concerned about the health of the environment where they live. Motivated to work towards the Niagara region’s restoration and long-term sustainability, they launch environmental programs to educate the community and increase public awareness. At the same time, projects promote fun and community pride.

By seeking to improve the ecological health of areas that have been disturbed by either human or natural causes, the Council members believe that environmental education will lead to long-lasting changes.

By the Numbers

62,500
Native trees planted
11,000
Wildflower seeds planted
79
Acres of forest habitat created (32 hectares)
198
Acres of forest habitat protected through conservation agreements (80  hectares)
550
Volunteers participated in 15 planting events

Old-growth Forests are Valuable for Many Reasons

  • Prevent soil erosion;
  • Keep water clean;
  • Hold on to nutrients important for plant growth;
  • Provide large, natural areas required to maintain healthy animal populations; and
  • Build up dead wood (snags and logs) instead of converting wood to carbon dioxide gas.
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