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May. 25, 2022 | Wednesday
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Field visit offers hands-on education about Parks Canada’s multi-species action plan
Ken Kingdon, resource conservation manager for Parks Canada, discussing species at risk during the Feb. 26 field visit. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

Parks Canada is on a mission to save and manage native species at risk in Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada.

In the afternoon of Feb. 26, Parks Canada hosted a free field visit to NNHS locations, followed by an open house at Navy Hall later in the evening to discuss species at risk at the NNHS. The goal was to offer hands-on engagement with the community, providing information about the official multi-species action plan, answering questions posed by residents and addressing any raised concerns.

Ken Kingdon, resource conservation manager for Parks Canada, took the lead. Trekking through the Fort George property in the cold, the field visit took the group to two locations where experts brought to attention the invasion of non-native plant species that are endangering native plants.

He said the field visit was an “opportunity to show some people who aren’t familiar with the land.”

Plans to remove non-native and hybrid trees were mentioned, followed by replantation of native trees.

Carpooling in Parks Canada vehicles, the visit took the group to the Battlefield of Fort George National Historic Site, referred to as the Lakeshore Property, located between St. Catharines and NOTL along Lake Ontario. It consists of buildings, an open field named The Commons, and a Carolinian forest, part of Oak Grove.

Fort George National Historic Site sits next to Butler’s Barracks, with a similar habitat making up the other half of The Commons and Oak Grove.

During the visit, Kingdon focused on the Butternut tree and the Eastern Flowering Dogwood tree, among others. He said these species are native to the area, holding local cultural and historical significance.

As an area rich in history, he said it’s important to maintain the trees and species native to the location, some pre-dating the war of 1812.

Until recently, Kingdon said Parks Canada weren’t concerned with management of the area because of its national historical site classification. The multi-species action plan brought the importance of managing the endangered species in the area to light.

“We’re obligated to manage these species,” he said, adding that he would like to see part of the location maintained as an open forest, or an oak savannah with 25 to 35 per cent canopy cover.

He attributed part of the overgrowth of invasive species to a lack of fire on the site. His goal is to get fire on the landscape within the next five years.

In an email response, Kingdon said, “Fire is used to maintain grasslands and savannah by burning the young trees that are beginning to spread into the meadows. Fire is very good at killing young trees (it is often less successful on large trees), yet it rejuvenates the grasslands as the ash produces fertilizer for new growth (ash from a fire is rich in nutrients). As well, grass is adapted to burn, meaning that occasional fires do not harm it.”

The importance of garnering the support of the residents was stressed by Kingdon.

“We need to be confident that we have the community’s support while also managing for the right reasons.”

Supporting Parks Canada’s action plan and assisting in the explanation were Corey Burant, ecologist for Niagara Parks Commission; Jarmo Jalava, general expert; Paul O’Hara, expert on many things including White Wood Aster and Butternut; Gary Allen, Parks Canada Species at Risk specialist and Chris Zoetewey, Niagara National Historic Sites resident expert on site history.

Peter Harvey, of the Harmony Resident’s Group, said in an email response that he attended the open house held at Navy Hall, and spoke on behalf of the group. He said he showed support and addressed concerns for the lakeshore property in particular.

“Years ago when the old sewage treatment plant was built, no one seemed to give a damn for species at risk and the two large settling ponds were built; completely disrupting the habit of the flora and fauna, including species at risk.”

He added that, after decades of the habitat adjusting to the environment, the de-commissioning of the old sewage treatment plant plans include potentially filling in the ponds, and disrupting the habitat once again. “Two wrongs do not make a right.”

Harvey said that in 2015 the Harmony Residents Group undertook an in-depth study of converting wastewater treatment plants to open wetlands. This showed that it has been done successfully several times here in Southern Ontario. He said the study showed that it had been done successfully several times.

“That is what can and should be done here in Niagara-on-the-Lake,” Harvey said.

NOTL town staff were also in attendance. Mark Iamarino and Joanna Rees, town planners, said they went along for the field visit just to gain an understanding, without a specific plan in mind.

Some of the residents said they signed up out of curiosity and to learn more about the area.

Terry Mactaggart said she often hikes in the area in the warmer weather and was interested to hear about the different species native to the region.

Gerry Mackay also went to see the location and learn about the species. He said he doesn’t necessarily agree with the plans to tear down existing trees to plant new ones, adding that reforestation is unsightly and doesn’t allow for organic growth. He said he will return in the summer for walks through the path though.

Christine Earl said she hadn’t yet formed a full opinion of the plans for the area, but she said, “you can’t be too pure,” adding that there needs to be room for adaptation.

At the end of the visit, Sarah Quinlan Cutler, external relations manager for Parks Canada, asked the group if they felt the plans made sense.

In response, a resident said communication is extremely important, adding that it could become a big problem unless the plans and reasons behind them are outlined in a transparent way. She said constant education is necessary.