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Monday, January 30, 2023
Two Mile Creek forest restoration will remove ash trees and Manitoba maples

The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority will be taking down about 400 ash and Manitoba maple trees along Two Mile Creek near Butler's Burial Ground this month.

The forest rejuvenation project will see about four hectares of trees removed and replaced with native tree species. The replanting will most likely happen in 2022 but some work could start this fall.

The removal of the trees will cost about $80,000, a regional official said. The cost for the replantings is not yet known.

Dan Drennan, a conservation authority watershed forester, said the reforestation project is a “new direction” for the agency, which is mandated to manage and protect watersheds across the region.

The main purpose of the reforestation is to combat the effects of the emerald ash borer beetle, an invasive species which first entered Ontario in 2001 in the Windsor area and started to affect Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2012.

“That's when I first started to notice the trees being impacted by it, I could see the holes going into the trees,” said Drennan, who has been a forester with the authority for 13 years.

The property is owned by the conservation authority, but was once used for agriculture. He said when the agency acquired the land, it let the trees grow naturally and most of the trees that took over were ash trees.

“Green ash is like a pioneer species in the forest community. So it's like first one on-site, it grows fast and dominates the site,” he said.

“That was fine and everything, but back in 2012, emerald ash borers came into the region and started killing off the trees. Once a tree gets impacted by beetles, it's usually dead within four years, so a lot of trees in Niagara-on-the-Lake in the Old Town area, by 2016 they were either dead or pretty much declining.”

He said the problem is that there are no “desirable forest species underneath the dead ash to replace them.”

“So what's underneath all the dead ash is Manitoba maple,” Drennan said. “And Manitoba maple is considered like a weed tree. Even in the Niagara-on-the-Lake urban tree bylaw, it's classified as a nuisance tree.”

He said foresters and biologists don't want to have a monoculture of Manitoba maples.

“It's not great for wildlife. It's not great for forest composition. You want diversity, so that's why we came up with the idea to clear the dead ash trees and get rid of the Manitoba maple.”

Once the trees are removed, about 6,000 new seedlings will be planted.

“It's hard to come up with that many seedlings in a short period of time so that's why I'm thinking logistically it's going to be 2022,” Drennan said.

The trees replanted will be a diverse mixture of native species, including sugar maples, red maples, different types of oak trees and poplar trees such as trembling aspen, hickories as well as some conifers, he said.

If nothing was done, the ash trees would fall down and the invasive species would create a thicket that nobody could walk through.

The plan is also to remove invasive Norway maples in the process. The authority will try to maintain some willow trees in the forest.

Having such a narrow range of trees is not great for wildlife habitat, Drennan said.

“With wildlife habitat you'd like to have a diversity of tree species but also structure,” he said. “We like to see multi levels, as you go up through the forest. So, especially bird habitat, different bird species prefer canopy, other ones like the middle and then the other ones like being down on the ground. And when you have a thicket of Manitoba maple, you don't have that structure, that vertical structure.”

It will take a while for the seedlings to grow, but “we figured this is a good way to start, to go in to interfere with the site in a positive way, and plant the native species that would have a hard time competing with the Manitoba maple on their own.”

“It's kind of like a renovation,” he said.

He expects some people might not be happy that the trail through Butler's Burial Ground to Garrison Village will be closed during the clearing for about 12 to 15 days.

“A lot of people use it, and during operations, we're going to have to restrict access. There's going to be machines in there and we just don't want anybody getting hurt,” he said.

He said the clearing will be done with mechanized forestry equipment, not chainsaws.

Another part of the operation will be using the machines to remove dead logs and trees that have fallen into Two Mile Creek.

Some of the dead trees, about a dozen, will be left up as bird and bat habitat. Those trees were identified by a biologist and avian expert, Drennan said.

Part of the reason the work is being done in July is because it's in between fall and spring spawning seasons for most wildlife. It also helps that the ground is drier, so the machinery doesn't ruin the top soil.


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