The Big Picture Network: Chatham-Kent
The Chatham-Kent Picture
Chatham Kent has some of the best natural areas in Carolinian Canada with internationally important areas for bird migration along the lakeshores and globally rare ecosystems around Chenal Ecarte. Eight core habitats in Chatham-Kent include Provincial Parks, First Nations, Conservation Areas and National Wildlife Areas. However, with some of the lowest levels of habitat in Ontario, Chatham-Kent's wild plants and animals are still fast declining. This trend also means that we are losing landscape functions shown on the next page. By linking and adding habitat through many local actions, Chatham-Kent can make a difference for the future. Most natural areas in Chatham-Kent are managed by private landowners who voluntarily protect and steward them. In many cases the benefits from one landowner's conservation action spills over to neighbours and the surrounding communities.
Also available is the 'Caring for Nature in Chatham-Kent' factsheet, part of a Carolinian Canada wide series. This factsheet is an excellent overview of Carolinian Canada habitat restoration and conservation work being done in Chatham-Kent. The Chatham-Kent factsheet is available for download here (PDF 2.5 MB).
Bossu/Cornelis Floodplain Restoration
Location: Sydenham River near Wallaceburg
Partners: Robert Bossu, Larry Cornelis - landowners; Ducks Unlimited Canada; Stewardship Kent
Robert Bossu and nephew Larry Cornelis are turning cropland along the Sydenham River back into naturally functioning floodplain, complete with swamp and tallgrass prairie buffers. This project will help protect downstream landowners from poor water quality and floods, not to mention, improving habitat for fish and rare mussels. With the help of Stewardship Kent and Ducks unlimited Canada, a large area was dug out to accommodate varying water levels. ‘This is to ensure that we have permanent open water and a diversity of aquatic habitat,' says Larry. They are also planting a mix of Carolinian trees from local seed sources such as Paw Paw, Kentucky Coffee Tree, Hackberry, Sycamore, Black Maple and Blue Ash. ‘We are planning this as a true restoration, returning the land to what it was originally 100 years ago when there were wetlands all along the river bank.' comments Larry, who remembers the area from his childhood in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Clear Creek Forest
Location: near Clear Creek
Partners: Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ontario Parks
The Nature Conservancy of Canada coordinated the acquisition of Clear Creek Forest which is a proposed Nature Reserve Class Provincial Park in the southeast of Chatham-Kent. This 400 ha (1,000 ac) property is comprised of primary hardwood forest communities, secondary upland forests and meadows and fields that were once farmed. The Forest is the largest woodland component of the Kent-Elgin Shoreline Life Science Area of Natural and Scientific interest, and is high in conservation value. The rare Shumard Oak is found here, as well as Tall Ironweed and the threatened Eastern Fox Snake. There is a small older growth component to the woodland with very large trees including a 115 cm White Oak. Red Oak, Sugar Maple, and American Beech are characteristic of this forest. The woodlands and older growth portions of the Forest will be allowed to develop naturally, while retired farm fields are being restored using ‘pit and mound’ techniques designed to re-create the natural topography of a mature forest floor. Further restoration work to improve the quality of water in the whole watershed is planned for an abandoned pit near the headwaters of Clear Creek. For more information go to www.ontarioparks.ca/english/planning_pdf/clea_ToR.pdf.
Lake St. Clair Marshes
Location: east shore of Lake St. Clair
Partners: Environment Canada, Ducks Unlimited, many private hunt clubs
The Lake St. Clair Marshes are a major stopping point for migratory birds. Tens of thousands of Tundra Swans, ducks of all varieties, geese, and other birds congregate here in the spring and fall. It is important breeding habitat for waterfowl like the Endangered King Rail and rare Least Bittern. Other wildlife such as Threatened Eastern Fox Snake also find refuge in the Marshes. Most of the marshes are stewarded by private hunting clubs. The public can visit this beautiful area at the St. Clair National Wildlife Area. A trail and lookout tower provides an incomparable view of this internationally recognized Important Bird Area. For more information see our Signature Sites booklet, available from the Shop on this website. Also go to www.carolinian.org/CarolinianSites_StClairMarshes.htm.
© John Ha
Natvik Habitat Restoration
Location: near Clear Creek
Partners: Lars, Olaf, Mathis Natvik; Ducks Unlimited Canada;
Lars, Olav and Mathis Natvik have been implementing stewardship practices on their farms near Clear Creek Forest for many decades. About 25 years ago Lars had a large pine plantation put in when that was the accepted method of restoration. Since then, the Natviks have branched out into more innovative restoration practices, including a ‘pit and mound’ project, where level fallow clay land was bulldozed into a series of small, natural looking ponds divided by mounds of higher soil. A diversity of plants naturally seed in to an area following this treatment, because of the range of wet to dry soils and differing slopes. On a third parcel, the Natviks worked with Ducks Unlimited Canada to create extensive wetlands and a neighbouring prairie. Altogether they have retired 28 ha (70 ac) of farmland into a diversity of habitat. Spring Peepers now abound, where none were found before. ‘We have been lucky to be able to do this’ says Lars. ‘I grew up in Norway, where nature was always accessible, and I wanted to be able to create that on my land. People in this area have few opportunities to enjoy the beauties of nature. Those who wish to are more than welcome to come, walk on my land, and watch these habitats evolving.’
Municipality of Chatham-Kent Property
Location: Various Locations
Partners: Ducks Unlimited Canada; Municipality of Chatham-Kent; Dow Canada; Sydenham Field Naturalists
The Municipality of Chatham-Kent owns two woodlots that they steward for natural habitat – Reynolds Tract and the McCaroll Tract. They own two wetlands managed by Ducks Unlimited Canada, the Ridgetown Wetland and the Roberta Stewart Wetland near Wallaceburg. The municipality is also working with the Sydenham Field Nauralists to preserve Wallaceburg Sycamore Woods, a 4 ha (10 ac) parcel of older growth woodland north of the town of Wallaceburg. There are several large Sycamore trees in this woodland, some over 100 years old.
Roberta Stewart Wetland
Location: along the Snye River, a part of MacDonald Park
Partners: Ducks Unlimited Canada; Municipality of Chatham-Kent; Dow Canada
A 15 acre parcel of wetland with dyke along the river front and a causeway through the wetland to provide trails for naturalists and birdwatchers.
Rondeau Provincial Park
Location: Near Shrewsbury, South Chatham-Kent
Partners: Ontario Provincial Parks,
Nestled deep within the heart of Carolinian Canada lies Ontario's second oldest Provincial Park. Formed in 1894, Rondeau Provincial Park remains one of the crown jewels of the Ontario Parks system. Rondeau's Carolinian forests are home to such southern species as Tulip-tree, Sassafras, Virginia Opossum, Yellow-breasted Chat and the endangered Prothonotary Warbler. Rondeau is unique in the amount of this rare habitat that it protects - no other provincial park in Ontario holds as much. For more information go to www.rondeauprovincialpark.ca.
Sheldon Ecological Gift
Location: Turin Paw Paw Woods near
Partners: Jim and Georgina Sheldon – landowners; Nature Conservancy of Canada
Jim and Georgina Sheldon have donated 40 ha (100 ac) of ecologically significant land to the Nature Conservancy of Canada to assure the long-term protection of its natural values. This parcel is part of the Turin Paw-paw woods, at 315 ha, one of Southwestern Ontario’s larger contiguous forests. The property consists of hardwood swamp and retired farmland and is positioned to provide linkages between Clear Creek Forest and Skunk’s Misery. Prior to making the donation, the Sheldons arranged with the Municipality of Chatham-Kent and Stewardship Kent to decommission the agricultural drain that runs through the forested part of the land. The Nature Conservancy of Canada will be working with the Sydenham Field Naturalists, Stewardship Kent, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to restore wetlands, meadows and upland forest to the property. ‘We donated the land because we always wanted to keep the remaining forest in its natural state and to let it re-grow where the land was not suitable for farming’ says Georgina.
Stewardship Council and Conservation Authorities
Stewardship Councils have a passionate interest in conservation and helping the private landowner. Stewardship Kent works with landowners, such as the Sheldons and Robert Bossu mentioned previously, to improve the water and soil quality on their land. They assist farmers and rural landowners in the design and funding of private stewardship projects, restore prairies, wetlands and woodlands with the assistance of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and many other partners.
Plant a Tree and Stop a Flood
Conservation Authorities learned long ago that safe communities depend on natural habitat. Since the devastation of Hurricane Hazel in the 1950's, the authorities have been working closely with landowners to maintain and restore habitat that functions as a natural protection against flooding and water pollution.
The St. Clair Region Conservation Authority has been planting trees in and around Chatham-Kent on private and public land for over 25 years. Along with the Rural Lambton Stewardship Network, they have recently focused on the St. Clair River Area of Concern and its Remedial Action Plan designed to restore the waters of the St. Clair River and its tributaries to a healthy condition. The Authority is also involved in the Sydenham River Recovery Plan and stewards significant habitat across the watershed.
The Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority works with a wide range of partners to help steward the Thames Heritage River and provide trees to landowners through the Emerald Ash Borer Natural Areas Restoration Project. They partner with local groups such as Community Action Regarding the environment to rehabilitate degraded land, plant windbreaks, memorial forests, nurseries and more. In Chatham-Kent, they steward over 180 ha (450 ac) of protected land.
Walpole Island First Nations
Location: Walpole Island in the St. Clair River
Dates: mid-1800s – present
Partners: Walpole Island First Nations
Walpole Island First Nation is referred to in the Ojibwe language as “Bkejwanong” (where the waters divide). It is home to a rich mosaic of natural areas including rare tallgrass prairie and oak savanna remnants, Carolinian forests, rich coastal waterways, and one of the largest wetland systems in the Great Lakes basin. It is the First Nation peoples’ traditional connection with the Land that has directly contributed to the continued existence of these ecosystems and the many forms of life they support. Over 50 nationally rare and endangered wildlife species make Bkejwanong their home.
The Walpole Island Heritage Centre through its Natural Heritage Program is working to create awareness of the First Nation’s natural heritage and to help protect it for future generations. They are working with local landholders such as Velma Kiyoshk to protect an ecologically significant tallgrass prairie that contains numerous nationally endangered species including Small White Lady’s Slippers. For more information go to www.bkejwanong.com/natural_heritage/index.html.
Wheatley Provincial Park
Location: near Wheatley
Partners: Ontario Parks;
In Canada's sun parlour close to its southernmost tip, this secluded 241 ha estuary on Lake Erie shelters many creatures. Migrating birds stop here, turtles sun on logs and herons wade in the shallow creeks. Watch for birds in the Carolinian forest and camp under oak and hickory trees.
This park is classed as recreational in the Ontario Parks system, and as level 2 in the World Conservation Union. That means that it exists to protect outstanding natural and scenic areas of national or international significance for scientific, educational, and recreational use. These are relatively large natural areas not materially altered by human activity where extractive resource uses are not allowed.
The lush Carolinian forest characteristic of the Park is commonly found much farther south. An unusual component of the woods is the shagbark hickory, a southern tree species with shaggy bark that grows straight and slender with few, low branches.
The dense forest also contains Oak and Hickory stands. The forest floor is alive with the colours and fragrances of Trilliums and other wildflowers in the spring. Unusual plants such as Cardinal Flower, Royal Fern, Grape Fern, Cinnamon Fern, and Shining Club Moss can be found later in the year. In the open fields near the park entrance, observe samples of Agrimony, Ragged Orchids, Spike-Rush, Wild Bergamot and Big Bluestem Grasses.
Many species of butterfly and bird found here have frequented the region for centuries. The Zebra Mussel on the other hand, a small, zebra-striped mollusc, is a newcomer in the animal group. Its rapid infestation of Great Lakes waters has been called one of the worst ecological disasters in North America this decade. The shells of dead Zebra Mussels often wash ashore, so be careful when walking barefoot.
In summer, Painted and Snapping Turtles, spectacular Herons and Egrets wade in the creek shallows. The harmless Eastern Fox Snake also called a whomper is often encountered. For more information go to www.ontarioparks.com/english/whea.html.