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Carolinian Canada & The Environmental Farm Plan

Farmers participating in the Environmental Farm Planning Program will find it very complementary to the Carolinian Canada Program.

The Environmental Farm Planning Program has been developed by a group of four major provincial farm organizations known as the Farm Environmental Coalition. It is based on a workbook containing 23 different worksheets covering every topic related to the farm environment, from storage of pesticides to control of soil erosion. A related program is the Best Management Practices or BMP publications.

Of particular interest to the Carolinian Canada program are three worksheets in the Environmental Farm Plan Workbook:

Each of these three worksheets consists of a series of questions that farm operators can ask themselves about their current use and management of streams, ponds, wetlands and woodlands. The potential answers are divided into four levels, from `Poor' to `Best'.


Buffer Strips

Planting of natural vegetation buffers and corridors is just one of the key recommendations of the Environmental Farm Plan Workbook. Included in the recommendations to achieve the 'best' rating for farm management are:

  • buffer strips of planted or natural vegetation around ponds and wetlands, and along streams (fifty feet wide for a 'Best' rating)
  • naturally vegetated floodplains and streambanks (and minimal agricultural use of these areas; cattle fenced out of streams in intensive livestock operations)
  • retirement of marginal land, or highly erodible land to trees and shrubs (or permanent pasture) and expansion of woodlots if possible
  • connection of wildlife habitat areas by vegetated corridors
  • protection of fields from wind erosion by windbreaks (every 500 feet for highly erodible land)

Soil

Soil is a living, breathing biological system and is often referred to as the basis of the ecosystem. It is a mix of physical particles, tiny animals and micro-organisms, chemical nutrients, organic debris and moisture. If soil is exposed to too much stress through continual ploughing, direct exposure to wind and running water, or continuous nutrient exports through crop harvests, it loses its health as a useful resource within the ecosystem.

The Environmental Farm Planning Program emphasizes various forms of conservation tillage, careful nutrient management, and maintenance of organic matter content to conserve soil.

Water

The water component of an ecosystem is best viewed from within the context of the hydrological cycle. Precipitation carries water from the atmosphere to the earth, where it then runs across the surface and eventually accumulates as surface water in streams, rivers and lakes. However, some precipitation will infiltrate the soil to provide moisture to vegetation or act as groundwater recharge.

Slope, in combination with different soil types, will determine the drainage pattern within an ecosystem and thus account for the quantity of water present. However, if all of the vegetation is removed from an area, surface water will begin to pick up sediments and contaminants as it moves across the land, thereby reducing the water quality.

Several techniques can be utilized to influence the movement of water and curb erosion. For example, the installation of grassed waterways involves planting grass strips wherever water naturally occurs in a concentrated flow across the landscape.

Streambank plantings of trees, along with grass buffer strips, will also enhance water quality by stabilizing the banks and preventing excess sediment from entering the water channel. Also, streambank plantings serve to cool water temperatures and therefore enhance habitat for cool-water fish species such as trout.

As recommended in the Environmental Farm Planning Program, keeping any wetlands or ponds, and making sure they are surrounding with a buffer of natural vegetation will help protect the diversity of the Carolinian zone.

Vegetation and Wildlife

In the Carolinian zone of southern Ontario, climatic conditions combined with topography give rise to an extremely diverse range of vegetation and wildlife species.

There are many opportunities for farmers to enhance the Carolinian features of their property while responding to recommendations of the Environmental Farm Plan.

In retiring marginal land, planting buffers along streams, or planting windbreaks and shelterbelts, it is possible to make some use of Carolinian species of both trees and shrubs, as described elsewhere in this factsheet series.

Just planting corridors of vegetation between existing woodlots or other patches of natural vegetation will enhance the health of wildlife populations, but to function most effectively, connecting corridors must display certain qualities. Often fencerows containing only coniferous trees and grasses will not provide a suitable passageway. Plantings of fruit-bearing shrubs along the corridor will encourage use by wildlife.

Corridors can also entice predators into an area, which may prove to be undesirable if livestock safety is a concern. However, predators help to maintain the balance within an ecosystem, if smaller mammal populations are high.

Although corridors connect fragmented areas, the size of these areas themselves can also be a concern.

When considering woodlands, it is important to note the difference between edge and interior habitats. A fragmented landscape provides an abundance of `edge' habitat, and very little `interior' habitat. Edge habitat tends to favour species that are aggressive and opportunistic. Quite often they are predators or parasites such as the common grackle or brown-headed cowbird.

Another important contribution farmers can therefore make is to maintain any large wooded areas, or retire adjacent marginal land to make woodlots larger.

This should not detract from the ecological value of any small remnant wooded areas in the Carolinian zone. Often they are the only places left where the Carolinian species can hold onto their precarious existence.

Conservation Plans for Rural Non-Farm Landowners

Although they may not be directly involved in the farm environmental planning process, rural non-farm landowners who own significant acreage should also consider developing a conservation plan for their land. The above requirements of the Environmental Farm Plan certainly apply to non-farm land as well, and could also be written into a lease agreement, if you lease land to a farm operator.

These are the practices that will lead to maintaining or restoring ecosystem health in the Carolinian zone. If all rural landowners were to implement these basic practices and ensured the use of native species, an immense amount could be accomplished.

Carolinian Canada will always have a fragmented rural landscape due to agriculture and human settlement. However, with care and a little thought, ecological integrity can be maintained.


For Further Information:

Best Management Practices publication series

Hilts, S.G. and Mitchell, P. 1994. (Forthcoming). Conservation Planning: A Handbook for Rural Landowners. Centre for Land and Water Stewardship, Univ. of Guelph, Guelph, Ont.

Hilts, S.G. and Mitchell, P. 1994. Caring for Your Land: A Stewardship Handbook for Carolinian Canada Landowners. Centre for Land and Water Stewardship, Univ. of Guelph, Guelph, Ont.

Ontario Farm Coalition. 1993. Environmental Farm Plan Workbook. Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, Guelph.

Riley, J. and Mohr, P. 1994. Values on Southern Ontario's Settled Landscapes. Ministry of Natural Resources, Aurora, Ontario.

Ontario Federation of Agriculture

Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario

Ontario Farm Animal Council

AGCare [Agricultural Groups Concerned About Resources and the Environment]

Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

Produced by

The Centre for Land and Water Stewardship, University of Guelph, June, 1994. Updated by Carolinian Canada 2003.


Additional copies can be obtained from your nearest Conservation Authority or Ministry of Natural Resources Office. These offices may also be able to help with further information to assist you.

Funding for the development of this factsheet was provided by the Carolinian Canada Program. Agencies involved include: Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Ontario Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Recreation, Ontario Heritage Foundation, Association of Conservation Authorities of Ontario, Wildlife Habitat Canada, World Wildlife Fund, Canadian Botanical Association, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Federation of Ontario Naturalists, and Parks Canada.