Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Walk in a Carolinian Woods

On the eve of Earth Day 2010, I'd like to draw your attention to Canada's disappearing Carolinian forest. Did you know that a full 80 percent of this precious natural heritage has already been destroyed?

What is a Carolinian forest? For those of us lucky enough to live in southwestern Ontario, we know that we are "in it." This low-lying region of the Ontario peninsula, enclosed by lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron, is the same, continuous vegetation zone that stretches across the eastern half of the United States. There are regional differences, of course, and the "borders" of this zone are hard to determine precisely, but this vast region is generally defined by the predominance of deciduous trees. Conifers are found too, but the broad-leaved deciduous trees far outnumber the conifers, which characterize the boreal forests and the mixed forests to the north of us. In other words, the forests people tend to think of when they think of Canada.

In truth, we should really use the term "Eastern Deciduous Forest" to describe this zone. How the name "Carolinian" came into use is a fascinating story in itself, and you can read the full history of it at Carolinian Canada. But whatever you want to call it, this most southerly corner of Canada is unique. Carolinian Canada is also very small. Altogether, it represents less than one-quarter of one percent of the total land mass of this country.

Yet despite its small size, it is an area rich in species variety. Found here are more rare species of plants and animals than in any other region of Canada. Parks Canada gives us a glimpse of this astonishing variety:

"There are over 70 species of trees alone. Nowhere else in Canada are there more species of reptiles (27) and amphibians (20). The zone is also home to 50 species of spiders and insects not found elsewhere in Canada. Acadian flycatchers, Carolina wrens, blue-gray gnatcatchers, red-bellied woodpeckers, and yellow-breasted chats are at the northern limit of their breeding range. But many Canadians call the Carolinian zone home, too. As a result, much of the land has been cleared for cities and used as farm land."

I started this post with a bleak statistic. Let it stand as a reminder and a call to action. This unique and special part of Canada is in danger of disappearing entirely because what remains of it is scattered and disconnected, and continues to be threatened by ill-informed, shortsighted development.

We must do all that we can to preserve what is left of our natural heritage. I believe that if we understand how truly precious, rare and unique this region is, we will not only be enchanted by it—yes, these are enchanting woods, worthy of wonder and respect!—we will be inspired to act, painfully aware of what will be lost if we do not.

I love deserts and I love mountains. The islands of the Caribbean, the west coast of Canada and the landscape of New Mexico have all lured me and captured my imagination with their beauty. But when I dream of Home, it is southwestern Ontario. And when I dream of southwestern Ontario, I see my lush, green deciduous trees, their broad leaves swaying in the summer breeze, their immense, sheltering beauty extending over shores, streams and creeks and hugging the quiet, off-the-beaten-path rural roads of my childhood.

Turn up the volume and enjoy! The footage below was filmed at White's Wetland in July of 2009. Just another lovely summer's day in the woods. And to learn more about the Deciduous Eastern Forest Zone, please visit Carolinian Canada.

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