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Canada South Land Trust celebrates our unique southerly natural heritage

Natural areas within the City of Windsor, Essex County, Pelee Island and the Municipality of Chatham-Kent are all located in the Carolinian Canada forest zone, which is roughly delineated south of a line running from Grand Bend to Toronto. The southerly location and moderate climate of this region is the main reason for such a unique and diverse ecosystem. Although the Carolinian forest zone is quite small in comparison with other vegetation zones, it hosts a greater number of floral and faunal species than any other ecosystem in Canada (Carolinian Canada, 2006). It is estimated that approximately 2,200 species of herbaceous plants are found here and there are seventy difference species of trees alone. Approximately 400 bird species have been recorded in the zone – over half of the bird species in all of Canada (Carolinian Canada, 2006).

Prior to European Settlement, the Essex Region was dominated by lush natural areas including  woodlands, wetlands and prairies. Most of the natural areas in the region were historically removed to allow for agriculture and urban development. As well, many of the natural areas and additions to natural areas, have resulted from regeneration from discontinued agricultural uses to prairie and forest communities. Today, the natural heritage system within the region is generally fragmented consisting of islands of green or isolated, remnant nature features scattered across the region. Some plant and animal species in the region have been classified as “at risk” as there is insufficient and degraded habitat regionally to continue to sustain healthy populations.

Thank you to Gerry Waldron for his permission to quote the above two paragraphs from the study Update to the Candidate Natural Heritage Area Inventory, Town of LaSalle Official Plan Review, Final Report May 2010.

The following quote  gives a vivid impression of natural heritage along the Detroit River in 1679 and is from The Windsor Border Region: Canada’s Southernmost Frontier, a Collection of Documents. Edited with an introduction by Ernest J. Lajeunesse. University of  Toronto Press, 1960.

Recollet friar Jean Louis Hennepin, a member of La Salle’s expedition aboard the Griffin as that vessel sailed through the Detroit River on August 10, 1679, penned this record of this sightings: “The county on both sides of this beautiful strait is adorned with fine open plains, and you can see numbers of stags, does, deer, bears, by no means fierce and good to eat, turkey hens, and all kinds of game, swans in abundance …The rest of the strait is covered with forests, fruit trees like walnut, plum and apple trees, wild vines loaded with grapes,of  which we made some little wine. There is timber fit for building. It is the place in which deer most delight…”

Today Essex County has the lowest natural habitat of any Ontario county. We have lost 98% of our wetlands and 95% of our woodlands. Only 3.7 % forest and 2.5 % wetland remain for a total of 6.2 % natural habitat in Essex County. The rest of our landscape is devoted to agricultural activity or urban development.

Essex County’s natural heritage is fragmented. But it is not run of the mile habitat. These fragments contain significant remnants, some of which are designated as Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest  and are known as rare species. The rarities are the cream of the crop. Essex County has the greatest number of plant community types and more habitat types than any other county in Ontario.

There are 240 rare species within Essex County, thus Essex County has the obligation to protect the little habitat that remains.