Ottawa's new Urban Forest Management Plan will sever sacred forest of the South March Highlands
The South March Highlands (SMH) is a 10,000 year-old "wild island", currently 3x larger than Vancouver's Stanley Park, inside the City Limits of Ottawa. It is the most bio-diverse area in Ottawa distributed into 10 distinct habitats and its continuous eco-systems include over 30 Eco-Types of Vegetation. The SMH is the only expression of the Canadian Shield in the City of Ottawa and marks a transition zone where coniferous forest meets deciduous vegetation .
The 875 hectares of the SMH have been rated as a Provincially Significant ANSI candidate for over 30 years, rated at 5.08 it has the highest coefficient of conservation in Ottawa and the highest floristic diversity of any natural area in Ottawa. Currently 114 hectares of the SMH have been rated as Provincially Significant Wetlands, including the Kizell wetland.
The SMH Conservation Forest which occupies only 455 hectares of the natural boundaries of the entire SMH (which extends from the Kizell wetland north to March Road, west to the Carp River, and east to the Hydro line). The remainder of the SMH is unprotected to the North and South of the current SMH Conservation Forest which is bounded by Terry Fox Drive to the south and the lower half of Heron Pond in the north.
Yet the entire SMH is a continuous, highly inter-connected set of ecosystems whose continuity, according to the City of Ottawa, has been maintained by a network of both wet and dry eco-tunnels under Terry Fox Drive. The SMH is also documented as an important recharge area for the Nationally Significant Greenbelt as it supplies the only two cold water streams remaining in the Greenbelt. Both these streams are threatened by development.
To-date, over 810 species have been documented in the area excluding Anthropods (insects), Bryophytes (Non-Vascular plants such as Mosses, Lichens), and Fungi which have not been surveyed in any depth. Yet even with limited study, over 62 species of Butterfly are known to be present in the SMH in areas outside of the limited boundary of the current Conservation Forest. Over 169 Avian Species have been documented in the SMH, a number 3x higher than found in the Punta Cana's Eco-Tourist area.
20 Species-at-Risk have been documented in the SMH as well as 18 additional species evaluated by COSEWIC as high Potential Species-at-Risk. This includes the largest known population of Blanding's Turtle in Eastern Ontario, whose critical habitat has been recently documented both inside and outside of the current SMH Conservation Forest. Sadly, another 12 previously documented SAR have already been eradicated from the SMH by development activity - highlighting the urgent need for greater protection of the area.
The Trillium Woods portion of the SMH is also outside of the current SMH Conservation Forest and has been rated by the City as the most significant natural area within Ottawa "with rich plant and animal life found nowhere else in the urban part of the City" (2008 Ottawa Urban Natural Areas Environmental Evaluation) - yet only 1/2 of this area is within the Monk Conservation Forest which has been eco-severed from the SMH Conservation Forest by Terry Fox Drive to the north and is threatened by development activity to the west of Goulbourn Forced Road.
The entire SMH area was also declared a Sacred Forest by the principal elder of the Algonquin First Nations, William Commanda, because of its natural and cultural significance to First Nations. At least 2 stone-age tool working sites, 3x older than the Pyramids and Stone Hedge, have been documented in the SMH.
Given the City of Ottawa's Council Priorities for this Term of Council includes a focus on preserving trees within the City limits, I believe the City should include this whole ecosystem in its new Urban Forestry Management Plan so that it can be protected, nutured and preserved for all Ottawa residents and Canadians (as this is the Nation's Capital) for many generations to come.
There is no reason the arbitrary boundary for the Urban Forest Management Plan of Terry Fox Drive. can't be extended North to include the entire South March Highlands ecosystem.
I believe the entire area, both north and south of Terry Fox Drive needs to be protected.
For more information on why preserving this ecosystem is so important, please see the presentation (PDF) below...