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In defence of the plain

Orillia Packet & Times,
Cameron Curran,
October 23 2015

Alvar environments boast ecological communities that are incredibly rare and worth protecting for future generations. Regionally, the globally significant Carden limestone plain is an area of large, diverse and relatively unfragmented habitat including alvars, shrub land, grassland, forests and wetlands. Due to the vastness of the Carden landscape, it is home to several species at risk that are dependent on connected habitats. There are driving forces spearheaded by the Couchiching Conservancy that protect these lands continually from habitat fragmentation.

Habitat fragmentation, as stated by Ontario Nature, occurs when immense development pressures, such as major roadways, threaten the survival of a species. These features and threats from human influence fracture fragile habitats, like wetlands, of species such as the Blanding's turtle, which is listed as threatened in Ontario.

Keeping natural lands connected on the Carden Plain means leading and partaking in stewardship activities. In the context of conservation, stewardship is the planning and management of natural resources that benefits an ecological unit of land. Ensuring ecological connectivity is vital to the preservation of species-at-risk habitat. Special attention to parcels of land in the region such as Carden Alvar Provincial Park and Wolf Run Alvar is needed to ensure these landscapes stay intact. Land managed by conservancy staff and volunteers are being continually maintained and monitored to decrease the possibility of habitat fragmentation.

Each year, the conservancy helps to eliminate habitat fragmentation on the Carden Plain. One emerging threat to critical habitat is invasive species. Invasive species are plants and animals that are not native to a unique area, and spread, displacing native or original populations of species. Sometimes this change can be interpreted as negative or positive. But with respect to the Carden Plain, they are often seen as negative.

Species such as dog-strangling vine are moving in from the south, isolating patches of vegetation, degrading their potential for good habitat quality. For example, bird habitat quality may be lessened as native trees and shrubs become eradicated from the effects of dog-strangling vine. According to Ontario's Invading Species Awareness Program, dog-strangling vine, native to Eurasia, was introduced to the United States in the mid-1800s for gardening. The plant is highly tolerant of variable growing conditions and can produce up to 28,000 seeds per square metre. This goes to show how significant one human action can make on the health of wildlife habitat for the future.

The Couchiching Conservancy and partner organizations such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada are involved in invasive species control initiatives on the Carden Plain. Each summer, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Couchiching Conservancy, with the help of an army of volunteers, tackle the existing populations of dog-strangling vine threatening the valuable habitat of Carden.

Another key approach the Couchiching Conservancy takes to maintaining good habitat quality, in particular for species at risk, is a multi-stakeholder one. The Integrated Carden Conservation Strategy was assembled in 2008 to raise the effectiveness of current and future conservation initiatives on the Carden Plain. One aspect of the strategy is to reduce any existing friction between members or landowners of the Carden community, conservation groups, farmers and companies operating pits and quarries. Ultimately, it is stressed by respecting the rights of all landowners, conservation, and thus habitat connectivity, can be achieved for the long term. Overall, the Integrated Carden Conservation Strategy works to eliminate resource-management conflicts at a local scale.

To join the Couchiching Conservancy in an effort to protect vital plant and animal habitat, visit to enlist as a volunteer. There are several events throughout the year that help contribute to preserving the Carden Plain and other key areas in the Couchiching-Severn region.

Cameron Curran is a volunteer with the Couchiching Conservancy, a non-profit land trust that has been protecting nature since 1993.

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