Ontario Grassland Initiative

Ontario Grassland Initiative Project Overview:

The Ontario Grasslands Initiative is targeted at bringing together landowners and conservation groups to collectively work towards the common goal of protecting and restoring native tallgrass prairie, savanna and related ecological communities in Ontario.

Native grasslands, also known as tallgrass prairies and savannas, are some of the most endangered ecological communities in Canada. Once covering a significant part of southern Ontario’s landscape, less than 3 percent of the original extent remains in the region, owing their degradation and destruction to urban development, agriculture, pollution and mismanagement. As these highly diverse communities themselves are rare and threatened so too are many of the wildlife species which depend on these communities for their survival.

Interest in conserving and restoring Ontario’s grassland communities and their resident wildlife is on the rise in Ontario. However, many initiatives to date have generally been completed in isolation by individual groups. There is a need for greater coordinated leadership and communication to help direct future initiatives and involvement in grassland restoration. To make significant strides toward recovering grassland communities region-wide, a larger, more coordinated and strategic approach is required. The Ontario Grasslands Initiative was created to meet this need.

The Ontario Grasslands Initiative is a coordinated effort by leaders in grassland restoration in Ontario to strategically work with private landowners, conservation groups, non-government and government groups to restore and create large tracts of native grasslands across the region to protect and enhance the biodiversity of Ontario’s natural heritage. The initiative focuses on a landscape approach that targets the expansion of existing priority grassland remnants, establishing connecting corridors, and ensuring appropriate long term management measures are in place to maintain them. It will connect with groups already involved in grassland restoration and solicit new partnerships to join forces to establish a coordinated, strategic approach to restoring and maintaining grasslands in Ontario permanently on the landscape.

Project Goals:
Based on the Tallgrass Communities of Southern Ontario A Recovery Plan

Goal 1 – Encourage the protection of grassland remnants through sound management.

Work with existing landowners to develop long-term plans to carry out ongoing management activities that restore and maintain diverse, healthy grassland ecosystems. Grassland communities require regular management to ensure their long-term viability.

Management activities such as prescribed burning, mowing and invasive species removal help rejuvenate grasslands by suppressing non-native and woody plants from invading the prairie, increasing wildflower and legume production and removing dead plant material (thatch), all requirements for a healthy and viable grassland providing high quality wildlife habitat. Contact will be made with other conservation groups to ensure an accurate database of all existing remnants and new restoration projects are catalogued. This information of a remnant database will be used to connect with landowners to establish long-term management plans.

Goal 2 – Encourage restoration and habitat creation initiatives where appropriate to enlarge existing remnants, make linkages and create new habitat.

Securing and restoring existing remnants is a vital first step toward reclaiming southern Ontario’s grassland communities. However, it is not enough to ensure the preservation of the ecosystem as a whole. Even if every existing remnant in southern Ontario was protected, only a collection of small, widely scattered and unconnected fragments would remain. Small remnants do not provide the needed conditions for various wildlife species that require large habitat areas. Many wildlife species may only be able to establish small populations, which may suffer from lowered genetic diversity and be more prone to disease, population declines, and catastrophic loss. Larger blocks of habitat, and connections between blocks, are vital to increasing the chances for grassland species to develop and maintain healthy populations in southern Ontario.

In order to focus habitat restoration efforts to enlarge existing remnants, make linkages between existing habitats and create new habitat, mapping of existing and restored grasslands needs to be completed. Once completed, it will create a tool to allow for a focused and strategic landscape level approach to enable conservation efforts to identify priority areas for grassland restoration sites across Ontario. This strategy will prioritize grassland potential restoration sites based on factors such as their proximity to existing remnants and connection between remnants.

Goal 3 – Reduce the number of grassland community species at risk

Many grassland species are at risk simply because of the loss and degradation of their habitat. Wide scale destruction and fragmentation of habitat have had its impact on grassland species in Ontario, resulting in 22 plant species at risk designated both provincially and federally alone. Expanding and creating new habitat are all recommended actions in recovery plans for grassland SAR. This initiative strives to expand existing remnants and create new connections and habitat to reduce the fragmentation and regain a healthy viable connection of grasslands able to support a diversity of wildlife.

Goal 4 – Raise public awareness and appreciation of grassland communities.

The general awareness of grassland communities in Ontario is quite poor. In fact, many Ontarians do not realize grasslands were once a common site on their landscape; much less that it is an ecosystem in peril. Raising awareness is an important step towards soliciting support and interest in grassland restoration activities. This initiative will focus on increasing the public’s knowledge and involvement in grassland restoration. Many opportunities exist on the landscape to create grasslands and will be used as demonstration sites with public tours. Increasing the public’s knowledge and appreciation will be targeted through educational workshops, forums and developing current educational information resources electronically and in print.

Goal 5 – Connect and continue to establish partnerships in grassland restoration.

Technology, knowledge and awareness of grassland restoration is a relatively new restoration practice in Ontario causing limitations for those groups or individuals interested. Sources of seed, planting equipment and expertise are all needed to complete and maintain viable and established grasslands. To date, grassland restoration has in Ontario been completed by a few groups. Many of those groups were Ontario stewardship councils. With MNR’s dismantling of the Ontario Stewardship Program as of April 2013, the initiative will provide the support for these groups and landowners left by the disappearance of the Stewardship Councils.

Email us at info@tallgrassontario.org for more information.