A Brief History of Tallgrass Ontario

In 1998 the World Wildlife Fund Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources published the ground- breaking document Tallgrass Communities of Southern Ontario: A Recovery Plan. This document was one of the first ecosystem-based recovery plans in Canada and was the founding document for the association that later became Tallgrass Ontario. The 66 page report described the state of Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savanna in Southern Ontario as it existed at the end of the 20th Century. The recovery plan recommended steps to ensure that what existed in 1998 remains and prospers in the 21st century. Beginning in chapter 4 (page 13) the document outlines the goals for recovering Tallgrass Communities across Southern Ontario. The first of five top priorities listed is “Organize a Tallgrass Prairie and Savanna Association that will guide and evaluate progress of this Recovery Plan, and will provide leadership in areas of communications, information-sharing and education”.

The Ontario Tallgrass Prairie and Savanna Association formed in 1999 to implement the Recovery Plan for Tallgrass Communities of Southern Ontario. The association became Tallgrass Ontario when it was incorporated as a federally-regulated charity on January 1st, 2002. Tallgrass Ontario had its first Annual General Meeting at the Royal Ontario Museum on April 5, 2002, to mark the opening of the Tallgrass Prairie and Savanna Exhibit in the Biodiversity Gallery.

In the early days the Tallgrass Prairie and Savanna Association was focused on communications, information-sharing and education. To this end they published the Bluestem Banner with the first edition in March 1999 and initiated the first of four biannual prairie forums and held meetings with many of the stakeholders in Tallgrass Prairie and Savanna creation.

The Tallgrass Ontario website was launched in August 2000. The outreach and education continued, but a new focus became the protection of remnant Tallgrass Prairies and Savannas. The first Save Our Savannas (SOS) project was launched. The goal of the first two SOS projects was to identify the landowners of Tallgrass remnants and to meet with as many of them as possible over a two-year period. The information was collected and stored in an access database. The third and last SOS, also called the pocket prairie project had a goal of creating the first ever Tallgrass Ontario shape file showing the extent of Tallgrass Prairie and Savanna in Southern Ontario. This shape file, along with shape files provided by Ontario Parks, Ministry of Natural Resources and Conservation Authorities comprise the Tallgrass shape file that was in use up to 2012.

In 2013 further progress was made and a comprehensive GIS mapping database of Tallgrass ecosystem remnants for southern Ontario was produced. This analysis incorporated restored and created habitats into the database to complete the Tallgrass Ecosystem Recovery Area. This additional data has assisted in identifying restoration and creation work already completed and will help identify high priority Tallgrass Prairie restoration opportunities for future implementation. The completed dataset will assist in efforts to restore and protect grasslands in the Tallgrass Ecosystem Recovery Areas for Southern Ontario.

Along the way there have been numerous factsheets and guides, many of which are available under the Publications tab on the Tallgrass Ontario website. Beginning with Planting the Seed and A Landowner’s Guide to Tallgrass Prairie and Savanna Management in Ontario, the six volume Principle Series was also produced. Other guides include the Agro-economic Applications of Tallgrass Prairie Species in Southern Ontario and the Tallgrass Prairie and Savanna Prescribed Fire Decision Support System.

In later years Tallgrass Ontario has sponsored dozens of creation projects as well as hands-on maintenance on privately owned grassland sites across Southern Ontario. From time to time Tallgrass Ontario revisits the Tallgrass Recovery Plan that gave rise to the organization. The recovery plan is under review in 2018 with an anticipated completion date of March 2019. Because of the continued pressures of urbanization and agriculture Tallgrass Ontario has not been successful in preserving every remnant prairie patch in Southern Ontario. However, we have raised public awareness of these rare landscapes, documented where they are found and through efforts big and small are ensuring much will remain for future generations to marvel at.