An ecosystem approach has been taken for the planning of all ecological work including fisheries and wetland compensation, species at risk mitigation and landscaping. The Rt. Hon. Herb Gray Parkway's green space will support a native Carolinian landscape that features Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savannah which are characteristic of Windsor-Essex. Beyond the limits of the Parkway, habitat for species at risk was also restored to provide new and higher quality habitat in accordance with permits granted under the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA, 2007). The Parkway is unprecedented in terms of ecological and community sustainability for a roadway project in Ontario.
Parkway in a Prairie: Why Protecting Prairie Matters
The Parkway is located in an urban area that contains remnants of Tallgrass Prairie – a globally threatened ecosystem. Very little Tallgrass Prairie remains in North America with estimates ranging from 5 per cent to less than 1/10th of 1 per cent of the original prairie ecosystem.
In recognition of the global, national, and provincial significance of prairie remnants in the Windsor-Essex region, special care has been taken in the Parkway's configuration to limit the impact on ecologically significant areas. As a result, less than four hectares of higher quality vegetation have been impacted.
Traditional knowledge and respect for prairie have been integrated into the project through the involvement of Walpole Island First Nation (WIFN) who have been stewards of Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savannah for thousands of years. WIFN has been a valued partner and an active member of the project team. Danshab Enterprises, a Walpole Island-based business, has undertaken a significant component of the species at risk plant relocation work and restoration efforts within the Parkway.
Ecological Landscape Creation and Restoration
Of the 120 hectares of green space associated with the Landscape Plan for the Parkway, 74 hectares are created ecological landscapes that feature Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savannah.
Outside the Parkway corridor, an additional 60 hectares of land, including wetland preservation areas and actively managed species at risk habitat, are being preserved.
Active Management of Prairie Landscapes
Tallgrass Prairies require active management to control succession and the spread of invasive species. A vigorous program of brush cutting, herbicide application and prescribed burns is being implemented.
Prescribed burns are the most effective method to control invasive species in a Tallgrass Prairie as they mimic the natural disturbance prairies depend on. Twenty hectares of prairie have been burned since the spring of 2012.
The Parkway’s Species at Risk
Under the ESA the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) issued permits to MTO for the protection of seven plant and two snake species at risk found within the Parkway corridor. These permits have shaped the design and scheduling of the project.
Prior to the start of construction, all plant and snake species at risk were relocated from the Parkway corridor to protected restoration areas. New methods and approaches to deal with species at risk, which have application beyond the project, have been developed.
The Value of the Parkway’s Ecological Restoration Efforts
The ecosystem-based restoration and landscaping undertaken as part of Parkway implementation is expected to provide numerous benefits to people, plants and animal species. This includes benefits to biodiversity, places of refuge for rare and endangered species, erosion control, wetlands and fisheries, pollination and recreation and culture.
Education, Outreach and Research
It will take an educated public to help protect species at risk and their Tallgrass Prairie habitat. MTO has undertaken various education and outreach activities in Windsor-Essex, some of which meet stewardship requirements under the ESA permits. More of these stewardship, education and outreach activities will be carried out in the future.
The unique ecological features of the Parkway’s restoration areas provide an opportunity for researchers to study and collect data related to Tallgrass Prairie habitat and wildlife. A number of researchers have included, or will include these restoration areas in their research studies.