As we enter 2018, I am reflecting on our goal to help restore Ontario’s native biodiversity by re-establishing appropriate native plant communities with wild-type genetics back to degraded landscapes in the province. It is a good time to evaluate our progress and look ahead to challenges and opportunities that lay ahead with respect to achieving this purpose.
In 2017, St Williams Nursery and Ecology Centre (SWNEC) continued its role as a quiet and dedicated leader in biodiversity conservation in Ontario by ensuring the continued availability of high quality source-identified plants and seed, including almost 400 species of plants native to the province. These plants end up on restoration projects on public and private lands, in conservation areas, provincial and national parks, in the countryside and in towns and cities across the province. We also continued to provide ecological restoration support on major projects including at Westminster Ponds ESA in London, naturalization projects in Mississauga, Toronto, Ottawa and Sudbury, Durham Region, and in Bruce Peninsula National Park, and for mine tailings rehabilitation in Kapuskasing.
In 2017, we made significant advances in developing our Native Seed Network Database that will allow us to more efficiently track locations of native plant material sources, collected by our team of dedicated scientists and technicians, and to increase our ability to work with committed conservation partners. Source tracking and verification is a critical component to ensuring effective, legitimate conservation and restoration of our native biodiversity but is an increased cost not appreciated by most.
Unfortunately, we may be losing the fight to protect and conserve biodiversity given the extent of habitat loss especially in southern Ontario and the ongoing impact of invasive species. While it may seem significant, 400 species is a small fraction of the 3400 native species indigenous to Ontario, many of which need to be protected and restored to degraded landscapes. Major challenges to successful conservation efforts include lack of awareness and lack of effective funding for meaningful on-the-ground efforts like coordinated seed collection from wild plant populations, which is essential to this effort. In many cases our conservation programs and organizations in the province remain uncoordinated and fail to ensure effective biodiversity conservation. The broader nursery and landscape industry in the province continues as a whole to be a negative influence rather than a conservation force for biodiversity in the province. It is time for a serious change in our behaviours and efforts to restore native biodiversity if we are going to be successful. It is time for government and conservation organizations alike, to demonstrate leadership to effect meaningful conservation at the scale necessary to reverse the trend of biodiversity loss.
I am encouraged by organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund and Carolinian Canada who now are recognizing the importance of restoring habitat using native plant communities with appropriate wild type genetics as critical component in our fight to conserve Ontario’s natural biodiversity. Clearly this effort will require substantially more resources and commitment than has been given to date. I can give you my assurance that SWNEC remains committed to this important cause, but it will require the collective efforts of existing and new champions, and more effective conservation partnerships if we are to have a real chance of conserving and restoring Ontario’s native biodiversity.
Yours in conservation,
Allan Arthur, M.Sc.
President, Sr Ecologist
St Williams Nursery and Ecology Centre