A year ago, the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority (LTVCA) produced their first Watershed Report Card revealing the average grade of the watershed’s Forest Cover as a ‘D’. The LTVCA’s spring reforestation program is underway across the watershed in an effort to improve the grade. Forests provide habitat and shade; they help to clean our air and water and they protect the soil which promotes water infiltration and reduces erosion and flooding. Forests also help to cool the land and air – nature’s air conditioner. Trees reduce energy consumption by lowering heating and cooling costs. Tree cover is especially important in large blocks or along natural streams or riparian areas, as a vital element to ecosystems that thrive there. Enhancing and maintaining forest cover slows climate warming and assists with adaptation by preventing the release and improving the capture of CO2 from the atmosphere.
Conservation Authorities assess the area of their watersheds covered by forest and the amount of forest “interior” which provides critical habitat for many species including songbirds. This indicator is made up of % forest cover, % forest interior and % riparian zone forested. Percent forest cover is the percentage of the watershed that is forested or wooded. Forest interior is that portion of a woodlot that remains after removing a 100 metre buffer from the outside edge. The riparian zone is the area adjacent to watercourses (30 metres on each side) which helps stream water quality and protects important, specialized habitat. The World Health Organization states that for an area to be healthy and ecologically sustainable, it should have a minimum of 12% forest cover. Environment Canada indicates as much as 30%, for survival of some interior forest bird species. The Lower Thames Valley watershed currently has an average forest cover of 10%, with an estimation of 4.9 % forest cover in the Municipality of Chatham-Kent.
The reforestation and stewardship efforts of the LTVCA are targeted at the sub-watersheds with the most need or lowest grades. Therefore, our efforts focus primarily on reforestation in the western portions of the watershed. The annual reforestation rate in these areas through the efforts of landowners and the Conservation Authority is approximately 50,000 to 80,000 trees per year. Each spring the LTVCA accepts tree orders from landowners up until mid-March. This year, staff ordered over 65,000 trees from our suppliers Sommerville and Pineneedle Nurseries. Projects that are greater than one acre in size are eligible for funding through our sponsors: Trees Ontario, Ontario Power Generation, Union Gas, GDF Suez and Enbridge.
The majority of these trees are native Carolinian species that are adapted to local conditions in Southern Ontario. The Chatham-Kent Greening Partnership focuses on natural restoration in Chatham-Kent and will see the majority of the plantings with over 60 acres and 56,000 trees being planted on private lands. In the eastern watershed municipalities, over 9,000 trees are being planted on private lands. As well, our Community Tree Initiative program works with school groups to collect seed, propagate seedlings and plant out in community projects. This education program has educated over 170 students at 16 events throughout Chatham-Kent.
Reforestation and stewardship initiatives engage landowners, community partners and others in activities that ensure clean, sustainable water and healthy agricultural lands, while protecting important ecological features such as wetlands, forests, natural lands, wildlife and birds. Stewardship programs, tree planting partnerships with municipalities, naturalization projects in urban areas, conservation bylaws and regulations, natural heritage strategies and watershed management planning, all play a role in improving the grade. It is therefore important to maintain improvements and realize the benefits of long term programs.
The entire Lower Thames Valley Watershed Report Card can be viewed at http://www.lowerthames-conservation.on.ca/watershed/watershed1.html and is a summary of the state of our forests, surface water, and ground water resources. It measured Surface Water Quality, Forest Conditions, and Groundwater Quality in the lower Thames River watershed. Grades were allocated based on scientific data for each of the parameters. A - Excellent, B - Good, C - Fair, D – Poor, F - Very Poor. Measuring helps us better understand our watershed. It helps us to focus our efforts where they are needed most and track progress. It also helps us to identify healthy and ecologically important areas that require protection or enhancement. Conservation Authorities address issues and concerns identified in watershed report cards through local programs, often in partnership with landowners, other agencies, community groups and municipalities or other government agencies. Watershed report cards help us to identify environmental problems and issues within local sub-watersheds, identifying specific areas we need to protect, restore or manage.
You can have an impact on the health of the lower Thames River watershed and help improve our grades.
• Create a more natural and diverse habitat by using a variety of native plant species that are better adapted to the local climate and pests.
• Minimize use of fertilizers and utilize the municipal hazardous waste disposal program.
• Repair or replace faulty septic systems and ensure proper maintenance.
• Homeowners with wells should understand the condition of their well and risks to their water supply.
• Sample private wells each spring and fall.
• Keep contaminants such as fuel, pesticides, manure/waste away from your well area.
• Decommission abandoned wells according to Ministry of the Environment standards.
• Conserve woodlands, wetlands and other natural areas.
• Protect and enhance stream habitat.
• Keep rivers, streams and all waterways clean of garbage, compost, chemicals and other pollutants.
• Connect the existing river-side woodlands and meadows with additional plantings to create a continuous wildlife corridor.
• Increase forest interior by making woodlots larger and less fragmented.
• Connect woodlots by planting shelterbelts, windbreaks and buffers along fields and watercourses which will also protect against soil erosion and improve water quality.
• Woodlot owners can improve the quality of the wildlife habitat by installing bird nesting boxes, controlling invasive plant species and keeping livestock and unauthorized motorized vehicles out.
• Implement agricultural Beneficial Management Practices in manure storage and spreading, soil conservation, fertilizer and pesticide storage, application and fuel storage and restricting livestock access to watercourses.
• Complete and follow Environmental Farm Plans and Nutrient Management Plans.
• Utilize grants and expertise from the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority and government agencies.