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Some tips on
Living Simply

Land Stewardship

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By Pat Mestern
May 5, 2004 

Do you own a bit of property? Like to landscape responsibly? Farm a few acres? If you do, the following information might be of interest. Recently, while driving through pretty countryside around Inverhaugh - not far from home, the need to do more about preserving the natural landscape was brought visually to the fore. "Inverhaugh" is Gaelic for "Green Valley" and indeed the area lives up to its name. Ninety percent of the folks in this tiny community, nestled in the gentle slope of the Grand River Valley and just upstream from the Pilkington Flats, had erected signs that indicated "NO" to a gravel pit. Over coffee in the corner café, I found out that residents are fighting an aggregate conglomerate who has decided to open a huge pit operation right next door to the pretty rural enclave.

The Grand River Valley is definitely rich in gravel deposits. One gentleman told me that you must see the valley from the air to realize how much aggregate is being extracted from the area. As a matter of fact, there are huge areas in southern Ontario that look like war zones due to the scarring of the landscape by aggregate-extraction operations. Even the renowned Niagara Escarpment, a World Biosphere Reserve, hasn’t escaped the ravages of corporate greed. There are many places along the escarpment where a very thin "line" of green has been left as a foil to camouflage what is really taking place regards rock and aggregate extraction. Tractor trailer loads of escarpment rock from the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island are trucked south daily to feed the current desire for landscaping "au natural".

Unfortunately, Southern Ontario is not the only place in North America that is being ravaged by companies and corporations who should know better. Think of these very wise words as you contemplate the way your area’s landscape was pre-European settlement, and what it looks like today - "Forests precede civilization, deserts follow". How true! It is estimated that in Southern Ontario, there is only 15% of the natural forest cover left, and it is under attack - constantly; if not from rampant urban development and aggregate extraction, from introduced species of insects, plants, trees and disease.

As responsible citizens, we can no longer take natural heritage for granted. We must do all that we can to protect it, starting with our own little patch of earth. We must expand on what we have left of the natural landscape to preserve it for future generations. Children must be made aware of our mistakes so that they don’t repeat what we have destroyed. I do understand that during pioneer times, it was necessary to "destroy" in order to create an environment that was suitable for sustainable settlement. But somewhere along the line, people stepped over the line of what was good and positive for the land and natural environment. We must all learn to be pro-active, like the residents of Inverhaugh. To this end, I’ve outlined some steps that we can take to start the process of preserving the landscape.

Plant only native species of trees, shrubs, grasses and wild flowers. Plants lots of them. Doesn’t matter whether you have a postage-stamp-sized lot or 1,000 acres. When naturalizing an area, plant only those species that would have been part of the old growth landscape.

Speak to community members about the need to reforest your town’s boulevards, parks, vacant and brown fields. Remember that trees are not your enemy. Trees improve the quality of the air you breath and given enough time, they clear toxins from the soil. Trees keep your house cool in summer and shelter it from prevailing winds during the winter. Speak up about rampant, and unwanted development that destroys valuable farmland and natural growth acreage. You’d be surprised how many people are disgusted with the big-box, strip & mall phenomenon but don’t know how to stop the madness. Do you realize that in Southern Ontario there is more acreage under asphalt than there is under forest cover. And as our area is not unique in North America, think of the acres of black-top that dominate the landscape in your community.

Try not to use nitrogen fertilizers that have a tendency to make trees and shrubs grow more quickly than can be supported by their root systems. Create a forest floor environment on your property by mulching autumn leaves and letting them decay naturally to provide nutrients for your trees and shrubs. Don’t rake an area bare. Think about this. Does anyone rake a forest floor? The organisms in decaying leaves maintain soil health. Decaying leaves are home to critters that eat a lot of annoying and harmful pesky "things".

Don’t bother to water trees and lawns. When you do, the moisture stays close to the surface and causes shallow rooting. Place mulch around trees and throughout flower beds to "trap" moisture and to keep the soil and roots cool. The plants will thank you. And if you’re on a metered water system, your wallet will benefit.

Did you know that grass is very adaptable? For the most part, it goes dormant during a drought. My lawn is always green but that’s because there are lots of "interesting plants" growing in it - perri-winkle, plantain, Creeping Charlie, tiny violets, dandelions, mosses & etc. When you do cut your grass, leave the clippings on the lawn. They break down quickly and provide valuables nutrients. You won’t ever have to purchase fertilizer.

Cut any twigs into small bits and spread them under trees as natural "forest cover". Leave larger pieces of wood lying under your trees too and let them decay naturally. I’m giving you an excuse not to do much lawn work here! Who needs a highly sanitized landscape? Not the beneficial "bugs" that live under these twigs, mulch and decaying wood. By creating a natural habitat, birds and other natural predators who munch on imported and domestic pests are encouraged to "hang around".

Speaking of bugs, stop spraying lawns and gardens. This spray kills not only bugs and/or weeds but it’s a proven fact that chemical sprays can harm you, your family and your four-footed friends. The earth needs butterflies, earth worms, spiders . . .. Remember that no pest or organism reigns supreme. Given time, for every infestation or pest, there’s a predator that comes to the fore to either eradicate, or control, the situation. Don’t kill all the "good guys" while trying to eradicate the bad. Work in rhythm with nature.

Don’t haul firewood from one location to another if the source-location of the wood has an infestation of an "unsavory" critter. This advice includes wooden pallets. Many pallets originate in Asia as do the Emerald Ash Borer and the Asian Long-horned Beetle, both destructive to our native forests. Just like the United States, Southern Ontario is at the moment, trying to stop the spread of both insects. The Emerald Ash Borer has, so far, caused the destruction of 84,000 ash trees in Kent County, Ontario AND hundreds-of-thousands-of-trees in the U.S. How did it get to North America? It hopped a ride to our shores in wood pallets.

In south-western Ontario, in order to slow the spread of the Emerald Ash Beetle, an area approximately six miles wide by twenty-five miles long has been denuded of ash trees. This action will not stop the beetle but will slow it down. It is estimated that more than ten million ash trees have been killed in an area that includes Ohio, Michigan and southwestern Ontario. There are more than one billion ash trees left in Southern Ontario, all ripe for destruction. Given the information on the Emerald Ash Beetle, can you imagine what will happen if the Asian Long-Horned beetle is not stopped? As this nasty beetle destroys maple trees, has no natural enemies and can over-winter, the prognosis is not good for North America’s maple trees.

Save your money by not buying exotic species of trees, shrubs and grasses. Plant only those varieties that are native to your area. For example, in our part of Ontario, rhododendrons are not a native species yet people insist on planting them - the imported varieties. Rhodies are one of the species of plant attacked by sudden oak disease. It would be death to Canadian oak trees if this disease was imported. Seek out nurseries and tree plantations in your area that grow and sell only native species. Support their efforts by purchasing their product.

It’s not only forest cover that is dwindling. Do you know that there is only a very small patch of natural prairie left in south-western Ontario. Most people don’t even realize that the area was once home to vast prairie and supported buffalo and all the other species of animal that called the grasslands "home". Do you know that in the western provinces and states, if you step from a natural prairie area (and those areas are also shrinking FAST) onto cleared, tilled land, so much of the soil has compacted/blown away/ settled since pioneers opened western reaches that you have to step down, in some cases - six feet? If you own a substantial amount of acreage, consider leaving part of it to grow "at will" - to return, in its own time, to a natural landscape

One the most disturbing aspects of the new "improved" - (read that real cheap and ugly) housing - is that ye-average-urban-backyard in some of the toss-em-up burbs, is 20' x 20' square, an area that is not large enough to support a tree that will grow to a reasonable height and girth. By the time the barbecue, the patio furniture and the "clap-trap collector" shed is added, there isn’t room for kids or a tree. How do you like the names some of these burbs are given "Pine Tree Way" - "Oak Lawn" - "Flower Meadow Ridge" - "Fox Run Boulevard" - "Cold Stream Place". I bet that you don’t find a pine or oak tree, a flower meadow, fox or cold stream anywhere nearby! And one final note, with so little natural forest and acreage left you’d think that governments (local, provincial and national) would get a little worried about the situation. As urban-burbia and box-big spreads, inner cities decay and die? You’d think that the "powers that be" would put a halt to the less than stellular "tit-for-tat" developments and urban sprawl demanding first that land/housing/building opportunities available in cities are developed - again. You’d think that aggregate operations would be closely regulated and limited, spread around the province. Aggregate extraction opportunities can be found everywhere, including Northern Ontario, which area could use the employment. You’d think that government would do all it can to preserve the natural landscape, including that of the Niagara Escarpment, that World Biosphere site. Not so!

Most still don’t give a tinker's dam. Anyone who wants to cut down a forested area in the name of development and progress usually knows how to get around the flack. They’re experts at destroying valuable natural heritage to build stick & plastic, rabbit-hutch, throw-away housing - burbia at its ugliest. Too many irresponsible corporations are operating gravel pits to feed the appetite for aggregates to fuel this "expansion-at-all-costs" frenzy. Any corporation that wants to "restructure the land" to accommodate another big-box, recreational-shopping hazard must be made fully accountable for the destruction of land and forest.



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