Executive Summary

The proposed project goal is to increase forest habitat in Haldimand County and the Niagara Peninsula where current forest cover is not only critically under-represented, but characteristically fragmented with few large contiguous blocks that support interior-forest dependent species. Strategic afforestation of marginal agricultural or abandoned private land adjacent to existing forest will increase contiguous forest area, connect disparate forest blocks and increase the biodiversity and native species component of the vegetation communities. Early successional stages of forest habitat creation will support regional priority species Black-billed Cuckoo, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee, Northern Flicker and Rose-breasted Grosbeak breeding and foraging habitat needs. Where forest habitat establishment extends forest edges >=100 m from the interior of the contiguous block, interior forest habitat will be enhanced once planted seedlings approach crown closure (approximately 15 years), which directly benefits regional priority species Eastern Wood-pewee and Wood Thrush preferred breeding and foraging requirements.

Twenty landowners have expressed interest in afforesting 39 ha across the Haldimand-Niagara area in spring 2015, which is expected to result in securing 15-year Stewardship Agreements to protect the habitat established on these acreages. One objective of the project is to prioritize areas for forest habitat creation and target respective landowners with outreach materials promoting the afforestation program to both increase annual area afforested and realize benefits to the targeted bird species habitat requirements sooner. In 2016, the goal is to secure 24 landowners to afforest 50 ha and by 2017 to involve 26 landowners and establish 55 ha of new forest habitat. A second objective is to facilitate consistent availability of a diverse species-range of locally-adapted, Carolinian-forest tree seedlings.

Current seedling shortages will become critical, if efforts to remedy the situation are not taken to fill this void. By working together, Haldimand Stewardship Council and Land Care Niagara will share resources, eliminating duplicate activities, to identify seed sources, forecast seed crops and collect seed starting in 2015 and continued thereafter. Managing seed supply will be essential to meeting the overall project goal of increasing forest cover, because without seed there will be no seedlings to plant, regardless of how many landowners want to retire land for this purpose. It should also be noted that seedlings grown from seed collected in 2015 will be available for planting in 2017 at the earliest and some species require more years in the nursery to acquire the size and robustness that improves survival and growth after planting.

Beyond protecting early successional forest habitat through 15-year Stewardship Agreements, successful establishment is promoted by a consistent regime of activities, whereby sites are inspected, specific site plans of silviculture treatments are developed, plant quality is assessed and survival assessments conducted in years 1, 2 and 5. Assessments will identify any remedial or tending activities required to ensure fully-stocked and healthy development of planned forest habitat. Bird presence surveys will also be undertaken pre- and post-planting, year 1, 2 and 5. As trends in bird presence emerge, the feedback will inform an adaptive-management approach to afforestation projects to try alternative treatments where warranted to achieve the desired result of enhancing early successional breeding and foraging habitat and forest-interior habitat in the long term.

The multiple components of the proposed project are supported by a network of not-for-profit NGO's, private-sector businesses, private landowners and a multi-generational component of community volunteers whose stewardship efforts and commitments will endure into the future.