The area I am referring to is the Ojibway Prairie Remnants tallgrass prairie complex in southwest Windsor. I was first introduced to the Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve (OPPNR) portion of this complex back in 1975, when a colleague and I visited it in August of that year. We had had a hint of the prairie and savanna types of ecosystem as we were both summer seasonal naturalists at Rondeau Provincial Park, which has a fair representation of species common to both habitat types. But the really magnificent stuff was at OPPNR. There were various members of the sunflower family, some reaching heights of 3 metres (10 feet) or more. There were vivid purple spikes of the iconic Dense Blazing-star throughout. There are more provincially and nationally rare species in prairie/savanna than any other habitat in Ontario, some of which will be illustrated below. Since the 1970s, numerous invertebrate species have been found in the Ojibway Prairie Complex that have never been documented in Canada before!
Over the decades of my career, I had a lot to do with OPPNR: writing vegetation management plans, adding to some of the inventory knowledge database, coordinating research projects, photographing (some of the photos in this blog are scanned slides taken years ago), promoting prescribed burns and being heavily involved with the planning and production of the 1992 North American Prairie Conference held in Windsor. This was the first time this conference had been held outside the USA. It was great fun to collaborate with the city staff, especially those of the nearby Ojibway Nature Centre, to bring this national conference to Windsor and show hundreds of people the spectacular prairie and savanna in southwestern Ontario.
Many people are surprised when one mentions that Ontario really is a prairie province, and some of the best examples occur in southwestern Ontario. In fact the most biologically diverse prairies in Canada occur in Ontario. This first image I took at the OPPNR while standing in a prairie portion, looking across to a savanna, which is the open treed area. The white candelabra style plants are Culver's-root (Veronicastrum virginicum). The tall green stems are of Tall Coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris), not quite out in flower.
In the spring time, prairies are often burned, but with the sunlight and moisture they quickly green up. The two images that follow the fire were taken about 10 days after the burn.
|Gray-headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)|
|Flowering Spurge (Euphorbia corollata)|
|Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) with Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)|
|Prairie Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii)|
|Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens)|
|Prairie Thistle (Cirsium discolor)|
|Colic-root (Aletris farinosa) (Threatened)|
The very tall Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) occurs here. It has huge sandpapery basal leaves and a flower stem that can be at least 3 metres tall with the obvious yellow sunflower types of flower heads near the top.
|Dense Blazing-star (Liatris spicata)|
|Rough Blazing-star (Liatris aspera)|
Rare orchids occur here.
|Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid (Platanthera leucophaea) (Endangered)|
|Purple Twayblade (Liparis liliifolia) (Threatened)|
There is no doubt that natural areas in an urban area are at great risk for impact and loss. In the last decade, this has become even more evident in Windsor with the newly created/expanded access to the new international bridge crossing. Unprotected prairie and savanna sites have been sacrificed. This next image is of a prairie that used to occur at the northwest corner of Huron Church Line and Todd Lane. It wasn't pristine by any means, but since it had been left alone for a couple of years, the prairie species hanging on such as the Colic-root (the white spikey plants) came up nicely. I regret to say, however, that they are no longer there. Even though this population represented the largest single population of Colic-root in Canada, a legally Threatened species, that area was needed for highway expansion, so it was removed. The provincial condition on the permit was to allow their removal, as long as the threatened and endangered plants were transplanted to another more protected site.
What a tragic solution....transplanting is nothing more than large scale gardening!
When I was still with the former MNR and involved with the creation of the new Endangered Species Act in 2007, I was adamant that although some aspects of this legislation were valuable, the bigger issue was dealing with the habitats that such endangered species required to survive. The trailer that I had in my emails was "Dealing with Species At Risk instead of Spaces At Risk is like treating a life-threatening disease with an aspirin". What is going on in Windsor today, and numerous other places as well, is a prime example of this issue, and highlights a major flaw in this type of thinking regarding endangered species.
These nationally significant prairie and savanna remnants making up the Ojibway Prairie Complex are almost completely surrounded by urban development, including residential and commercial uses. One of the properties immediately adjacent to Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve and the city owned Ojibway Park is the former Windsor Raceway. It has not been operational as a raceway for quite a few years, and some of the area closest to these two prairie parks had begun to revert to its former likeness of tallgrass prairie. Not only were some of the legislated prairie plants becoming re-established, but some of the faunal elements, including the endangered Eastern Fox Snake, were as well.
Unfortunately the former raceway property has changed hands, and the new owner wants to turn the property into a big box complex. This has been a contentious issue for many, and there have been appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board. The issues are mainly:
- does south Windsor really need another big box complex, when others in that city are apparently not doing all that well, and the long-term economic development plan indicates that Windsor already has more capacity than needed for at least the next 20 years? There are other large undeveloped or 'brown' (i.e. failed development or abandoned) properties available elsewhere for this type of development if more is necessary;
- what about the loss of rare species and habitat not resolved by the permit issued by MNRF (see below)
- what about the major impacts to the species at risk on the adjacent park properties, not to mention the numerous species that are not officially 'at risk' quite yet? The new development calls for a major expansion/widening of the access roads, which currently separate Ojibway Prairie PNR from Ojibway Park, and will result in a major increase in traffic on the road separating these two parks. This will result in more and more animal life to be killed on the road.
- will the new development interfere with the prescribed burns needed for short and long term prairie health?
But residents and non-residents alike are questioning the need for such a huge development as well as the short-term and long-term impacts on the nationally significant prairie and savanna ecosystems and the species that make them up. The OMB dismissed the appeal to protect the significant prairie habitat, but residents are still actively involved in seeking a better solution. You can read much more about the issue and the public reaction here in the Windsor Star.
Many residents are requesting that the city council reconsider their approval for this project, and the local MPP is asking the owner/developer to reconsider it as well. Note the request in the article in the Windsor Star for signing a petition to be sent to the mayor. Please make your voices heard!
"Dealing with Species At Risk instead of Spaces At Risk is like treating a life-threatening disease with an aspirin"