Plant a patch of prairie grass
The Prairie Grasslands Region is one of the most endangered habitats in Canada. But grasslands aren't found only in the Prairie provinces; there are also patches of them in Ontario. Some grassland flowers grow so high that you'd have to climb up a ladder to come face to face with their blossoms! Four kinds of grass are found on Canada's prairies:
- Tall grass, which occurs in southwestern Ontario and south-central Manitoba, includes Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indian Grass, Switchgrass, Leadplant, Side oats Grama, Porcupine Grass, Common Sunflower, and several species of goldenrod.
- Mixed grass, found in southern Saskatchewan, southwestern Manitoba, and southeastern Alberta, includes Needle-and-thread Grass, June-Grass, Golden Aster, Prairie-Crocus, Wheat-grasses, and Breadroot.
- Short grass, which occurs in southern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan, includes Blue Grama, sedges, Western Wheat-grass, Rabbit-bush, and Little Club-moss.
- Fescue, found in the foothills of Alberta and in east-central Saskatchewan, includes Rough Fescue, Slender Wheatgrass, Three-flowered Avens, Golden Bean, Northern Bedstraw, and Yarrow.
Prairie grassland planting tips
- Start small. It's critical to control weeds during the first two years, so plant an area that you can comfortably keep free of weeds — maybe half a hectare or less.
- Ask for advice on soil type and the best species to grow in your area. Collect your seeds from a local source to ensure that they are native to your area.
- To help control weeds, till the top two to three centimetres of soil on your site several times in the fall and spring before planting (if possible).
- The best time to plant is between late spring and early summer.
- Plant a 50-50 mixture of wild flowers and grasses.
- Remember prairie species do best in full sun.
- Familiarize yourself with what prairie seedlings look like so you don't pull them out by mistake while weeding.
- Don't get discouraged! Prairie plants are perennials. They don't show a lot of growth during the first year because they're busy putting down deep, extensive root systems to help carry them through adverse conditions like cold and drought.
Protect watery places
We take Canada's rivers, marshes, swamps, bogs, sloughs, ponds, and puddles for granted. Yet they are incredibly important habitats that support a multitude of wonderful creatures. You may be surprised to know that more plants and animals live in water than on land!
In North America alone, more than 160 species of birds need wetlands to survive. All kinds of mammals live in water too — muskrats, beavers, otters, and more. And just think of all the fish, snakes, turtles, frogs, salamanders, snails, and masses of insects that slither, splash, hop, and swim around in watery places.
Besides providing homes for wildlife, rivers and lakes carry nutrients from one part of the planet to another, washing out poisons and recycling oxygen into the system. Wetlands, such as marshes, function like kidneys and help purify polluted water. And some wet spaces also offer flood control by soaking up rain and melting snow. By protecting Canada's soggy spaces (don't forget ditches and puddles) we can do a lot to protect the biodiversity of our wildlife.
Carolinian life zone
The amazing Carolinian Life Zone in southwestern Ontario boasts a greater variety of wildlife than any other ecosystem in Canada! This smorgasbord of habitats includes tall-grass prairies, sand dunes, marshes, and southern-type deciduous forests. Now only 10 percent of the original unspoiled area remains; the rest has been swallowed up by cities and farmland. It is no surprise that more than 40 percent of the designated vulnerable, threatened, or endangered species in Canada live in this zone, which is overflowing with wildlife.
In fact, many species of plants and animals in this area can be found nowhere else in the country. The Prairie White Fringed Orchis, which is threatened worldwide, blooms there. The Karner Blue Butterfly flutters, the Cooper's Hawk soars, the Black Rat Snake slithers, and the Orangespotted Sunfish splashes there. All of these species are in peril. Today, conservationists, landowners, and government and private agencies are trying to ensure that what remains of this precious habitat will be conserved for all time.
Come to the rescue!
If you live in the Carolinian Life Zone, here's your chance to learn more about the wonderful wildlife around you. At the same time, you'll be helping of our richest habitats stay healthy.
- Invite a local expert to talk to your community about the Carolinian area and why it's so special.
- List all the wildlife species that can be found in this zone and nowhere else in the country.
- Identify a species that waddles, glides, or blooms in your area, especially one that may not be found anywhere else in Canada. Find out how to help this species by consulting with experts and learning as much about it as you can.
- Organize a short presentation on the Carolinian Life Zone and some of its wildlife for your school, parent-teacher association, or local council.
- Put together a book with descriptions, photographs, drawings, leaf rubbings, and so on. Ask if you can display it at your school or community library for others to read.
- Be sure to share with your parents, relatives, friends, and neighbours all you find out about this fascinating area and why it's important to protect it.
Plant willows for wildlife
Willow trees have lots of room for wildlife in their branches. They are easy to grow – even in the North, where the growing season is short and the soil is often barren and sandy. Willows also do wonders to control erosion and provide wildlife with habitat in and around disturbed areas such as abandoned gravel pits, parking lots, construction sites, and along roadways and watery banks.
If you know of a spot in your schoolyard or community that looks a little the worse for wear, try planting a row of willows or other trees that can be grown from stem cuttings. This project will work anywhere willows grow, including the North. The following guidelines should be kept in mind:
- Identify your site. Then get permission from the landowner, town, or government agency to go ahead with your willow-planting project.
- Collect willow shoots during late winter dormancy, before the buds sprout. In Northern Canada, this period is in March, but may vary from one area to another — so check with a botanist.
- Northern trees that root easily from stem cuttings include Feltleaf Willow, Pacific Willow, Barclay Willow, Scouler Willow, Balsam Poplar, and Black Cottonwood.
- Collect the shoots from mature trees. Remember to get permission first from landowners.
- Discard the tips of the shoots. With pruning shears, cut the remainder of each shoot into lengths of 15-20 cm. At one end, make the cuts straight; at the other end, cut diagonally, just below a node (the point where a leaf usually appears).
- Store the cuttings for about two months in cool, dark, moist conditions until it is time for spring planting (June in the north, but check for other areas). Store the cuttings in boxes of sawdust or sand and peat in an outdoor shed or root cellar, or refrigerate them in a plastic bag. The temperature should be 0-5 °C. If you do not have cold-storage facilities, store the cuttings in a snow bank along the north side of a building. Cuttings may sprout shoots and roots in storage, but that's okay.
- Before planting, you may have to break up very hard ground with shovels.
- In the Prairie region, plant the cuttings in low spots or near water.
- To plant, push the angled ends of the cuttings into the ground, spacing them 60-90 cm apart.
- It is critical to water the shoots well during the first few weeks of root growth.
- Fence the young trees off from cattle. Cows love to munch on tender young saplings. Have faith! The uninteresting row of sticks will soon abound with delicate green buds.
- A controlled experiment could be interesting. Use some willow shoots cut just before planting as well as some others cut in early spring. Plant the two groups in separate areas, or identify them in some way.
- Monitor your revegetation project at intervals of weeks, months, and years. Use graphs and charts to compare the survival rate of the two groups.
Foster old-growth forests
Many creatures can survive only in very particular habitats. The Newfoundland Pine Marten, for example, loves old-growth forests that are full of fallen logs, rotting leaves, and stumps. New forests that have been replanted after logging do not serve the needs of this species, nor do cleared woods. Nearly 70 percent of the Newfoundland Pine Marten's habitat has already been lost through logging.
Although other Canadian provinces and territories have Pine Martens, the Newfoundland species is found nowhere else in the world. A recovery team is now developing a plan to see that the Newfoundland Pine Marten will never disappear.
Would you like to give some foster care to an old-growth forest? Contact your government forestry department to find out if one of these ancient habitats is located near you. Learn all about the species that flap, leap, howl, squeak, and flower there. Visit the area and spend some time getting to know this amazing habitat. How many years did it take to develop? Is it protected? Is any human activity or development planned there? Could you protect the forest by writing letters or by giving presentations? Lots of people don't know how important it is to take care of these ancient forests – so now's your chance to fill them in!
Save OUR rainforests too!
Fortunately, a lot of people are working hard to save the rain forests of South America. But let's not forget that Canada also has some important rain forests, which are home to an amazing diversity of wildlife. One of these rain forest zones is found along the coast of British Columbia, while another is located in the southeastern part of the province. Can you believe that it's so soggy in some parts of the coastal rain forest that trees have trouble even growing? In fact, some trees are about 400 years old — but only three metres high!
These special habitats are being threatened by flooding from hydro-electric projects, logging, and urbanization. Over 100 species of rare plants are found in the B.C. coastal rain forest alone, and 37 of the wildlife species that live there are at risk. Many newly discovered species of spiders, mites, and insects are now being studied there.
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