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In 2012-13, with the help of Environment Canada’s EcoAction Fund, the Macphail Woods Project was able to coordinate & conduct a series of watershed restoration plantings Island-wide.
Prince Edward Island has suffered from hundreds of years of neglect and often outright abuse. Though this is slowly changing, at one time people thought nothing of ploughing right up to the edge of a waterway, allowing silt and pesticides to freely move into the water, or to drive harvesting machines right across a brook. The provincial government has brought in minimal buffer zone legislation, but in many cases the riparian zones do not adequately protect the waterways. This project will expand and/or create 20 new buffer zones along Island waterways in thirty different areas across the province. Once grown, these plantings will have the ability to reduce the infiltration of pollutants into the water.
In selected watersheds across the province, we are hosting a workshop on riparian zone enhancement and carry out at least one planting to either create new or expand existing buffer zones. In 2012 and 2013, we are planting twenty riparian zones across Prince Edward Island and hold four community meetings on watershed enhancement. The focus is on using appropriate native plants to increase the width of riparian zones in order to enhance wildlife habitat, control the amount of nitrates and other pollutants entering waterways, improve biodiversity, clean air and store carbon. We are working with the staff and volunteers of established watershed groups throughout the province to carry out the plantings. In each planting, we add some of the rarer plants that are suitable to the area. The workshops, meetings and hands-on planting events ensure that there is a transfer of knowledge on a wide variety of topics, including plant selection and location, proper planting and pruning of young plants, improving wildlife habitat, and the value of healthy riparian areas in alleviating overland flow of contaminants.
The project is designed to improve the ecological health of waterways throughout the province and increase the awareness and skill levels of both landowners and watershed workers. Water quality and quantity has become a number one priority for watershed groups across Prince Edward Island. Since 1962, there have been at least 50 documented fish kills in Island waterways. Over the past two decades, we have seen marked increases in nitrate and sediment inputs into watercourses. Increased nitrate levels are causing hypoxia and anoxia in many estuaries with alarming frequency. This lack of oxygen in the water causes severe habitat degradation for fish and other wildlife and has a dramatic effect on recreational and commercial uses of our waterways.
Nitrate levels are increasing in groundwater as well, which is of particular concern as PEI is 100% dependant upon groundwater for drinking. Based on data collected at groundwater nitrate testing clinics, over 70% of the Island’s groundwater shows artificially elevated levels of nitrate, some of which exceed Canadian guidelines for safe drinking water. Increasing forest cover in headwater and riparian areas helps to alleviate this problem.
Sedimentation of waterways has been an ongoing problem for many years. PEI has highly erodible soil and this combined with intensive agricultural land use, development and road maintenance results in significant amounts of sediment entering watercourses. This damages and destroys fish habitat, reduces water depth and affects fisheries. Riparian areas play key roles in preventing sedimentation from entering watercourses. Increased unsustainable forestry operations are reducing the amount of recharge areas in headwaters and riparian areas and reducing biodiversity to such an extent that native seed sources are no longer available. Restoring native species to these areas will help re-establish protective forest cover. Although watershed groups across PEI are becoming increasingly active in protecting and preserving our water resources, there is a need for stable support to help each group achieve its goals. By providing accessible hands-on training we would be equipping groups with the knowledge needed to continue riparian and headwater protection efforts.
We are combining hands-on plantings with a campaign to increase environmental awareness that leads to direction action. For the people of Prince Edward Island, it is critical that improvements continue to be made to protect our waterways, for both ecologic and economic reasons. Instead of the negative publicity surrounding fish kills and a continually-degraded ecosystem, we are showing improvements and creating a synergy that will hopefully spark a greater effort towards streamside restoration and more sustainable agricultural and forestry practices.
The plantings will also be beneficial to wildlife for food and nesting habitat. In each watershed we are planting a mix of native species, including rare or uncommon plants native to the Acadian forest. One of the problems in the province is that in many areas we have lost the seed sources for important parts of our forest community – trees such as hemlock and ironwood, shrubs such as witch hazel and hobblebush, and many wildflowers. This is primarily due to conversion of forest land to agriculture over the past two centuries. While some of that land has grown back, it is often biologically impoverished. To not only add those plants to each watershed, but then to watch as they themselves become seed sources for the surrounding areas, makes the ecological footprint of these plantings extremely important.
In addition to the benefits to wildlife, the improvements to biodiversity of the sites will be enormous. As we have witnessed through our work at Macphail Woods, making improvements in restoring biodiversity is often simply as easy as planting the right plants in the locations where they will thrive.
We also are building up restoration skills with workers and volunteers across the province, and this should lead to better plantings in the future. Everything from site selection, plant selection, proper planting and pruning will only lead to increased success. Groups will be able to use the knowledge gained from this project to continue restoration efforts in individual problems areas, incorporate the techniques into their own restoration and watershed management plans, design educational programs for their communities, and work with landowners to achieve solutions on private properties. The communities that support their local watershed groups will have access to restoration knowledge and techniques that can be adapted for use by private individuals as well.
Increasing the awareness level and public support for watershed protection and restoration is also a key element of this project. Over the past few years there has been much interest in protecting water resources, as we learn more about the state of our water. Recent government programs have gone some way towards providing resources to alleviate some problems. We hope to work with and build on these initiatives, through the workshops, meetings and plantings.
If you’d like to learn more about Watershed groups and their efforts across the Island to help maintain and restore our waterways & groundwater or if you are interested in getting involved with your local watershed group then take a look at some of the links below.
PEI Watershed Alliance : The Prince Edward Island Watershed Alliance (PEIWA) is non-profit cooperative association of watershed management groups on Prince Edward Island. They seek to improve and protect Island watersheds for the benefit of all Islanders, empower local watershed groups and to provide a voice on Island-wide watershed issues.
The PEIWA website offers lots of further resources on watersheds, including Provincial watershed strategies, manual for watershed management and info on fishkills, sea lettuce, fracking, oil & gas development and more.
Watersheds: Prince Edward Island is full, literally chalk full, of streams and ponds. We are lucky to have many groundwater sources which feed pretty much all of our waterways. Look below for more information on local Watershed groups.
Riparian Zones & Animals: Streamsides play a key role in healthy wildlife communities and offer the richest diversity of any part of the forest.
Fishkills: These are an unfortunate reality across Prince Edward Island due to our land use practices. These can range from anoxic events caused by nitrogen excess in ponds & rivers, through pesticides run-off killing local fauna, and through sedimentation of streams, marshes, and ponds.
Planting Trees & Shrubs: Reasons to use native plants, and recommendation to get the most out of your planting.
Species Specific Planting Conditions: A list of planting sites, their conditions, and what native plants need to thrive.
Attracting Wildlife: Look at how to create a welcoming ecosystem for wildlife in your own yard, in the woods, or along a riparian zone.
Transplanting: An easy method to gather seedlings for diversity plantings.