Beginning in 2017, the County of Simcoe embarked on a unique habitat creation and forest restoration project. The project aimed to establish 130 acres of early successional pine-oak forest. This habitat is crucial for the Kirtland's Warbler, which is a globally endangered migratory bird that used to call Simcoe County home. Creating habitat for the Kirtland's Warbler has been an international effort but this project is the first of its kind in Canada and further demonstrates the County's strong commitment to forestry and habitat stewardship.
The restoration site was a former aggregate pit which is part of the Museum Tract of the Simcoe County Forest. The County of Simcoe has a long history of reinvestment of revenues from forest management back into forestry projects such as property acquisitions. The 300 acre property was an acquisition purchased in 1999. Prior to the County acquiring this property, it was owned by CP Rail and formerly used for the extraction of sand and gravel to build rail beds. The existing condition was dry and degraded, consisting primarily of scattered non-native trees and shrubs. Restoration of the site involved removal of non-native plant and tree species, significant site grading, site preparation for planting including a controlled burn, planting of over 85 species of native shrubs, herbs, grasses and wildflowers and planting over 150,000 tree seedlings. Although the main focus of the project was to establish an early pine-oak successional forest habitat suitable Kirtland's Warbler this habitat type is regionally rare yet important for many other common and rare fauna.
County staff worked with leading experts from the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and GEI Consultants to complete the project. Funding partners included the Government of Canada through the Habitat Stewardship Program, American Forests and Forests Ontario with in-kind funding from GEI Consultants and Mary Gartshore Consulting. Additional in-kind support was also provided through the County of Simcoe Forestry, Roads and Solid Waste Management Departments.
About the Kirtland's Warbler:
The Kirtland's Warbler is a globally rare and endangered migratory bird which was nearly extinct 50 years ago, but has since begun to recover due to multiple habitat projects in North American and abroad. Overwintering occurs in the Bahamas while its summer breeding grounds are historically within Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario. Kirtland's Warbler requires large tracts of young, dense forest of primarily jack or red pine for its nesting habitat, which was probably commonplace within Simcoe County prior to European settlement, land conversion and fire suppression. Suitable habitat also existed in the mid 1900's due to the significant levels of reforestation which occurred at that time.
The Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), working with GEI Consultants, has been investigating opportunities within Canada to create appropriate nesting habitat to expand recovery efforts. As Kirtland's Warbler was historically known to nest within Simcoe County, Forestry staff were approached in 2016 to explore the potential for habitat creation within the Simcoe County Forest. In consultation with the subject matter experts with CWS and GEI, Simcoe County staff have assessed the County Forest for the potential to incorporate early successional pine-oak forest and identified an opportunity at the Museum Tract in 2017.