We all know that Ontario’s provincial parks aim to protect our landscapes and natural species.
But did you know that each individual park is protected for its own (often very specific) reasons?
Our parks work together as a network of biodiversity and protection. Whether a vast desert or a small urban nature reserve, each park plays a fundamental role in protecting our biodiversity, including representative ecosystems, species and cultural heritage.
What do you mean by “representative ecosystems”?
Most of us are quite familiar with some broad categories of ecosystems, such as wetlands, forests, and grasslands.
But each of these categories can be drilled down into more specific ecosystem types, such as salt marshes, oak savanna forests, and alvarlands.
Some ecosystems are extremely rare. For example, the pannes of Presqu’ile Provincial Park are wetlands of global importance. Likewise, the alvar, a sparsely vegetated limestone plain, is only found in a few places in Ontario (and around the world).
We also want to protect Ontario’s geological diversity, processes and time periods. Parks like Kakabeka Falls protect fossils that are more than a billion years old, while parks like Mono Cliffs protect parts of the Niagara Escarpment.
As curators of our provincial parks, we want to ensure that each type of ecosystem is represented and protected.
So, does “representative species” refer to the creatures that live in those ecosystems?
Just as we want to protect each type of ecosystem, we want to protect each species represented in an ecosystem, from towering pine trees to tiny beetles.
By protecting each type of ecosystem, we provide habitats for the diversity of species that live and use these areas.
Some parks may be the last holdouts for at-risk species, such as the Algonquian wolf or the piping plover. Others may be critical stops on the migratory routes of species such as the monarch butterfly and tundra swan.
Many species need space to roam safely. Turtles, for example, need to get out of the water to lay their eggs. Protected outdoor spaces, such as parks, urban areas and roads, can isolate them from their nesting areas.
Biodiversity is the web of life that surrounds us. The more biodiverse an ecosystem is, the healthier it will be. Areas with high biodiversity are more resilient and better able to recover from natural or man-made changes, such as a harsh winter or a serious insect infestation.
Protecting every species in Ontario is a crucial part of maintaining a representative park system.
Although specific ecosystems and species may change over time in response to climate change, these protected areas will continue to be safe havens for wildlife due to the diversity of the landscapes they protect. Safeguarding biodiversity makes us more resilient.
And “representative inheritance?” Isn’t that more for museums?
You are welcome.
With such rich natural landscapes, we sometimes forget that Ontario Parks is also committed to protecting our shared heritage.
Our parks protect the landscapes that inspired the Group of Seven and include Dark Sky Reserves and World Heritage Sites.
From shipwrecks to World War II prisoner-of-war camps to Indigenous pictographs, traces of our shared history are etched into the landscape of our provincial parks.
Humans are also part of nature, and protecting our shared cultural values is part of representing all species.
Introducing our “Protected Forever” blog series
Members of our dedicated Ontario Parks team will introduce you to your most beloved parks and ecosystems.
Some of these parks will look familiar to you, but others you may not even know exist.
Regardless, we aim to share why each and every one belongs to Ontario parksa system of natural spaces that we intend to protect in perpetuity.