We all know Ontario’s provincial parks aim to protect our natural landscapes and 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 an immense wilderness or a small urban nature reserve, every park plays a critical role in the protection of our biodiversity, including representative ecosystems, species, and cultural heritage.
What do you mean by “representative ecosystems”?
Most of us are fairly familiar with some broad categories of ecosystem, like wetlands, forests, and grasslands.
But each of these categories can be drilled down into more specific types of ecosystems, like salt marshes, oak savannah forest, and alvars.
Some ecosystems are extremely rare. For example, the pannes at Presqu’ile Provincial Park are globally significant wetlands. Likewise, alvar – a sparsely vegetated limestone plain — is only found in a few spots 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 over a billion years old, while parks like Mono Cliffs protect pieces of the Niagara Escarpment.
As curators of our provincial parks, we want to make sure each type of ecosystem is represented and protected.
So does “representative species” mean the creatures living in those ecosystems?
Exactly. Just like we want to protect each type of ecosystem, we want to protect every species represented in an ecosystem, from towering pines to tiny beetles.
Some parks may be last strongholds of species at risk, like Woodland Caribou, Algonquin Wolf or Piping Plover. Others may be critical stops on migration routes for species like Monarch Butterfly and Tundra Swan.
Many species need space to roam safely. Turtles, for instance, need to leave the water to lay their eggs. Outside protected spaces like parks, urban areas and roads may cut them off from their nesting grounds.
Biodiversity is the web of life around us. The more biodiverse an ecosystem, the healthier it is. Without biodiversity, a harsh winter or disease could wipe out a population or species, weakening the system as a whole.
Protecting each Ontario species is a crucial part of maintaining a representative system of parks.
Although the specific ecosystems and species may change over time in response to climate change, these protected areas will continue to be safe havens for wildlife because of the diversity of the landscapes that they protect. Safeguarding biodiversity makes us more resilient.
And “representative heritage”? Isn’t that more for museums?
Not at all.
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 Preserves and World Heritage Sites.
From shipwrecks to World War II POW camps to Indigenous pictographs, traces of our shared history are etched in the landscape of our provincial parks.
Humans are part of nature too, and protecting our shared cultural values is part of representing every species.
Introducing our “Forever protected” blog series
Over the next year, various members of our dedicated team will introduce you to their most beloved parks and ecosystems.
Some of these parks will be familiar to you, but others you may not even know exist.
Regardless, we aim to share why each and every one belongs in Ontario Parks, a system of natural spaces we aim to protect in perpetuity.