Burnt Lands Alvar campaign is now under way

 by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

A campaign has just been launched by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) to promote awareness and raise funds to save the Burnt Lands Alvar from ‘development creep’. A property owner recently obtained approval from Lanark County to build a “cluster lot” housing development within this alvar region.

The Burnt Lands Alvar, a rare ecosystem of exceptional quality, is designated an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) by the Province of Ontario because of its uniqueness and ecological significance. Local residents will be familiar with the open tract of land on the northwest side of March Road, between the Burnt Lands Road and Golden Line Road, which is part of the Burnt Lands Provincial Park. The Burnt Lands Alvar, however, extends well beyond the park boundaries in all directions, and into Lanark County both to the north of Almonte and to the southwest of Golden Line Road.

Photo 1 alvar
Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI near Almonte is a rare ecosystem of exceptional quality: seen here on a rainy day in May, 2009; a guided tour of the alvar, led by Dr. Paul Catling, is in progress.

 

The campaign, officially launched at the monthly meeting of MVFN on Thursday, January 15, in Almonte, was attended by over 120 people. MVFN president Cliff Bennett began the meeting by saying, “In our role of protecting nature, we are challenging this [development] at the Ontario Municipal Board [OMB]”.

Ken Allison, past president of MVFN, gave an engaging presentation to explain what an alvar is and why it is so unique. The many rare species of plants and animals supported by this ecosystem are under significant threat for reasons mostly related to humans: gravel quarrying, illegal dumping, ATV usage, and urban/suburban sprawl.

Ken explained that the Burnt Lands got their name from the many fires that have occurred there over the years. Recovery from these fires is lengthy due to the thinness of the soil over top of the limestone rock bed. “The Burnt lands have always been, and probably always will be, repeatedly disturbed, and it’s part of what makes it special,” said Ken. Manmade destruction, however, is a huge concern given the current rate of planet-wide extinctions and the global warming trend.

Theresa Peluso, chair of the MVFN Environmental Issues Committee, concluded the presentation noting, “We learned that what looks like a piece of scrub land is actually a beautiful natural gem with an abundance of unusual plants and animals . . . a piece of land we should treasure.” Theresa outlined the MVFN plan for an OMB challenge in order to protect this land, explaining that significant funds will need to be raised to hire a planner and lawyer for the hearing, which is expected to take place in four months’ time. Meeting attendees generously contributed to a collection jar at the entrance, providing a positive start to an effort that will involve several fundraising events, appeals, and social networking.

To donate to the Save Burnt Lands Alvar campaign, go to the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists website (http://mvfn.ca/) and look for the ‘Donate Now’ button. Further information about the alvar (including the slide presentation by Ken Allison), and updates and contact information can be found on the MVFN website and MVFN Facebook page. The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists are a local naturalist group and member of the Ontario Nature Network.

Alvar Plant
A ‘barren’ landscape, but lush with spring growth during a May 2009 Burnt Lands Alvar tour.