Natural Areas Inventory surveys rare prairie habitat in Dundas Valley

The Dundas Valley is treasured by locals for its streams, forests and unique glacial rock formations, but it’s a 7,000 square meter patch of prairie land that has Nicholas Schwetz excited. Schwetz, Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA)’s Natural Areas Inventory Coordinator explains: “Basically, a meadow is what you’re used to seeing at the side of the road with early spring flowers, poor soil conditions and a high prevalence of non-native species, a prairie is home to a lot of native tall grasses and some pretty exciting creatures.”

Man in prairie with clipboard surveying for species

“This find was particularly surprising because the rich soil found in prairie ecosystems usually makes them ripe for agricultural development, a fate to which this site had never fallen victim,” explains Schwetz. “Helping these tall grasses flourish to create prairie habitat is the whole reason why we use controlled burns, so to find Yellow Indiangrass doing so well without any help is fantastic!” The Natural Areas Inventory team is still working on identifying all of the species that call the area home, but it’s already exciting to know that this is exactly the type of habitat where you’d expect to find American Badgers, Mottled Duskywing Butterflies and a host of other rare species that can only survive in a few small pockets in Southern Ontario.

The Natural Areas Inventory project is a collaborative effort between Hamilton Conservation Authority, Hamilton Naturalists Club and the City of Hamilton and is funded through donations to the Foundation’s general conservation fund and grants from local and provincial agencies. Ultimately this data helps planners, developers and environmental groups to steer development away from sensitive and diverse natural areas and toward areas that will have the least negative environmental impact possible. The data also adds to a huge existing treasure trove for local ecological researchers as this is Hamilton’s third comprehensive Natural Areas Inventory (1993, 2003, 2013).

Upon completion in spring of 2014, the Natural Areas Inventory team will release a special package for planning professionals. There will also be some goodies for the general public including species checklists and a “What’s Alive in Hamilton” video highlighting all of the team’s interesting finds. Project funders include Hamilton Conservation Authority, Conservation Halton, City of Hamilton, Hamilton Naturalists Club, the McLean Foundation, the McCallum McBride Fund at the Hamilton Community Foundation, the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Salamander Foundation.