Written by Lilian Schaer for OSCIA
Janice Keil’s passion for nature, the environment, native species and habitats is undeniable. The organic market gardener grows her crops on 97 acres in the northeast corner of Northumberland County, on the land between the Canadian Shield and the St. Lawrence Lowlands that is said to have the highest species diversity in Ontario.
Keil’s land is home to many habitats and species at risk, including Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Grasshopper sparrows, Monarch butterflies, Eastern Wood-Pewees, Wood Thrush, and Eastern Ribbon Snakes.
But she was struggling to deal with an infestation of invasive Reed Canary Grass in eight acres of wetland on her property. Her goal: to restore the wetland into the diverse marsh area it used to be, as designated on the original survey maps of the land dating back to 1832.
She was excited to receive cost-share funding from the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP) for a collaborative project with Ducks Unlimited and the Lower Trent Conservation Authority to restore the wetland and plant native tree species.
“Species at risk are something that’s very important to me,” Keil says. “When I was growing up on a farm in southwestern Ontario, species at risk wasn’t something that was talked about, but now, thanks to programs like SARFIP, it’s definitely on people’s radar and they’re aware.”
She was able to restore 1.5 acres of open marsh, to which she added basking logs for turtles, a constructed island, floating nesting platforms for marsh birds and hibernacula, winter habitat for snakes. She also planted over 1,750 native trees and shrubs in the land around the wetland, including over 90 different species.
Now, wildlife activity in the area has surged with birds, turtles, frogs, snakes, ducks and other wildlife, as well as a bald eagle sighting, and her trees and shrubs are growing well.
“Before we did this project, this was a total dead zone with no activity and in the space of a year, we’ve gone from that to hundreds of species, which is absolutely phenomenal,” she says, adding she’s now on year two of a five-year plan to keep the Reed Canary Grass under control.
Keil is also a voluntary SAR Watch (Species at Risk Watch) monitoring program participant. Landowners provide more in-depth information about the various habitats on their properties, as well as any species at risk they’ve seen or have been observed by others. A biologist from Blazing Star Environmental completes a site visit to assess the benefit of SARFIP projects.
“I have great interest in native species and species at risk and I’m always observing and making notes of what I see when I’m out,” she says, adding she has also welcomed volunteers from Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and students from nearby Trent University to her property to see her restoration project and observe the wildlife.
While planning her project, Keil built a database of every native bird species and matched them to the best native trees and shrubs for food and nesting; she’s now working on something similar for herbaceous plants and butterflies, moths, wasps, and other insects. It was part of her commitment, she says, to make sure she was establishing the best bird habitat she could with the available funding.
“A lot of progress has been made through programs like SARFIP as people become more aware and for the younger generations coming up, I hope it will just be automatic that protecting at risk species is something we need to do,” she says. “I’m proud to be a biodiversity farmer.”
The Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program provides cost-share funding to farmers implementing habitat creation and protection through best management practices that support species at risk. SARFIP was funded by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks through the Species at Risk Stewardship Program. For more information, please visit: www.ontariosoilcrop.org/oscia-programs/sarfip/.