Current Project: Youth and Community Greening the Rouge Watershed

This project will empower youth and community volunteers with the knowledge, attitudes and skills to help implement evidence-based Great Lakes, Rouge Watershed and Toronto “Remedial Action Plans”.  The implementation of these plans will protect and improve water quality, aquatic health and ecological integrity within the Rouge River Watershed and Lake Ontario, our drinking water source. 

A letter of support from the TDSB’s Hillside Outdoor Education School notes:

“When … students plant with FRW, they learn about, and take small tangible steps to address, significant environmental challenges. They build a connection with nature and a deeper sense of environmental citizenship.  This combination of environmental knowledge, attitudes and actions will be essential for mitigating climate change impacts, improving Great Lakes water quality, and restoring the health of the Rouge River Watershed and National Park”.

Project Goals

The achievable and measurable goals for this ongoing project include the following environmental results and benefits:

  • Involving volunteers in climate change education and tangible actions to help mitigate the effects of climate change;
  • Planting native trees, flowering shrubs and wildflowers with youth and community groups;
  • Removing plastics and litter in the Rouge Park and Watershed;
  • Involving youth and community groups in ecological restoration and climate change workshops; 
  • Hosting educational walks about the Rouge Watershed, Park, and Greenbelt;
  • Maintaining planting sites by watering, mulching, rodent-guarding, nurturing, and monitoring with youth and community volunteers;
  • Adding to FRW’s 3.5 million square metres of restored lands;
  • Reducing stormwater runoff to reduce flooding, erosion and waterway pollution;
  • Achieving an 80% + survival rate of plantings due to good planting and maintenance techniques;
  • Monitoring and reporting on water quality in Rouge River tributaries by summer students and youth volunteers; 
  • Training youth Grey Tree Frog Apprentices and co-op students to be watershed stewards;
  • Creating environmental jobs for youth;
  • Informing decision-makers of steps required to improve ecosystem and watershed health, which will directly influence the health of communities.

Project Need

The TRCA’s 2016 Living City Report Card indicates that the GTA is falling short of remedial action plan targets for: combating climate change; improving air and water quality; and protecting biodiversity. A 2009 Ontario report and 2018 TD and NCC report estimate that one hectare of near urban forest cover provides $15,000 to $25,000 in public benefits every year.

Severe weather events and related costs are increasing due to climate change and urban growth.  A 2018 article in the Calgary Herald and Vancouver Sun notes:

Property and casualty insurance payouts in Canada have more than quadrupled in the last nine years….  it’sfinancially catastrophic for individuals and for governments”

 “the Insurance Bureau’s report, Combating Canada’s Rising Flood Costs, says conservation and restoration of so-called “natural infrastructure” – wetlands, forests and floodplains … is both cheaper and more beneficial …. and offers other benefits that can include habitat creation or improvement, recreational opportunities and even savings through carbon sequestration”.

In 2002, Environment Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and the Ontario Ministry of Environment produced an excellent report entitled “How Much Habitat is Enough” to inform habitat restoration within Great Lakes Areas of Concern, like the Rouge River watershed. For a healthier ecosystem and watershed, the third edition (2003) of this Environment Canada Report recommends:

  • a minimum of 30% to 50% forest cover per watershed;
  • a minimum of 10% wetland cover per watershed or 40% of the historic wetland cover.

With only 13% forest and 1% wetland cover (TRCA Rouge Watershed Report Card, 2013), both the Rouge and Little Rouge watersheds fall far short of these Environment Canada targets for ecological integrity. By following-through with approved Greenbelt, Oak Ridges Moraine, Rouge Park and Watershed Conservation Plans, the Federal Government can create a success story for endangered species, improve watershed health next to Canada’s largest city, and provide a good example for improving ecological integrity around the world. This success story will provide a much-needed source of environmental inspiration and optimism for all Canadians, and particularly young Canadians.

Benefits for Species at Risk (SAR)

The Carolinian Forest, one of Canada’s most endangered eco-zones, is home to approximately one-third of our endangered species. The Rouge Watershed contains designated Carolinian forests, and is home to an estimated 30+ species at risk, including:

Reptiles

  • Blanding’s turtle
  • snapping turtle
  • northern map turtle

Trees & Plants

  • butternut
  • American gingseng
  • bashful bulrush
  • dense blazing star

Birds

  • bank swallow
  • barn swallow
  • common night hawk
  • bobolink
  • eastern meadow lark
  • chimney swift
  • hooded warbler
  • red-headed woodpecker
  • red-shouldered hawk
  • Coopers hawk
  • loggerhead shrike
  • pied billed grebe
  • least bittern
  • black tern

Fish

  • red-side dace
  • Atlantic salmon

Insects

  • monarch butterfly

FRW restoration sites are now providing valuable habitat for species at risk.

By restoring wetlands, like the Beare Wetland, hatching sites are provided for Blanding’s turtles and snapping turtles; a feeding area for barn and bank swallows, common nighthawk, chimney swift and Monarch butterfly; a location where dense blazing star is spreading by seed; and an area visited by least bittern, pied billed grebe, Virginia rail, peregrine falcon and cooper’s hawk. Parks Canada and the Toronto Zoo have released dozens of captive-raised Blanding’s turtles at the Beare Wetland to help this SAR recover from dangerously low population levels.

By planting native grasses and wildflowers to restore meadow areas, FRW has created habitat for many species, including: Monarch butterfly; bobolink; eastern meadowlark; grasshopper sparrow; red headed woodpecker; loggerhead shrike; and many others. 

By enlarging core forests, FRW is increasing habitat for forest species such as American ginseng, butternut, red-shouldered hawk and hooded warbler.

FRW restoration sites improve the health of nearby streams, providing habitat for red side dace, brook trout and salmon.