For those of us in southern Ontario there is a place that occupies the imagination. That rounds us out. That is both inspiration and solace, and knits us into a larger pattern where time is unhurried and unbroken, and we have the chance to find where we fit.
It is Algonquin Park.
What it offers, more than anything else, is completeness — or as close to completeness as many of us are likely to experience. And that’s terribly important. For without it, we are rootless. Psychologically disconnected. Dysfunctional as individuals and as a society.
Oh, I know that Algonquin is not a wilderness. But that’s beside the point. It’s the idea of what completeness can be that’s important. An idea that gets revitalized at every visit. That is energized at every viewing of a Group of Seven painting, and recalled at the sight of fall colours along the Don Valley Parkway
And so it becomes essential to ensure that as much wildness, as much diversity as possible, is guaranteed for Algonquin, for in doing so, we are preserving not only the park, but ourselves.
At the moment, it is resilient. It is wounded, but not crippled, says John Wegner, a landscape biologist who lectures at Carleton University in Ottawa. It’s still, he says, « a functional ecological system.’’
But if existing trends in development around the park continue so that Algonquin is isolated from other forested areas, « There is a risk of seven to eight, on a scale of one to ten, that we will lose that functionality.’’
What he means by functionality is the ability to maintain diversity. The park has functionality, he says, because « It is still surrounded by forest that is part of the Precambrian Shield.’’ Many species need the extra space, and as it is reduced, their numbers thin out.
« Like what?’’ I asked.
« Like wolves.’’
If the park becomes isolated, the probability also increases that some species might die out altogether, and Wegner makes it plain that he is speaking about plants as well as animals and birds.
« There’s a surprising mobility in organisms that we’ve only begun to appreciate.’’ He has been studying white-footed mice for the past 20 years. « We know they can cover large distances. « We’ve caught the same mouse within the space of one week in different traps that were two kilometres apart.
« If you look at the little bit of research that’s been done, it shows that the amount of habitat needed to maintain even a single species is a huge proportion of the landscape.’’
To protect Algonquin’s future, he wants to see a continuous connection maintained to Adirondack Park, across the St. Lawrence River in northern New York State. And he emphasizes that he’s talking about a continuous breeding habitat, not a travel corridor.
The proposal mirrors efforts in the West to maintain a similar connection from Yukon to Yellowstone National Park in northwestern Wyoming. « They’re maybe three years ahead of us in developing their initiative,’’ Wegner says.
« There’s a lot of forest still remaining between Algonquin and Adirondack. It’s rocky, and so the land hasn’t been turned over to agriculture. And the bed rock is similar, so there are similarities in species…. I’m convinced (an A-to-A connection) is one of the few available ways to maintain biological diversity in our country, and within North America.
« It wouldn’t mean stopping human activity,’’ he adds. It would be necessary only to ensure that use of connected lands was compatible. And that, he says, could be achieved for the most part voluntarily under programs such as Ontario’s managed forest tax incentive program, which gives tax breaks to landowners whose plans for environmental protection or wildlife habitat are approved.
The Algonquin-to-Adirondack proposal is going to be discussed Nov. 15 and 16 at a workshop at the Queen’s University biological field station at Lake Opinicon, located mid-way between Kingston and Smith Falls.
The workshop will be attended by environmentalists, parks officials, agriculture representatives, and field naturalists from both sides of the border. It will determine how much support exists for the proposal.
If you want to know more about the workshop, call John Wegner at Carleton at (613) 520-7549.