Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

What is an alvar?

The word alvar refers to an open area of limestone or marble pavement ‘barrens’ or ‘plains’ with little or no soil or may sometimes refer to the plant community found there (as on the Swedish ‘Great Alvar’ on the island of Oland, Sweden).

Alvars have unique ecological features that  support distinctive flora and fauna. Alvar environments are rare and are recognized as globally imperiled ecosystems by The Nature Conservancy of Canada. Often flooded in the spring and affected by drought in midsummer, they are home to a very hardy group of flora and fauna that have adapted to the harsh conditions of the alvar.

From a conservation perspective, alvar communities command interest because of their rarity, distinctive character and their large number of rare species; some of these rare species may be relicts from ancient times which became isolated populations surviving where other species cannot.

“What alvars have in common is an ancient and unforgiving environment, a set of climatic and geographic parameters that seem designed to make it as challenging to life forms as any habitat on the temperate side of the Arctic circle.”

Dan Brunton: ” . . anything that can grow there is one tough cookie”

Summary: alvars are globally imperiled ecosystems; home to rare life forms; relicts of an earlier postglacial landscape

Burnt Lands Alvar: a rare ecosystem of exceptional quality

The Burnt Lands Alvar, designated as a provincially significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI),  is an outstanding example of alvar habitat – combining various vegetation communities on alvar pavement, alvar grasslands, alvar shrub lands, treed alvar and wetlands. Besides its unique flora, the alvar also supports 82 breeding bird species, 48 butterfly species, 98 species of owlet moths, globally rare species of land snail, globally rare invertebrates, and a kind of carabid beetle found nowhere else in the world.

The alvar meadows and rock flats communities on the Burnt Lands Alvar are provincially significant. Although the alvar is not a prairie, its significant grassland meadows of dropseed are extensive and considered equivalent to grassland habitat of the Great Plains and a relict from the receding glaciers.

The Burnt Lands Alvar : ” . . . stands in a class by itself in terms of condition, extent, alvar development, and significant species and features. Due to the rarity of alvar environments, and the exceptional quality of the Burnt Lands, there has been, and will continue to be, significant research interest by MNR, university, conservation and scientific groups and others.” [reference/link to Burnt Lands Interim Management Statement, Ontario Parks, 2001]. 

Summary: Burnt Lands Alvar is home to western prairie-like grasslands,  unique rare species, unusual fossils and is an important research and teaching site.

Link to finding the Beauty in the Burnt Lands; Dan Brunton explores the Burnt Lands Alvar

Blue link below: a  recent presentation What is an Alvar? and What’s So Special about the  Burnt Lands Alvar by Ken Allison to the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists on January 15, 2015 (note: all photos in the pdf by Ken Allison except title page picture  from Wikipedia).   Ken Allison is an expert naturalist and former President of both the Ottawa Field Naturalist’s Club and the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists.

pdf Burnt Lands Alvar Presentation by Ken Allison

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Burnt Lands Alvar MVFN Walk in 2009 led by alvar expert/botanist Dr. Paul Catling; snail found on alvar during walk (photos Pauline Donaldson); Fringed Gentian (photo Cathy Keddy).  

SEE ALSO:

DONATE NOW to Save the Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI

Press Release –  Field Naturalists launch campaign to save the Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI

 

 

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Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign is now under way

Press Release

January 29, 2015

A campaign has just been launched by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists 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.

The campaign, officially launched at the monthly meeting of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (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”.

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.

See the slide presentation

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 by 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 very quickly 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 at http://mvfn.ca/ and look for the Donate Now button. Further information about the alvar, campaign updates and contact information can be found on the MVFN website, with updates also posted to the MVFN Facebook page.

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CBC news crews arrived at the January 15, 2015 meeting of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists to film the large crowd in attendance as Ken Allison presented an overview of the alvar to kick off the Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign.

Link to the news story:

 CBC  TV News: Almonte Development Draws Protest

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SEE ALSO:

DONATE NOW to Save the Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI

Press Release –  Field Naturalists launch campaign to save the Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI

Presentation by Ken Allison – What is an Alvar? Burnt Lands Alvar: A rare ecosystem of exceptional quality 

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Press Release

January 9, 2015

 

 

 

DONATE NOW to Save the Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) have recently launched an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board in order to prevent development that would destroy a portion of the Burnt Lands Alvar, a provincially significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI), one of several natural treasures in Lanark County.

A developer was given provisional approval on November 10, 2014 by the Lanark County Land Division Committee to build a cluster lot housing development between Ramsay Concession 12 and Golden Line Road, south of March Road. This development would violate provincial and municipal regulations for this ANSI by degrading the ANSI landscape and its ecological functions, and it could set a precedent for further development in the Burnt Lands.

Alvars, which date back to about 10,000 years ago, support distinctive flora and fauna, and are found in very few places – parts of Ontario and the U.S. Great Lakes Region, and in a few regions in Sweden and Estonia. The Burnt Lands Alvar is considered the fourth best example in all of North America.

These natural features are characterized by limestone plains with thin or no soil. Often flooded in the spring and affected by drought in midsummer, they are home to a very hardy group of flora and fauna that have adapted to the harsh conditions of the alvar.

The Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI is located east of Almonte, straddling Ramsay Ward and the City of Ottawa, on either side of the March Road.  It is an outstanding example of alvar habitat – combining alvar pavement, alvar grasslands, alvar shrub lands, treed alvar and wetlands. Besides its unique flora, the alvar also supports 82 breeding bird species, 48 butterfly species, 98 species of owlet moths, globally rare species of land snail, globally rare invertebrates, and a kind of carabid beetle found nowhere else in the world. Although the alvar is not a prairie, it hosts many prairie species such as prairie sawflies and a thriving population of wingless prairie leafhoppers.

Conserving biodiversity is essential for Ontario’s long-term prosperity and environmental health. The treasures of our natural world need to be preserved for future generations. The cluster lot development in the ANSI would cause widespread disturbance and degrade flora and fauna, including the habitat of endangered species and threatened species. It would also compromise connectivity to adjacent alvar properties and introduce many non-native species.

The Provincial Policy Statement, the Lanark County Official Plan and the Mississippi Mills Official Plan all require protection of the habitat of endangered species and threatened species. Furthermore, they require that there shall be no negative impact on the ANSI or its ecological functions, or on adjacent lands.

Part of the Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI is private land, and many private landowners cherish their land and provide good stewardship; part is a Nature Reserve Class Provincial Park; and part is owned by the City of Ottawa.

In addition to submitting an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board to halt this development, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists have started a campaign to publicize the issue and raise funds for the appeal process.  The campaign begins with a short presentation by Ken Allison, past president of both MVFN and the Ottawa Field-Naturalist’s Club,  on January 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the United Church Hall, 106 Elgin Street, Almonte, before the featured lecture.

The public can support the campaign through the DONATE NOW button on the MVFN website or by contacting Theresa Peluso at .

SEE ALSO:

DONATE NOW to Save the Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI

Presentation by Ken Allison – What is an Alvar? Burnt Lands Alvar: A rare ecosytem of execptional quality

 

 

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