Niagara is home to an incredible amount of diversity and is fortunate in many ways.
Another place that makes Niagara special is Wainfleet Bog, although it may not look exciting or appealing. Wainfleet Bog is part of the only swampy bog in the Niagara Peninsula. It is provincially, regionally and locally significant and is the largest remaining bog in southern Ontario, providing habitat for a variety of unique plants and animals.
Alicia Powell said the people of Niagara are “also very lucky to be located in the great diversity of the Carolinian forest.”
Powell is the Conservation Areas Manager for the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA).
She called the Carolinian forest “the most diverse type of forest in all of Canada for different types of plant, tree, and animal species.”
The bog has “living sphagnum moss and other bog plants growing on top, such as Labrador tea, cotton grass.”
The Wainfleet Bog Conservation Area was acquired by the NPCA in 1996 and is the largest of its conservation areas at around 2,000 acres. It is also home to several species whose populations are at risk, including four species of turtles and three species of snakes.
Anne Yagi is the president of 8 Trees Inc., which helps restore the bog. In describing the work that has gone into restoration, Yagi notes that lower water levels in the bog could have serious consequences.
“Healthy peatlands are the largest natural carbon sinks and sequester 0.37 gigatonnes of CO2 per year – the largest type of carbon-storing vegetation in the world. However, degraded peatlands contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, about 6-10% of anthropogenic contributions globally,” Yagi wrote.
The current regime of controlled drainage sees the water table drop by 30 to 50 centimetres, which “contributes to the emission of an additional 200,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. This equates to 43,000 car emissions per year.
NPCA ecologist Kim Frohlich said creation of the bog began more than 12,000 years ago when glaciers retreated, leaving behind a low-lying area that became a wetland. Water could not flow to Lake Erie because it was backed by the Onondaga Escarpment. Over time, the open water trapped by the escarpment filled with plant life.
As the plants died and decayed, they saturated the soil, creating an acidic soil environment with very few nutrients. The result is a unique ecosystem with plants adapted to unusual conditions.
Unfortunately, Frohlich explained, because of peat extraction, the bog has become drier, allowing “non-bog species” to grow and thrive, altering the ecosystem and threatening the bog’s delicate balance.
Yagi said the solution for the bog to move forward is to move a 1.4 kilometer section of the Biederman Drain that intersects Wainfleet Bog, to agricultural fields where it was originally designed.
The Biederman drain was moved into the peat soils of Wainfleet bog between 1935 and 1945 to better drain the site for peat extraction, which continued until the 1990s.
Today, activity has completely ceased, allowing active restoration.
Yagi said ongoing research by 8 Trees has documented drastic changes in water levels at the site and reduced the cause of drain maintenance activity – specifically, the removal of beaver dams – in the section of the Biederman Drain that intersects the southern edge of the bog.
Realigning the drain, she said, would help protect animal diversity, including four species of turtles and three species of snakes.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Wainfleet Bog is of provincial, regional and local significance and the largest remaining bog in southern Ontario. As Earth Day approaches, Niagara this week took a closer look at the wetland.