It's never too late to celebrate: A decade of partnership on the Rice Lake Plains

Tall grass tour on Prairie Day 2009, the Rice Lake Plains Annual Festival (Photo by NCC)

Tall grass tour on Prairie Day 2009, the Rice Lake Plains Annual Festival (Photo by NCC)

February 9, 2015 | by Mark Stabb | 0 Comments

The partners in the Rice Lake Plains Joint Initiative (RLPJI) must be a busy lot, because we missed celebrating our big 10th anniversary! And we missed it by a country mile.

On October 14, 2003 a number of conservation partners gathered at the Grafton Inn to launch an ambitious ecological restoration project. The lofty goal: to restore a lost landscape — the tallgrass prairies and oak savannahs of Northumberland County’s Rice Lake Plains, in Ontario.

Signing the first agreement were staff from Northumberland County, Wildlife Habitat Canada, Ontario Parks, Lower Trent Conservation, Ganaraska Conservation and the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). NCC led the new partnership, which was fired up by the support of the Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation. In 2002, NCC had purchased the 811-acre (328-hectare) Burnley-Carmel properties, home to globally-rare black oak savannah habitats.

Black oaks on the prairie and savannah, Rice Lake Plains, Ontario (Photo by NCC)

Black oaks on the prairie and savannah, Rice Lake Plains, Ontario (Photo by NCC)

This was our first big step into tallgrass and savanna conservation in the Rice Lake Plains. From the beginning, however, it was clear that a landscape-scale approach was needed to bring meaningful ecological change to the region. 

The Rice Lake Plains Joint Initiative was born!

We have collaborated on the full gamut of conservation activities ever since. In 2006, NCC took its first crack at prescribed burns, which are necessary for the ecological health of prairies and savannahs. Unfortunately site conditions did not allow us to proceed with the burns that spring.

Prescribed burn on Hazel Bird property, Rice Lake Plains, ON (Photo by NCC)

Prescribed burn on Hazel Bird property, Rice Lake Plains, ON (Photo by NCC)

This was a setback (and it would not be our last), but it had a silver lining. We had clearly communicated to local people that we would not burn if conditions were not right and safe. And we followed through with this promise. But we burned the next year in 2007! Now many RLPJI partners use this valuable tool on a regular basis, with great results.

So much of our work, including the use of fire, has been inspired by the pioneering and award-winning projects of the Red Cloud Cemetery Prairie and the Alderville First Nation at their Black Oak Savanna site. Driven by a great vision and intensive hands-on efforts, the restored Alderville Black Oak Savanna is a marvellous ecological gem. Rick Beaver was behind much of the early restoration work at Alderville, and he was there to address the original RLPJI partners at the inaugural event in 2003.

Alderville First Nation joined the Rice Lake Plains Joint Initiative in 2007. Since then the partnership has welcomed a number of local volunteer groups, including Lone Pine Marsh Sanctuary, Willow Beach Field Naturalists, Northumberland Land Trust and Tallgrass Ontario. There have many milestones, including the first Savanna Sentinel newsletter (2004), the first Annual Prairie Day (2008), Northumberland County’s forest plan, which designated many tallgrass and savanna sites for special protection (2009), and the 2009 opening of the Alderville Black Oak Savanna Ecology Centre (in a former sports bar — check the floor for the blue lines!).

Our ricelakeplains.ca website, with Savvy the Savannah Sparrow on the masthead, was launched in 2010, and we introduced ourselves on Facebook in 2013.

There have been joint fundraising proposals, with partners regularly raising funds for one another (that is worth repeating, even tweeting: the Rice Lake Plains Joint Initiative partners regularly raise funds for one another. What’s up with that?). Our recent grant from Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation is a typical example of how collaborating has come through for us. Funding sources have come and gone over the years, but our partnership, projects and programs live on.

Plugs for the prairie 2011 Conservation Volunteers event, Rice Lake Plains, Ontario (Photo by NCC)

Plugs for the prairie 2011 Conservation Volunteers event, Rice Lake Plains, Ontario (Photo by NCC)

Habitat protection lies at the heart of our partnership. Since 2003 we have collectively protected more than 2,500 acres (976 hectares) of significant natural areas in the Rice Lake Plains! And we have welcomed thousands of people to these lands to explore and be inspired by their natural wonders and scenic beauty.

There have been personal milestones as well, including volunteers turning into (paid) interns, turning into paid staff, short-term contractors making long-term impacts on projects, as well as marriages, children and retirements. There has been great friendship, fellowship and camaraderie.

There is so much that we have achieved together. But in terms of tallgrass habitat, much of the Rice Lake Plains still remains a diamond in the rough. There is so much more to do, and it is a pleasure and source of great pride to observe that our momentum has not stopped.  

It has been more than 11 years since we started up the Rice Lake Plains Joint Initiative. But let’s call it “roughly” a decade, so we can call this an anniversary year! Here’s to another “roughly” 10 years of conservation and collaboration!

It’s never too late to celebrate.

(Visit us on Facebook if you have ideas on how we should celebrate our “10th” anniversary, or if you just want to send anniversary greetings!)


About the Author

Mark Stabb is the central Ontario program director for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Read more about Mark Stabb.

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