I. The Neyagawa Woodland System in Context

The Neyagawa Forest woodland system, together with three other privately owned woodlots, are the few significantly large examples (>45ha) left in Halton of upland forest located below the Niagara Escarpment. Most other forest space below the escarpment is either represented by small woodlots or by forest-covered carved landscapes along the creeks. This study concentrates in the vegetation structure of a forest remnant and associated old fields and a marsh east of Neyagawa Road just south of the 407 ETR highway, that forms part of Oakville=s Natural Heritage System (NHS). The entire study area will be referred to in this paper by several synonyms: Neyagawa forest remnant complex (emphasizing the entire area as a system of diverse habitats), Neyagawa woodland patches (emphasizing the fractioned nature of the tree cover sections).

The Neyagawa forest remnant complex is about one kilometre northwest of Dundas Road and about 400m southeast of Burnhamthorpe. It can be viewed as made of several woodland units. The widest section of the system runs along Neyagawa Road to the southwest and the rest narrows down to a cattail/tall grass marsh to the northeast, 400 metres before 6th Line. The whole system occupies an area of about 58.5 ha. A casual overview of the GoogleEarth J 2009 aerial images of the patch seems to display a homogenous forest structure (Figure 3.1), an idea that could also be inferred from the summary of the area in recent Environmental Assessments (ref) as one dominated by Shagbark Hickory, Sugar Maple and Bur Oak.  Careful examination of the aerial images (GoogleEarth J August 2009 flyby; December 2005 flyby, and March 2007 flyby), as well as, ground surveys, indicate that the Neyagawa woodland system is made of a mosaic of diverse forest structures and tree associations indicative of important habitat diversity and biological potential.

The results of this survey demonstrate that the structure of the forest, woodland and marsh complex is quite heterogeneous and does not fit a single forest type classification as reported in previous surveys. Furthermore, the hypothesis that considers these forests as Aforest islands@ with an edge and an interior does also not apply to this forest patch. There is no interior as such, the centre of the largest forest unit contains a significant fen/swamp complex which is in itself an edge, and the surrounding forest shows species compositions that reflect a mosaic of abiotic conditions of the area, as well as, the biotic response to a continuous series of interior forest and forest edge disruptions. This is particularly important for the development of future climate change monitoring efforts in the area; a single central monitoring plot would be inadequate, however, multiple transects would allow assessment of edges and interior. The data from transects would assess not only climate induced changes but, concurrently, associated anthropogenic effects and local abiotic changes on the integrity of the unit. Such data is necessary to control for non-climatic variables necessary to interpret climatic effects correctly.

It is hoped that this study will support the idea of assigning the system the designation of Area of Natural Scientific Interest (ANSI 07); but without being cynical it is more likely that, eventually, it will be turned into a glorified park system. The surrounding lands are in the process of suburban development (starting in early 2011). Inevitably, several roads will cross through the system connecting the neighbourhoods on either side of the NHS. As part of the town=s plan for a more integrated transportation approach, the NHS was envisaged to be circumnavigated by a multi-use trail system and crisscrossed by smaller trails; a far cry to the noble hopes of an undisturbed natural landscape.[i] Further planning efforts by the town and interested citizen groups (among them Oakville Green) lead to a considerable recognition of the habitat potential of the NHS, as a result, the trail system will be designed and develop with a priority for minimal ecosystem disruption as outlined in the final discussions of the North Oakville Trail system Plan (ref)

[i].                     The NHS was defined within the North Oakville Creeks Subwatershed Study and implemented within the North Oakville East and West Secondary Plans and Implementation document.

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