Spring 2020 will be the 21st year that ERCA has celebrated Earth Day in the Windsor-Essex region! While we are not able to plant trees together and celebrate in person, we want to share a bit of the history of this special day.
Earth Day is celebrated globally each day on April 22, which began in 1970 in the United States. The anti-war movement and environmental concerns taking place in post-secondary institutions across the country drove the effort and drew attention to issues that concerned many. The first Earth Day jump-started millions of Americans protesting, marching and demonstrating for a healthy, sustainable environment calling for improvements for clean air and water and protection of endangered species.
Following the success and response to this movement in the United States, Earth Day went global. The movement mobilized over 200 million people in 141 countries, bringing a wide range of environmental issues to the international level. This effort helped open the opportunity for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The first Earth Day celebration in Canada took place twenty years later with a ceremonial tree planning that encouraged MPs and MPPs across the country to declare a Canadian annual celebration on April 22.
Prior to European settlement, Essex County was dominated by natural areas, including Carolinian woodlands, wetlands and tall grass prairies. Since then, much of the landscape has changed, and local natural resources are extremely degraded to accommodate a growing population. This degradation is a direct or indirect result of clearing and increasing drainage for timber, agriculture and urban development. This represents a loss of 95% original forest cover and 97% loss of wetlands from pre-settlement habitat. Essex County’s natural heritage loss has resulted in a decline in species populations native to the region; many are now recognized as species at risk.
One way to address these ecological challenges is through restoring natural heritage, reconnecting fragmented areas and adding additional habitat across the landscape in the region. In an effort to reflect the United Nations goal of 12% natural areas for a sustainable balance between nature and development, ERCA has planted more than 6 million trees, achieving an 8.5% natural areas coverage.
More action is needed, and we continue to plant trees! Trees play a critical role in mitigating climate change by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. They also play an important role in helping us to adapt to a changing climate by protecting us from flooding and severe storms, and by providing shade during increasingly hot weather. They will also continue to provide critical habitat for many plants and animals that will also find adapting to a changing climate challenging.
There is no doubt that we need more trees and better-connected forests to address climate change to create a healthy region for future generations. Providing stewardship and educational opportunities to residents living within our watersheds is important and critical to our conservation success. By hosting an Earth Day planting event with the community, we can include residents in a meaningful way to work towards that goal together.
Since the early 1990’s ERCA has worked with partners such as the City of Windsor, Little River Enhancement Group, the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup, Essex Windsor Solid Waste Authority, Essex County Field Naturalists’ Club and others to plant tens of thousands of trees. The first few events saw fewer trees and volunteers, but as this event grew in popularity and interest, we now plan for over 1,200 volunteers representing individuals, families, clubs, groups, businesses, teams, organizations etc. across Windsor-Essex to come out and plant trees!
While it might be hard to tell on any one day what the overall impacts and improvements are from Earth Day plantings, through a big picture lens, it is clear that there is now established habitat where it was missing. The older sites that we planted trees during the early years of celebrating Earth Day are thriving, and do exist not as stand-alone trees but part of a connected ecosystem at these places. This habitat is now able to support wildlife life cycles and help additional vegetation become established and move through the restoration succession into healthy naturalized areas.
Long-term tree growth and survival is the key to a community restoration projects’ success. In order to achieve this, trees need to be planted properly so they can root and establish themselves at restoration sites. Ensuring proper planting depth, proper tree handling, applying mulch and a tree guard are a few things we ensure event participants do when planting trees. We also have some resources we are developing currently to share with everyone coming out to Earth Day to remind them of these steps. The How To Crew receives enhanced training in advance of the spring planting season and is the quality control eyes and ears at ERCA’s community events. They are there to help volunteers learn how to plant trees properly so they can continue to grow healthy and establish themselves as part of the naturalized areas we love so much.
We hope that the impacts reach further than the event itself through people’s positive experience and education on the importance of natural areas, especially locally in Windsor-Essex. I will miss planting with our friends and community members this spring, but look forward to being back out in the field when it is safe to do so.
Happy Earth Week!
Partnerships and Outreach Coordinator
Essex Region Conservation Authority