ALUS farm program helps restore wildlife habitat
An innovative environmental program in Norfolk County, Canada’s Forest Capital, is helping to return marginal farm lands to natural habitat in Ontario. The program, called ALUS (Alternative Land Use Services) actually pays farmers to restore their lands to natural state. So far, about 400 acres of marginal agricultural land has been transformed. Norfolk ALUS Projects include forestation, tallgrass prairie re-establishment, pollinator habitat, riparian buffers, and wetlands.
In Norfolk County, the ALUS program is significant. The county is home to the largest remaining forest cover in southern Ontario and is also home to the largest remaining intact tract of the Carolinian Zone in Canada. Ontario’s Carolinian zone is the province’s most threatened ecological region. More than 125 species in Carolinian Canada are considered vulnerable, species of special concern, threatened or endangered by either the federal or provincial government. Although this zone accounts for less than 1% of Canada’s total land area, it is home to more animal and plant species than any other ecosystem in the country. For example, there are 70 tree species and more than 2,000 plant species found in this habitat.
The Norfolk ALUS is key because farmers own a majority of land in the Carolinian Zone. Through ALUS, these farmers are playing a major role in rebuilding previously lost habitat.
At one Norfolk farm, more than 15 acres of marginal farm land was transformed into a tallgrass prairie, and 16 nesting boxes were installed for eastern bluebirds. In another area on the same farm, a former tobacco kiln yard was replaced with 250 native trees.
Among the species that will benefit from this environmental program is the American badger. It is believed that only about 200 badgers remain in Ontario, with most living in a small area of Norfolk County. An Ontario Badger Recovery Team has been studying and tracking the animals in the county in an effort to learn more and help boost habitat and population growth.
Supporting partners of the Norfolk ALUS program include Delta Waterfowl, Norfolk Field Naturalists, Long Point Region Conservation Authority, Wetland Habitat Fund, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, Long Point Waterfowl, Ontario Wildlife Foundation, and Norfolk Land Stewardship Council.