On New Year’s Day, I went for a lovely walk in the Rouge River forest to meditate. Instead, I experienced wonderful discovery (perhaps its own meditation).
I could hear the open throated roar of the river, swelling its banks with churning water. The optimistic light of the setting sun peered across the trees in shades of peach and vermillion.
Taking a less worn path, I found myself suddenly beneath the old clanky one-lane bridge of Old Finch Road. It was magical, even when I stumbled into the water…
The Rouge River watershed is home to 1,700 species of animals and plants; more than 20 are classified as species at risk. While the forest shows a healthy diversity and the river appears pristine—supporting a healthy fish and benthos population—the woodland was once logged and farmed; continued disturbance is demonstrated by flourishing invasive species such as black locust on the forest’s ecotone. As development further encroaches from all sides, this gem of natural beauty will continue to be at risk.
The Rouge National Urban Park is called the largest urban park in Canada by Alternatives Journal. “Totalling 79.1 square kilometres, Rouge National Urban Park contains multitudes of wildlife, rivers, flora and fauna,” writes Andrew Reeves in his article. Protected areas alone can’t safeguard all species, “there’s a need for wildlife to have room to roam through the landscape beyond the boundaries of a park,” said Alison Woodley, national director of CPAWS’s Parks Program when interviewed by Reeves. “They need that kind of corridor to move through.” Preserving ecological corridors is especially vital in southern Ontario, writes Reeves. Once blanketed in Carolinian forest, southern Ontario retains just 15 percent of the highly biodiverse Carolinian land it once did. “Fly across southern Ontario today and the occasional woodlot or tree line along a stream are about all that remain of the Carolinian ecosystem,” wrote author Chris Wood on the vanishing ecozone for The Tyee. The scraps of marginal forest remaining are so fragmented and miniscule they’re almost useless, writes Reeves. It wasn’t until 1984 that the Rouge Valley was formally recognized as a critical slice of Carolinian forest. Today, Rouge Park remains, next to Point Pelee National Park, one of the largest intact Carolinian zones left in Canada.
In 2018, the TRCA gave the Rouge River watershed an overall ‘C’ grade for surface water quality, the same as the previous report card in 2013. The Little Rouge also received a ‘C’ grade. This was based on concentrations of phosphorus (from agricultural runoff), presence of bacteria, and the kind and abundance of benthic invertebrates found in 24 stations throughout the watershed. Chloride concentrations—thought not part of the grade—were high throughout the watershed, including the Little Rouge River, where concentrations at times came close to exceeding the guideline of 120 mg/L. Chloride typically comes from road salt and can harm many aquatic life forms, particularly the benthic invertebrates, which are food for fish.
Reeves, Andrew. 2016. “Saving the Rouge, Canada’s Largest Urban Park.” Alternatives Journal, Sept. 28, 2016. https://www.alternativesjournal.ca/community/blogs/summer-reading-series/saving-rouge-canadas-largest-urban-park
TRCA. 2018. “Rouge River Watershed Report Card 2018.” https://reportcard.trca.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/TRCA_WRC-2018_Rouge_FINAL_new.compressed.pdf
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s recent book is the bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” (Mincione Edizioni, Rome). Her latest “Water Is…” is currently an Amazon Bestseller and NY Times ‘year in reading’ choice of Margaret Atwood.