Sensitizing neighborhood residents to the richness of a nearby woodland and identifying the actions that restrict its regeneration can contribute greatly to conserving biodiversity in the area.
In that spirit, in early 2021 a drawing competition was presented to secondary-school students in the Côte-des-Neiges district. The drawings had to reflect the vision of these young people with regard to three issues present in the Boisé Dora Wasserman located at Mackenzie King Park in the borough of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
- Feeding the squirrels
- Walking outside of the trails
Research enabled students to propose solutions for the three issues and to express them in an artistic format. They were supplied with a variety of information to support them in their respective approaches.
The little Boisé Dora Wasserman, covers 1.6 hectares, is rich in native species. Unlike the adjacent grassy park and its playgrounds, the woods consist of a maple stand with some hickory, and the density of its trees provides the neighborhood and the health and wellbeing of its residents with beneficial effects. Considered an oasis of coolness, the woods contribute to trapping air pollutants and to water infiltration. Mackenzie King Park is moreover one of the most frequented Côte-des-Neiges parks during the summer period. That amount of traffic unfortunately contributes to a decline in the woods biodiversity, owing to among other things people walking off-trail, the presence of litter and the overpopulation of squirrels.
Buckthorn, garlic mustard and wild chervil are invasive plants present in the Boisé Dora-Wasserman. Those species are exotic and were introduced from Europe early in the last century for their horticultural (buckthorn), culinary (garlic mustard) or medicinal (wild chervil) properties. They spread rapidly and take the place of native species.
Over the last few years, thanks to a dynamic team of volunteers, the buckthorn has been cut down, creating openings that make access to the woods easier for strollers. Since the start of the pandemic, residents’ need to get close to nature has led to greater use of the woods. Regrettably, the considerable litter left on the site and the new pathways created have contributed to loss of biodiversity. Thus, native flora (trillium, bloodroot, trout lily) from our climate, which adds to the beauty of the woods in the spring, is disappearing because people are walking outside of the trails. Soil laid bare over large areas by people tramping around contributes to its erosion during heavy rains.
Squirrel malnutrition and overpopulation
The grey squirrel’s food varies with the seasons: acorns, beechnuts, hazelnuts and corn. The fruits and seeds from oak, maple, elm, walnut and hickory trees make up the larger part of its diet. In springtime it eats buds swollen with sap and strips off bark to lick the sap flowing underneath, with a preference for maple.
Squirrels, when fed by well-intentioned people, grow more numerous than the ability of the woods to feed them. Too numerous for a limited territory, the squirrels become aggressive. Also, these rodents chew on young trees to maintain the health of their teeth and set up their nests. Many trees are wilting and dying from it. Moreover, even though squirrels act as seed dispersal agents by burying them in the fall, when they do so to, too great an extent they can harm the natural regeneration of the trees in these woods. The challenge is to protect the trees and a normal squirrel population.
A picture’s worth a thousand words
At the end of their research, the students produced their drawings, which had been chosen by in-class vote. A maximum of three drawings per theme per class were submitted for the contest. The winning drawings were selected by the project partners based on the quality of the work and the relevance of the message.
The young winners created inspiring works as part of their training with Ms. Marchessault of Collège international Marie de France.
You can admire the winning drawings reproduced on panels that have been set up at the entrances to the woods with a view to raising awareness in the people who walk there.
- Centre d’expertise en analyse environnementale du Québec. 2006. Paramètres d’exposition chez les mammifères – Écureuil gris. Fiche descriptive. Québec Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks, 18 pp.
- Corrie Bruemmer, Peter Lurz, Karl Larsen, John Gurnell. 1999. “Impacts and Management of the Alien Eastern Gray Squirrel in Great Britain and Italy: Lessons for British Columbia.” Proc. Biology and Management of Species and Habitats at Risk, Kamloops, B.C., 15–19 Feb. 1999.
- Space for Life:https://espacepourlavie.ca/en/squirrels-and-bulbs/strong>
- Forêts, Faune et Parcs, Québec:https://www 3.mffp.gouv.qc.ca/faune/importuns/fiche.asp#domm
- Melissa J. Merrick, Karl L. Evans and Sandro Bertolino. 2016. “Urban grey squirrel ecology, associated impacts, and management challenges.” The Grey Squirrel: Ecology & Management of an Invasive Species in Europe, European Squirrel Initiative, Stoneleigh Park, U.K., pp. 55-77.