Environment

The ecosystem-based restoration and landscaping undertaken as part of Parkway implementation is expected to provide numerous benefits to people, plants and animal species. This includes benefits to biodiversity, places of refuge for rare and endangered species, erosion control, wetlands and fisheries, pollination and recreation and traditional knowledge and culture.

Vegetation

Restoration and Protection

The Parkway is located in an urban area that contains remnants of Tallgrass Prairie, a globally threatened ecosystem. Very little Tallgrass Prairie remains in North America with estimates ranging from 5% to less than 0.1% of the original prairie ecosystem. Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savannah ecosystems in Windsor are grasslands with a high diversity of plants, birds, mammals and insects, including a number of species that are considered to be rare, threatened or endangered in Ontario.

In recognition of the global, national, and provincial significance of prairie remnants in the Windsor-Essex region, special care has been taken in the Parkway's design to limit the impact on ecologically significant areas. As a result, less than four hectares of higher quality vegetation were impacted by construction activities.

Of the 160 hectares of green space associated with the Landscape Plan for the Parkway, 74 hectares are created ecological landscapes that feature Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savannah. Outside the Parkway corridor, an additional 60 hectares of land, including wetland preservation areas and actively managed species at risk habitat, are being preserved.

View of the landscape

Prescribed Burns

Tallgrass Prairies are a landscape based on disturbance (wildfires, floods, etc.), but in an urban area this type of disturbance needs to managed. Given this urban context, much of the Parkway’s landscape management is based on active controls which are used to maintain prairie and savannah typologies. These controls are implemented through an Adaptive Management strategy which aims to maintain some level of disturbance while eliminating invasive species to the extent reasonably possible. A vigorous program of brush cutting, herbicide application and prescribed burns is being implemented as part of the landscaping program.

Prescribed burns are deliberately set, carefully controlled and closely monitored fires. They are one of the most effective ways of maintaining Tallgrass Prairie as they mimic the natural disturbance prairies depend on. Burns warm the soil, stimulating the germination and growth of deeply rooted native prairie plants while removing less fire-tolerant invasive species. Twenty hectares of prairie have been burned since the spring of 2012. In areas where prescribed burns have occurred increases of high quality prairie species, have been observed. 

A detailed burn plan has been prepared for each area of Tallgrass Prairie scheduled to be burned. This plan takes into consideration the weather, wind speed and direction, and atmospheric conditions to control the spread of fire and smoke. Prescribed burns last from to 20 minutes to several hours. Safety is of the highest priority for prescribed burns. Any time a prescribed burn is planned, communication with the public through various means occurs. A number of steps have been implemented to ensure the safety of the workers, the residents, the surrounding wildlife and the surrounding ecosystem. 

Read the Prescribed Burns factsheet for more information

Conducting prescribed burns on the landscape

Species at Risk

Under the Endangered Speciec Act (ESA) the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) issued permits to MTO for the protection of seven plant species at risk and two animal species found within the Parkway corridor. These plant species include Colicroot, Common Hoptree, Dense Blazing Star, Dwarf Hackberry, Kentucky Coffee-Tree, Willowleaf Aster, and Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid. The animal species include the Eastern Foxsnake and the Butler’s Gartersnake. Additionally, the Blanding’s Turtle was identified as a threatened species that inhabits the area surrounding the Parkway.

Prior to the start of construction, all plant species at risk were relocated from the Parkway corridor to 23 protected restoration areas. Plants are monitored and actively managed at these locations for the restoration and/or creation of Tallgrass Prairie habitats where the variety of prairie species can flourish. Active management of these restoration sites will be transferred to a ‘custodian’ over the coming years who will manage these unique lands.  This land management will be a lasting legacy to the environmental commitment of MTO, WEMG and their partners in the design, construction and operation of the Parkway project.

Snake species at risk were relocated from the Parkway corridor to protected restoration areas. Black snake fencing was installed along the Parkway corridor as a temporary barrier to prevent these species from entering active construction areas. At the termination of construction, a series of permanent barriers were left in place to limit snake access from the highway portion of the Parkway. These barriers consist of an integrated system consisting of noise barrier and a galvanized mesh mounted to chain-link fencing. The barrier is a cost effective method at reducing wildlife mortality along a busy highway corridor.  

Please read the Species at Risk and the Rt. Hon. Herb Gray Parkway factsheet and the species-specific factsheets for more information.

Eastern Foxsnake
Butler's Gartersnake
Photo of Willowleaf Aster
Willowleaf Aster

 

Education, Outreach and Research

It will take an educated public to help protect species at risk and their Tallgrass Prairie habitat. MTO has undertaken various education and outreach activities in Windsor-Essex, some of which meet stewardship requirements under the ESA permits. More of these stewardship, education and outreach activities will be carried out in the future.

The unique ecological features of the Parkway’s restoration areas provide an opportunity for researchers to study and collect data related to Tallgrass Prairie habitat and wildlife. A number of researchers have included, or will include these restoration areas in their research studies.

Noise Mitigation

A noise impact assessment comparing the future noise levels of the Rt. Hon. Herb Gray Parkway with the pre-existing roadways in place (Highway 3-Talbot Road-Huron Church Road) found the construction of the Parkway would result in a noise level increase of greater than 5 decibels. This increase would affect the communities surrounding the Parkway if noise mitigation measures were not implemented.

A number of noise mitigation measures implemented during construction of the Parkway. Mitigation measures implemented included the routing of commercial traffic below grade with the construction of 11 tunnels, reducing traffic on surrounding roadways, allowing commercial vehicles to travel on the freeway without signals, and constructing effectively designed noise barriers such as walls, berms and wall/berm combinations. With the application of these noise mitigation measures, the Rt. Hon. Herb Gray Parkway provides substantial noise reduction benefits to adjacent communities in comparison to the noise conditions associated with the pre-existing roadways .  

Read the Noise Mitigation factsheet for more information

Photo of the construction of a noise wall in 2010