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Policy, Wetlands, Wildlife

The path from pit to paradise

Former aggregate extraction sites can help restore habitat for wildlife

October 16, 2019
The path from pit to paradise
Wise Pit: Rehabilitation of former aggregate sites contributes meaningfully to habitat restoration. © DUC

Rapid growth in southern Ontario drives changes to the landscape that leave less and less space to support biodiversity.

Given this reality, we must be creative about space for wildlife and find habitat opportunities in unexpected places.

A small, legacy gravel pit in Huron County is part of the solution. Wise Pit is a former extraction site that was once a farm field. At the end of its productive life, the pit sat fallow until it was taken up by a rehabilitation program funded by the aggregate industry to rehabilitate legacy sites.

Taking steps to rehabilitate a legacy gravel pit

The Management of Abandoned Aggregate Properties program fills a gap for aggregate sites that did not require a rehabilitation plan. The program, coordinated by Danielle Solondz of The Ontario Aggregate Resources Corporation, evaluates these legacy sites to determine whether they can be rehabilitated into productive land use. These uses can include “wetlands and habitat for wildlife, farmland, parks, fruit orchards, vineyards, subdivisions, golf courses and recreational fishing areas.

“Some legacy sites are rehabilitated as wetlands, but many become wetlands naturally,” says Solondz.

Wise Pit had evolved into a seasonal wetland—filling with water each spring and slowly drying out over subsequent weeks. The private landowner wanted to see the habitat improved for wildlife.

Michael Williams, DUC’s habitat restoration specialist in Ontario, determined that the site was suitable for wetland enhancement. He prepared a design for two wetland cells on the property, which includes contouring of the basins to encourage different types of wetland plants. The first step was to control the invasive reed, phragmites, which was removed to ensure the success of native vegetation.

Wise Pit is on the path to become a wildlife paradise.

Another tool for restoring wildlife habitat

In southern Ontario, we must manage “natural infrastructure” systems—waterways, grasslands and wetlands—or face the continuous loss of birds, turtles and other wildlife. Rehabilitation of former aggregate sites can restore some of the space that wildlife has lost.

“Rehabilitating Wise Pit has been an opportunity for us to learn more about the creation of wetlands,” says Solondz. “So, with this knowledge, we can implement these practices at more sites across the province.”