By Wendy Francis

“No road through, over or under Ojibway.” these words from transportation minister Donna Cansfield are the first hopeful sign that an Ontario natural treasure may be saved. This spring, Ontario nature learned of a proposal to construct a truck route through part of the Ojibway prairie complex, a 332-hectare site in the city of windsor that contains 45 percent of the remaining natural areas in Essex County.

Essex county is one of the most ecologically important regions in Canada. Although the county is small, the rich diversity of plant and animal species that can be found there doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country. Originally Essex was a forest- covered expanse dotted with grasslands. Today, less than 4 percent of the county remains as forest. Carolinian Canada, the ecological zone of which Essex County is a part, contains one-third of Canada’s species at risk.

The complex is one of the best examples of tall grass prairie and oak savannah best examples of tall grass prairie and oak savannah in Ontario and contains 500 types of plants (69 of which are species at risk) and several endangered and threatened animal species, including the northern bobwhite, eastern massasauga rattlesnake, eastern fox snake, yellow-breasted chat, redheaded woodpecker and gray fox. Four species of butterfly found at Ojibway are considered rare or very rare in Ontario.

The proposed four-lane highway would bisect the Spring Garden Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) portion of the Ojibway prairie complex and would have a devastating impact on its natural features and its ecological function as an important natural corridor for animal movement.

At the last Ontario nature annual general meeting, delegates representing our 140 member organizations and our membership passed a resolution declaring that the ANSI and prairie complex are inappropriate for a truck route.

In July, Ontario nature issued an action alert via e-mail under our “advocates for nature” heading. Dozens of letters were sent to the mayor of windsor and to minister Cansfield. Evidently, these pleas were heard. On September 28, Cansfield toured the site with local naturalists and assured them that the Ojibway prairie complex would “remain the way it is.” she repeated this pledge during a luncheon speech and was widely quoted to the same effect in local television and radio news coverage.

This issue has not been decided yet, but Cansfield’s support for protecting Ojibway is a very positive sign.