What is the Alfred Bog?
The Alfred Bog is a little piece of boreal (northern) forest, hundreds of miles south of anything like it. Yet, at 4200 hectares (10 000 acres), it is the biggest bog of its kind in Southern Ontario, big enough to give refuge to many plants and animals that were stranded as the warming climate pushed the boreal forest northward. This domed peat bog has been building for 10 000 years and shelters many plants and animals that are rare or endangered, some of which are of national significance. Examples include the Bog Elfin butterfly, Fletcher’s dragonfly, spotted turtle, white fringed orchid, Atlantic sedge and rhodora. In fact the bog has been designated by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources as a “Class 1 Wetland” and an “Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI)”.
Being a domed peat bog, the Alfred Bog is unlike the kettle bogs most commonly encountered south of the Hudson Bay lowlands. Kettle bogs are found typically in depressions such as those found when a huge block of glacial ice is buried and subsequently melts, leaving a pond in which vegetation has crept in from the edges until the whole surface is covered with a flat, quaking mat. Domed bogs drain in all directions from the dome and the only nutrients received come from rain and snow. The dominant vegetation in both types of bog is sphagnum moss, known to gardeners as peat moss. Sphagnum moss thrives in the interior of bogs where cool, wet, oxygen starved, nutrient poor, acid conditions prevail. The dome is formed over millennia because sphagnum moss has the ability to wick up water from below. These conditions produce a unique community of plants and animals.
Alfred Bog lies in the east end of an abandoned channel of the Ottawa River . This was the main channel of a great river flowing down the Ottawa valley to the Atlantic Ocean. It drained a glacial lake centred in Manitoba. Because of reduced flow and glacial rebounding, the river abandoned its old channel and moved to its present location. Mer Bleue, lying in the west end of the channel is Alfred’s smaller twin.
The most significant impact upon the bog over the years has been the conversion of the bog land for agricultural purposes. The first settlers in the area found the bog to be of little use for farming and an obstacle to building roads. Nevertheless, over the years drainage around the margins has reduced it to about a third of its original size.
Cottongrass; photo D. Gordon E. Robertson
How did the OFNC get involved?
In 1981, the Caledonia Township Council had before them a request to change the zoning of a large block of land from “conservation” to “agriculture”. The land was owned by a company interested in market gardening . Since the first objective of The Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club is “to promote the appreciation, preservation and conservation of Canada’s natural heritage”, the club was sympathetic when Leo Durocher and Ernie Beauchesne of the Vankleek Hill & District Nature Society appealed to President Roger Taylor for help. We joined forces and the battle was on.
Our primary objective has always been to protect the flora and fauna. In this regard, size of the core area is important. Drainage ditches around the periphery and into the core of the bog reduce the habitat that is vital for the healthy genetic diversity of the rare species isolated here. We also recognize the value of the bog in slowing spring runoff and maintaining summer stream flow. Lately, global warming has become an issue. Drainage exposes the peat to oxygen from the air. Exposed peat oxidizes at a rate that can exceed 1 cm per year, releasing carbon dioxide gas, recognized to be an important factor in global warming. This rate of oxidation over the 42 square km of Alfred Bog would convert 420,000 cubic metres of peat/year into carbon dioxide, equivalent to putting an additional 24 000 family cars on the roads.
Failing to persuade the Caledonia Township Council to reject the proposed zoning change we appealed their decision to the Ontario Municipal Board which heard the case in May 1983. To obtain status for the hearing the Club purchased 50 acres in the bog. The Alfred Bog Trust Fund was established to finance the legal challenge and further land acquisition. The fund grew to $17 500 but the legal expenses came to $16 000. Later that year President Dan Brunton reported that we had lost our case before the Ontario Municipal Board.
The Club then went into an education and fund raising mode. The keystone was a 17 page article on Alfred Bog by Don Cuddy, published in the May/August issue of T&L. Fund raising continued at every opportunity, notably with raffles for an original oil painting by Aleta Karstad and a Paul Harpley print, and the sale of honorary deeds recording the protection of a parcel of Alfred Bog.
In June of 1985, Charles Sauriol of The Nature Conservancy of Canada and President Frank Pope convened a meeting at the Westin hotel of 13 agencies interested in preserving Alfred Bog. The meeting endorsed a motion to form the Alfred Bog Committee with Pope as chair to pursue their interests in the Bog. The Committee immediately set about to buy bog property. An acquisition plan was developed and funding sought. Property owners in the bog who might be interested in selling were approached and 200 acres purchased. South Nation Conservation agreed to manage the property on our behalf.
The first big break came in 1987 when the 3800 acre property that had been the subject of the zoning change came onto the market. Negotiations culminated in 1988 with the purchase of the property. This triggered a busy round of soliciting funds (including federal and provincial government contributions) and preparing the necessary documentation and publicity. Club members responded generously to the appeal. After the purchase, negotiations were opened with the other large property owner in the bog.
In 1990 Ted Mosquin conducted a biological survey of the bog. We acquired another 100 acre property. The Committee also arranged to contact every property owner in the bog and those receptive were informed of its significance. A few who pledged to protect the land they owned in the bog were awarded stewardship certificates.
In the next 5 years, a statement of management principles was developed and a management agreement was struck between the Nature Conservancy and South Nation Conservation. The Management Plan was completed. A 1000 ft. board walk was installed and it has proven to be very popular. Another 200 acres were purchased. The Committee decided to expand its membership to become a forum for anyone with an interest in the bog, including a representative from owners of small holdings who were interested in extracting peat. This would prove somewhat awkward later.
In 1996, Pierre Mercier, Director of Planning and Economic Development for the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, announced the beginning of public consultation towards the development of the United County’s first Official Plan. By 1999 the Official Plan had been approved by the County Council and the Province except for the part pertaining to Alfred Bog. Some property owners, most of whom were interested in peat extraction, objected to the restriction on the use of their property and to the boundaries of the wetland. They appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board and I represented the Club at the hearing in support of the Official Plan. The Board prescribed mediation and we are entering the third year of mediation. Thanks to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the wetland boundary issue has been settled. The restriction upon use of land within the wetland boundary has now come down to a matter of compensation. Because one of the Alfred Bog Committee members and I appeared on opposite sides of the issue at the Board hearing I have not called a meeting since Number 26 in October 1999. I had no idea that mediation would take so long. In the meantime, under Legacy 2000, the property acquired to date by the Nature Conservancy has been transferred to Ontario Parks which has designated it as a nature reserve.
In October 2001, we had our second big break when 3200 acres, the other large property referred to above, came on the market. The Nature Conservancy once again came to the fore, taking out an option to purchase the property. The price negotiated for this property is approximately $2 500 000, three times the price for the 1988 purchase of fewer acres. The higher price reflects the demand for peat moss. It took until March to clear legal and survey question and to arrange the funding. If the deal goes through, the governments of Canada and Ontario will each pay one third of the cost, leaving about $820 000 to be raised privately. We are counting upon members of The Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club to again respond generously. This is probably the opportunity of the decade to exercise our stewardship responsibilities by preserving a precious resource for future generations.
Should the purchase go through, and the outstanding questions about the Official Plan be settled, Ontario Parks will manage the entire property. This amounts to 7550 acres considering the two large purchases and the smaller purchases. At this point the Alfred Bog Committee may have fulfilled its purpose and morph into something like Friends of the Alfred Bog which would support Ontario Parks.
I cannot let this opportunity pass without giving special recognition and thanks to Don Cuddy, for his passion, leadership and technical expertise, Leo Durocher for his devotion and dedication to the cause, and The Nature Conservancy of Canada who made it all possible.
- T&L Vol 17 (3, 4 and 5) 1983
- T&L Vol 18 (3 and 4) 1984
- T&L Vol 19 (3 and 4) 1985
- T&L Vol 20 (1) 1986
- T&L Vol 28 (3) 1994
- The Alfred Bog, An Ecological Study by Mosquin Bio-Information Limited, Feb. 1991
- Final Draft Official Plan, United Counties of Prescott and Russell, April 1999
- Minutes of the Alfred Bog Committee
Chronology of conservation efforts since 1985
|April 1986||The Alfred Bog Committee authorizes a local real estate agent to acquire property.|
|November 1986||Two hundred acres are acquired. Acquisition, funding/communication and management plans are completed and approved.|
|December 1987||The Nature Conservancy of Canada is authorized to acquire the Cobi Foods property.|
|April 1988||The acquisition of the Cobi Foods property and a financing strategy is approved (3800 acres for $725,000).|
|September 1988||The Minister of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources attends the official announcement at Alfred College of the purchase of the Cobi Foods property.|
|November 1988||The Alfred Bog Committee authorizes the preparation of a life science inventory and a land owner contact program.|
|January 1991||A report on the land owner contact is received. Certificates are awarded to land owners pledging to preserve land they own in the bog.|
|January 1992||The Life Science Inventory by Ted Mosquin is received. The construction of a boardwalk is approved.|
|March 1993||The Committee approves a statement of management principles. Two hundred acres are added to the protected land.|
|July 1994||The boardwalk is put in place.|
|November 1996||The finished Alfred Bog Management Plan is accepted.|
|November 1997||The Alfred Bog Committee approves in principle and depending on the detail, that the land acquired to date be used to create an Ontario Parks Nature Reserve under the Legacy 2000 program. It also approves a list of jobs to be done when resources become available.|
|December 1999||The first Official Plan for the United Counties of Prescott and Russell becomes law but local peat extractors appeal those provisions of the Plan that protect the Bog. The Ontario Municipal Board will hear the appeal this year.|