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A Brief History of Tallgrass Ontario

In 1998 the World Wildlife Fund Canada and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources published the ground breaking document Tallgrass Communities of Southern Ontario: A Recovery Plan. The 66 page report, which remains unchanged and still relevant today, describes the state of tallgrass prairie and oak savanna in southern Ontario, as well as the recommended steps to ensure it remains and prosper as an ecosystem in the future. Beginning in chapter 4 (page 13) the document outlines the goals for recovering tallgrass communities across southern Ontario. The first of five top priorities listed is “Organize a Tallgrass Prairie and Savanna Association that will guide and evaluate progress of this Recovery Plan, and will provide leadership in areas of communications, information-sharing and education”.

The Ontario Tallgrass Prairie and Savanna Association formed in 1999 to implement the Recovery Plan for Tallgrass Communities of Southern Ontario. The association became Tallgrass Ontario when it was incorporated as a charitable organization on January 1st, 2002. Tallgrass Ontario had its first Annual General Meeting at the Royal Ontario Museum on April 5, 2002, to mark the opening of the Tallgrass Prairie and Savanna Exhibit in the Biodiversity Gallery.

In the early days the Tallgrass Prairie and Savanna Association was focused on communications, information-sharing and education. To this end they published the Bluestem Banner, initiated the first of four biannual prairie forums and held meetings with many of the stakeholders in tallgrass prairie and savanna creation. Also in the early days Tallgrass Ontario shared a coordinator, Don Gordon, with Carolinian Canada. At that time the Ministry of Natural Resources provided office space at Exeter Road, along with phone, mail computer services and photocopying/printing. However the accommodation was short lived, due to union rules, although the MNR continued to provide phone and mail support until recently. Eventually Tallgrass Ontario received a new coordinator when Don Gordon decided to focus solely on Carolinian Canada. An interim replacement was fund before Christine Elliot, who was a board member through her involvement with the friends of Sharon Creek prairie in Delaware, became a coordinator for many years; subsequently replaced by Graham Buck and Kyle Breault. The office moved to Ridgetown, first the campus of Ridgetown College and then Main Street, where it remained for many years.

The outreach and education continued, but a new focus became the protection of remnant tallgrass prairies and savannas. To this end the first Save Our Savannas (SOS) was started. All told there would be three more, for a total of four. The first two SOS projects were coordinator was Todd Farrell, and the goal was to identify all of the landowners of tallgrass remnants and to meet with as many of them over a two year period as possible. The information collected from the first and subsequent SOS was stored in an access Planting the Seeddatabase, which remains to this day. The third and last SOS, also called the pocket prairie project was initiated by Dr. Will Wilson in 2003, with the goal of creating the first ever Tallgrass Ontario shape file of the extent of tallgrass prairie in southern Ontario. This shape file, along with shape files provided by Ontario Parks, Ministry of Natural Resources and Conservation Authorities comprise the current tallgrass shape file that is used today.

Along the way there have been numerous factsheets and guides, many of which are available through the Tallgrass Ontario website. Beginning with Planting the Seed and 5 volume Tallgrass series and more recently A Landowner’s Guide to Tallgrass Prairie and Savanna Management in Ontario and the six volume Principle series. There was also a guide title Agro-economic Applications of Tallgrass Prairie Species in Southern Ontario completed and the Tallgrass Prairie and Savanna Prescribed Fire Decision Support System was completed with the Ministry of Natural Resources.

From time to time Tallgrass Ontario regularly revisited the plan that gave rise to the organization in order to assess the progress to date against the goals and objectives of the plan. A complete re-write of the plan started in 2005 and ended in 2009. This new document along with the first ever business plan were completed together and guide the organization to the present day.