Oak Savannah Ecosystem

300 years ago, the pine-oak savannah ecosystem was a common occurrence; however, today within Wasaga Beach Provincial Park, this system is considered rarer than the tropical rainforests. The pine-oak savannah is a transition zone between the tall grass prairies and the Canadian Shield forests to the east. This ecosystem has been subjected to agricultural development, urbanization, and industrialization leaving less than one tenth of one percent of the original 13 million hectares that at one time reached from Wasaga Beach to Texas.

A savannah is distinguished from woodland by the presence of a tree canopy that covers less than 30% of the sky. In a pine-oak savannah, scattered trees are surrounded by large open spaces filled with prairie wildflowers, grasses and shrubs, such as big and little bluestem, butterfly weed, New Jersey tea, wild bergamot, and the nationally significant Hill’s thistle. All of these species have special adaptations for surviving in these shade-free living conditions. Some of these adaptations include waxy leaves that prevent rapid water loss, deep root systems or taproots, and seeds that germinate only after they are exposed to heat from fire.

In the past, pine-oak savannahs were maintained by naturally occurring ground fires roughly every 20 years. These fires would sweep through areas, preventing woodland from filling the open prairie spaces. Many of the species living in this ecosystem have deep taproots that allowed them to survive the fires and continue to flourish due to newly released nutrients.

Hill’s thistle, a perennial measuring between 25 and 60 centimetres in height, grows in a dry, sandy soil that is prone to fire. It is a sun-loving plant that requires areas with low tree canopy cover. Flowering of this plant usually occurs in its third year of growth and its lightweight seeds are scattered by wind. Without the regular occurrence of fire, these seeds will not reach the soil to germinate because of accumulated leaves on the forest floor. This is one reason that Hill’s thistle is now considered a nationally rare species in Canada.

Over the past century, fire prevention has been the only resource management practice and consequently, leaf litter, brush, and shrub layers have accumulated in the savannah. Natural resource managers are now looking at the important role that fire must play in maintaining natural ecosystems. In many places, prescribed burning is practiced to re-open the forest canopy in savannah environments.

Wasaga Beach Provincial Park managers initiated a prescribed burn in the spring of 2004 as part of the Hill’s thistle recovery plan and also to open the rare pine-oak savannah. This prescribed burn covered an area of approximately 2 hectares and lasted a little longer than an hour. Park naturalists are conducting annual vegetation surveys to monitor Hill’s thistle and other prairie species following the burn and determine the effectiveness of such an endeavor.

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Events Calendar

Jul
20
Fri
Healthy Parks Healthy People – July 20, 2018
Jul 20 @ 9:00 am – 6:00 pm

Celebrate Healthy Parks, Healthy People with free day use at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park!  Special events to celebrate Healthy Parks, Healthy People and Ontario Parks’ 125th Anniversary will be taking place.  Call (705)429-2516 for more details on events.

Aug
18
Sat
Wasaga Under Siege – A War of 1812 Experience
Aug 18 @ 10:00 am – 6:00 pm

Wasaga Under Siege – Visit British, American, Native and British Naval encampments on Nancy Island Historic Site. Re-enactors will transport you back to the War of 1812 through musket and cannon firing, 1812 cooking, fashion and surgeon demonstrations and storytelling.

Aug
19
Sun
Wasaga Under Siege – A War of 1812 Experience
Aug 19 @ 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Mission Statement

The Friends of Nancy Island Historic Site and Wasaga Beach Park is a non-profit, charitable organization dedicated to furthering the educational and interpretive programs of Wasaga Beach Provincial Park and Nancy Island Historic Site.

Goals of The Friends of Nancy Island

Friends of Nancy Island Blog

The Friends have started a blog – and we would love for you to check it out: CLICK HERE Learn more about Wasaga Beach’s unique natural and cultural history, keep up to date on activities and events, follow our twitter feed, and don’t forget to subscribe for e-mail notifications. Happy reading!

Wasaga Beach Provincial Park
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11-22nd Street North
Wasaga Beach, ON
L9Z 2V9
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Wasaga Beach Welcome Centre & Nancy Island Historic Site
(Seasonal)
119 Mosley Street
Wasaga Beach, ON
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Wasaga Beach Nordic Ski & Trail Centre
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101 Blueberry Trail
Wasaga Beach, ON
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