(Photo from 2015--ash trees removed from upper woods)
The Hampton Park Woods have been under severe stress for the last several years, starting as far back as the 1998 ice storm when heavy ice broke and misshaped trees. Since then, extreme storms, warmer temperatures, invasive species, and human activity have all taken their toll and more trees have been lost.
Natural urban areas like Hampton Park provide cost-effective services to communities. Research shows that for every dollar spent maintaining urban forests we get between $2 to $12 or more in economic, environmental, and health benefits. Urban forests reduce pollution and storm water runoff, improve water infiltration, and cut the need for building energy use. They also reduce local city temperatures, and we know just how hot an Ottawa summer can be.
In 2015, the National Capital Commission (the majority landowner) removed more than 400 ash trees that were dead or dying from the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that has decimated Ottawa's ash tree population. The NCC replanted, I believe, more than 600 mixed deciduous and evergreen trees. That number doesn’t include those planted alongside the Queensway in 2018.
What to do now?
The loss of these trees over such a short period of time created new light and new space in the woods. Invasive plant species already in the park have rapidly expanded their territory in the last three years. Japanese knotweed stands now threaten decades' old ostrich fern colonies; grape vines have already smothered and killed many trees and now threaten some of the newly planted ones.
Dog-strangling vine, a scourge in much of the city, has now appeared. Two more challenges on the horizon could be the Asian long-horned beetle—which feasts on any leaf-bearing tree—and beech bark disease. Hampton Park has several mature beech trees that could be at risk.
Human activity is also hurting the Park's chances to regenerate and regrow. Biking off the main paths and in the woods, for example, applies more pressure to the ground than walking does. Hard landings off of natural and man-made jumps compacts soil and damages vegetation. Hard braking kicks up divots in the soil and exposes roots. In recent years, there have also been organized mountain bike races at night through the woods. Riding at night with head lamps is stressful for wildlife at any time of the year, and particularly so during spring nesting season.
Taking action where we can
The mature trees that remain are under stress from all fronts. We can’t stop the next wind or ice storm, but we can do something about human activity and certain invasive species.
I’ve lived within a five minute walk of the park since the late 1960s and I've never seen the park in a worse state than it is today. I think we can change that.
I've reached out to the NCC, the City of Ottawa, and local community associations and groups, like Big Trees of Kitchissippi to talk about the issues, what our observations and available data are telling us, and the actions we can all take to protect and conserve Hampton Park.
Things are just getting started, so if you want to help out, share ideas, offer your knowledge or skills, or just want to stay updated for now, please get in touch. Sharon Boddy email@example.com.