By Wade Genders, Special to The News
Standing in the Cootes Paradise marsh nestled next to McMaster University, Dr. Jim Quinn is emphatic.
“We can’t create habitat like this,” he says.
Quinn teaches conservation biology but researches behavioural ecology, and is no stranger to conservation efforts. With ease he details the many benefits of land conservation, and the unique opportunities Hamilton’s surrounding natural habitat.
“I think it’s quite clear to most people now that humans have had a dramatic effect on the world,” Quinn explained. “…we have had negative impacts on habitat everywhere and the availability of natural habitat is diminishing dramatically.”
Quinn does not pull any punches when it comes to describing how important conservation is, especially for lands in Hamilton.
“Here we’re faced with a rich Carolinian forest that has a huge diversity of plants and animals. It has been altered by humans and very few pockets are left.”
In the northern part of the country, the majority of the forests turn boreal. Hamilton’s Carolinian forest is unique, and people don’t have to travel to distant, exotic lands to see endangered species, said Quinn.
“Jefferson salamanders are in the area, they are an endangered species of salamander,” said Quinn. “They need these (local) connections. We’re losing populations of Jefferson salamanders very rapidly – there aren’t that many still in existence.”
Benefits are not only seen in the animal kingdom. For humans, there are health benefits in both improved air and water quality.
“Trees, in particular, are very effective filters, filtering out particulate air pollution,” said Quinn, who has conducted research in the Hamilton Harbour area regarding air quality.
Poor air quality can cause DNA mutations, said Quinn, which can be passed along to succeeding generations whose ancestors were exposed to polluted air.
Quinn’s research shows that trees are very effective at reducing the particulate matter in the air, decreasing DNA mutations and improving overall health.Water quality can also be improved, he said. If you’ve ever wondered what the reed-like plants growing in and around Cootes Paradise are, then you are already familiar with this natural filtration system.
“For other contaminants that are in the water, metals for instance, these cattails will take them right out of the water system,” said Quinn.
Quinn sees the emerging Dundas EcoPark as an excellent opportunity to conserve a unique piece of Hamilton. At 3,325 acres, the Dundas EcoPark will form the western part of the Cootes to Escarpment Park System and be a large wild space close to the city. It will include the north and south shores of Cootes Paradise, a provincially significant wetland, and part of the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere reserve.
The Hamilton Conservation Foundation is heading up a $5 million fundraising campaign to help acquire significant natural lands within the Dundas EcoPark.
We desperately need to protect our habitats and our natural areas.” said Quinn. For more information, visit ecoparkcampaign.ca.