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$10,000 in grants help create outdoor lab

By Craig Campbell, News Staff

Two McMaster University biology professors received $10,000 in grants to create an outdoor education lab in the 115-acre McMaster Forest.

The new McMaster Conservation Corridor Teaching and Research Facility will preserve a link between the Dundas Valley and Cootes Paradise, and is bounded by Ancaster, Dundas and West Hamilton.

As members of the McMaster President’s Advisory Committee on Cootes Paradise, which made preservation of the Lower Lions Club Road site known to some as McMaster Forest a priority last year, professors Susan Dudley and Chad Harvey studied the property to find opportunities for its use – and applied to the university president’s Forward With Integrity funding program.

Dudley has been at McMaster for 17 years, but wasn’t particularly familiar with the untouched forest owned by the university since the late 1960s. Before she went to see it, Dudley thought is was more disturbed.

“We didn’t really have an institutional memory of the property,” she said.

Harvey suggested access to natural areas for research, education and conservation was a key reason McMaster University moved from Toronto to Hamilton’s Cootes Paradise 126 years ago, and that might explain why the university bought up neighbouring open space and forest.

Now the two biology professors agree that founding vision of preservation and environmental study has been strengthen. The advisory committee on Cootes Paradise has already had a couple of big successes – including successfully petitioning the university to introduce a 30-metre buffer between Ancaster Creek and west campus parking.

Harvey says the property provides much potential for research and education, noting there are some large old growth trees, and several invasive species to study and control.

“It’s a really interesting place in the Dundas Valley, at the edge of the Carolinian forest,” Dudley said.

Already, one of Harvey’s third year biology students is working in the property, cataloguing invasive species – in particular Blackthorn.

A fourth-year conservation biology class is working on a Blackthorn removal program, a project Harvey said the Hamilton Conservation Authority will be interested in, as they deal with their own invasive species threats.

The Forward With Integrity application received the maximum available grant of $5,000, and matching funds were provided by the university’s dean of Science – bringing the total to $10,000.

“The goal is having a grid system. That involves cataloguing all the trees and with that the flora and fauna,” Harvey said.

Dudley explained a grid system using the Smithsonian Dynamic Forest Plot Technique will be created, made up of 20-metre by 20-metre grids. Every tree within the plot will be tagged, then revisited several years later, inspected and measured.

“Other disciplines can refer to the plot. Everyone will know where they are working along the grid,” Dudley said.

The money will be used to purchase everything they need to create the grid, and maintain the ongoing forest plot program.

The duo is now working on getting the message out to their McMaster colleagues, and students, across several disciplines, that this outdoor lab will be available for use.

They see this project as expanding the university’s focus beyond its already well-known business, engineering and health sciences programs.

“There’s always been a core group of students, and faculty, interested in ecology and environment,” Dudley said.

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