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Prince Edward Island National Park of Canada

Ecological restoration in Prince Edward Island National Park

Prince Edward Island National Park is a beautiful place with, among other things, spectacular red cliffs, majestic dunes, and sparkling waterways. The landscape within its borders bears evidence of hundreds – and in some cases – thousands of years of history, telling the tales of its evolution and the impact of both natural and human events. There are areas within the park, however, where the ecological chapter of the story shows signs of needing help, of needing restoration.

The goal of ecological restoration is to improve the environment for the plants and animals that call Prince Edward Island National Park home. With this in mind, our actions are primarily focused on freshwater, forest, and coastal ecosystems (infrastructure removal has already taken place in a variety of locations as a way of reducing our overall ‘footprint’ in the park). Restoration supports Canada’s National Conservation Plan by taking practical action to restore our ecosystems and contribute in a positive way to the conservation of Canada’s lands and waters.

To find a balance between providing services to visitors and providing the best possible habitat for plants and animals is not an easy task. It is the quest for just such a balance that is at the heart of Parks Canada’s mandate and of our actions as stewards of this treasured Canadian landscape.

Parks Canada received funding under a special project in order to improve ecological health in Prince Edward Island National Park and national historic sites in Prince Edward Island. Making gains in ecological integrity is a priority for Parks Canada, and we are pleased to invest a portion of these funds in the following projects in Prince Edward Island National Park:

  • Balsam Hollow Brook and Dalvay Lake Outflow - Freshwater Ecosystem Restoration
  • Acadian Forest Region Reforestation – Forest Ecosystem Restoration
  • Planting Trees with the Friends of Covehead and Brackley Bay Watershed Group – Forest Ecosystem Restoration
  • Balsam Hollow Trail – Forest Ecosystem Restoration
  • Brackley Day-Use and Group Tenting Area – Forest Ecosystem Restoration
  • Cavendish Grove – Forest Ecosystem Restoration
  • Reducing Our ‘Footprint’ - Forest Ecosystem Restoration
  • Robinsons Island - Forest Ecosystem Restoration
  • Cavendish Sandspit Road and Dune Restoration – Coastal Ecosystem Restoration
  • Monitoring the Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster – Coastal Ecosystem Restoration
  • Balsam Hollow Brook and Dalvay Lake Outflow - Freshwater Ecosystem Restoration

    People often talk about the transportation challenges created by construction during the summer months with its maze of detours and confusing barriers. Construction season can be difficult. At the very least, it causes delay and, at its worst, blocks passage altogether, leaving one with no idea how to proceed.

    Imagine then, for a moment, that every day was like that. In many ways, this is the reality of freshwater fish living in the waterways of PEI. Constructed barriers, such as poorly functioning culverts, exist in watersheds all over Prince Edward Island. A culvert is a structure that allows water to flow under a road, railroad, trail, or similar obstruction. Typically embedded so as to be surrounded by soil, a culvert can be made from a pipe, reinforced concrete, galvanized steel, plastic, or other material. If a culvert is not properly installed, it can pose real problems for fish movement. In other words, it can make it difficult for fish to move easily through our waterways to spawn or feed. If it is not designed or installed properly, it can create a serious issue in terms of the overall aquatic health of the area.

    Concerned that lack of aquatic connectivity might be a primary movement barrier for local fish species, ecologists at PEI National Park conducted an inventory of all culverts found in the park in 2007. Three culverts were identified for attention.

    Balsam Hollow Brook

    Two culverts impeded the passage of fish at Balsam Hollow Brook.

    The first one, located near an unused path by the Green Gables Golf Course, was removed in 2010. It had been originally installed to allow for the construction of a cart path for the golf course. This culvert posed a ‘velocity barrier’ to fish, meaning that water flows so quickly through it that fish are unable to get past it. Because the cart path was no longer in use, the culvert was removed, completely restoring the ability of fish to pass through the natural stream bed material.

    The second restoration project at Balsam Hollow Brook required more complex work because of its steep slope. A new culvert had to be installed with special modifications called ‘baffles,’ the aquatic equivalent of speed bumps, to slow the speed of the water and allow fish of all sizes to swim upstream. After the culvert was installed, Parks Canada ecologists captured and tagged brook trout and released them downstream. Shortly afterwards, a portion of those trout that were tagged were identified upstream, indicating initial success. At the same time, the ecologists spotted fish 60 to 160 millimetres long, proving that even the smallest fish were making the trip upstream successfully.

    Dalvay Lake Outflow

    Most of the ponds in PEI National Park are ‘barachois ponds,’ meaning that they were originally small bays that have since been closed off through the movement of the sand dunes. Most still have outlets to the sea through which migratory fish pass. Any barriers that may prevent their passage, such as an improperly functioning culvert, can make it difficult or even impossible for fish to swim upstream, which creates a problem in terms of the overall aquatic health of the area.

    When the Dalvay portion of the Gulfshore Parkway was upgraded in 2011, Parks Canada replaced the 70-metre-long culvert system at the outflow of Dalvay Lake. The old culvert needed to be replaced; it was corroded and nearly completely collapsed. The new system that was installed includes a segmented culvert featuring a catch basin mid-way, which lets the fish move safely at all water levels and provides a ‘rest stop’ between the lake and the ocean. Ecological monitoring recorded the highest ever catches of American Eel in Dalvay Lake during the 2014 sampling period: 17 eels were caught, more than doubling the previous maximum of 8. American smelt were also detected for the first time, both upstream and in the culvert’s rest stop.

    Prince Edward Island National Park is committed to improving watershed connectivity and the overall ecological health of our waterways by repairing stream crossings that have proven to be barriers to fish movement in the park. The restoration of connectivity at Balsam Hollow Brook and Dalvay Lake Outflow are examples of real gains in these areas.

    What is aquatic connectivity and how do you measure it?

    Connectivity in a watershed area, in a very general sense, refers to the flow of water, organisms (both organic and inorganic), and other materials from one area to another. Strong connectivity is very important for aquatic health because, in order to be successful, many species may require different environments or habitats at specific points during their life cycle that are available in different locations in a watershed stream network. A variety of things can become barriers to connectivity: man-made barriers, such as culverts, dams, and causeways; and natural barriers, such as chutes or falls, or temporary barriers from beaver dams. How does one measure how ‘connected’ a watershed area might be? The measure used by Parks Canada ecologists to evaluate connectivity is called the ‘Dendritic Connectivity Index’ or DCI. Developed using a mathematical formula as a way of quantifying the structural connectivity of watersheds, this index also assists with identifying which barriers can be repaired and improve connectivity the most. To learn more about DCI see Coté et al. 2011.

    Acadian Forest Region Reforestation – Forest Ecosystem Restoration

    The Acadian forest region, characterized by a mixture of hardwood and softwood trees including sugar maple, yellow birch, American beech, eastern hemlock, eastern white pine, and red spruce is found in the Maritime Provinces and elsewhere in Eastern Canada and the Northeastern United States.

    The forests that now exist in Prince Edward Island National Park occupy lands that were at one time largely cleared of its Acadian forest species for the purposes of agriculture. When Prince Edward Island National Park was created in 1937, much of the new park land had been used for agriculture and cleared of the traditional mixed Acadian forest species. Over the past 75 years, these former fields grew primarily white spruce, with few other species typical of Acadian forest.

    Many white spruce stands in Prince Edward Island National Park are reaching the end of their lifespan (50-70 years) and have become a serious fire hazard. White spruce stands are also less capable of providing the habitat necessary to sustain a greater diversity of flora and fauna and are limited in their ability to produce the variety of tree seeds needed to restore native Acadian forests. To restore white spruce stands in Prince Edward Island National Park to a native Acadian forest, a low-impact forest restoration strategy is being applied. This strategy includes using strip cuts, small-patch cuts, thinning and under-planting, crown release, and the installation of cage protection around newly planted trees. Similar to the effects of small-scale natural disturbances, strip cuts and small-patch cuts create gaps in the canopy that produce temperature and moisture conditions well suited for the growth of desired tree species. For example, smaller patch cuts are suitable for promoting shade-tolerant species like sugar maple and red spruce, while larger ones are more suitable for shade-intolerant species like red oak.

    The 2007 Parks Canada Management Plan for Prince Edward Island National Park identified Acadian forest restoration as a priority in order to increase the ecological integrity of the forest ecosystem. A plan has been drafted and priorities are being clarified. The 1,200 hectares of forest in Prince Edward Island National Park will one day be a showcase of the native Acadian forest. This is a vast undertaking whose results will not be apparent this year or next year, but rather in several decades. Meanwhile, work towards this long-term goal has already begun adjacent to the Farmlands and Bubbling Springs Trails in PEI National Park. Under the direction of Parks Canada, members of the Friends of Covehead and Brackley Bay Watershed Group have planted strips cuts that were made in the white spruce forest near the trails. In addition to this initiative, other low intensity forestry and restoration approaches will be implemented over the next years as part of this special project.

    Our reforestation plans hope to set the stage for healthier forests―forests with a variety of trees at all stages of growth, as well as shrubs and plants, flowers, and mosses on the forest floor.

    What is the ‘Acadian Forest?’

    The type of forest referred to as the ‘Acadian Forest’ is found in the three Canadian Maritime Provinces – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island – in Southern Quebec and the Northeastern United States. In essence, it is the result of the meeting of the Northern Boreal forest and Southern hardwoods. Unique in its composition, the Acadian Forest is home to 32 species of trees, where the sugar maple, eastern hemlock, white pine, and American beech are absent.

    Prince Edward Island is currently known as a farming province. Nicknamed the ‘hundred acre farm’ and often likened to a patchwork quilt when its network of fields and roads are viewed from the air, it is difficult to visualize that PEI was once entirely forested. After the arrival of European settlers to the area in the early 1800s most of the forests of PEI were cleared. Early Island residents describe finding huge trees and the challenges presented by the need to clear many of them to allow for development and farming. Our ancestors were quite successful in eventually clearing the land. By 1900, Prince Edward Island had changed from 98% forest coverage to about 30%. Later, during the Depression era of the 1930s, many farmers abandoned their farms leaving open fields. Largely depleted of nutrients from many years of pre-crop rotation farming practices, these fields began to fill with one of the only tree species able to easily take root there – the white spruce.

    If you look today at many of the wooded areas on PEI, you will notice the abundance of white spruce monoculture forests. This is problematic because the trees are almost all the same age and have low biodiversity. A healthy forest has trees at all stages of growth and is composed of many different species – from small plants and mosses on the forest floor, to shrubbery, to softwood trees, and to hardwood trees. Correcting these issues and re-setting the stage for healthier forests in the future is no small task, but it is of the highest importance if we are to see a return of the original Acadian forest species on PEI.

    Planting Trees with the Friends of Covehead and Brackley Bay Watershed Group – Forest Ecosystem Restoration

    Strip cuts and small patch cuts create gaps in the canopy that produce temperature and moisture conditions well suited for the growth of desired tree species
    © Parks Canada

    In cooperation with Parks Canada, members of the Friends of Covehead and Brackley Bay Watershed Group have planted strips cuts that were made in the white spruce forest near the Farmlands Trail in PEI National Park. Just like small-scale natural disturbances, these cleared strips create gaps in the canopy producing temperature and moisture conditions suited to the growth of the desired tree species.

    Work on this project began in early October 2013 and is now complete. The Watershed Group planted 5,000 seedlings of Acadian forest tree species that were either not well represented or missing altogether, such as eastern white pine, eastern hemlock, yellow birch, red oak, red spruce, and sugar maple. This will encourage a renewal of species diversity and overall forest health. With the success of this effort, Parks Canada and the Friends of Covehead and Brackley Bay Watershed Group may work on future initiatives together.

    Balsam Hollow Trail – Forest Ecosystem Restoration

    Info page: Balsam Hollow Trail – Forest Ecosystem Restoration

    Brackley Day-Use and Group Tenting Area – Forest Ecosystem Restoration

    The Brackley Day-Use and Group Tenting Area encompassed approximately 5 hectares (about 100 meters wide by 500 meters long) of land in the Brackley area of PEI National Park. This is an older area of the park that has been in use for many years, but, recently, it has experienced reduced demand and use. There was also concern about the waste water disposal systems and their potential impact on the tertiary dune systems nearby. For these reasons, the area has been identified for inclusion in the greater ecological restoration plan as a location for reforestation and the decision was made to close it.

    Group tenting activities have been relocated to Stanhope Campground, the tennis court has been closed, and a large portion of the day-use area has been left to regenerate naturally. We will do our best to accommodate groups (who had used the area for events) elsewhere in the park. Restoration and reforestation work is scheduled to begin in 2015.

    Cavendish Grove – Forest Ecosystem Restoration

    Cavendish Grove became part of Prince Edward Island National Park in 2005 and there have been many discussions about the future identity of this treasured place. Since that time, the buildings and infrastructure of the former amusement park have been removed and hiking and biking trails developed to create an expanded network of trails in the Cavendish area. A new washroom was also built. Visitors were invited to use the area for picnicking in a peaceful, natural, park-like setting. This natural oasis in the heart of Cavendish, referred to affectionately as ‘The Grove,’ has been identified as a focal point for restoration work, with the additional potential of enhancing visitor experience opportunities.

    The general plan is to establish Cavendish Grove as a ‘green space,’ which, by definition, means an area composed primarily of natural things rather than, for example, buildings. This kind of restoration supports Canada’s National Conservation Plan, an initiative that aims to restore Canada’s ecosystems and contribute to the conservation of Canada’s lands and waters through concrete action. Some aspects of the plan for the area are clear, such as the restoration of the ponds, but when it came to the elements connected to visitors’ needs, it is less clear. It was decided to seek assistance from the best source: you. Last fall, we invited you to give us feedback and tell us your ideas about how Cavendish Grove could be a more satisfying place for you as well as for visitors who may use the green space in the future. Over 140 local residents, businesses, and interested members of the greater community sent in comments. The responses were analyzed and, overwhelmingly, people said that they would like:

    …trails, with family-friendly picnic facilities and good signage, using natural materials in natural surroundings…

    We hope to restore the man-made ponds to a natural condition and the forest to its former diversity, and, at the same time, enhance opportunities for visitor experience. A comprehensive plan will be developed in the fall of 2015 to guide the restoration and development of this natural oasis in the bustling community of Cavendish. Possibilities include new low-impact infrastructure, such as picnic and rest areas, additional trails, and learning experiences for visitors using, for example, panels, exhibits, or displays.

    Reducing Our ‘Footprint’ - Forest Ecosystem Restoration

    Infrastructure removal is an important aspect of restoring the ecological integrity in Prince Edward Island National Park. We have already begun this process in a variety of locations as a way of reducing our overall ‘footprint’ in the park. As part of this task, sixty-five buildings were selected for assessment by Parks Canada staff for their usefulness, condition, historic value, and for the possible occurrence of contaminants. Through this analysis, they were all identified for removal and, in 2014, twenty-seven were demolished. These buildings were unused, dilapidated, and/or contained hazardous materials. For many of the buildings, demolition was a straightforward job―the buildings were taken down, the material disposed of according to regulations, and topsoil added to the land where the buildings had been.

    For buildings which were being removed for containing a hazardous substance, great care was taken. A company specialising in the testing for hazardous waste was contracted to examine the structures that had been selected for demolition. Asbestos and lead are examples of what was found in some of the buildings. The materials were safely removed, and disposal was arranged as per the Provincial Regulations.

    In another instance, the presence of an invasive plant, garlic mustard, was found near buildings slated for demolition. Extensive measures were taken to prevent the spread of this non-native species, which is capable of overtaking ecosystems. The soil in which garlic mustard seeds were likely to be found was removed. Once removed, the ground was covered with landscape fabric and a twenty-five centimeter layer of clean topsoil placed on its surface. Garlic mustard plants and any debris that could have been contaminated by the plants were burned on site. In addition, the heavy equipment necessary for this project remained on location until the work was completed. Prior to leaving the site, the equipment was thoroughly washed and scrubbed, eliminating the possibility of spreading the infestation. Similar procedures were applied to boots, gloves, equipment―everything was cleaned before it left the site. These measures are expected to prevent any remaining seeds from sprouting, and Parks Canada staff will monitor for this. Fortunately, most of the structures that were removed did not require these types of intensive treatment.

    Reforestation of the sites is expected to begin in 2015 and will focus on planting Acadian forest species, another step towards our goal of restoring the forest in Prince Edward Island National Park.

    Robinsons Island - Forest Ecosystem Restoration

    In 1937 the federal government acquired Robinsons Island as part of PEI National Park. The ecological diversity of Robinsons Island includes various softwood and mixed forest stands, bogs, swamps, open fields, as well as coastal upland till, beach, and salt marsh sites. This habitat diversity provides breeding habitat and staging areas for a variety of birds including the endangered Piping Plover. Robinsons Island is also home to important archaeological finds.

    Its once popular campground was closed in 2005 because of declining use and high operating costs. Also, the sandy beach nearby had been lost to coastal erosion. As part of the effort to restore the island to a more natural state with a healthy forest ecosystem, Parks Canada has removed the facilities and related infrastructure. The reforestation plan for the former campground area will focus on Acadian forest species, especially those largely absent from the landscape, such as sugar maple, yellow birch, and eastern hemlock.

    In the area formerly occupied by the campground, we have created a new, multi-use trail system designed with young, active families in mind. The six kilometer, stacked-loop-design trail will take visitors all around Robinsons Island and include beach access points and observation stations with spotting scopes that will expand exploration of the beautiful coastal views. For the more adventurous cyclist, there is a series of mountain biking spurs, designed with the help of the International Mountain Biking Association and Cycling PEI, just off the main trail. These technical trail features are aimed at the beginner to intermediate-level mountain biker. Interactive interpretive panels will be installed in June 2015 to help people connect with the natural and cultural heritage of this special place.

    The Robinsons Island project supports Canada's National Conservation Plan (NCP) by taking practical action in the three priority areas of conserving Canada’s lands and waters, restoring Canada’s ecosystems, and connecting Canadians to nature. A major component of any future plan will be the planting of native Acadian forest species to encourage a rejuvenation of the original Island forest ecosystem.

    The new face for Robinsons Island, carved from the landscape itself, will showcase its history and nature, and encourage visitors and residents alike to explore it in a new, engaging way. At the same time, the reforestation initiatives taking root here will encourage a rebirth of the Acadian forest. A wonderful example of the possibilities for restored areas, the conservation work taking place here should result in a true gem for all, and return it to a place of discovery and natural exploration.

    Cavendish Sandspit Road and Dune Restoration – Coastal Ecosystem Restoration

    Machinery is used to remove shale from the former roadbed. The project at Cavendish Sandspit will see the road removed and the marsh restored.
    © Parks Canada

    The 2007 PEI National Park Management Plan indicated that the removal of the Cavendish Sandspit Road was imperative to restoring the ecological health of the salt marsh that was divided by the road. The road had been originally constructed to provide access to a beach facility, which was closed in the late 1990s because of migrating sand. The road itself was closed in the summer of 2012 because of migrating sand and so that restoration work could proceed. An alternate access was provided with its starting point in the Cavendish Campground to give traditional users continued access to their favourite beach location.

    A contract to carry out the road removal part of the project was awarded and the roadbed was removed in a careful, step-by-step process. Surrounding areas were monitored to assess the impact of this work on the ecosystem. The work was carried out in phases, beginning where the road connects with the Homestead Trail. There were five phases to the road removal, and restoration measures associated with each were implemented before moving onto subsequent phases.

    This restoration area was treated somewhat differently than others in PEI National Park. With forest already on either side of the former roadway, Parks Canada was essentially filling in the gap rather than starting from open field. Normally, an area would be planted with shrubs and softwoods in order to eliminate grass before introducing hardwood trees as part of re-creating normal forest succession patterns but, in this case, with the treed areas already present nearby, softwood and hardwood trees were introduced at the same time.

    Replanting of the area took place in 2014; the young native shrubs and trees grew well despite a hot, dry summer. Monitoring will continue at select locations to assess the impact that the road removal and restoration has had on the surrounding ecosystems and long-term recovery goals. With the road removed, salinity levels of the marsh are being measured to determine the effectiveness of the restoration efforts and early results indicate that they have been successful.

    Dune restoration work at PEI National Park
    © Parks Canada
    Parks Canada staff "planting" dead coniferous trees in sand dune
    © Parks Canada

    Parks Canada ecologists have undertaken another restoration project in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island National Park, to recover a dune blowout that had been used for beach access.

    To restore the structure and function of the dune as well as to improve ecological integrity in Prince Edward Island National Park, Scotch pine (which was removed from other areas of the park as part of the invasive species removal program) were placed in the dune blowout to act as a natural catchment for blowing sand. Nursery-raised marram grass was transplanted alongside the trees to help hold the growing dunes in place.

    As sand accumulates around the trees, the trees will provide structure and nutrients to the growing dune. A combination of anchoring trees upright by ‘planting’ them in the sand and laying some of the trees down in the blowout are used to maximize the potential of this restoration effort.

    Measuring sticks have been erected in five locations in the dune blowout to monitor the sand that accumulates there after being captured in the trees, branches, and needles.

    Monitoring the Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster – Coastal Ecosystem Restoration

    The Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster (Symphyotrichum laurentianum) has been listed as a threatened species since 2004. It is a small, annual plant that grows in areas of high salinity, such as at the edges of salt marshes and along the margins of ponds behind coastal dunes. This rare plant was historically found in seven places on Prince Edward Island, with six of those locations occurring within PEI National Park. But, in recent years, it had only been found at Blooming Point in the park. Happily, in 2014, five plants were found at Campbell’s Pond outflow after having been absent at this location since 2009.

    In partnership with the University of Prince Edward Island, a study was done to investigate the possibility of transplanting greenhouse-grown Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster to the habitat at Blooming Point. Ongoing monitoring of results indicate that transplants survive and reproduce at the site. It is unknown, however, if the technique can sustain the population over the long term. Parks Canada continues to monitor the presence of the Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster at current and historically-occupied sites.