By: Christina Richards Natural Heritage Education Staff, Bon Echo Provincial Park After your visit to Bon Echo Provincial Park, what stands out in your memory? For many it is Mazinaw Rock and for others the deer that wandered into their campsite. Most people do not come to Bon Echo solely for the impressive forest, but when you think back on your experience, it may be one of the sights you remember most. Whether you are camping in Sawmill Bay or hiking on the Abes and Essens Trail, you are surrounded by a canopy of trees, lush plants and undergrowth that provide unrivalled scenery, ideal for both photography and recreation. The trees at Bon Echo today are part of a new-growth forest, making these trees relatively young. A new-growth forest is a forest that has been cut or burned and is now regenerating. In this case it is due to the fact that the Bon Echo area was extensively logged during the mid-1800s for its old-growth pine trees. However, Bon Echo is still home to one of the few remaining old-growth forests in North America. Mazinaw Rock supports a rare species of trees, known as Ancient White Cedars which can live up to 1500 years! The reason this species lives so long is because they grow extremely slowly, with the oldest ones measuring in at less than 3 metres tall and 30 cm thick. These trees are incredibly stunning, yet we must continue to do our part to ensure their survival. Due to its location, Bon Echo is also part of the transition forest of the southern Canadian Shield. This makes Bon Echo a mixed forest region because it contains a variety of coniferous and deciduous trees including red oak, spruce and sugar maple. The forested area covers the majority of Bon Echo’s land mass and is also home to additional species such as animals, birds, insects and fungi, making the forest one of the park’s most precious resources. Forests are also one of the world’s most valued natural resources, yet it is easy for us to take them for granted and many of us do. To some, these vast expanses of trees seem inactive because of their relatively quiet nature. However, trees are incredibly active organisms that work hard to provide humans with many of our needs. They not only supply us with products such as food and paper, but also contribute to our outdoor recreational experiences, including those at Bon Echo. Forests provide us with jobs, including tree planters and construction workers, and even provide habitats for various organisms. But most importantly, forests act as the lungs of the earth by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen and absorbing pollutants from the air. This purifies the air and allows humans to breathe in clean oxygen. Forests also clean the soil, act as windbreaks, and keep the planet cool. Without a doubt, forests are incredibly essential to human existence on Earth. However, there is a problem. A big problem. We are losing many of our forests worldwide every year, mostly due to urban sprawl and development. This means we are also losing all the services forests provide, including clean air and water. These are services we depend on for survival, yet every day around the world, we are destroying forests whose main purpose is to keep both ourselves and the earth healthy. We need to be a balance between lumbering and conserving trees, or else the damage we are doing could make forests a thing of the past. This is where the United Nations comes in. The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed the year 2011 as the International Year of Forests in order to promote awareness about the extensive role forests play worldwide. The UN is attempting to raise awareness on sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all forest types. Many organizations around the world, including Ontario Parks, are celebrating the International Year of Forests through various events that will help promote discussion on and knowledge of the importance of forests. At Bon Echo, we emphasize not only protection of our natural resources but also education to help increase awareness and appreciation of these resources. You can do your part for Bon Echo’s forests by not trimming tree branches to make way for your campsite or for firewood. Please let wood lay where it falls because when wood is picked up off the ground and burned, forest habitats are destroyed. Also, we ask that you do not bring in your own firewood, because this promotes the spread of invasive species, such as the emerald ash borer, which is doing great damage to our forests. If we each do our part day by day, we can ensure that healthy forests will benefit and be enjoyed by generations to come. During the upcoming summer months, Bon Echo Provincial Park will be hosting a variety of informative and interactive events in honour of the International Year of Forests, including evening and children’s programs, as well as hikes. Come on out and celebrate our forests with us!