Port Franks Forested Dunes (ON024)
Port Franks, Ontario
Altitude 178 - 217m
The Port Franks Dune Forest complex lies along the Lake Huron Shoreline just to the south of Grand Bend in Lambton County. In all, the forest complex covers over 45km² and is the largest forested area on the eastern shore of Lake Huron south of the Bruce Peninsula. The whole site is nearly contiguous forest, and includes important areas such as Pinery Provincial Park, Lambton County Heritage Forest, Port Franks Forested Dunes and Wetlands, Karner Blue Sanctuary, and the Kettle Point Indian Reserve.
The forest complex is generally comprised of a series of wooded dunes (oak and pine) that extend inland from the Lake Huron shoreline. The oldest dunes, which are situated farthest inland, are nearly 25 m high. A series of low wet interdunal meadows and ponds lie between the dune ridges. The varied topography and mix of wetland and upland habitats make the forest complex very diverse. The area supports an exceptional concentration of provincially and nationally threatened vegetation communities, flora, and fauna.
The Port Franks Forest Complex supports an exceptional concentration of threatened bird species. At least six species identified as threatened in Canada have bred here in recent years, and two additional threatened species have historically bred here. These threatened species include: Hooded Warbler (Nationally Threatened) - ten territories were reported from the Port Franks Forested Dunes and Wetlands section in 1994, and nine territories were recorded from this section in 1997. This may represent as much as 6.9% of Canada's estimated Hooded Warbler population; Acadian Flycatcher (Nationally Endangered) - one territory was reported in 1997 - fewer than 50 pairs of this species are estimated in Canada; Red-Headed Woodpecker (Nationally Vulnerable) - 5 to 10 pairs consistently nest within the forest complex (close to 1% of the estimated national population); Cerulean Warbler (Nationally Vulnerable) - at least three singing males were recorded in 1997; Louisiana Waterthrush (National Vulnerable) - one singing male was recorded in 1997; and Red-shouldered Hawk (Nationally Vulnerable) - one pair nested in 1998. Threatened species that formerly nested in the forest complex include: Prothonotary Warbler (Nationally Endangered) - for three years in the mid-1980s one pair bred successfully at Pinery Provincial Park; and Prairie Warblers (Nationally Vulnerable, although recently downlisted May 1999) - as many as 20 pairs were present in the 1970s, 6 pairs were present in the early 1980s, and unfortunately, only one sighting since.
In addition to threatened species, the forest complex is significant for forest birds in general, with 15 to possibly 18 species of breeding wood warblers being recorded during surveys completed in 1994 and 1997. Large numbers of warblers and other songbirds also congregate in the forests along the lake shore during both the spring and fall migrations. From a landscape perspective, the forest complex is well situated to act as a 'bottleneck', and invertebrates are likely abundant due to the proximity of the lake and the numerous wetlands. However, numbers of migrants are not well documented.
The significance of the Port Franks Forest Complex is widely recognized, and many sections are ostensibly conserved through ownership by several conservation-minded organizations. Likewise, the Lambton County Official Plan considers the entire forest block from Kettle Point to Grand Bend as an 'anchor site' for ecological functions because of its size and almost 100% forest cover. These forested dunes, however, are increasingly attractive to cottage development and incompatible activities such as all-terrain vehicle use through the sensitive dune ecosystem. Conservation and management of the site is complicated by the multi-level nature of the institutions that are involved, including First Nation, private land owner, municipal, provincial and federal interests. Fortunately, there is a strong local interest in conserving the areas natural values, which will facilitate conservation efforts.
Potential or Ongoing Threats