Spring has sprung – Metrolinx kicks off spring tree planting season with regional conservation partners throughout the GTHA

Metrolinx continues to work with conservation authorities to make the region a greener and more biologically diverse place – while preparing for GO Expansion, the largest transit expansion project in Canadian history. Find out below just how many trees have been planted, so far.

Spring is in the air – which means Metrolinx has once again teamed up with its regional conservation partners to plant native trees and shrubs.

Planting is happening throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) as part of the transit agency’s tree compensation program.

To support a faster, more efficient, and greener transit system, some trees and vegetation within Metrolinx-owned rail corridors have to be pruned or removed to make way for overhead wires and other electrification infrastructure.

As part of GO Expansion, Metrolinx has been working with conservation authorities to fund and coordinate tree plantings across the region to compensate for trees removed from within its rail corridors – which started before a single tree was removed.

people planting a sapling
Metrolinx has worked with several conservation authorities to plant tens of thousands of trees and shrubs. (Metrolinx photo)

Through partnerships with Central Lake Ontario Conservation, Conservation Halton, Credit Valley Conservation, Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, 25,649 native trees and shrubs have been planted since spring 2020 in Toronto and surrounding regions.

A greener region, one tree at a time

This year, plantings wrapped up for Central Lake Ontario Conservation, Credit Valley Conservation, Conservation Halton and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

“I am proud to see the completion of most GO Expansion-funded conservation plantings,” says Gretel Green, Metrolinx environmental programs manager.

Green says working with regional conservation authorities has enabled Metrolinx to enhance the function of natural areas. She says native species were selected to support specific habitat restoration in the areas where trees were removed.

Volunteers help with the planting of 536 trees and 975 shrubs at Conservation Halton’s Oakville site. (Metrolinx image)

Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) has planted 4,871 of 10,708 native trees and shrubs on behalf of Metrolinx. Plantings will continue through the spring and fall planting season.

The native species being planted by LSRCA include Bur Oak, Silver Maple, White Pine, White Spruce, White Cedar and many more.

Planting sites are located in Aurora, Barrie, East Gwillimbury, King City, and Newmarket.

Home sweet home

As part of Metrolinx’s  tree compensation program, the transit agency is also working in partnership with regional conservation authorities to increase bat habitat in the region – specifically habitat for the Little Brown Myotis, Northern Myotis and Tri-coloured bat – all identified by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks as species at risk.

Rocket boxes or ‘bat boxes,’ are habitats that provide shelter for bats during roosting season, which takes place in spring, summer and fall.

The rocket box doubles as a guano collection trap.

a bat box and guano collector from a below angle
A rocket box at Sixteen Mile Creek Valley Conservation Area in Mississauga (Mike Heyming, Conservation Halton photo) 

Bats enter the rocket box from an opening at the bottom. Once inside, the bats use the elongated vertical walls to suspend themselves when roosting.

Any guano collected will be analyzed to determine what species of bat are calling the rocket box home.

Two of these rocket boxes have already been installed, with six more going in at various locations through the GTHA.

A lot of thought goes into selecting a location for these habitats – as it turns out, bats are picky when it comes to finding a place to call home.

What are some of the items on their real estate must-have list?

  • To ensure the bats can find food easily, the habitat is located within 400 meters of a woodland, forest or water edge
  • Direct sunlight is needed to keep the habitat warm – boxes must face south, east, or west
  • To avoid both predation and shading, the habitat is placed 7-9 meters from the nearest tree branches, hydro lines or other obstacles – and at least 50 meters away from roads and rail lines
  • The height of the box is important, ranging from approximately 2.5 metres to a maximum of 3.5 metres above the ground

Conservation authorities identify locations for the rocket boxes and are responsible for installing them. They are also tasked with post-installation monitoring of the habitats – which will continue for a period of five years, in partnership with Metrolinx.

tree planting activities
Trees and shrubs have been planted as part of the GO Expansion program from Oakville, to York Region Durham Region – and everywhere in between.

What’s next?

Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority will be installing other bat habitats in Bradford and Innisfil, including three BrandonBark Structures and 24 leaf clusters, which are scheduled for installation in early 2023.

BrandonBark Structures provide a habitat that very closely emulates that of peeling bark on trees. The leaf clusters – primarily used for the Tri-coloured bat – are installed when trees bloom in the spring and resemble dead leaves, which help to camouflage the bats.

Bats are an important part of a healthy and diverse ecosystem.

The information collected over the five-year monitoring period will help inform the transit agency on the success of the habitats, with the hopes to install many more as various transit projects advance throughout the GTHA.

For more information on Metrolinx’s vegetation compensation program, please visit metrolinx.com/vegetation.

If you have questions about GO Expansion or any other Metrolinx projects, contact your regional community engagement team.

Story By Jocelyn Stenner, Metrolinx capital communications senior advisor