The Niagara Escarpment Ancient Cedars

The Niagara Escarpment is home to the oldest ancient forests in eastern North America. These cliff-dwelling cedars (Thuja occidentalis), some of which are over 1500 years old, cling to the face of the Escarpment, rooted in the shallow soil of cracks and crevices. They face drastic temperature fluctuations, high winds, and low nutrient and moisture levels. Due to this harsh environment, cliff dwelling white cedars are considerably smaller in stature than their non-cliff dwelling relatives and have a twisted, gnarled appearance. In fact a 1500 year old tree many only be a few feet tall! Unfortunately, their shrub-like stature makes the cliff-dwelling cedars susceptible to damage during recreational activities, such as rock climbing.

During sport, traditional, or top-rope climbing, cedars may be crushed or torn out if used as foot or hand holds. Climbing can also interfere with the cedars' ability to reproduce as seedlings germinate in minute amounts of dirt that collect on ledges; ledges that are often brushed for use as holds. Even the larger cedars growing back from the cliff edge, are at risk because, over time, top anchors may erode their protective bark.

In collaboration with researchers at the Cliff Ecology Research Group (CERG) at the University of Guelph, Earthroots has launched the Niagara Escarpment Ancient Cedars Education Project, aimed at raising public awareness about this threatened forest.

The CERG researchers discovered this ancient forest only sixteen years ago. The escarpment's 'vertical' ecosystem is considerably different than ecosystems both above and below the cliff face. The ancient cedars are of considerable scientific value and environmental importance. Since their tree rings absorb and store pollutants, scientists have been able to record air quality changes over centuries and the rings can provide information about local climate change for the past 2,700 years.

In the summer of 2001, Earthroots engaged in an intensive climber-focused educational campaign. Numerous climbing gyms, clubs and gear stores have acted as clearinghouses for a new educational pamphlet. Our outreach program was covered in Escarpment area newspapers, Coast Magazine and the popular climbing magazine Gripped. Earthroots hopes the environmental impacts of rock climbing will be minimalized as a result of the campaign and that the ancient cedars of the Escarpment will continue to flourish for years to come.

Earthroots plans to expand this campaign beginning in May 2004. If you are an interested climber who uses the Escarpment and want to get involved please contact Victor Lorentz at or at 416-599-0152 x13 .

Attention Climbers!
Earthroots campaigners and volunteers will be distributing our campaign brochure Responsible Climbing on the Niagara Escarpment at local crags. Climbers look for us at your favourite local crag! Or download a copy by clicking here. Also get a copy of this pamphlet at your local gym or climbing club.

Earthroots is also working with the Alpine Club of Canada ACCess committee and the newly formed Ontario Climbers Coalition to ensure continued access to local cliffs. As numerous wilderness management studies have shown, the closure of popular recreational areas only increases the damage to the ecosystem as users search for new recreational areas. Instead Earthroots proposes a balanced approach to protecting the cedars through park management policies and self-policing within the climbing community. By working together with conservation authorities, Ontario Parks, and the climbing community, Earthroots hopes we can develop a conservation strategy that will protect the cedars and their cliff ecosystems while also maintain climbers' access privileges!

This campaign is made possible through the generous support of Mountain Equipment Co-op, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation's Bruce Peninsula, Burlington, Oakville, Etobicoke, Halton, Milton, South Georgian Bay, Toronto Chapters and the Helen McCrae Peacock Foundation.