By Jenn South – Special to the Sydenham Current
Allen Woodliffe, a retired MNR ecologist, grew up on a farm just outside of Rondeau Provincial Park.
As a youth, Allen would spend endless days with friends, hunting, fishing, or biking to Rondeau. His grandparents also owned a cottage in the park where Allen would spend a few weeks each summer. Allen’ s connection to the Chatham-Kent area has held strong for his entire life because Allen and his family still live in the area and Allen still goes to Rondeau a few times a week.
Allen has always been interested in nature. He credits his curiosity to the numerous camping excursions and trips that his family took across Canada and USA visiting National and Provincial Parks. Growing up in the country, Allen’s parents instilled a stewardship ethic in him while working the agricultural land.
Allen recalled being out in the field plowing with his father, coming across a Horned Lark’s nest and his father raising the plow so the nest wouldn’t be harmed.
Allen came to work at Rondeau during the summer months during university and upon his graduation a full time job awaited him at the park.
Allen ran the Natural Heritage program for 10 years.
During his time working at Rondeau, Allen became very interested in prairie habitats.
He has been involved in working with some of the best prairie in Canada, including the Walpole Island First Nation and provincially owned Ojibway Prairie in Windsor.
The Windsor site had been owned by a company in the 1930’s and was supposed to be developed.
That development never took place and the site sat empty for decades.
Allen was tasked with writing a vegetation management plan that specifically dealt with invasive species and ways to enhance the prairie using tools such as fire.
Allen’s management plan helped to improve the prairie so significantly that the North American Prairie Conference was held there in 1992.
The management plan was last modified by Allen in 1997 and is still in use at Ojibway Prairie today.
Although I have only mentioned some of Allen’s achievements in this story, it is worth mentioning that Allen has spent his entire career contributing bits and pieces to numerous small and large-scale projects throughout Chatham-Kent and beyond.
He is a well-known and respected ecologist in the community and is often being asked to lend his opinion and expertise. Allen even has a retirement project under way, creating a coffee table type book about none other than Rondeau Provincial Park.
Allen is an ecologist at heart, and I was privileged enough to hear his mantra during our interview,
“Dealing with species at risk rather than spaces at risk, is like treating a life threatening illness with an aspirin.”
This quote speaks to Allen’s system approach to ecology and to what has made him such an excellent naturalist.
Students in a Restoration Ecology class at Western University, in collaboration with Carolinian Canada Coalition and the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, interviewed members of the Chatham-Kent community about their connection with nature. The resulting stories celebrate these connections and the above story is a highlight from the project.