Volunteer Spotlight: Matthew Palarchio

Matthew Palarchio is one of Thames Talbot Land Trust’s newer and (probably) the youngest of our consistent supporters. His interest in the natural world started from a very early age. “When I was a boy, my mother took me on hikes in local natural areas of London, ON. I am also lucky to have a cottage on Lake Superior, where I spent the summers. In eighth grade, I had a little infatuation with trees, as I discovered that the forest was remarkably diverse. Into high school, I self-studied trees, so by the time I volunteered with TTLT in Grade 11, I could identify most trees in London’s natural areas, even when leafless.”

Matthew takes a special interest in “sick” trees - those that are functionally extinct due to invasive species - “namely Chestnut, Elm, Ash and Butternut, maybe Beech depending on the severity of Beech bark and Beech leaf diseases.” Determined to do something, Matthew became a member of the Canadian Chestnut Council (CCC). He informs us that “the CCC is an organization that seeks to restore the American Chestnut to its ecological niche in Eastern North America’s forests, using a method that involves crossbreeding American Chestnuts with those that are resistant to the Chestnut Blight. Through their efforts, they have significantly improved the survival rate of planted Chestnuts. Blight resistance is gradually increasing as the likelihood of new Chestnut trees inheriting the 3 genes needed for blight resistance increases as a result of the breeding program.”

Born and raised in London, ON, he is currently attending Catholic Central Highschool (CCH), which is coincidentally one of the schools that participates in the TTLT Schools Program, where he strives to achieve 90% or more in most of his classes. Earlier this year, Matthew was a part of the Environmental Leadership Program at CCH, which was unfortunately cancelled due to COVID-19. “However, the new reality of COVID-19 has stimulated me to think of other ways to get involved with conservation efforts.” His interest in birding took flight (pardon the pun), where he discovered that, much like trees, birds were far more diverse than he originally thought. Over the last eight months, he has mastered bird ID for several species, but is always striving to learn more. “Recently I have downloaded Merlin (for birding) so I can identify birds by call.” Additionally, he discovered the iNaturalist app, which has been a highly effective tool for studying the understory and ground layer plants of Ontario’s northern and southern forests. It was also during this time that he decided to get more involved with TTLT.

“I first heard of Thames Talbot Land Trust early in 2019 at the Go wild Grow Wild expo in the Western Fair district.” Upon discovering that TTLT was a conservation organization for the local region, he became very interested in the Trust’s conservation efforts of Canada’s remaining Carolinian forest, “which is Canada’s most biodiverse ecosystem, but also an ecosystem that has been nearly 90% destroyed, and the remaining areas heavily fragmented.” This guy knows his stuff! He decided to enroll in TTLT’s Biodiversity Boss program, a program that provides youth with conservation education involving invasive species removal, tree ID, and ecosystem analysis. “With time, my interests and knowledge in ecology, ecological restoration, and land conservation have steadily grown.” He decided to continue this education with TTLT by participating in the Biodiversity Boss program for a second, consecutive year.

More recently, Matthew has begun increasing his contributions to conservation through TTLT volunteer opportunities. “I registered for an Abolish the Olive event at Joany’s Woods in October. All the staff and volunteers were very welcoming. I was surprised by how much Autumn Olive had been [removed] in the span of 3 hours.” His determination to prevent the invasive species from dominating Joany’s Woods ecological communities resulted in a pile of Autumn Olive cuttings measuring 200m long at the end of the day. He also learned that the soil composition at Joany’s Woods is silty clay soils. “This information will be beneficial when restoring areas around Joany’s Woods or in areas with similar soils because they tend to create similar ecological communities.” Again, he really knows his stuff. Accomplishing that major feat, Matthew was ready to do more, so he volunteered at the Meadowlily Nature Preserve Buckthorn Bust in early November and at the Wardsville Woods Abolish the Olive event this past Saturday. While at Meadowlily, he saw a Great Blue Heron in the water and a couple of woodpeckers drilling on the trees. “I also learned that the fuzzy beige ball formations on the Oak leaves were caused by insects, something I did not know before.”

At his age, Matthew has many experiences to look forward to. “I hope to pursue a degree in the Ecological field at the university level. After that, I hope to become more involved in the study of Ecology, Conservation and Ecological Restoration.” He also plans to continue volunteering with TTLT, as it provides him with positive experiences and the opportunity to meet people with similar interests. “I am particularly interested in TTLTs efforts to conserve Canada’s remaining Carolinian Forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems, especially in the Skunk’s Misery Area. Skunk’s Misery, in particular, is very significant for land conservation due to its high biodiversity and the much larger woodlot sizes (2-3x more forest cover) compared to surrounding areas (which also indicates a smaller agricultural footprint). I am very appreciative of TTLTs efforts in this area, as I see Skunk’s Misery as a potential area to recreate a “biosphere” – an intact large natural area where living organisms and the environment can interact freely with little human interference. Skunks Misery can potentially develop into an intact ecosystem and become the most biodiverse area in Canada.” He believes that such an outcome could also become a global reality. “If we can learn to restore ecosystems in small areas successfully, in high priority areas formerly used for anthropic purposes, replicating this will help restore the global ecosystem to an intact and healthy condition - recreating a healthy planet.”  

1st & 2nd Photos Courtesy of Matthew Palarchio

3rd Photo by Daria Koscinski