By John Bacher
Those who are concerned with wildlife in Niagara should pay keen attention to the upcoming provincial review of the Greenbelt.
Urban sprawl is the biggest threat to wildlife in Niagara. It prevents the return of extirpated species and threatens species that continue to survive, most notably amphibians that perish from higher road density and increased toxins.
Urban environment drives out bluebirds, oven birds and scarlet tanagers, replacing them with a monoculture of starlings and house sparrows. The last time the Red Headed Woodpecker was seen in neighbouring Burlington, Ontario was when a subdivision, now called Woodpecker Woods was raised over its former habitat.
One of the bizarre impacts of urbanization and the subsequent fragmentation of habitat is more genetic uniformity. This makes wildlife more vulnerable to new diseases.
In Florida, it was discovered that broken up habitat blocks through genetic uniformity was wiping out the native panther by fostering greater heart disease. A study by the U.S. National Park Service in California found more genetic uniformity from urbanization in four lizard species. To its shock, the Park Service also found that even birds, previously thought able to fly over habitat barriers, suffered.
The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority has done considerable research on amphibian species. One species that vanishes in any urban environment here is the Wood Frog. Another that is confined to swamp forests away from urban settlements is the Blue Salamander.
One of the big killers of wildlife from urbanization are the increased road densities. In addition to the carnage from traffic collisions, there is more dangerous poisoning from the chemicals that are more common in urban environments. Of these one of the most studied in terms of wiping out wildlife are road salts used in de-icing.
Amphibians are especially vulnerable to road salt because of their permeable skin, which is crucial to respiration. In laboratory experiments, higher sodium levels have been found to cause an increase in mortality and deformations in Wood Frogs. The survival of the larvae of the Green Frog has been demonstrated to shrink with higher sodium levels. Salamanders have been poisoned out of wetlands impacted by road salts.
The province’s review of the Greenbelt – an area of Niagara, Ontario and the Golden Horseshoe stretching around Lake Ontario procted from further urban sprawl – and the complimentary Growth Plan provides an opportunity to prevent the spread of forms of urbanization fatal to wildlife.
A clear demand should be made that all the remaining agriculturally and environmentally owned land in the Carolinian southern Greenbelt zone be added to the Greenbelt.
To urged such serious action, come out to the public meeting on Wednesday, April 15 in St. Catharines, from 6 to 9 pm, at Holiday Inn, Parkway Convention Centre, 327 Ontario Street.
John Bacher is working with the Greenbelt Program team at the Sierra Club Canada Foundation and the Niagara-based citizens group, the Preservation of Agriculture Lands Society. This is the first in a series on articles on the review. Later articles on the review will deal with wildlife, forests, fruitland , water pollution, the Niagara Escarpment and forests.
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