A Commentary by John Bacher
Posted April 1st, 2016 on Niagara At Large
On the evening of Thursday, April 7th, 2016, the Niagara, Ontario’s regional council is expected to debate a motion – quickly passed as a matter of “new business” at a regional planning committee meeting this March 30th – to ask the provincial government to gut its wetland protection policies for the sake of some sprawling residential and commercial development proposed within the boundaries of Niagara Falls.
Since 1993, these policies have prohibited development or site alteration on provincially significant wetlands – wetlands that often serve as habitat for rare species which is why their presence results in them receiving high scores in wetland evaluation scoring exercises.
The Niagara Region Chair Alan Caslin, who is leading the charge to change the provincial policy, has termed 13 acres of wetland now under consideration for destruction in the City of Niagara Falls through what the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority is calling a bio-diversity offsetting pilot project as “standing in the way of progress.”
Progress can be achieved by recreating the lost wetland somewhere else, so we are being told by the Conservation Authority’s brass. While discussions about this have been going behind the back doors with the province, it is an act of desperation to come out of the closet and pass a formal motion for a specific development.
It was previously claimed by Conservation Authority officials that it was farmers, not developers, who were to be the beneficiaries of bio-diversity offsetting. This myth has now been revealed as a cruel and deceptive hoax.
In discussions of the proposed bio-diversity offsetting pilot to facilitate one particular development in Niagara Falls, there has never been any discussion of why wetland habitat is protected here.
Protection in a forested complex identified in the Niagara Region’s only study of environmental sensitive areas known as the Ramsey Road Forest came as a result of a mediated settlement in connection with an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board. (OMB) As a result, previously barred scientists were allowed access to the site. The forest became protected because it is home to rare Black Gum trees and breeding habitat for the Blue-Spotted Salamander.
Where wetland offsetting has been attempted on forested sites, the record has frequently been a failure. Forests take a long time to grow to maturity, and the Black Gum is one of our slowest growing swamp trees. Success has been proclaimed simply by growing trees and examples of salamander habitat being restored have not actually been attempted. These are important species that enrich the region of the world’s postglacial soils.
Regional councillors who support swamp offsetting for the whims of developers are the ultimate snake oil salesmen.
It is they, and not the wetlands they seek to destroy, who are the real barriers to progress.
John Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario and long-time member of the citizen group, Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society. A past contributor of posts to Niagara At Large, his most recent book is called ‘Two Billion Trees and Counting – The Legacy of Edmund Zavitz’. John also works with the Greenbelt Program Team at the Sierra Club of Canada Foundation.
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