Niagara Regional Government’s Controversial Bid To Have Province Wave Wetland Protection Policies For Development Is An Act Of Desperation

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.

Niagara, Ontario's regional council will soon address controversial bid to "off-set" natural wetlands to make way for urban development

Niagara, Ontario’s regional council will soon address controversial bid to “off-set” natural wetlands to make way for urban development

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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8 responses to “Niagara Regional Government’s Controversial Bid To Have Province Wave Wetland Protection Policies For Development Is An Act Of Desperation

  1. Why do you not show what we will lose forever? Some good p[ictures are more worth than many words and they are also more convincing.

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  2. It is absolutely unconscionable that the Region of Niagara should ignore its own protocols in order to support a government which is at this moment coming under more and more scrutiny for accepting donations in exchange for favours to corporations and businesses. The recent announcement about how the province is anxious to help Ontario businesses avoid “red tape” is a blatant indicator of how Wynne defines her governing priorities.
    Yesterday’s article by Martin Regg Cohn in the Toronto Star, “In democracy, as in life, sometimes less is more”, reveals what’s behind the government’s fondness for “biodiversity offsetting” : the Liberals are in bed with the development industry—
    “…In his landmark study of campaign funding in Ontario from 2004 to 2011, York University political scientist Robert MacDermid found that Ontario’s three major parties raised more than $162 million, with nearly 40 per cent coming from corporations and another 5 per cent from unions. The Liberals raised a disproportionate 50 per cent of their $72 million from corporations — mostly developers and the wider development industry, followed by big banks and energy firms…”
    “…Cabinet sources who must deal with corporate donors says their gravest concern is the influence of property developers, notably those seeking changes to the boundaries of the Green Belt or making inappropriate demands at both the provincial and municipal levels. An earlier study by MacDermid showed that developers and related donors funded 43 per cent of 2006 election in the regions of Halton, Peel, York and Durham….”

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  3. Sheila Krekorian

    I wonder if Bruce Timms, Chair of Niagara Regional Conservation “Authority” or any other board member who also sit on Niagara Regional Council, will declare a conflict of interest and abstain from the April 7 discussion/vote…..
    Will there be a presentation from the public against the plan for more urban spraw and destruction of these wetlands that are to be replaced by a cheap imitation?

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  4. The Conservation Authorities have no right to stop development on privately owned land – wetland or not. Some of the country’s most visited places were once a wetland. Do you know how much public land/crown land there is? There is so much space out there for wildlife. Why does someone sitting in a little cubicle somewhere think it necessary to regulate private property to a point that a small wet area cannot be filled because they think a duck might want a swim?

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  5. Karen, I agree with your statement “There is so much space out there for wildlife. “, assuming you are referring to wild, undeveloped places. Sadly that ‘so much space’ exists in areas of the country far away from Niagara, and consequently not really of much interest to developers. What it looks like here is that some folks are hoping to scoop up a patch of wetlands for a verty nominal price, and are counting on most of the public not to be too concerned about a little swamp. As over 80% of the wetlands in Niagara have already gone by the wayside, I think that every small patch of what we have left takes on an even greater importance as wildlife refuge, water recharge and flood control. Besides, who in their right mind would consider buying a home or business that was built in aformer wetland? And what kind of municipal governement is preapred to allow taht to happen? You can fill it in, but Mother Nature has a way of sending all that water back there in the end.

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  6. Let them cut the trees and fill in the swamp – when it is proven that the new one they’ve created has replaced the old one!

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  7. There’s too many of these corporate whores so this fight will never end until they develop every square inch. Niagara Falls has been doing a dam good job of removing trees lately. When will it be enough gentlemen? I’ve had just about enough.

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