“Biodiversity offsetting should not be part of wetland discussions and any thought to the contrary is simply uninformed and incorrect. The science says so and so do most of our wetland policies and protocols in Canada.”
By Barry Warner, Professor of Wetland Ecology, University of Waterloo
A Special to Niagara At Large
Posted May 2nd, 2016
Some of the information presented in media reports regarding the wetlands in the vicinity of Dorchester and Oldfield Roads in Niagara Falls, Ontario (where the proposed …. Thundering Waters/”Paradise Community” development is proposed to go on hundreds of acres of land) needs clarification and correction.
Despite great progress in recent decades, wetlands continue to be enigmatic and poorly understood habitats. They have characteristics in common with both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
By scientific definition, they are their own discreet ecosystems with unique wetland attributes in addition to the shared attributes found in each of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems too. Thus, it might be understandable that concepts and interpretations get confused by the non-specialist or lay persons.
Wetlands are not only attractive hotspots of biodiversity and important water features; they have also played central roles in shaping the history of our nation and possess great spiritual connections to our Mother Earth.
Wetlands are diverse and dynamic ecosystems. Nearly 125 different kinds of wetlands have been identified in Canada. At least one-fifth of this total occurs in southern Ontario.
Wetlands occur as complexes with different kinds adjoined together into a seemingly single wetland. Some are more obviously connected on the land surface via their hydrology and their biota, while others are connected via their underground hydrology and appear as separated entities on the land surface. Their boundaries might change and should be expected to change, but in southern Ontario, it is activities by humans which are most responsible for shaping wetland boundaries, be they permanent or temporary.
Biodiversity offsets do not work for wetlands. This concept promotes the construction of brand new man-made ecosystems when those created by Mother Nature and Father Time are removed and replaced by some other alternative and often unnatural use.
In the 1970s, when serious wetland conservation efforts began in this country, both the federal and provincial governments recognized and endorsed the concept of “no net loss of wetland function”.
We, in Ontario, learned from the problems and failures in the United States which followed “no net loss of wetland” policies that amount to the same doctrine as biodiversity offsetting being viewed as new and effective ways to promote conservation today in Ontario.
It is not new.
Wetland practitioners were wise then and continue to be wise when following the concept of “no net loss of wetland function”.
Biodiversity offsetting should not be part of wetland discussions and any thought to the contrary is simply uninformed and incorrect. The science says so and so do most of our wetland policies and protocols in Canada.
Swamps cannot be created and restored. Anyone who says otherwise, again I say, is inexperienced or is confusing wetland with non-wetland that might contain obligate and non-obligate tall and low shrubs and herbaceous plants that may or may be wet for part of the year.
The Dorchester and Oldfield Roads site (where the sprawling Thundering Waters development is proposed), indeed, is swamp.
The wetlands in Niagara are special.
They are positioned near the most southern latitudinal extent of Canada. Rarely seen elsewhere in Canada, the Niagara wetlands contain features and biota more characteristic of wetlands many kilometres south of our international boundary.
Much of the area is underlain by glacial lake clay which is impervious to infiltration. These clays have been a great aid to keeping water on the land surface, water so critical for wetlands and especially swamp.
The swamp in the Dorchester and Oldfield Road area is a much battered and bruised ecosystem, yet it is probably in as good a shape as it is because of the poor drainage facilitated by the clay.
Lastly, Niagara is in a snow belt. Great accumulations of snow are a major source of atmospherically derived water in spring and thus a vital part of the water budget of the wetlands. Any one of these factors is important for wetlands, but the occurrence of this combination of no less than three factors is what makes Niagara wetlands special and different from those in many other parts of the province.
I trust that cooler, wiser and truly informed heads will prevail.
Sometimes such matters take someone from afar to point out the high-quality gems we are too often willing to take for granted in our own backyards….and gem you have in the swamp at the corner of Dorchester and Oldfield Roads!
Barry G. Warner, Ph.D., Professor
University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario
Barry G. Warner is a Professor of wetland ecology and paleoecology and a Certified Professional Wetland Scientist. He is Past President of the Society of Wetland Scientists and currently, Canada’s National Focal Point to the Scientific Technical Review Panel for the International Convention on Wetlands (RAMSAR)
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