Keeping Niagara’s Wetlands Wet Enough To Support Biodiversity Should Be Part of Conservation Authority’s Strategic Plan

NPCA Missed An Opportunity To Do Just That

By John Bacher

Posted September 19, 2016 on Niagara At Large

A few years ago, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority conducted a strategic plan review of its operations.

This review, quite tragically, turned out to be a great opportunity that was missed – one that could have, if it were properly conducted, served as a way to look at the looming threat to our region’s environment from human induced climate change.

Summer fires in Wainfleet Bog in Niagara, Ontario could be one more worrisome sign of climate change calamities to come.

Summer fires in Wainfleet Bog in Niagara, Ontario could be one more worrisome sign of climate change calamities to come.

The fires this summer in the Wainfleet Bog – a large tract of wetland in the southern Port Colborne/Wainfleet region of Niagara that makes up one of three dozen ‘Conservation Areas’ the NPCA is responsible for – are a vivid warning of the dangers of increased summer drought and higher temperatures that are a consequence of climate change.

This fire threat illustrates the importance of restoring and protecting the health of our wetlands, through putting water back into them and putting a stop to a two-century-old trend of draining water out of natural places like this (often to create ever more room for stretch-out, man-made development).

Although most of the Thundering Waters Forest is in Niagara Falls – now a high-profile target for urban development – hosts prime wetland, there are areas within it that have been degraded through the digging of drainage channels.

Some of these channels, cutting through the through the middle of the forested areas, are mysterious in origins and may relate long planned schemes to urbanize them. Where these channels exist, the nearby forest has a lower density of vernal pools that support breeding amphibian habitat that is vital for preserving the rich biodiversity of the area.

The threat of fires in our wetlands is part of a looming crisis which could our forests transformed from beneficial carbon sinks to net emitters of carbon to an atmosphere that is already choked with carbon from other sources. Fires in the Wainfleet Bog are an example of this disturbing trend.

Fires were not common in the Wainfleet Bog until large scale peat excavation began in the 1930s. Then to facilitate peat mining, channels were dug, water tables fell, and much of the Bog exploded into fire.  One of the worst fires on record took place in the Bog in 1970 when fire wiped out virtually all of its Black Spruce and Tamarack trees.

Keeping wetlands in Thundering Waters Forest wet is vital to survival of rich biodiversity in this natural place

Keeping wetlands in Thundering Waters Forest wet is vital to survival of rich biodiversity in this natural place

In 1996 most of the Wainfleet Bog became owned jointly by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Since then, summer Bog fires diminished in frequency and severity have been diminished as the Bog as steps were taken to re-hydrate the Bog with water, increasing habitat for a host of wildlife, including the threatened Musk Turtle.

Real strategic planning for Niagara – the kind of planning the Conservation Authority could have and should have done – would examine how re-hydrating what wetlands are left across our region can be done on a more systematic basis.

One of the most obvious ways to do this involves protecting wetlands on the fringes of urban areas where past drainage schemes have too often dried them up.

Ontario should learn from the example of California’s cap and trade system, and do what that state does and use some of the revenues generated from the system to purchase and protect natural areas like Thundering Waters Forest. And an important part of that protection means protecting the diversity of life they host by not draining them of water.

Through cap and trade revenues, the State of California has instituted a Wetlands Restoration for Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program. During the period 2014-15, cap and trade provided $21 million in funding in California to restore 2,500 acres of wetlands.

Foreign investors in project to urbanize Thundering Waters should be put on notice by Ontario’s provincial government that they are on a mission impossible.

Ontario’s incoming w cap and trade program could and should be all set and ready to go in the 2017 with enough revenues coming in to buy these investors out so that this this precious heritage area in our region lives on for generations to come.

John Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario and is the Chair of Greening Niagara

For more on Greening Niagara click onhttp://www.greeningniagara.ca/

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Visit Niagara At Large at www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news and commentary for and from the greater bi-national Niagara region.

“A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

 

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