Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment Commission Sought – Some 50 Years Ago – To Protect Thundering Waters Forest Lands

“The dramatic sit-in at Thundering Waters this summer was an urgent plea that the remaining wildlife refuge at Thundering Waters be saved.”

By John Bacher

Niagara, Ontario – The current struggle to rescue the threatened Thundering Waters Forest is one that stretches back to 1968.

It was then – almost 50 years ago – that the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC) was founded with a mandate to develop a plan to protect the landscape stretching from Lake Ontario in our region to the northern shores of the Welland River.

A weeklong, sit-in, organized by Niagara citizens, sought to raise public awareness about the need to save Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls, Ontario from urban development. File photo courtesy of Owen Bjorgan

It took a decade of work for the NEC to prepare a preliminary proposal for public discussion. Then on February 14, 1978, its Preliminary Proposals were put forward. One of its most important recommendations was to protect the large area of forest and savannah, which has recently become known as Thundering Waters.

The NEC urged that the Thundering Waters Forest be protected for two complimentary reasons.

One was that it was a large forest block of around 400 acres (all forests in the plan area of 100 acres or more were to be protected). Another reason was that it was identified by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources as a significant wildlife habitat.

The early findings of the NEC mock recent attempts to show that claims about the significance of the Thundering Waters Forest are “unscientific” and stirred up by “protest groups.” Such arguments were made recently to Niagara Falls City Council by a business lobbyist in response to those made earlier by Owen Bjorgen, an actual scientist and a spokesperson for the activists of the recent sit in at Thundering Waters.

The Preliminary Proposals show only two significant forests in the large area between the Welland Canal and the Niagara River and between the Niagara Escarpment and the Welland River. These are the Heartland Forest and the Thundering Waters Forest.

Efforts to protect Thundering Waters Forest got derailed by narrow protest groups that ignored science. Critical was a rally by 1,600 opponents held in a horse racing track in Orangeville. The only voice to defend the plan was the Ontario legislator, the late Niagara area MPP Mel Swart.

As a result of the intense opposition, the former provincial government of William Davis (dating back to the 1970s and early 1980s) made Mountain Road rather than the Welland River, the line for the Escarpment Plan in Niagara Falls.

While in other parts of Ontario, the Greenbelt Plan restored provincial planning to the area cut back in 1978, there was no such restoration in Niagara Falls in 2005. Despite the protests of Jean Grandoni and the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS), the Greenbelt remains bounded by Mountain Road, running east and west above the Escarpment in Niagara Falls.

Between 1978 and this past summer’s recent sit-in the Thundering Waters Forest there have been three separate assaults on the Thundering Waters Forest.

This began in 1992 with a 45 acre clear cut north of Oldfield Road for an industrial development that was never approved or built.

This was followed by destruction of a north east corner forest for the Thundering Waters golf course. (some of which was later converted to residential development) A 10 acre linear forest north of Oldfield Road was stripped back to three acres in 2013 as a result of a mediation agreement by the Ontario Municipal Board. (OMB)

The dramatic sit-in at Thundering Waters this summer was an urgent plea that the remaining wildlife refuge at Thundering Waters be saved. It is of critical important to the health of what is left of this region’s natural heritage and the wildlife it supports that the remaining 483 acres south of Oldfield Road become protected as a provincial park.

John Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario who has worked on the Greenbelt Review for the Sierra Club of Canada and for the Niagara-based citizens group, the Preservation of Agriculture Lands Society.

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2 responses to “Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment Commission Sought – Some 50 Years Ago – To Protect Thundering Waters Forest Lands

  1. Thank you to John Bacher for this article. This is important history of which I, for one, was unaware. Unfortunately, the Thundering Waters site is privately owned. If the GR (CAN) Group proposal for the “Paradise” development is withdrawn, presumably the property reverts to Mountainview Homes, which I understand holds the mortgage. The province cannot create a park by fiat; it will need to negotiate with the owners of the site.

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  2. It was then – almost 50 years ago – that the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC) was founded with a mandate to develop a plan to protect the landscape stretching from Lake Ontario in our region to the northern shores of the Welland River
    That the so called Chair person of the NPCA would make a statement ( It is not our job to protect the environmentally sensitive wet land of the Niagara Region) Is in my opinion totally irresponsible and a downright arrogant assumption that negates his role in this very important association, An association formed to Protects the very wet lands he refuses to consider his mandate and his duty when he accepted the Chair.

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