Is Kathleen Wynne’s Ontario Government selling us out on protecting Key Ecosystems in Niagara , Ontario’s Watershed?
A Commentary by John Bacher
Posted January 19th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
November 29, 2017 can go down as a dark day in the struggle to save the Thundering Waters Forest from ill-conceived development schemes.
It marks the first time in a decade of vigilance by conservationists that the extent of the protected area with the 484-acre Carolinian ecological complex in Niagara Falls, Ontario was reduced.
There have been two dramatic successes in increasing the protected area in Thundering Waters. One took place in 2010. It created the provincially significant Niagara Falls Slough Forest. This was followed by a second in October 2017.
The second victory, denounced widely by Niagara municipal politicians, followed the recommendations of additional study of wetlands by a Peer Review of the Dougan Associates Environmental Impact Study. (EIS). This report was only released through an access to Information request made by Ed Smith.
Politicians, many of whom were on the NPCA board that launched a lawsuit against Smith, denounced the increased wetland protection while at the same time suppressing the authoritative scientific report on which it was based. The Peer Review by ecologist Leah Lefler is still is not available on the City of Niagara Falls website. It is littered instead with offensive, biased, propaganda for GR Canada Limited.
The two victories established a strong natural heritage protection system that protected most of Thundering Waters from development. They were followed by another smashing success of the rejection of proposals to gut wetland protection through offsetting in July 2017.
The strange defeat at Thundering Waters following a string of victories was achieved through wetland downrating. This is a term which describes the removal from protected provincially significant status. When this is done the wetland can then be removed through a process termed “site alteration.”
The downrated wetland borders Dorchester Road in Niagara Falls. The former protected wetland is about 100 feet north of the Con Rail Drain and extends along a valley. It has Pin Oak trees and towering Eastern Cottonwood. Cottonwoods here have the majestic grooved bark which provided habitat for such rare species as cave dwelling bats and the endangered Chimney Swift.
The Down Rated wetland was given the ominous name of Wetland Number One by Figure 8 of a second EIS. It was prepared for GR Canada by its successor as ecological consultants, Savanata. They replaced in February 2017, Dougan Associates.
Wetland Number One along Dorchester Road is an area proposed for what is likely one of the most lucrative components of the proposed Riverfront Development. ( Amendment 130 to the Niagara Falls Official Plan). According to Schedule G of Amendment 130 it is proposed for “High Density/Mid Rise” development.
Wetland Number One is one of 8 components of the provincially significant Niagara Falls Slough Forest which are proposed for Down Rating by GR Canada. In addition another wetland, Number 10, along the Chippawa Parkway is also proposed to be shrunken to permit a road to cut through it.
In a study termed the “Justification Report” GR Canada’s land use planning consultants, The Niagara Planning Group, dismiss denies the eight wetlands have any ecological significance. They are reviled as mere wetland “fragments.”
The down rating of Wetland Number One was made despite the impressive findings of its significance to wildlife by the Savanata EIS.
Soon after Savanata became the new consultants for GR Canada following the January 2017 mapping of provincially significant wetland boundaries, it conducted during February and March studies to determine the presence of salamanders. Savanata did find that during this period, which is the critical breeding time in vernal pools for this species, those four Blue Spotted Salamanders.
The November wetland re-evaluation was not based on any loss of species since October 2017. According to a January 11, 2018 email communication to myself from a senior official in the Resource Management division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), it comes from the human origins of Wetland Number One.
Durst explained to me that upon Savanata’s request, a site visit was made of Wetland Number One. It found that most of Wetland Number One was “clay fill placed on former agricultural land.” On this basis it was concluded that “this site was not a wetland in the past, and therefore not a filled wetland.”
The MNRF official, in his January 11, 2018 communication also revealed that another wetland – Wetland 5 – was examined on November 29, 2017. It was however, not Down Rated completely, but only reduced in size. This process, Durst maintains, is “normal practice at the time of development or when MNRF staff walk the site.”
In addition to the Down Rating of Wetland Number One and the trimming of Wetland Number 5, the official indicates that future expeditions by MNRF and Savanata to reasses wetlands are being planned. He told me, that “MNRF has also committed to look at Wetlands 2, 3 and 4 (as per Savanata’s EIS) in the spring to determine if any adjustments to these ploygons are required.”
In the spring Wetland One, Two, Three and Four will be home to a beautiful chorus of frogs such as the Spring Peepers and Chorus Frogs, which will resonate with great beauty.
Let us hope that this music will be joined by a chorus of outrage against the downrating of Wetland Number One, the cut back of Wetland Number Five and GR Canada’s advocacy of the removal of Wetlands, Two, Three and Four.
This commentary was written by Dr. John Bacher, a long-time conservation activist in Niagara, Ontario, a Greenbelt Campaign leader at Sierra Club Ontario, and a member of the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) (link is external).
For a past commentary on Niagara At Large by John Bacher on this issue, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2017/10/31/proposed-riverfront-community-is-newest-planned-assault-on-thundering-waters-forest/
Is Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne signing a death warrant for key ecosystems in Niagara’s watershed – a shared Canada – U.S. watershed in the Great Lakes – to China-based investors?
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