NPCA Pushes Ontario’s Wynne Government For Offsetting of Wetlands Through Hired Lobbyist, Dr. John Bacher

Another original article by Dr. John Bacher, first published by NiagaraAtLarge:

Dr. John Bacher
December 22, 2016

A Lobbyist This Excuse for a Conservation Authority Paid For with OUR MONEY, By The Way!

For the past two years the provincial government has been engaged in a disturbing public consultation.

And while that process of public consultation is now finished, there is internally at the cabinet table of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government at Queen’s Park a major debate, which is expected to be resolved in the first few months of 2017.

The aged wetlands in Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls, Ontario – home to a diversity of wildlife – have been a target for something called “biodiversity offsetting” – code for destruction – by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. Will Ontario’s Wynne government give the green light for that destruction to happen?

The Cabinet debate reviewing Ontario’s wetland policy which has been in place since 1992. The current policy which has been respected under New Democratic, Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments for 24 years has as its cornerstone a very important principle.

The big principle is that once deemed provincially significant, wetlands are to be protected period from what the policy terms “site alteration”. What is considered to be significant is a scoring system based on an accumulation of 600 points. Once a wetland has accumulated 600 points it is deemed to be provincially significant.

Growing numbers of Niagara area citizens are protesting further destruction of our wetlands and other natrual heritage.

What gives a place in the natural landscape high points for wetland protection is the presence of rare and endangered species.

Right now this situation is a driving point in the determination of brave public servants (including NPCA field staff in the unfortunate position of having to work for the body’s current managers) to stand up and defend the Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls, Ontario from developers’ ill-devised site alteration schemes schemes that could cause about two-thirds of the 500 acre forest to be mowed down for development.

To protect more land based on the habitat of threatened species, a wetland re-evaluation is now underway at the Thundering Waters site.

Three species of endangered bats are believed to have nest roosting in the threatened wetlands’ old growth forests. On this basis a re-evaluation of the ancient forested wetland complex is taking place. Other species at risk in the threatened forest which are being investigated include the Monarch Butterfly, Nine Lined Lady Beetle, the Chimney Swift, Barn Swallow, Eastern Wood Pee Wee and Wood Thrush.

The cabinet of Ontario’s Wynne government is now considering removing protection of provincially significant wetlands through a proposal termed “bio-diversity offsetting.”

What is so disturbing about the reality of the situation today is that while the hard working staff of the Niagara and Peninsula Conservation Authority, (NPCA) and that of the Ministry of Natural Resources carefully examine what species are found in the Thundering Waters Forest, professional lobbyists are at work in the corridors of power at Queens Park to undermine their labours.biodivesity-offsetting-sign

The problem around the lobbying now taking places can be gleaned from a May 20, 2015 report to the Board of Directors of the NPCA. It was submitted to the NPCA board by its then Chief Administrative Officer, Carmen D’ Angelo on May 20, 2015. This document outlined how the firm, Kealy and Associates is to “advance key issues amongst senior levels of government.” (i.e. the province). Among these “key issues” is what this report terms “biodiversity offsetting.”

The D’ Angelo Report, outlining a lobbying strategy to influence the provincial government, suggests that offsetting will serve to “allow specific development on wetlands.” It describes Kealy and Associates as a key agent in persuading the province to permit such development on now protected wetlands. This was proposed to be accomplished through what D’ Angelo termed “additional advocacy and strategy support” in securing such policy change with the provincial government.

On the basis of the publicly revealed D’ Angelo report, access to information requests have been made to the NPCA. These have been refused by the NPCA and the requests are subject to court litigation.

To ensure that wetland policy in Ontario is in fact based on what is truly good science, and not on what the D’ Angelo report terms the lobbying wizardry of a “professional communications firms”, these documents should – in a spirit of true openness and accountability – immediately be released by the NPCA.

John Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario and is the Chair of Greening Niagara. For more on Greening Niagara click on – http://www.greeningniagara.ca/

Reproduced with permission. JohnBacherPhD.ca

Centennial Gardens Fiendish Deforestation, Dr. John Bacher

Another original article by Dr. John Bacher, first published by Mediacoop.ca:

Dr. John Bacher
March 22, 2017

Trees needlessly felled in St Catherines park

When I intended simply to show my friend Daniel Nardone the wonders of winter waterfowl in St. Catharines’ Centennial Gardens I was given a rude shock.

Life long resident and environmentalist Dr. John Backer investigates the deforestation devastation, which occurred in Centennial Park, St. Catherines, Ontario. Photo credit: Daniel Nardone

The ducks had been given an eviction notice and there was a tree massacre of colossal scale. There was also bizarre trimming of tree limbs so to make it easier to play what we soon discovered was a sport called Frisbee Golf. The limbs so far at least had no protective measures taken such as special tree paint, to prevent the spread of infections.

Deforested cut trees in Centennial Park. Photo credit: Daniel Nardone

I am familiar with the usual arguments for cutting trees in the Centennial Gardens. One that has been goes that they have to be cut trees to protect sight lines. When trees crowd sight lines, the arguement goes, they make it possible for illegal activity to take place. In this regard, reference is usually made to sex work.

Deforested cut trees in Centennial Park. Photo credit: Daniel Nardone

The matter of tree cutting in the Centennial Gardens discussed in St. Catharines City Council has been reported by the St. Catharines Standard for several years. Until now, the proposals have mercifully been defeated due to budget cuts. When I examined the tree butchery, I could not see any evidence of them being cut to maintain or enhance sight lines.

Deforested cut trees in Centennial Park. Photo credit: Daniel Nardone

Most of the trees cut were adjacent to the Old Welland Canal in the middle of the park, far away from the Gale Crescent site lines. This stream has been identified as fish habitat by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. I have spoken to people who have been able to fish for native fish species, such as Brown Bullhead, in the park. Maintaining the existing tree cover benefits fish habitat by shading the stream.

Deforested cut trees in Centennial Park. Photo credit: Daniel Nardone

While some trees have been cut on the north side of the old canal, more were cut in the intact forest block on the south side. This large block of forest is of sufficient size to provide beneficial habitat for good indicator species of native wildlife, such as the Wild Turkey. Tree cutting should have never taken place here. This area moreover was quite spectacular visually, and a valuable – if under appreciated – asset to our city. While cycling on the path often in the company of my spouse, Mary Lou, I frequently stopped in sheer wonder of the beauty of the place.

Environmentalist Dr. John Backer investigates a large deforested tree stump, of a large mature willow tree that was cut down in Centennial Park, St. Catherines, Ontario. Photo credit: Daniel Nardone

From observation, the trees cut appear to be various species of Willow. It was not possible for me in the surprise encounter without a field guide, to identify which ones were the native Black Willow, or the exotic White and Crack Willows. However, in terms of ecological function, the various willows were doing well before being cut, in places clear cut. They provided shade for the Brown Bullhead and habitat for native species such as the Great Blue Heron and Wild Turkey.

There was one particular area where I found the tree removal to be most offensive. This was an intermittent stream close to where the Old Welland Canal disappears into an underground channel. Trees which once provided shade to this intermittent stream were removed by clear cutting. This removal was especially tragic since this spot should be managed as a vernal pool, with the hope that it would eventually become a valuable amphibian habitat. This area needs to be reforested.

If there are any plans to cut more trees in Centennial Gardens they should be stopped. One good long term principle of management should be that tree cutting in this park should be left to a native species that is found here: the Beaver.

Parks such as the Centennial Gardens with forests providing habitat for forest-interior birds such as the Wild Turkey need to be managed better than this clear-cutting.

Reproduced with permission. JohnBacherPhD.ca

Victory for Farmland and Niagara Escarpment, Dr. John Bacher

Another original article by Dr. John Bacher, first published by Mediacoop.ca:

Dr. John Bacher
March 14, 2017

Victory for Farmland and Niagara Escarpment

Although not captured by the major news media, January 26, 2017, proved to be a great day for stopping urban sprawl in the Niagara Peninsula and on the Niagara Escarpment. In the board room of the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC) in Georgetown, ON, and in the Hamilton Court House important decisions were made to protect environmentally and agriculturally significant lands.

Ten Mile Creek Forest – Photo: Mary Lou J. Bacher

In Georgetown, the NEC, as part of its role in the process to amend the Greenbelt Plan as part of what is termed the Coordinated Review of four provincial land use plans, acted in response to 62 proposed amendments to the Niagara Escarpment Plan. On the basis of recommendations from its planning staff the NEC rejected all amendments that involved proposals to urbanize agricultural and natural areas.

Ten Mile Creek Farmland – Photo: Dr. Mike Dickman

While the proposed urban expansions were across the Niagara Escarpment, the most significant proposals were in the City of Niagara Falls, Niagara on the Lake and St. Catharines. It saw these municipalities and the Niagara Region oppose the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society, (PALS), and Jean Grandoni.

One proposed expansion, UA01, proposed that 168 hectares of what is designated in the Niagara Regional Policy Plan as “Good Grape” land be urbanized. Another, UAO4, originally recommended that 121 hectares of Niagara Escarpment forest lands be urbanized. When this proposal was finally rejected by the NEC on January 26th, it had shrunk to 17 hectares of forest on Glendale Road. An earlier proposal for an expansion along Taylor Road had been withdrawn.

In rejecting the proposed expansions, the NEC endorsed criticisms of them by PALS and Jean Grandoni. Regarding UAO1, they noted how the need for any expansion of urban boundaries in the Niagara Region had been earlier rejected by an Ontario Municipal Board decision on March 20, 2015, regarding lands immediately to the south. In its decision the NEC cited PALS’ conclusions regarding UA04 that it served to “seriously degrade the Niagara Escarpment wildlife habitat, with potential for impairing forest interior birds.”

Also on January 26, 2017, Justice J. Parayeski of the Ontario Superior Court struck a major blow against urban sprawl attempts by the City of Niagara Falls, the Region and development-minded landowners. This ruling, which rejects an attempt by the City of Niagara Falls to overturn a decision of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), NEC cited in its decision to curb sprawl, which will encourage protection of the unique agricultural area between Niagara Falls and Thorold and between the Escarpment and the Welland River. In addition, its precious Carolinian landscape gets another chance.

In the l960’s, the Niagara Escarpment Commission wanted to protect all of this area due to its richness in farms, forests and fisheries. However, the better wisdom of the NEC of that time was overruled by development pressures and lack of political will, which continue to this day, leaving a dangerously shrunken area protected by the NEC.

The lands in dispute , described as the Northwest Quadrant, which is bounded by the HEPC Tower Line, Kalar Rd, Mountain Rd, the QEW and Montrose Rd, are part of the shadow fruit belt, with its climatic advantage, influenced by the Niagara Escarpment, enabling the growing of grapes and other fruits such as pears, apples, plums, prunes. Peaches and cherries were even grown on Uppers Lane.

The OMB decision that Justice Parayeski upheld denied an attempt to urbanize approximately one hundred and eighty-five acres of the remaining Agricultural Watershed of the Ten Mile Creek, which is of considerable ecological significance. Such urbanization would have created a wall of cement south of the Niagara Escarpment, thus eliminating a vital deer and wildlife migration corridor.

The area’s importance for wildlife was demonstrated at an on-site meeting of experts that was part of the OMB procedure. Two deer appeared during this event and residents report confronting entire herds of eight deer crossing Garner Rd.

The pike- spawning Ten Mile Creek and associated vernal pools that are connected to it provide important habitat for breeding amphibians as well as the cleanest drinking water for wildlife that would otherwise have to drink from streams contaminated with sewage or travel long distance to find a spring. At the on-site visit, experts also found that in past ecological studies a large vernal pool, which in the developer’s concept plan was proposed for a storm water storage facility, had been completely missed .

Testimony at the OMB hearing by ecologist Dr. Michael Dickman established impressive documentation of the relationship between urbanization and storm water pollution. He found that the adjacent Shriners’ Creek, based on sanitary sewer surcharges within Niagara Falls’ urban envelope, had massively high levels of E-Coli bacteria. Nearby Beaverdams Creek is contaminated but to a lesser degree. In stark contrast, such contamination was lacking in the Ten Mile Creek which lies within an agricultural area.

Justice Parayeski found in his ruling that the arguments put forward by Niagara Falls were “unhelpfully posed in leading and convoluted terms”, and cited a number of points from the responding Factum prepared by David Donnelly, Counsel for PALS and Jean Grandoni. Among these were Donnelly’s conclusion that the OMB’s ruling was based on a “26-page decision that carefully sets out the issues and relied on approximately ten days of testimony from 14 witnesses, including subpoenaed evidence from a senior planner from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing…that support’ the Board’s reasons and the Decision”.

The recent court room drama is the second time that this Urban Boundary has been defended by the public and is against some of the same major parties. The first was the Ontario Municipal Board Decision of Feb l979, which pulled in the Urban Boundary in order to protect this unique agricultural community. The importance of the victory is illustrated by the frightening reality that had not the OMB rejected the expansion termed Niagara Falls Official Plan Amendment 106, there was another urbanization request it had already approved. This Amendment 107, involving 250 acres, including a large wetland slough forest straddling the Ten Mile Creek, now cannot proceed since it cannot be served.

The decision by the NEC provides ample evidence of why the Escarpment Plan area needs to be expanded onto adjacent rural lands, which were arbitrarily removed in 1977. It notes that such adjacent, predominately agricultural lands, “are an essential component of the Escarpment corridor…to provide a buffer to the more ecologically sensitive areas of the Escarpment.”

The public cannot continue to finance “Resources Protection” through the OMB and the courts that is supposed to be the responsibility of the Provincial Ministries of Municipal Affairs , Natural Resources and Agriculture. It is time that the Province enforced its own Provincial Policy Statements that call for the protection of such resources as our farmlands, fisheries and forests which are the basis of employment in this province. Lost resources equal lost jobs.

Reproduced with permission. JohnBacherPhD.ca

Caslin: Voice of Idiocracy, Dr. John Bacher

Another original article by Dr. John Bacher, first published by Mediacoop.ca:

Dr. John Bacher
February 14, 2017

Caslin: Voice of Idiocracy

The great Greek philosopher Plato, many of whose core values were further entrenched in our culture by the martyred Christian apologist Justin Martyr, had a vision of a civilization being ruled by a philosopher king. In ancient Greek this is called philosophocracy, meaning: rule by philosophers. The clerical dress of today was adopted by Justin from the habits of the philosophers of the Roman Empire in the second century.

John Bacher hugging White Oak in Thundering Waters Forest, Niagara Fall, Ontario, Canada. – Photo credit: Adren Willemns

In terms of a powerful ruler, the closest we have in Niagara, ON, to such an exalted position of a potential philosopher King is the Chair of the Niagara Regional Council, Alan Caslin. As is appropriate to his position, secured by the votes of elected mayors and regional councilors, Caslin frequently writes letters to the Premier of Ontario. Tragically however, on January 20, 2017 Chairman Caslin wrote a letter to Premier Wynne which revealed that Niagara is governed what the ancients called idiocracy.

There are some 169 forms of government that have been identified using ancient Greek concepts. In his letter to the Premier, Caslin revealed the peculiar form of government that rules the Niagara Region. His words reveal it as idiocracy, which means: rule by the selfish.

Although the word idiot has its roots in both the Greek and Latin words, iodides, it is quite distinctive from that of the term “fool”. Iodides is expressive of rule by narrow self-interest.

The problem of idiocracy is especially dangerous today when we are faced with major threats to human civilization. These come from the related loss of the bio-diversity of our planet, which has evolved over millions of years, and the threat to the stability of our climate. One of the few effective instruments we have in Ontario to cope with these threats are current laws to protect what are termed provincially significant wetlands. These serve as an important carbon sink, moderating climate change. They also protect the habitats of rare wildlife species.

The Thundering Waters Forest contains an array of Species at Risk that are a challenge to innumerate. They include: the Black Gum, Snapping Turtle, three species of bats, the Monarch Butterfly, the Wood Thrush, the Nine Lined Lady Beetle, the Eastern Wood Pewee, the Barn Swallow, Acadian Flycatcher and Chimney Swift. It has rare ecological communities of Buttonbush and Rufous Bullrush. The forest contains vernal pools that provide necessary breeding habitat for the Blue Spotted Salamander, and the Wood, Chorus and Grey Tree frogs.

In his plea to the Premier, Caslin revealed how Niagara is in the iron rule of idiocracy. He gave the Premier an unholy litany of complaints of why current wetland protections on the 500 acre Thundering Waters Forest, which protects the habitat of threatened species, should be removed. He urges this be done because of “the ongoing policy conflict between the designated Gateway Economic Zone and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s wetland evaluation and mapping.”

In his plea to the Premier Caslin did not offer a single scientific challenge to the current mapping of protected wetlands in Thundering Waters Forest. What was complained about had nothing to do with science. It had all to do with the pursuit of a foreign bank.

Caslin complained that the wetland mapping threatened the Niagara Region’s work to “establish a business case for establishing a branch of the Bank of China (Canada)…within Niagara.” He also claimed that it put at risk efforts, “to create a welcoming climate for … significant investment in the tourism capital of Ontario.”

Caslin’s polemic cited a tourism study by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which I subsequently viewed on the website of the Niagara Regional Chamber of Commerce. Bizarrely, its actual contents, not referenced by Caslin’s synopsis revealed why Canada, Ontario and Niagara are all falling behind in the international tourism race. In contrast to this bleak local situation, the study contrasted the vivid explosion in international tourism in New Zealand.

Why tourism is exploding in New Zealand is because of a zeal to celebrate the very magnificence of old growth forests which are imperiled by the Thundering Waters development. Tourism is booming in what is being promoted as “middle-earth” because visitors are increasingly drawn by the stunning landscapes that are displayed a major movie pictures such as the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies.

Caslin’s words reveal why the province should reaffirm rather than gut its wetland protection policy. Niagara needs to escape from the rule of idiocracy. Rather than destroying our wetlands to get a branch established in Niagara of the Bank of China (Canada), we need to revive our tourist industry through a celebration and protection of our forests and wetlands.

Niagara can be liberated from the idiocracy of our current political cliques. Those who write to denounce tyranny of idiocracy can free us from a most absurd tyranny.

Reproduced with permission. JohnBacherPhD.ca

New Revelations in Thundering Waters Forest Struggle, Dr. John Bacher

Another original article by Dr. John Bacher, first published by Mediacoop.ca:

Dr. John Bacher
December 13, 2016

New Revelations in Thundering Waters Forest Struggle

New revelations have emerged, pardoxically, from the campaign to save the 500 acres of largely old-growth Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and specifically out of the call for an audit of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA).

save1
Thundering Waters Forest Photo Credit A. Willems

The revelations emerged during a St Catharines city council debate calling for an audit of the NPCA at its December 5, 2016, meeting. The council supported the audit, following a presentation by local wetland protection advocate Ed Smith and Ontario NDP MPP Cindy Forster.

Surprisingly, the relevations came not from the presentations of Smith and Forster, but instead from a critic of theirs, Niagara Regional Councillor Bruce Timms.

Part of Timms’ criticism of Smith and Forster was the termination of 19 NPCA employees during a brief period when its staffing levels experienced a modest increase from 54 to 57 workers. The reason for these staffing changes were addressed to the St Catharines city council by Timms.

Timms stressed that recent changes in the NPCA staffing were a response to developments in 2010. This he explained was caused by a sense that the authority had become too biased towards the protection of the environment.

Timms’ explanation of 2010 as a turning point was highly accurate. What he failed to share with the St Catharines city council, however, was the significant action which triggered outrage from developers. Namely, this was the decision by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) to make 200 acres of the Thundering Waters Forest a provincially significant wetland. It had the effect of making the entire forest virtually impossible to develop.

Two years before the 2010 victory, I had secured an opportunity for MNR to gain access to the Thundering Waters Forest to do a wetland evaluation. This involved NPCA staff, who were subsequently fired.

While accurate in his explanation of the timing of the new direction of the NPCA, Timms in his presentation erred in describing the current nature of the Thundering Waters Forest planned development. He told the city council that only bicycle lanes are currently being proposed by the developer in the Thundering Waters Forest.

Timms’ rosy view of the developer’s proposal is countered by the reality that two roads are planned to cut up part of the protected wetland area. This reality was described in an August 16, 2016 letter from Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry expert Ian Thornton to Niagara Regional planner Marilyn Radman.

Thornton exposed how major arterial roads, not bicycle trails, are being planned. This will devastate the protected old growth forest wetlands of Thundering Waters. He notes how the developer’s draft Environmental Impact Statement explains, “how the proposed development will result in the loss of 1.3 hectares, or two percent of the Niagara Falls Slough Forest Wetland Complex Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW) on the subject property. ”

I have walked in the areas being proposed for roads in the Thundering Waters Forest. They contain vernal pools, providing habitats for salamanders and frogs. One road would pass along side a pond, which gives refuge to a Species At Risk, the snapping turtle.

As the battle builds, more revelations will come out about the Thundering Waters Forest and developers’ intriuges. Hopefully, these revelations will mobilize morepeople to save this sacred place. The firings of public servants that have taken place in defence of these sacred lands, subject to native claims going back to the Nafan Treaty of 1701, should make it the key place for an alliance between labour activisits, Natives and envirionmentalists.

Reproduced with permission. JohnBacherPhD.ca

Save Thundering Waters Forest-Savannah, Dr. John Bacher

Another original article by Dr. John Bacher, first published by Mediacoop.ca:

Dr. John Bacher

July 27, 2016

Save Thundering Waters Forest-Savannah

Real estate development threatens pristine forest in southwestern Ontario

I am writing  to alert activists to the threat of developers to an important endangered ecosystem, the Thundering Waters Forest-Savannah, near Niagara Falls, ON. Recommended to be protected as an Environmentally Sensitive Area in 1980, this ecosystem of around 500 acres is part of a bigger tract of Carolinian habitat between the power canal of Ontario Power Generation and the Niagara River Gorge of about 1,500 acres. Development here would tear the heart of what is an important functioning wildlife sanctuary, which has emerged in part because the lands have not been subjected to agriculture and its pesticides since the Second World War.

Blue-Spotted Salamander seen in Thundering Waters Forest. Photo: Adrian William

Residential, commercial and institutional development, all part of a supposed $1 billion investment, is proposed for a large section of the Thundering Waters Forest.

Provincially protected wetland is protected from housing, but apparently not protected from a new road for project. Photo: Adrian Williams

Illegal tree cutting here in 1992 knocked down thirty-five acres of old growth forest. This damage was later expanded by the Thundering Waters Golf Course. A subdivision saw another seven acres of forest destroyed adjacent to a threatened vine, the Round-leaved Greenbrier.

Old growth forest at Thundering Waters. Photo: Adrian Williams

Despite the assaults around the edges, most of the Thundering Waters Forest-Savannah is still intact. About the third of the site is protected wetlands, but the developer intends to scar these wetlands in two places through the construction of an arterial road. There are more significant wetlands near those that are protected, including additional areas of old growth forest. The developer’s draft Environmental Impact Statement proposes that individual old growth trees here be retained, while development would proceed around them.

Wetlands of Thundering Waters. Photo: Adrian Williams

The site is a treasure house of threatened species. There are two provincially rare trees here, the Black Gum, and the wild Honey Locust.  Although the developer’s studies have claimed that Snapping Turtles are confined to the protected wetland area, in reality they have been found throughout the site. Field work by opponents have confirmed the Milk Snake, considered a Species At Risk, lives in this habitat, though the snake’s presence is denied by the developer. Another threatened  species found here is the Wood Thrush, which is a poster child for how neotropical migrants are threatened by deforestation.

There is likely no other place in Canada where 300 acres of forest is threatened by an urban development scheme. Please join with environmentalists and native people around the Niagara Region and support the protection of the Thundering Waters Forest!

Reproduced with permission. JohnBacherPhD.ca

Natives Are Defending Ontario Forests, John Bacher PhD and Danny Beaton

Another original article by Dr. John Bacher:

JohnBacherPhD.ca

March 21, 2017

 

Natives Are Defending Ontario Forests

Dr. John Bacher (PhD) and Danny Beaton

 

 

(l) Dr. John Bacher and Danny Beaton, Niagara Council 2016, Photo: Carla Carlson

 

Our Mother Earth is protectively robed in a cloak of beautiful forests, but in southern Ontario they are threatened by urban sprawl. Most of the remaining forests away from the northern taiga bogs and the rocky Canadian Shield are wetlands that farmers have gained the wisdom to understand are unsuitable for agriculture. These vital wildlife refuges are now threatened by a policy review that has escaped coverage in the mainstream media, outside of the Niagara Region.

The cornerstone of public policy in Ontario, whose concepts have emerged from the United States’ Clean Water Act and subsequent battles by environmentalists in the courts, is protected achieved from the wetland policy mandated in 1992. It was achieved following a process triggered by the New Democratic Party, (NDP) government of Ontario, initiated by the previous Liberal government.

The core of the wetland policy is that once it achieved a scoring of 600 points, a wetland is considered “provincially significant”, and therefore legally prohibited from development and what is technically termed, “site alteration.” Apart from having plant species that thrive in wet environments, what pushes generally the point score to the needed threshold is the presence of species at risk.

The wetland policy was one of the achievements by the NDP government when it was intensively consulting with native peoples on needed environmental reforms. During this time the respected Iroquois Confederacy Chief, Arnie General, would complain about the need for better mileage allowances, although he tried to economize through getting around in a mini two seat car.

During the early 1990s when the wetland policy was being developed Danny Beaton a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan, worked closely with General and other environmentally concerned native leaders such as Norm Jacobs. This experience stood put him in a good position, when in 2015 brave public servants sent alarm signals privately to environmentalists that two disturbing changes in public policy were being made to open up southern Ontario’s wetland forests to developers.

The two changes that were being proposed to open the gates to developers were to the Conservation Authorities Act and the Provincial Wetland policy. Currently wetlands are evaluated by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. (MNRF). The policy change was to change the Conservation Authorities Act to permit the staff of municipally appointed Conservation Authorities, subject to influence from developers, to evaluate wetlands. The other change was to allow currently protected provincially significant wetlands through having them destroyed by developers if compensation in the form of what was called in a provincial consultation paper, “bio-diversity offsetting”, was made.

In September 2015 Beaton journeyed to Newmarket, where the consultation on the Conservation Authorities Act was taking place with environmental groups. Beaton’s inspiring words denouncing the firing of conservation authority staff who had worked to protect wetlands woke up the environmentalists present. This discrediting of proposed alterations to the conservation legislation had the impact of developers putting even more pressure on the province to implement bi-diversity offsetting.

Developers targeted the 500 acre Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls for what they termed a “pilot project” in bio-diversity offsetting. The old growth predominately oak forest is a refuge for a number of endangered species. These include three species of bats, the rare Black Gum, the Wood Thrush, Acadian Flycatcher, Chimney Swift, Monarch Butterfly, the Nine Spotted Lady Beetle and the Snapping Turtle. The forest is rich in vernal pools that provide critical habitat for obligate species, such as the Blue Spotted Salamander, and the Wood, Chorus and Grey Tree Frogs. It also contains rare Buttonbush and Rufous Bullrush communities.

On April 12 Beaton went to the Niagara Falls City Council to rescue the threatened Thundering Waters Forest. He spoke about the dangerous precedent that was attempted to be set at Thundering Waters, which could spread destruction to forests throughout Ontario.

Danny speaks about the sacredness of Creation and Mother Earth at Niagara Falls City Hall Council, 2016, Photo: Sandy Devih Heeralal

Beaton’s words helped to inspire an Oneida resident of Niagara Falls, Karl Dockstader. He mobilized his extended family in Niagara Falls to take part in the struggle to save the Thundering Waters Forest. Dockstader also subsequently played a major role in mobilizing native leaders in the struggle on both sides of the Niagara River.

Dockstader played a key role in organizing on July 7, 2016 in front of the City Hall of Niagara Falls a rally by the Indigenous Solidarity Coalition of Niagara. Here native leaders who took part included Celeste Smith, Allan Jamieson, Lester Green and Kelly Frantastic Davis.  Smith, who is of the Wolf Clan of the Oneida of Grand River, called for a “moratorium on the development of the Thundering Waters Forest until a clear, transparent, public process can decisively establish a full social, environmental and economic benefit of this forest remaining completely intact.”

In his many writings in defense of the Thundering Waters Forest Dockstader penned the moving essay, the “Life Cycle of a Niagara White Oak Tree.” The essay is a tribute to the tallest and oldest tree discovered in the threatened forest. It is estimated by an expert, a Mohawk ecologist of the Turtle Clan, Dr. Barry Warner, to be 250 years old.

Dockstader wrote how, “Almost 250 years ago then Superintendent of Indian Affairs William Johnson stood only a few miles” from the now great oak, when it was just a seedling. Then in the Treaty of Niagara of 1763 Dockstader explains, Johnson “planted the seeds for a covenant of peace that became formative in the country now called Canada. This agreement, the Treaty of Niagara, which came on the heels of the Royal Proclamation, laid the foundation to formalize the importance of Niagara as a traditional land of peace, strength and integrity. Johnson understood better than any of his contemporaries that the only path to peace was by including the principles of people original to the land. Those legally affirmed principles of land stewardship-such as equal access to resources like water and air for all living things-now tower over the Western cultural appetite for endless exponential growth.”

Beaton and Dockstader woke up the residents of Niagara and a few leaders of environmental group. It is to be hoped that their message of the urgency to protect threatened forested wetlands and the wildlife that they depend on is heard more widely.