Bad Drama of Reforestation and Conservation Cuts Show Historical Amnesia by Dr. John Bacher

Another timely article from Dr. Bacher:
May 7, 2019

Bad Drama of Reforestation and Conservation Cuts Show Historical Amnesia
Dr. John Bacher

Last week while boating through flood waters Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced two cuts to programs that were helping to prevent such disasters being more catastrophic and widespread. At the same time he axed two complimentary if underfunded provincial programs that were controlling flood risks, made worse by climate change impacts which are increasing precipitation in southern Ontario in the winter and spring periods. Such programs to reduce flooding risks are needed more than ever before since there is a bigger tide of rain and snow melt which needs to be soaked up by forests, many of which are wooded wetlands.

Ford axed the program launched in 2008 the Fifty Million Tree Program. It was about half way through its target and cost $4.7 million annually He also announced that provincial funding for Conservation Authorities now a thin $7.4 million a year would be cut in half. Much of this funding assisted flood control programs, including reforestation.

The pennies for trees and flood control cut by Ford of $12.1 million is especially galling in view of the small amounts of money involved in comparison with the catastrophic damages posed by to climate change to the province. It also illustrates the historical amnesia as to why these programs were developed, going back to the first provincial tree nursery at the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) (now Guelph University). Operated by the dedicated graduate forestry student Edmund Zavitz as a summer job it grew its first tree in 1904. The need for reforestation was especially vivid at OAC at that time since the campus had been cut off from the world for a few days by turbulent floods which broke mill dams and damaged factories.

The reason for the massive floods that ravaged Guelph and much of southern Ontario during the first half of the 20th century was a rock bottom level of forest cover of about nine per cent. (many watersheds such as the Thames, the Grand and the Ganaraska were worse at four per cent) The denuding included some of the most critical areas to absorb precipitation surges such as former swamp forested wetlands along streams. The remaining woodlands were composed of sickly scarred trees which could not regenerate as roaming livestock ate young saplings.

With the help of an OAC Alumni activist who became an Ontario Premier EC Drury, Zavitz dedicated his life in the public service (he died in 1968) to the cause of reforestation and conservation. Despite massive tree planting however, despite decades of leadership roles including being Deputy Minister of Forests, Zavitz could not accomplish very much since his reforestation efforts were simply only able to hold on to the tiny five per cent of southern Ontario’ landscape covered by forests.

For decades the new forests he was able to place on the landscape simply replaced the huge areas that famers were continuing to burn out through land clearance. The situation was made worse when the newly elected Liberal government of Mitchell Hepburn in 1933 embarked on a wave of firings of foresters and budget cuts for tree planting and fire control. These moves were based on simplistic populist rhetoric that exalted uneducated lumberjacks over university trained foresters.

Flood, 1937, London, ON.

What caused public opinion to change in support of Zavitz’s policies was an ecological disaster the Great Thames River Flood of 1937. Most dramatically this disaster put about a fifth of the City of London underwater. In response to the disaster Drury lamented how, “In our own time. The Grand and the Thames Rivers through no other reason that the over clearing of their watersheds…have become serious menaces, at one time being the source of destructive floods, at another time having so little water that they become polluted or stagnant.” A former student of Zavitz from the OAC Watson Porter wrote that, “Something must be wrong when farmers are obliged to draw water in the summer and must be rescued from their upstairs windows in the winter.”

The inundation of London was simply the most catastrophic of the flooding disasters that hit many Ontario cities with regularity in the great depression. Port Hope in the stripped bare Ganaraska had its downtown core inundated with flood waters every two years. The stripping of its watershed’s forests had become so severe that its headwaters in the Oak Ridges Moraine, like much farmland in the province had been reduced to dangerously shifting sand dunes. Brampton was routinely hit by similar devastation from Etobicoke Creek, originating in the then deforested Niagara Escarpment. (now restored)

Porter, Zavitz and Drury developed a effective political campaign that in response to the great floods of the depression. The most creative of their colleagues was one of the foresters fired by Hepburn’s hachet man, Frederick Noad. He was Al Barnes who nurtured a veterans’ group Men of the Trees. Barnes organized spectacular parades up to 60,000 veterans in prominent places such as Toronto’ Coronation Park.

Springbank Drive, London, ON, April 1937

Barnes’ well orchestrated political savvy campaigns led to two major reforms in 1946. One was the passage of the Trees Act. This for the first time gave municipal councils the powers to restrict tree cutting on private land. The other was the Conservation Authorities Act. This created watershed based authorities with the objectives of reducing flood damage by increasing forest cover. One of the most successful was the Ganaraska Authority, It increased its watershed forest cover from five to fifty per cent. This massive reforestation put Port Hope’s flooding woes into the history books.

In popular memory Hurricane Hazel of 1954 is often associated with the birth of Conservation Authorities. In reality Hazel simply gave the authorities a needed boost. The passage of the 1946 reforms had already reduced the magnitude of Hazel’s carnage. This would have been in the thousands had not a bypass channel around Brampton been constructed in time by the Etobicoke Creek Conservation Authority. (one of the first created in the province and now part of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority).

One of the reasons Zavitz’s programs became so effective in this period was that two of the most powerful politicians in the province: Premier John Robarts and his Treasurer, John White lived through as adolescents in London the Thames Flood of 1937. From this experience they understood how reforestation and conservation could prevent flooding disasters. From the funds they poured into reforestation and conservation forest cover increased in southern Ontario from 9.7 per cent to 25.2% in 1963.

While across southern Ontario there is still around 26 per cent forest cover in some watersheds it is still as low as the five percent that triggered flooding disasters in the past. The Fifty Million Trees Program launched in 2008 was far below the level of reforestation that was being mobilized when the network of provincial nurseries launched by Zavitz was terminated by Premier Bob Rae in 1993. The need to increase forest cover now is greater become of climate change precipitation in southern Ontario is increasingly concentrated in the winter making spring flooding dangers worse.

Springwater Park, Midhurst, ON, circa 1922.

Rae’s demise should be warning to Ford. His party sank to depths in 1995 after slashing funding for conservation authorities and reforestation. Hopefully Ford will lose his historical amnesia and appreciate why Ontario cities have been spared the devastation at least of the more deforested regions around Montreal, which never faced up to its loss of trees and forests, lacking such champions of conservation as Drury and Zavitz.

John Bacher’s biography of Edmund Zavitz, “Two Billion Trees and County: The Legacy of Edmund Zavitz” explains the history of reforestation and conservation programs in Ontario.” ( Dundurn Press, 2011)


Red Headed Woodpecker: an Endangered Species That Needs a Strong Endangered Species Act by Dr. John Bacher

My wife swears she saw a couple of these beauties at our feeders in Midhurst last month.
April 25, 2019

Red Headed Woodpecker: an Endangered Species That Needs a Strong Endangered Species Act
Dr. John Bacher

My first experience with the Red Headed Woodpecker in the late 1980s at what is now the Chiefswood National Historic Site on the Six Nations Reserve was deeply moving. It took place on the grounds of the former estate of the pioneering conservationist and Mohawk Chief, George Johnson. With their beautiful plumes of red, white and black made luminous by the fading sunlight of the magic hour, a happy pair leaped up and down among the giant hickories, oaks and walnuts that grace Chiefswood’s grounds. The soft dying parts of the sentinels of Chiefswood provided the sacred sanctuary where the Red Headed Woodpeckers here can dig out the holes they need for breeding. Both dying and dead trees called snags also provide a rich food source of insects.


Red headed woodpecker. Photo by Randy Staples

My enchanted encounter in a magical place of great beauty was typical of the dramatic struggle for survival of the Red Headed Woodpecker over the past two centuries. Once abundant, although not at the spectacular way of the doomed Passenger Pigeon, it was devastated by the massive fire driven deforestation by farmers of the corrupt Gilded Age. Unlike the exterminated Passenger Pigeon which Johnsons’ Mohawks attempted to rescue, the Red Headed Woodpecker survived. The Red Headed woodpecker recovered as the forests came back through the conservation advocacy of pioneers like Johnson and his zealous Mohawk forest rangers. Their work is continued by Danny Beaton a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan.


Beaton recently sought to become the first status Indian to be a member of Ontario Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario. (COSSARO). The government agency is reverently known by scientists as the “God committee”. It is supposed to have an native elder versed in traditional wisdom of respect for the natural world, but none have been appointed.

By the 1950s, forest conservation policies in eastern North America had put the Red Headed Woodpecker on the road to recovery. In addition to a general recovery of forests these efforts protected old growth sanctuaries. These refuges are now the last bastions for the Red Headed Woodpecker in Canada. In southern Ontario these include the Point Pelee and St. Lawrence Islands national parks, Rondeau Provincial Park, Navy Island National Historic Park, the nearby Dufferin islands owned by the Niagara Parks Commission and the Long Point National Wildlife Refuge. The Red Headed Woodpecker also thrives in a chain of provincial parks and protected crown lands in Manitoba and Ontario close to the Lake of the Woods. One refuge for the bird which is now going through a status upgrade to hopefully become formally recognized as Endangered in Ontario, is the Ojibway community in Lake Simcoe known as Snake Island.

Since the 1970s in its former habitat in Ontario and Quebec there has been a devastating decrease in forest cover, especially in former old growth areas on private lands. This is part of an appalling situation that the more rapidly declining population in Canada has become a sink for the survival of the Red Headed Woodpecker as a species. This means that birds who fly over the border are less likely to survive to maturity and parent offspring than if they had stayed in the birthplace of endangered species legislation: the United States.

The most dramatic decline in Canada’s Red Headed Woodpecker population has come about in heavily deforested southern Quebec, where severity of forest loss is being demonstrated through massive flooding. For the past twenty years Quebec has ignored the obvious technique of protecting and trying to set the conditions for the eventual expansion of forests with old growth characteristics. Instead it has enlisted farmers in efforts to put holes in trees in hopes of attracting Red Headed Woodpeckers to nest in them, and deliberately killing trees and in the hopes that they will decay to create attractive conditions for the species.

Although this Quebec experiment has been going on for twenty years it has yet to attract a breeding pair. What has happened is a failed experiment, which should provide a cautionary example to government of Douglas Ford with its suggestions to have developers’ fund projects to create habitat for endangered species’ to compensate for authorized habitat destruction under Ontario’s lame Endangered Species’ Act. Ford’s “pay to slay” scheme may simply in reality create a lot of more dead forests without any benefit to rare species that in theory may benefit from such so called “mitigation” efforts.

One of the most tragic examples of the vanishing of the Red Headed woodpecker was took place in old growth forests from Burlington to Toronto near the shore of Lake Ontario in the late 1990s. One terribly vivid example of recent environmental degradation in southern Ontario was the rapid removal of a 400 acre forest in Burlington that had provided a buffer for the refinery. The refinery was carefully planned in the 1950s to accommodate the needs of industry and the environment. Its sale to developers in 1996 and subsequent rezoning came so quickly that lamentation rather than activism was the ineffectual response.

Intensive development also cut up forested estate lots which had once lined Burlington’s lakeshore. One of my aunts Margaret Anne Wall told me the tragic story of a situation of the disappearance of the last Red Headed Woodpecker in the Burlington in the late 1990s. She explained to me and my wife, Mary Lou and how, “The beautiful Red Headed Woodpecker’s calls were heard until the forest was destroyed. Now it is gone never to reappear.” The former oil refinery buffer forest eventually became the Red Headed Woodpecker subdivision. Its painted images were placed on signs used to sell lots on the lands from which the endangered species was displaced.

Another challenge to the survival of the Red Headed Woodpecker in Ontario is that even municipal parks departments are not respectful of its habitat needs. This proved to be the case in St. Catharines’ Malcomson Eco-Park. Here for the first several years of its life in the 1990s its persistence became its crown jewel of restoration success near the shores of Lake Ontario. In 2000 despite the protests of the Eco-Parks volunteers, such as Douglas Woodard and Mary Potter the city cut down snags where the Red Headed Woodpeckers nested. After this act of civic vandalism the Red Headed Woodpecker was never seen again in Niagara north of the Niagara Escarpment and near the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario.

The Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas which has been around since 1981 has provided tragic documentation to the Red Headed Woodpecker’s decline in south western Ontario. Breeding pairs were in 1981 in found most Atlas squares in rural south western Ontario. They vanished along with the forests that had built up during the peak of conservation efforts to protect and restore forests in the 1950s and 60s. In 1994 the Atlas showed 3,400 breeding pairs, but these numbers crashed to 900 by 2007. The vanishing of the Red Headed Woodpecker from Dufferin County from the massive forest destruction by the defeated mega quarry, is a vivid example of this disappearance. It shows how disrespect for forests in Canada triggers its demise. Although the quarry was defeated, the County has no tree bylaw allowing trees to be clear cut away on an owner’s whim.

Waverly Beach.

One of the few areas where the Red Headed Woodpecker thrives in Canada which is not a protected area or Indian Reservation is the threatened Waverly Beach forest in Fort Erie. Here the forest has giant old growth trees such as the rare Shumard Oak. The old growth forest which is breeding habitat for the Red Headed Woodpecker is threatened by an extension of Lakeshore Avenue for a proposed coffee shop. The road is planned to service adjacent development on younger forests, which could threaten the Red Headed Woodpecker with light pollution and preying from domestic pets. The development could also shrink the required forest habitat below the minimum area needed to support a nesting pair of Red Headed Woodpeckers.

Given its rarity it is astonishing that the Red Headed Woodpecker was not listed in Ontario as Endangered when province’s Endangered Species Act was proclaimed ten years ago. It is however, listed with this status federally. The upgrade may not come in time to save the species’ habitat at Waverly Beach. The process to save its Waverly Beach habitat may be slowed by a number of proposed changes by the government of Doug Ford to dilute the Endangered Species Act. One is a proposed twelve month delay for regulations to follow species upgrades. This could set back protection in time so it cannot be used in a Ontario Municipal Board hearing it is planned for May 2019. The hearing has been sparked by the appeal of a Fort Erie environmental activist, Marcie Jacklin.

Chorus Frog Threatened by Thundering Waters Development and Expressway, John Bacher, PhD

Another original article by John Bacher:
March 27, 2019

Chorus Frog Threatened by Thundering Waters Development and Expressway
John Bacher, PhD

A previously secret report, a letter written on May 4, 2018, four days before the Public Meeting on the proposed Riverfront development in Niagara Falls revealed important information. It was concealed from the public until it was disclosed during the Christmas season as a present for filing an appeal against Official Plan Amendment 128. This amendment is a critical instrument for a two phase destruction of the Thundering Waters Forest, a natural area of around 500 acres. Most of it is designated as a protected wetland called the Niagara Falls Slough Forest Wetland Complex. (NFSFWC)


The secret report was a letter sent by Savanta on May 1, 2018 to a Niagara Falls City planner John Barnsley. The letter was not released to the Niagara Falls City Council or the general public in time for the May 8 statutory Public Meeting and Council vote on Amendment 128. The report concerned an area which until October 2017 was considered part of the NFSFWC. It was termed Wetland Number One by a study by Savanta, ecological consultants for the developer which seeks to destroy the wetland, GR Canada. (Inc) The wetland is now considered in Amendment a study area FOD7-3.

The previously secret Savanta report that “Visual surveys for egg masses in vernal pool features identified western Chorus Frogs.” It also revealed that adult Western Chorus Frogs were also found in the disputed wetland. The Savanta study admitted that, “Western Chorus Frog has been documented extensively throughout the Riverfront community.” The name “Riverfront” is what is was given to the Amendment 128 lands which at the May 8 Public Meeting, by GR Canada Attorney Jane Pepino. Here Pepino revealed that Riverfront was the first stage of a development which would eventually consume most of the NFSFWC, an important core area of breeding habitat for the Western Chorus Frog.

The biggest core area in Canada remaining for the Western Chorus Frog, whose joyful male breeding calls are a happy sign of spring is in a small corner of habitat in and surrounding the Niagara Region. The species is officially listed as Endangered in Quebec, resulting in federal government stop work order in La Prairie, south of Montreal. The species is also threatened by agricultural pesticides, which have no history of usage on the Thundering Waters lands. In Quebec their use, the federal government’s recovery plan notes “appear to have mutagenic effects, (ie. Deformities, feminization of males.”

The abundance of Chorus Frogs in Thundering Waters is illustrative of what its federal recovery plan notes is its helpful role as an indicator species. Here as in other parts of southern Canada where it has survived, its endurance is a good sign for other species. These species include the Gray Tree Frog, Leopard Frog, Green Frog, Northern Spring Peeper and the Snapping Turtle, a Species At Risk.

The federal recovery plan for the Western Chorus Frog reveals that the area from the Niagara Escarpment to Lake Erie and the Niagara River to the Six Nations Reservation straddling the Grand River, is the core habitat for the Western Chorus Frogs. In other parts of its range south of the Canadian Shield an ominous disturbing silent spring is spreading on the landscape. The sounds of male frogs calling for mates may be replaced by the less melodious din of traffic.

Recently a House of Commons Transportation Committee advocated building a mid-Niagara peninsula expressway, which if constructed, would devastate the core habitat of the Western Chorus Frog. One of the principal area in which it would release toxic salt and chemical sprays is the forested wetland complex a great have for vernal pool obligate species such as auras and the Blue Spotted Salamander is the Caistor-Canborough Slough Forest.

There is a danger of losing a great natural wonder in Brant County- Niagara region before it is recognized and appreciated. Roads and development can go on other areas without wrecking a treasure house of bio-diversity.

Loss of planning appeal support centre ‘an outrage’ by Allan Benner

A good article:

The St. Catharines Standard
February 28, 2019

Loss of planning appeal support centre ‘an outrage’
Allan Benner

John Bacher, an environmentalist who works with the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society, stands on the edge of farmland in Niagara Falls that he helped save from development in 2015, in this file photo. He’s concerned that the province’s plans to eliminated the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre (LPASC) will make it more difficult for people to stand up against developers to preserve agricultural and environmentally sensitive property. – Peter Power, Special to The Toronto Star

Without the assistance of a year-old agency designed to help them through the planning appeals process, members the Preservation of Agricultural Land Society fear people may be “very hesitant” to stand up to developers.

Gracia Janes, spokesperson for the Niagara-based organization — formed primarily to protect tender fruit lands from development — said the provincial government’s decision to shut down the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre (LPASC) that was established in April 2018 “will definitely affect people wanting to go forward” with development appeals.

A notice was posted on the LPASC website last week advising people that the provincial government is closing the agency, giving it until June 30 to wind down operations.

“Effective immediately, LPASC will no longer be accepting new requests for professional services from the public. During this wind-down period, LPASC is committed to continuing to serve, to the best of its ability, those clients who have retained its services,” the statement said.

Janes said the provincial agency helped level the playing field between developers and residents hoping to protect their neighbourhoods — as well as groups such as PALS that are trying to save agricultural land, environmentally sensitive areas and heritage properties despite limited resources.

Although environmental consultant and PALS member John Bacher has had considerable past experiences navigating through the development appeals process, he said he, too, has benefited from the assistance provided by LPASC staff.

For instance, he said, the agency helped him obtain “suppressed” documents from the Ministry and Natural Resources regarding the Riverfront Community development (formerly Thundering Waters), while he was launching an appeal of the project last summer.

Niagara Falls city staff, at the time, said the documents were not provided because the MNRF concerns expressed in the letters had already been addressed.

But Bacher, whose Local Planning Appeals Tribunal case regarding the $1.6-billion mixed use development is scheduled to resume on March 6, said “it is clearly an outrage to shut down an agency which revealed important documents in the public interest, which were wrongly suppressed.”

He said the province should be investigating why the letters were not included in documents provided to him in the first place, rather than “shutting down the agency that provided them.”

Gracia Janes said the LPASC was established in April 2018 as part of the former provincial government’s efforts to resolve problems under the previous Ontario Municipal Board that made it “very difficult to stand up against that without your own planners, your own experts and your own lawyers.”

Prior to the changes enacted by the previous Liberal government, she said, being involved in an OMB appeal “was a confrontational thing, dominated by the lawyers.”

But as a result of the work done by LPASC staff, Janes said citizens groups are better able to negotiate the planning appeals process “and they don’t have to have a lawyer.”

The NDP’s municipal affairs critic, Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch also criticized the LPASC closure, accusing the Progressive Conservative government of “stacking the deck” against people who hope to appeal developments.

“Doug Ford is once again doing favours for his friends by dismantling an office set up to help everyday Ontarians navigate the complex planning appeals process. The Local Planning Appeal Support Centre gave local communities a fighting chance when facing off against wealthy developers trying to ram unreasonable proposals through the municipal planning process,” Burch said in a statement.

“This is only going to make it harder for everyday Ontarians to protect their quality of life when developers try to take advantage of people to pad their already-deep pockets. Everyday Ontarians deserve to have a say in how their communities grow, and they shouldn’t have to face wealthy developers and their teams of high-priced experts on their own.”

Ford Attacks Eco-Defenders Who Expose Secrecy and Deception by Dr. John Bacher

An original article by Dr. John Bacher:
February 26, 2019

Ford Attacks Eco-Defenders Who Expose Secrecy and Deception
Dr. John Bacher

In a revealing move Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the shutdown of the newly created Local Planning Appeals Support Centre (LPASC). One of its important actions was to provide me with secret documents that had been suppressed improperly by the Niagara Falls Planning Department. These letters exposed how junk science paid for by a private developer was used to justify the destruction of provincially significant woodlands and wildlife habitat.

Thundering Waters Forest. Photo by Martin Munoz.

The suppressed letters were from Tara McKenna District Planner for the Guelph division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). The letters she wrote were to the Director of Planning for the City of Niagara Falls, Alex Herlovitch. They were dated December 11, 2017 and January 15, 2018.

The suppressed letters were in effect, scientific peer reviews of the work of the consultants, Savanta, a major corporate developer, GR Canada. They are proponents of Official Plan Amendment 128 to the Niagara Falls Official Plan. If approved the amendment would destroy 120 acres of natural habitat for nine Species At Risk. These are the Snapping Turtle, Midland Painted Turtle, Acadian Flycatcher, Dense Blazing Star, Kentucky Coffee Tree, Wood Thrush, Eastern Wood Pewee, Chimney Swift and Barn Swallow.

When acoustic surveys completed in July 2017 are finally released we may know if there area as suspected three species of Endangered Bats here. Although only 120 acres now are proposed for development, the Attorney for the GR Canada has vowed to proceeded with later Phase Two application.

McKenna told the Niagara Falls Planning Department that “Wetlands are not to be removed on the rationale that they will be destroyed by the proposed development.” She also explained to them that “storm water management facilities” to treat pollution were supposed to be established in protected wetlands.

MNRF’s letter also revealed how a number of “rare vegetation communities” were threatened by the development, most notably “old growth forests.”She decried efforts to individually remove protections from components of the protected Niagara Falls Slough Forest. Her letter stressed that such an approach violated MNRF’s “standardized” wetland evaluation policy.

Thundering Waters Forest. Photo by Martin Munoz.

MNRF’s concealed December 11, 2017 letter also challenged the pretense for development by GR Canada’s consultants Savanta that development could be permitted because that provincially significant woodlands had lost their ecological function from Ash Die Off. McKenna wrote that, “The potential future decline in ash canopy may change the dominant canopy cover but not necessarily the functional value of the woodland.”

LPASC’s release of McKenna’s letters expressed MNRF’s concerns exposed how at least 9 Species At Risk are threatened by the Riverfront development in Niagara Falls. The December 11, 2017 asked that the area where the Threatened Kentucky Coffee Tree was found be mapped. It found that Savanta’s focus on Snapping Turtle nesting areas was too narrow and urged that “The ecological function of the entire feature and adjacent lands should be evaluated.” The letter also found that Savanta “had not demonstrated the absence of turtle nesting areas on site.” It also challenged Savanta’s claims that a Threatened Wildflower, the Dense Blazing Star, was not native to Niagara. This species was discovered by Daniel Nardone in a August 2017 sit in on the threatened site.

Ford’s plans to dissolve LPASC are a crude example of how his scheming aids developers’ who threaten lands of great ecological sensitivity and biodiversity. In battles to protect such areas truth of this most powerful weapon. Ford ‘s move if not reversed, will benefit the powerful who plan to win hearings of the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal through the use of biased junk science. Had the Niagara Falls Planning Department succeeded in concealing the letters of December 11, 2018, and January 15, 2108, this would have been accomplished.

Will Niagara ever have a focused and effective Conservation Authority? by Dennis Edell and Dr. John Bacher

A Letter to the Editor:

Thorold News
February 19, 2019

Will Niagara ever have a focused and effective Conservation Authority?
Letter to the Editor
Dennis Edell and Dr. John Bacher

Stock image

ThoroldNews received the following letter to the editor from Dennis Edell, chair of the Niagara Chapter Trout Unlimited Canada and John Bacher, chair of the Niagara Restoration Council:

Last week, the alleged management of the Niagara Conservation Authority fired Stuart McPherson, the agency’s last resident ecosystem restoration expert. Mr. McPherson was uniquely qualified as a water quality expert, with knowledge of the science and familiarity with the issues surrounding the management of Niagara’s watersheds. This action was approved by the interim Board of Directors, acting without the advice of a qualified CAO.

According to Conservation Ontario, “Conservation Authorities are local, watershed management agencies that deliver services and programs that protect and manage water and other natural resources in partnership with government, landowners and other organizations.” Unfortunately NPCA’s action not only ignores this mission, but it abdicates their responsibility in this regard.

As noted in the Ontario Auditor General’s report, the NPCA has not done any work on improving water quality since it suspended its restoration program in July 2017. In May 2018, eight months after suspending the Water Quality Improvement Program, the board approved draft terms of reference for a new restoration grant and in August 2018 began accepting applications. A few months later the management team cancelled this same program. Such is the disarray at the NPCA that shows no signs of abating.

The Niagara Chapter of Trout Unlimited Canada and the Niagara Restoration Council work together to restore and protect the headwaters of Twelve Mile Creek, Niagara’s major cold water resource that flows from Pelham through Thorold and St. Catharines into Lake Ontario. This partnership includes stream restoration in Short Hills Park and a Landowner Stewardship program to address the 80 per cent of the stream that flows through private lands.

Prior to 2017, the NPCA was a primary local source of expertise and support for these projects. With the firing of restoration staff, the cancelling of a restoration grant program and now the firing of one of the last key restoration resource persons, NPCA management has confirmed the low priority they assign to programs for improving Niagara’s water quality and aquatic health. This is the same important work that will help mitigate the recent unusual storm surge and flooding events caused by climate change.

With the old Board of Directors voted out and the appointment of a new interim board, there was reason to hope that the NPCA would return to its mission. Given the current state of flux at the NPCA and the critical comments from Ontario’s Auditor General’s report, it is frankly bewildering to try and understand why this new board would sanction the loss of a valuable employee, especially when the recommendation came from an interim and unqualified management team. Will Niagara ever have a focused and effective Conservation Authority?

  • Dennis Edell is Chair of the Niagara Chapter Trout Unlimited Canada:
  • John Bacher is Chair of the Niagara Restoration Council: