Another original article by Dr. John Bacher, first published by Mediacoop.ca:
Niagara’s municipal politicians have mounted an offense against forest defenders by their response to the bravely circulated document, “A Call.” A threatening salvo was fired by Robert Burns, solicitor with the law firm, Broderick and Partners. It alleges that the authors of “the Call” are “motivated by malice” in their “false and defamatory” attacks.
Following Burn’s missive another barraage called “A Special Statement” was fired off. It uses a three fold attack on environmentalists.
First “A Special Statement” condemns conservationists for not focusing on “valid concerns.” It claims the authentic debate shaping the future of the threatened 500 acre Thundering Waters Forest, “has shifted to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), the City of Niagara Falls, and the province.”
In reality there has been no big shift because of the mounting exposes of environmentally harmful impacts that would result from the wiping out of the Thundering Waters Forest. This has caused a major delay which has prevented the OMB from considering the issue. Before both it and the City of Niagara Falls City council can consider the development scheme there has to be a Public Meeting held under the Planning Act. Holding such a meeting was delayed by the Niagara Falls City Council in response to concerns raised about environmental impacts in a letter from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. (MNRF)
Among concerns that MNRF has raised are the impact of the proposed development on Species At Risk. These include the Wood Thrush, Eastern Wood Pee-Wee, Barn Swallow, the Chimney Swift, and the Tri-Coloured Bat. Both bats and swifts may utilize the old growth forest for critical nesting habitat, taking advantage of tree cavieties and aged bark.
Another prong in the attack on conservationists in “A Special Statement” is a vigorous defense of the “Strategic Plan” of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. (NPCA) It was this very plan which resulted justifications for the firing of brave NPCA staff who worked with me in the past to rescue the Thundering Waters Forest.
The website of the NPCA which details the Strategic Plan and its various drafts is full of discriptions of the attacks on dedicated people who helped me. It describes how the drilling of these heroic people took part in “Sleeves rooled up” interogation sessions, where “Candid stakeholder” interviews took place. Here the stakeholders took great pleasure in what are termed “empowered… change management working groups led by NPCA board members.” These leaders were all NPCA board members who were at the time, elected municipal politicians.
In the verbiage of the Strategic Plan and its various drafts, “stakeholder” is a euphemism. It is a simple slick code word for developers and their minions who clashed with me in my battles eight years ago to protect the Thundering Waters Forest. The NPCA website clearly names three of these so called stakeholders who tried, in vain, to drive a stake through the heart of the Thundering Waters Forest. One is Ed Lustig, who negotiated the deal with me that resulted in the wetland re-evaluation. Another is Richard Brady, who took part in one of the deal sessions. Another is Johnathan Whyte. After the Strategic Plan was completed, following an OMB mediation, he signed a letter to Jean Grandoni and myself when plans for Thundering Waters north of Oldfield Road were completed.
“A Special Statement” concludes by praising the NPCA’s Advisory Committee. Its Co-Chair is Jonathan Whyte. During the only public consultation held on the Ontario wetland policy review held in Niagara in 2015 ( a second one was promised but never took place), Whyte was the only participant in a room of fifty people to present a brief in favour of what was termed, “bio-diversity offsetting.”
One of the Advisory Committee members is Lisa Campbell. She is the author of a 2005 study referenced in the bibliography of the draft Environmental Impact Statement of the Thundering Waters Secondary Plan. It concluded that salamanders are absent from the Thundering Waters Forest. This is the conclusion that was later refuted in the 2010 wetland evaluation for the Niagara Falls Slough Forest, the victory that triggered massive firings of NPCA staff justified through its odious Strategic Plan.
The persecuting antics of Robert Burns and “A Special Statement” are just the latest episode in the eight year struggle to rescue the Thundering Waters Old Growth Forest and the rare species it supports. It is to be hoped that public outrage over these attacks will be another milestone in the campaign to save this precious place.
Another original article by Dr. John Bacher, first published by Niagara At Large:
For The Sake Of What’s Left Of Niagara’s Natural Heritage, Have Your Say On Reforming the Ontario Municipal Board OMB Consultation Is Underway – Here’s How You Can Get Involved In Making The OMB Process More Responsive To Conservation Concerns A Call-Out from Niagara, Ontario conservationist John Bacher
Between now and December 19th, the Ontario government is engaged in a review of the role of the Ontario Municipal Board. (OMB).
Niagara conservationist John Bacher stands under a giant white oak tree in the Thundering Waters Forest area now being eyed by developers and some Niagara politicians for urban sprawl – a matter that might one day be decided at an Ontario Municipal Board meeting.
Appealing to the OMB is the only way to reverse the decision of an elected municipal council on a land use planning matter. Over the years this has involved decisions on the protection of the unique Niagara Fruit Belt and threatened forests.
The most important training of my life under the guidance of two thoughtful role models, Mel Swart and Robert Hoover, was to develop an appreciation of the role of the OMB in protecting the environment.
Although cynics may dismiss the OMB’s role as a haven for high priced lawyers and consultants, I can show you amazing orchards and forests which would not be here today had not it been used successfully to defend Mother Earth.
Shortly after their election victory, the Ontario Liberals made an important reform to the OMB. This is outlined on page 16 of the government’s discussion document, “Review of the Ontario Municipal Board.” (This 35-page report can be downloaded from the website of the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing)
On page 16 of the report the exact wording of the big reform of 2005 of no former Premier Dalton McGuinty is described. This is that, “Refusals and non-decisions on applications for urban boundary expansions” can no longer be appealed to the OMB by developers.
For the land use planning novice, the wording on page 16 may appear to be odd or confusing. What it means simply speaking, is that if a municipal council has the guts to stand up to a powerful developer and their minions, their decision concerning protecting farmland and rural forests stands.
The obvious way to strengthen the land use planning decision is to extend the big reform of the OMB made in 2005 to cover all of what Ontario land use policy terms, “The Core Natural Heritage System.” This would in essence protect forests both within and outside urban boundaries.
Right now the City Councilors in Niagara Falls sitting on the fence over the fate of the Thundering Waters Forest are using the pretext of a possible costly OMB appeal to justify their sitting on the fence. Let us hope that through this review of the OMB, the provincial government has the guts to pull this fig leaf away.
To get involved in the reform of the OMB you can do it in two ways. One is by sending an email to OMBreview@ontario.ca The other is to comment through the Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights, (EBR) registry. This can be done by searching the registry number 102-7196, on the website – Ontario.ca/EBR.
John Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario and is the Chair of Greening Niagara
Please find below the complete response from the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society, PALS:
Brief by Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) in Response to Proposed Reforms to Procedures Ontario Municipal Board. November 25, 2016, by Dr. John Bacher, (PhD)
1. PALS welcomes thrust of OMB reform document
PALS welcomes the basic thrust of the OMB reform proposal, “Review of the OMB.” In general the changes will facilitate improvements that will encourage more orderly land use planning in Ontario. There are however, some additional suggestions that we are making for OMB reform.
2. Province needs to build on reform of 2005, re removal of “Refusals and Non-Decisions on Applications for Urban Boundary Expansions”
One of the positive aspects of the Provincial reforms of 2005 was the change in powers of the OMB as specified in the comment on page 16 in the discussion document. This change protects municipalities from having their decisions to refuse urban boundary expansions subject to an OMB review.
The 2005 reform reflects the basic reality that there is sufficient land within urban boundaries to accommodate at reasonable densities, which are supportive of transit , projected needs for various types of urban development. OMB hearings should not be used by developers to challenge good planning decisions by municipal councils to constrain sprawl.
One of the strangest, but important, aspects of PALS work relates to being contacted by individuals who have been told by their municipal councillors that they did not wish to turn down an application to expand the urban boundary of their municipality since they did not wish to have their decision overturned by a costly OMB adjudication. In this regard, we have informed those who wish to protect agricultural land that the OMB does not have jurisdiction to make such a decision. We were contacted specifically by Ella Haley, a farmer and University Professor from the consolidated County of Brant, that councillors were complaining about the prospect of an OMB appeal. Once she informed the Brant County Council that they had the power to turn down the proposed expansion of urban boundaries for a residential subdivision, the expansion request was denied.
We have seen in the past the 2005 reforms described as expansions to what the Planning Act and the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) call the “settlement area.” The language on page 16 regarding “urban boundary expansions” seems to suggest that development outside urban boundaries, which do not require urban piped services, and can be accommodated by septic tanks, are permitted. In this regard, we recently were contacted by the Friends of Simcoe County Forest about a proposed removal of agricultural zoning to permit the construction of a waste transfer station on lands that are currently zoned for agriculture. It is claimed that the replacement of this agricultural zoning by one that would permit an industrial use does not constitute an expansion of the settlement area.
There needs to be clearer language to define settlement areas. In this regard, there needs to be a change to the Planning Act which clearly specifies that lands currently zoned/and or designated agricultural are outside the settlement area. Therefore decisions by municipal councils that refuse to change these agricultural zonings/designations, should not be a subject to OMB appeal.
There is another aspect of the concept of the settlement area which should be considered as part of the OMB review. While agriculturally zoned and designated land appear to be outside of the settlement area, such a concept does not apply to environmentally protected lands. This distinction is not reasonable since environmental designations are more restrictive than agricultural ones, and therefore, are less open to human settlement.
The land use planning system in Ontario needs to give comprehensive support to municipalities that seek to curb urban sprawl. Consequently all lands that are currently agricultural/zoned designated, or environmentally/zoned designated should be considered outside the settlement area, and not subject to OMB appeals of council decisions to protect them.
An additional reform that should be made is to protect municipal council decisions that safeguard what provincial policy describes as the “Core Natural System”. These areas include Valley lands, flood plains, wetlands, and provincially significant forests. They have been mapped and identified by strict criteria in municipal official plans.
Ontario’s rural and natural landscape is an interconnected system. Agricultural land is not only important for the food it produces. Agriculturally zoned/designated land provides important ecological benefits. Urbanization of agricultural lands pollutes streams and destroys fish and amphibian habitats. It also destroys the habitat of deer, wild turkeys, and other species, some of which are threatened such as the Bobolink, Meadowlark, and the Monarch Butterfly. These benefit from agriculture landscapes, especially pastures.
In reality the agricultural and urban natural habitats are linked. In even apparently isolated natural habitats in urban areas, wildlife are able to make use of natural connections such as hydro corridors and railway rights of way to move between urban and rural environments. Most of the core natural area is on the fringe of urban boundaries, providing excellent buffers between agricultural and urban uses.
Sprawl is the biggest factor threatening biodiversity in Ontario. One of the most practical steps the province can take to combat it is to provide clearer language its definition of settlement areas where decisions, or what planning language describes as non-decisions by municipal councils, cannot be appealed by developers to the OMB. This should include all agricultural/zoned designated lands, environmentally/zoned designated lands, and areas that are identified in municipal official plans as part of the Core Natural System.
3. Since OMB has power to refuse hearings, cost awards should not be granted.
Currently, the OMB has the power to refuse hearings when no proper land use planning reason has been set forth for it by appellants. This power, should eliminate cost awards. If the hearing in question had not been triggered by a legitimate planning concern, the OMB should not have entertained it.
OMB hearings cannot be triggered by what is termed as “as of right” development. They involve some change to the existing planning system, established by municipal zoning and official plans. People who seek to involve themselves in this democratic process of rights established by the Planning Act, should not be deterred by cost awards.
4. On-site visits should be required.
As an organization whose basic purpose is to protect Ontario’s rural landscape, PALS is quite committed to the notion that OMB hearings should involve site visits by arbitrators. Our rural landscape is too precious to be destroyed without being seen by those who ultimately determine its fate.
5. Ontario government should defend OMB decisions in court.
PALS, along with Jean Grandoni, was recently involved in an important OMB decision which rescued the shadow fruit belt south of the Niagara Escarpment and the watershed of the Ten Mile Creek, which provides important amphibian habitat, from an urban boundary expansion. This decision, which was only made possible by the payment of substantial sums in legal and expert witness fees, has been appealed to the courts. Such OMB decisions which reflect the public interest in curbing urban sprawl, protecting the agricultural land base of Ontario and its environment, should be defended in the courts by the provincial government.
6. OMB should be required to use ‘court’ language/terms to define expert witnesses.
Unfortunately, one of the most contentious elements of OMB hearings can be defining an expert witness as suitable to give opinion evidence in the area of land use planning. In this regard, the OMB should take direction from what has been defined in the courts, as someone who is able to provide what is termed, “specialized knowledge.” This knowledge can be obtained from either formal training or experience. The relationship between a party and the proffered expert should not be used to deny the benefit of an adjudicator of this specialized knowledge.
7. PALS supports suggestion of public funding for lawyers/expert witnesses .
PALS supports the proposal of public funding for Lawyers/Expert Witnesses. In this regard there has been some experience which should provide a guidance. This is the Model that was used in the past by joint hearings conducted with the Environmental Assessment Board. It was required that presentations be made to a panel which could determine if the intervention supported the public interest.
The critical importance is the funding of a peer review of the work of the municipal planner who provided guidance to the decision of council being reviewed by the OMB. Without such a review the OMB simply becomes a rubber stamp for the decisions of the municipal council.
Restoration of multiple adjudicators in hearings would be of benefit .
In recent years, the use of multiple member hearings has virtually vanished at the OMB. PALS has found that this has harmed the adjudication process and that a return of multiple member hearings would be beneficial.
8. OMB panels should include expertise in landscape ecology.
Increasingly, PALS interventions at the OMB are guided by what can be best described as an approach guided by the principles of landscape ecology. We are not aware however, of any current adjudicators who have any experience in this scientific discipline. This situation requires urgent correction.
The reason why the province has established the OMB is because it provides an opportunity to provide specialized expertise in a way the courts do not. It is therefore important to have OMB members that have formal training in such relative fields as agronomy, watershed protection, storm water pollution and wildlife habitats.
9. PALS supports proposed reforms.
In our comments PALS has attempted to focus within the terms of our mandate which has shaped our interventions at the OMB. We have not therefore commented on all the proposed changes. We have added however, additional comments based on our work since 1976 in protecting Ontario’s rural landscapes, in which our interventions at the OMB have played a vital role.
Unusual for the participants in the Ontario government’s 2015 Co-Ordinated Review of the Growth Plan, the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan is the perspective of the Mohawk environmentalist, Danny Beaton. (Turtle Clan, Six Nations).
At the Caledon session on March 26th, Beaton took part in a panel with the Sierra Club representative Dan McDermott, Robin Garret, of the Greenbelt Foundation and myself. Here he stressed that all the prime agricultural land in Ontario should be protected from development. This would require a dramatic expansion of the Greenbelt.
Beaton put forth an important question at the Caledon meeting. Here among an estimated five hundred participants, Beaton was the only native person present, and who presented a perspective based on his culture’s ancient sustainable and respecting connection with the land.
At the beginning of the consultation, Beaton asked what special vehicles were there for natives to be engaged in the review. He also stressed that these efforts should not be limited to band councils, but also engage natives in cities who are not affiliated with these structures.
In response to Beaton the chair of the panel in charge of developing recommendations for the Co-ordinated review David Crombie responded that such consultations although not yet launched will happen. However, so far there is nothing printed about this, or on government websites. No public meetings have been announced, even in the Indian Act bands with reservation lands within the Greenbelt and Growth Plan’s existing limits. Nor in the voluminous material presented at the tables on the Greenbelt Review is there anything written from the perspective of Iroquoian and Objiway communities.
Beaton is in an excellent position to serve as a native voice for respect for the land, water and the wildlife that depends upon it going into the Co-Ordinated Review. He has been an environmental activist for over thirty years, leading successful campaigns against the Dufferin County mega-quarry and the proposed “Dump Site 41″ landfill on top of the world’s purest drinking water.
It is not in his great victories however, that Beaton’s views need to be appreciated at this critical hour. What illustrates the importance of his outlook and the perspective of traditional native respect for the land and its creatures that he gives voice to, is one of his most catastrophic defeats.
For the past two years Beaton has been engaged in the struggle to save all of the 125 acres of the David Dunlap Forest. It had been until the recent Richmond Hill chipper massacre of fifty acres of the forest for luxury homes, the largest remaining intact forested area between the Oak Ridges Moraine and the City of Toronto. This onslaught reminded Beaton of the wise words heard in the Longhouse from the environmental delegate of the Iroquois Confederacy, the late Cayuga environmentalist, Norman Jacobs.
In the Longhouse Jacobs, frequently aided by the words of the Confederacy’s legal counsel, Paul Williams, spoke about how if native rights detailed in treaties are not enforced they are simply ground into the dust. They explained that the rights to hunt and fish detailed in such sacred covenants as the Nanfan Treaty of 1701, mean nothing if the environment is so despoiled that no deer or other wildlife used for subsistence can live.
In the struggle to save the David Dunlap Forest, which although legally recognized as Provincially Significant under the Planning Act’s Provincial Policy Statement, (because of its large size in a heavily deforested area) Beaton saw the ugly reality of land use planning in Ontario. Since it is not protected by the Greenbelt the David Dunlap Forest can and ultimately was cut up for development on the basis of misleading “expert” studies by consultants. These claim an absurdity-that almost half of a large forest tract in a city can be cut up and destroyed without any reduction of its benefit to wildlife, watershed protection and air quality.
The destruction of the Dunlap Forest also ground into the dust sacred artifacts from native cultures that had inhabited the land for thousands of years. This was the conclusion of the archaeologist, Dana Poulton in her prepared Witness Statement on the issue for the Ontario Municipal Board. (OMB) Tragically, Poulton was barred from presenting her Witness Statement to the OMB, based on a decision by a lawyer now facing a law suit, Virginia MacLaren.
In her barred testimony, Poulton pointed out that since the forest towered over the area between the Oak Ridges Moraine and what is now the City of Toronto, it would have likely “been regarded as a sacred place by First Nations People.” Poulton also deplored how in 2009 some 366 mature trees were removed by a large backhoe on tracks under the guise of a “pedestrian survey of the field.” She found that this was contrary to Ministry of Culture guidelines which consider “tree removal to be a disturbance a potential impact to archaeological sites.”
To honour Beaton and the elders he gives voice to, it is important that all areas which are designated as Significant Forests in the high development pressure areas regulated through the Growth Plan be protected by their inclusion in the Greenbelt. To do otherwise would be to hold the sacred values of native people for the earth in contempt.
Tragically petty politics in the Niagara Region are driving a province wide review of wetland policy. While other parts of Ontario political debate may be around the big budget items of health care and education, in Niagara what drives heated exchanges are attempts to undermine the basic framework of the provincial wetland policy.
Shaped by an surge in popular environmental awareness in the late 1980s which shook much of the world, wetland policy in Ontario has been basically the same since it was formulated in 1992. Although the policy was one of the major achievements of the NDP provincial government of this time, it has since basically kept intact by subsequent Progressive Conservative and Liberal governments.
Apart from the parts of the province blessed to be included in provincial plans that are tough enough to control land use designations (Lake Simcoe Protection Plan and the Greenbelt), Ontario land use planning regulation in terms of actually protecting natural habitats is horrifically weak. The bad joke of municipally controlled planning in what is truly to make a pun of Greenbelt language our “unprotected countryside” is exposed by the minor consequence of what are legally defined as provincially significant forests.
In order to get this even albeit feeble level of protection provincially significant forests are frequently the only natural areas bigger than twenty acres in a few square miles of concessions. This was the situation in David Dunlap Forest I vainly tried to defend through the land use planning process ungoverned by provincial plans in Richmond Hill. The end result was that about half of an over 100 acre forest-the only such large natural habitat in all of the older built up area of the urban core for about five square miles- was literally ground into saw dust.
While provincially recognized forests are indeed “significant”, their protection in the land use planning process is a joke. They are supposed to be protected as long as development does not impede the forests’ “ecological function.”
Policies which have forests and other ecosystems such as alvars, prairies and savannahs, be subject to site alteration as long as their “ecological function” is not impaired fit only for ridicule. If a forest is big enough to be considered provincially significant, reducing its size, chopping it up for an estate, or eliminating it altogether, reduces its function. Smaller forests for instance, cannot support as many species of breeding birds. Many birds such as the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, require large forest blocks, especially because of the problem of the nest raiding of the Cowbird. (this species prefers more open habitats)
OMB hearings and municipal councils where experts paid by developers and municipalities attempt to justify claims that forests in a heavily deforested landscape can be cut down without harming their “ecological function” should be slightly edited and used for satires such as the Royal Canadian Air Farce. What is heard is nonsense that suggests a box store parking lot is as suitable for deer habitat that a fifty acre block of forest. Or that the Barred Owl can have excellent wintering habitat on the roof of a fast food restaurant.
What makes wet forests better protected than dry ones is the Wetland Policy of the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) under the Planning Act. Since 1992 the PPS has ensured that if an area scores enough points to be provincially significant (points gained generally by having habitat for rare species) the swamp (wet) forest is considered provincially significant. This means that site alteration such as urban development and severances for estate lots in rural areas are prohibited.
While in most of Ontario there is enough sanity so that even the most obtuse politicians believe that building in swamps is not a good this is not the case in Niagara. Apparently the biblical injunctions about the wise not building in the quick sand do not find favour here.
The all party Niagara political consensus favouring wetland destruction emerged in February 4. 2014 all candidates meeting reported in considerable detail in an on line publication, Niagara Bullet News. Here candidates representing the four major political parties demanded reductions in wetland protection. They blasted the policy with a cry of lamentation over the “millions of dollars lost by developers” from current policies.
To counter attacks by Green, Liberal and NDP candidates about the impact of wetland protection policies, the Liberal Party candidate, Niagara Falls councillor, Joyce Morocco, revealed an insider’s perspective to reviews of wetland policy. She told the all candidates meeting that “she learned about Fort Erie’s struggles with this issue and in a meeting held about three weeks ago, she and Premier Wynne discussed it at-length with Mayor Doug Martin, EDTC general manager Jim Thibert and business leaders from the constituency.”
At the all candidates debate Morocco provided further details of her conclave with business and municipal officials to gut provincial wetland policy. Following the session “Wynne’s office immediately contacted the Ministry of Natural Resources the provincial body that oversees and enforces wetland regulations. During the debate Morocco further revealed that “We’re already putting something forward”, to weaken wetland policy.
Although Morocco lost the Fort Erie-Niagara Falls riding to an NDP candidate her promises for a review of wetland policy were implemented six months later. Then on September 24, 2014, Wynne authorized a review of wetland policy. The subsequent paper generated for the review suggested that wetlands could be subjected to what it termed “bio-diversity offsetting.”
The offsetting policy currently being reviewed following a round of public meetings around the province, has won the praise of a Conservative legislator from Niagara, Tim Hudack. He praised bio-diversity offsetting for using “the best modern science” and serving to allow “local flexibility.” Hudack believes that by opening up now protected provincially significant wetlands to development through offsetting Niagara will generate “investment and jobs.”
The outrageousness of the all party attacks on wetland policy can be seen in the context of the actual land supply in Niagara. In Niagara the Niagara Regional Official Plan – after several years of protracted negotiations with the province – does not allow any urban boundary expansions because with all the PSWs protected, there is still a 41 year supply of residential land. (the supply is even greater for commercial-industrial land) This supply is so great that at the province’s request, the Niagara Region imposed through its official plan a phasing policy to restrict growth within its urban boundaries.
In addition to the fact that there is no need according to provincial planning policies to develop protected PSWs in Niagara, what makes the cry of the politicians for them being paved over is their ecologically significant nature. There are two major protected wetland complexes in Fort Erie. One is the Kraft Drain, named after the family that launched the major food empire. The other is the Frenchman’s Creek wetland complex. It is under much more development pressure than the Kraft Drain because of its close proximity to a major expressway, the Queen Elizabeth Highway. (QEW)
The core of the Frenchman’s Creek PSW is a large forested tract of around 220 acres identified in a 1989 Niagara Regional environmental sensitive areas study known as the Brady Report as the Thompson Woodlot. It shelters and shades Frenchman’s Creek near its outlet at the Niagara River, breeding habitat for an important game fish, Muskellunge. It also provides habitat for two threatened fish species, the Grass Pickerel and the Greater Redhorse. It has some of the best fish habitat in Niagara for common game species such as Northern Pike and various bas and perch species. The wealth of fish makes Frenchman’s Creek one of the best places in Niagara to view a wide variety of heron species.
The Thompson Woodlot is one of Fort Erie’s largest and oldest remaining forest tracts. It was identified in the Brady report as “a recharge area for Frenchman’s Creek.” containing “swamps and sloughs”. The term “slough” is now more precisely used as vernal pool, which provides vital habitat for obligate species such as the Blue-spotted Salamander and the Wood Frog. The dominant canopy tree species in the forest include Shagbark Hickory, Walnut, Sugar Maple, Red, Pin and Swamp White, and White Oak. Among the tree species for which the forest provides habitat is the obligate interior species, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. It has some of the best forest interior cover in Niagara for threatened bird species, being one of the few locations where there is good forest cover more than 200 metres away from the wood’s edge.
The scheming of Niagara politicians to wreck wetlands does not stop on the edge of the urban boundary. As a Niagara Falls councillor, Morocco supported in 2013 an attempt by the City of Niagara Falls to achieve what would in effect have been an urban boundary expansion in a large area rich in wetlands. This was an attempt to have a special policy designation for future urban growth along both sides of the QEW. This scheme, subsequently withdrawn because of opposition from Port Colborne and a local environmental group, the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society, (PALS), would have encouraged urbanization in the heart of the most intact surviving wetlands in the Carolinian forest zone. One of the impact areas, identified in the Brady report as the Waverly Woodlot, has towering Black Gum trees, now recognized as the oldest deciduous woods in Canada.
The respected author Elizabeth Kolbert has warned of the pending “Sixth Extinction” from human stupidity and greed. Nowhere are her warnings so appropriate than the attitudes of Niagara’s politicians towards wetlands, which threaten rare species for the quest of shopping malls along an expressway corridor.
One of Ontario’s smallest conservation authorities in terms of area, Kettle Creek, located in Elgin County around the city of St. Thomas, tells a vivid story of a landscape that has gone from being ruined to being recovered over roughly the last century. While many sites in southern Ontario witnessed this type of transformation during this period, Kettle Creek’s story is unique in terms of the dramatic changes it experienced in undergoing this transition.
The very name of the stream whose watershed is the basis for the city of St. Thomas, the principal urban centre in Elgin County, reflects the ecological damage that much of southern Ontario suffered as the nineteenth century progressed. Kettle Creek’s name is taken from the large kettle pots in which wood was turned into ashes for soap making. This was one of the strongest driving forces behind deforestation in southern Ontario, where farmers would use the quick cash they could generate from selling the ashes from incinerated forests to pay for their initial costs. The burning of the forest to make soap ashes was commented upon by Harold Zavitz, a relative of the long-serving Provincial Forester of Ontario, Edmund Zavitz. Harold’s branch of the family had moved to southwestern Ontario, specifically around the community of Coldspring which is close to St. Thomas, in the early 1800s. Harold Zavitz observed that the burning of 60 giant maple trees for a single bag of potash amounted to a horrific “burnt offering to agriculture.” 45
Forest cover in southern Ontario had plunged to around five per cent by the end of the First World War, and the consequences of this wanton deforestation emerged in many forms, including massive flooding. As with much of southwestern Ontario, the wakeup call for the area around St. Thomas was the great flood of 1883, sparked by heavy rains in a deforested landscape, which also brought death and destruction to the nearby city of London, Ontario. In St. Thomas a number of bridges along Kettle Creek were swept away in the 1883 disaster, and a wash out took place on a train track four miles north of Port Stanley. Lives were saved by the heroism of a farmer who used a red flag to stop a train headed from London. Without his timely intervention, the train would have been doomed to fall into Kettle Creek because of a destroyed bridge.
As with other communities in deforested regions of Ontario, flooding had become worse in the Kettle Creek watershed as forest cover was removed. In 1890 a deluge caused culverts and bridges to be “washed away in all directions.” In 1909 another calamity hit St. Thomas when a flood surrounded “almost every dwelling in the flats”. According to a contemporary source, the raging waters carried “off wagons and other movable objects.”46
Forest cover in the Kettle Creek reached its low point in 1919, then it slowly began to increase as a result of the policies of the recently elected provincial government headed by Premier E.C. Drury. It was during Drury’s reign in office that public programs aimed at promoting tree planting began to have a positive impact on southern Ontario’s landscape. They included projects which saw farmers begin to re-establish forests on part of their lands. In the area of Kettle Creek, such tree planting efforts initially occurred on a total of 29 properties comprising roughly 260 acres; the seedling stock came from government tree nurseries, such as the one in nearby St. Williams. In 1928 a reforestation project was undertaken to protect the St. Thomas waterworks, which eventually formed the Kettle Creek Conservation Authority’s Dalewood Conservation Area. 47
After 1933, Edmund Zavitz’s career focused more directly on reforestation in southern Ontario. Responsibility for the area in most dire need of attention, namely southwestern Ontario, was assigned to his distant cousin, Harold Zavitz. Ultimately, Harold’s most notable achievement in the Kettle Creek watershed was the creation of the McKay Tract of the Elgin County Forest. 48
Harold Zavitz’s initial efforts to restore forest cover through co-operative programs with farmers and the county government had limited results in the Kettle Creek area. His experience was similar to the glacial pace at which progress was made in other watersheds in southwestern Ontario before the passage of Ontario’s Conservation Authorities Act in 1946. 49 In the Kettle Creek watershed there was considerable resistance to the establishment of a conservation authority since it was two decades before the legislation had an impact here. What proved critical in bringing about a change in attitudes were two severe floods. The first took place in 1947 when many families in a valley west of St. Thomas had to be evacuated, and hundreds of basements were flooded in the process. Six years later another flood sent water pouring into lower levels of the newly built St. Thomas hospital. 50
One of Harold Zavitz’s main tasks in the 1950s, as with other foresters employed by the Department of Lands and Forests in southern Ontario, was to try to get the cattle out of the woods. However, the farming community proved to be one obstacle in this endeavour. When the Kettle Creek Conservation Authority was established in 1966, observers noted the lack of success that had been heretofore achieved in this regard. Some 351 acres were found in its survey to be “wooded pasture”, so degraded as to “no longer be classed as a woodlot.” Cattle grazing was also devastating the forest around the municipal water supply. This created 110 serious gully erosion cuts in the forest. 51
While deforestation was also contributing to pollution by sediment, there were numerous other sources of pollution in Kettle Creek that were turning it into a dead zone. The e-coli membrane filter count was on a scale comparable to the Walkerton disaster of 170,000 per one million caused by livestock. Problems were also caused by the poorly operated sewage treatment plant in St. Thomas, which discharged massive amounts of carbon into Kettle Creek. The bed of the creek below the treatment plant was covered by life destroying black mud that killed all fish life from St. Thomas to Lake Erie. The creek was also fouled by a refuse dump, which when it rained poured leachate directly into the stream. During heavy rains refuse frequently floated down the river. 52
The creation of the Kettle Creek Conservation Authority in the mid-1960s was crucial to achieving success in addressing all these problems. This process has been aided by the passage of other legislation, including tree protection by-laws. Since 1966 local forest cover has increased from 10.8% to 15% with the biggest improvement coming in the lower part of the watershed. In contrast to much of southwestern Ontario, however, the forest cover in the Authority’s other two sub-watersheds is improving. In addition, livestock grazing in forests has faded into history. Most importantly, the lower third of the watershed has the best riparian cover (48.5%, or roughly double the rest of the watershed), and also the best overall forest cover (19.6 %). This is crucial to addressing the serious problem of phosphorous discharges into Lake Erie, which degrades it by contributing to the creation of massive algae blooms. 53
What is most remarkable has been the resurrection of Kettle Creek in the several miles downstream from St. Thomas to Lake Erie. As predicted in the 1966 founding survey, the cleaning up of pollution did result in trout entering it from Lake Erie. Moreover, the creek is recovering the characteristics of a healthy warm water stream, with game fish such as panfish, large, rock and small mouth bass, and catfish returning. On one tributary, Mill Creek, a mottled sculpin was recently identified as a sign that the tributary is recovering to cold water conditions. 54 More recently, the Kettle Creek Conservation Authority has undertaken an aggressive co-operative tree planting program with private owners, with a million trees at 25 cents being distributed in the past decade. The biggest afforestation achievement has been the planting of 500 acres around the Lake Whittaker Conservation Area, which protects the headwaters of Kettle Creek. 55
The importance of Kettle’s Creek’s rehabilitation is part of the broader effort at ecological recovery from deforestation in southern Ontario south of the Canadian Shield. What highlights its significance is the consequences of the absence of an effort of a similar magnitude on the watersheds in the United States that flow into Lake Erie. Although roughly comparable in terms of their contribution to lake flows, uncorrected problems of deforestation have made the United States, particularly the Maumee watershed, the major source of phosphorous loadings in Lake Erie. 56
45 Harold Zavitz, A History of the Lake Forest District, Ontario Department of Lands and Forests, p.8. Unless otherwise noted, the information used in this paper is drawn from this source and Ontario Department of Energy and Resources, Kettle Creek Conservation Authority Survey” (Toronto, 1967).
46 Ontario Department of Energy and Resources, “Kettle Creek Conservation Authority Survey, Water” (Toronto, 1967), p. 7.
47 Ibid., 8.
48 Ontario Department of Energy and Resources, “Kettle Creek Conservation Authority Survey, Land, Forest, Habitat,”
(Toronto, 1968), 21.
49 Ibid., 34.
50 Ontario Department of Energy and Resources, op. cit. “Water”, p 8.
51 Ontario Department of Energy and Resources, op .cit. “Land, Forest, Habitat,” 33-34.
52 Ibid., 6-8.
53 Kettle Creek Conservation Authority website, accessed October 12, 2015, Watershed Report Card.
54 Kettle Creek Conservation Authority website, accessed October 12, 2015, Habitat
55Kettle Creek Conservation Authority website, accessed October 12. 2015, Lake Whitaker Conservation Area.
56 International Joint Commission, A Balanced Diet For Lake Erie: Reducing Phosphorous Loading and Harmful Algal Blooms. 2014.
Zavitz, Harold. A History of the Lake Forest District, Ontario Department of Lands and Forests.
Ontario Department of Energy and Resources, “Kettle Creek Conservation Authority Survey.” Toronto, 1967.
During the third week of this November 2015, the Regional Municipality of Niagara held three public information sessions in the Niagara, Ontario municipalities of Grimsby, St. Catharines and Port Colborne.
The meetings focused on three separate but connected issues. Those issues are the planning of transportation, water and sewer services and the new five year review of the Niagara Regional Official Plan, required by the Planning Act.
It is a good thing that these issues are combined so that for instance, water and sewer lines are not extended beyond urban growth limits.
The roughly 150 people blessed to take part in these information sessions were able to meet Niagara staff and consultants developing the policies under review. What was helpful for the process is that there were copies of background reports. These included two worthy reports on “Whole Streets”, the region’s current transportation policy, and the bible for land use planning in the Niagara Region, the Dillon report. What was helpful about the process is that citizens engaged in it learn valuable background information, for instance, where sewer and water lines are actually located.
What is most disturbing about the meetings is that it is clear that the Niagara Region is still trying to revive the blessedly cancelled by the provincial government, mid-peninsula expressway. (it would have bisected Niagara in a wall of concrete, breaking up farms and forests) This proposal featured prominently on a map in the public meetings, is the main goal of the Niagara Region’s current transportation policy, which hopefully go into the dust bin of history.
The two reports on Whole Streets did offer some hope of how to remediate some of the ugliness that dominates public spaces in Niagara. In one of the report there was a positive vision of the future of Niagara Stone Road from the outskirts of east St. Catharines to the Old Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The Whole Street study photographed a current scene of this major route for tourists from the Queen Elizabeth Highway to the former provincial capital. It showed how a stretch of what is an introduction to our region for millions of visitors looks treeless, bleak and desolate, drained into an ugly ditch. A computer generated image of the future properly showed a new gateway. This had a tree lined road, with a separated trail for cyclists. Most significantly, the ditch had become a beautiful bio-swale, with wildflowers purifying the water draining down from the road.
Other parts of the Whole Street reports however, showed how the Niagara Region is still mired in anti-ecological ways of thinking. The street scenes proposed all showed concrete curbs, relegating bio-swales to rural areas.
Such an approach is contrary to an effective cycling strategy. Cities such as Portland, Oregon, which has been a successful model in getting people to shift from cars to bikes done so by the lure of riding along the softer edge of swales than tire busting curbs. Curbs also encourages a flood of contaminates from streets into storm sewers, adding to water pollution and summer time beach closures.
What was strangely missing from the display boards and reports was background information related to environmental issues in the Niagara Region. While the sewage and water lines were on the board, there was nothing reported on how well the system is working to make it possible to swim in the beach waters of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
Protected environmental areas such as provincially significant wetlands could be seen on maps featured on the display board through dark green colouring. More permissively designated Environmental Conservation Areas could also be seen in lighter green. But there was nothing in any of the maps’ explanatory legends to clearly indicate what these two colour shadings represented. Nor was there any explanation of what the Niagara Region’s environmental policies are.
The failure to clearly map existing environmental protected areas on display boards is quite unfortunate as it ignores an important requirement for municipal governments under the current Provincial Policy Statement, which came into effect on April 1, 2015. This is a requirement that official plans now have policies on the issues of climate change and bio-diversity.
One of the consequences of taking climate change and bio-diversity seriously would be to scrap the more than a decade-and-a-half old idea of construing a mid-peninsula expressway through the heart of the region’s rural lands above the Niagara Escarpment. The construction of this expressway would perpetuate automotive dependency, resulting in the spewing of more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
By cutting through forests and farmlands, the expressway would alo fragment habitats for threatened and endangered wildlife.
Taking climate change and bio-diversity seriously would also discourage any urban boundary expansions through the regional government’s five year review.
To develop strategies for climate change and bio-diversity through the land use planning process is challenging. The issues are complex and the solutions controversial. Fort Erie for instance, has for several years demanded that protections on provincially significant wetlands within its urban boundaries be removed. Doing this however, would be totally against strategies for both climate change and bio-diversity.
The wetlands that the council wants to pave over are important as sinks for greenhouse gases and are important refuges for threatened species.
Developing good strategies on climate change and bio-diversity requires a lot of information, which needs to be shared and discussed. The public meetings held by the Niagara Region last week were a great missed opportunity to get this process going.
John Bacher is a historian and author of three books. The most recent “Two Billion Trees and Counting: the Legacy of Edmund Zavitz Dundurn Press, 2011), describes how our landscape was rescued from desertification. He is currently working as a researcher with the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society and as a Greenbelt Campaigner for the Sierra Club of Canada.