Niagara Regional Official Plan Threatened by Developers’ Junk Science, Dr. John Bacher

July 6, 2018

Niagara Regional Official Plan Threatened by Developers’ Junk Science
Dr. John Bacher

The Niagara Region has embarked on a new three year process to develop a new Official Plan. What is most disturbing about this path, likely to ruin, is that it is heavily influenced by a peculiar type of “environmental stakeholder”. These are armies of environmental consultants in the pay of developers.

Giant Eastern Cottonwood Trees in Thundering Waters Forest wrongly designated for paving over by claims of Green Ash domination. Photo Martin Munoz.

In the past the Niagara Region had a formally constituted Environmental Advisory Committee, (EAC). This was abolished recently of the grounds that it met infrequently. EAC however, has been in effect replaced by informal consultations with unnamed “environmental stakeholders”. No minutes of the meetings of the “stakeholders” have been taken. Their names are also anonymous.

The anonymous “environmental stakeholders” have been joined with the equally secretive “agricultural stakeholders.” These unnamed persons have not been named. Discussions have by-passed the Niagara Region’s Agricultural Policy and Action Committee. Their members are known. The committee’s deliberations are public and recorded.

What makes the process of developing a new plan so ominous is what the Niagara Region’s Planning Consultant, David Hayworth identified as the number one concern of the “environmental stakeholders.” He did this at a July 5, 2018 presentation to the Niagara Regional Council.

According to Heyworth woodland mapping was “identified as a major concern by many.” One of the issues raised was the process to determine significance or forests facing problems of “die-off from the emerald ash borer.” Heyworth told council that the impacts “of analysis and options for identifying and mapping woodlands” would be highlighted during the development of a new plan.

Currently in its official plan the Niagara Region, using criteria taken from provincial government standards has mapping of what are termed “Environmental Conservation Areas” (ECAs). In these ECA lands there are restrictions which require the development of an Environmental Impact Study before any site alteration can take place. These studies may, according to discretion of the Niagara Regional Planning Director, be subject to a peer review.

A peep into the plans of the “environmental stakeholders” has been given through the work of the Niagara Falls Planning Department, guided by the Savanta, environmental consultants of a developer, GR Canada. They are urging that ECA lands in the Thundering Waters Forest be developed on the grounds that ash die off, by promoting succession from invasive European Buckthorn, will destroy these forests’ ecological significance.

In putting forward their analysis favouring developers’ Niagara Falls planners were helped by the suppression of a December 11 letter from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, (MNRF), on this issue. Tara McKenna, District Planner for MNRF’s Guelph District, wrote in rebuttal that although such infestations “may result in change of the dominant canopy species but not necessarily the functional value of the woodland. The woodlands are contiguous with existing forested wetland and upland forested areas which contribute to the overall species and structural diversity, size of the larger woodland areas, and the functional linkages between different features.” This analysis based on the view of ecologists working for the provincial public service, contrasts vividly with the junk science put for by employees of developers.

What made the Heyworth’s reliance on anonymous “stakeholders” more irksome was what happened at Niagara Regional Council after its discussion of the new Official Plan. After applauding Heyworth’s presentation based on secretive stakeholders, the majority of the regional councillors condemned criticism of their chief executive officer, Carmen D’ Angelo, which was taken from ten anonymous informants, also anonymous. They were employees of the Niagara Region, and their complaints were made to the newspaper, the St. Catharines Standard. Niagara Falls Regional Councillor Bob Gale, expressed the hope that the Standard would be condemned for the use of anonymous sources, although this approach relying of secret informants was used by the consultant the council had hired to supervise the development of a new official plan.

The bright spot in the grueling August 5, 2018 meeting of Niagara Regional Council was s presentation by a real environmental protection activist, not secretive “stakeholder”, Jean Grandoni. She gave an eloquent plea for the protection of streams from deforestation and illegal dumping. Grandoni pleaded with councillors that, “Fisheries are the FOROTTEN local food supply. Remember that fish are found locally not just in the cottage north country. However, due to a lack of Watershed Plans, illegal dumping, filling in of floodplains by developers, and diversions, much of this local food supply has been lost. We once had pike up to three feet long but with developer encroachment, pike are almost extinct in inland watersheds.”


Reports Suppressed by City of Niagara Falls To Support Destruction of Thundering Waters Forest, Dr. John Bacher

An important original article:
July 5, 2018

Reports Suppressed by City of Niagara Falls To Support Destruction of Thundering Waters Forest
Dr. John Bacher

On May 8, 2018 near midnight immediately following a required Statutory Public Meeting under the Planning Act, the Niagara Falls City Council voted to approve what is now termed the Riverfront development. This would if actually approved by the Ontario Land Use Planning Tribunal, (LPAT) involve the destruction of 120 acres of diverse natural habitats, some of which are now protected wetlands.

Dense Blazing Star, (threatened WIldflower), discovered on proposed Riverfront lands by Daniel Nardone

Absent from the voluminous detail on which the Niagara Falls Planning Department based its recommendations on the city’s website are two letters from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, (MNRF) These letters from MNRF are dated December 11, 2017 and January 25, 2018. Both were signed by Tara McKenna, Senior Planner for the Guelph District of MNRF.

The MNRF letter from Tara McKenna that was released to council on April 30, 2018 does refer to the suppressed documents. This published letter moreover stresses that this April 30 correspondence does not address all of MNRF’s concerns. This letter stresses that its commentary should be “considered in combination with our previous correspondence.” Both city councillors and the public concerned with the fate of this important Carolinian refuge for endangered wildlife were kept in the dark about what the “previous correspondence” said.

By omitting two MNRF reports through correspondence suppression, the Niagara Falls Planning Director Alex Herlovitch, did not have to address many issues to Niagara Falls City Council. One of these is the threatened habitat of an Endangered species, the Acadian Flycatcher. MNRF also chastised Dougan’s successor Savanta as consultant for GR Canada for failing to look for the Acadian Flycatcher in 2017, where it was earlier located in 2015

Concerns also about protecting Acadian Flycatcher habitat were addressed at length by MNRF in the suppressed correspondence. They do not appear in the final letter which Herlovitch chose to share with the public and the Niagara Falls City Council. This omission permitted GR Canada solicitor, Jane Pepino, to claim that MNRF concerns had been addressed by the City of Niagara Fall and her client.

The Acadian Flycatcher is a highly Endangered species, with at the most 75 breeding pairs surviving in Canada. This is detailed to the most recent, Environment Canada Recovery Plan, which stresses the importance of protecting large blocks of Carolinian forests. If its numbers increased it could play an important role in forest protection, becoming again a significant scale predator of the tree destroying tent caterpillar.

The Endangered Acadian Flycatcher requires large intact forests to survive. This means that the extensive tree removal that Riverfront involves would be a threat to the Canadian population. In Canada the species lives only in the deciduous Carolinian forest zone. It benefits from close proximity to Acadian Flycatchers being close by in the United States. The species however, is in decline in the northern United States also.

In their letter of December 11, 2017 MNRF challenged claims by Savanta that the Acadian Flycatcher was not present for a sufficient length of time ( they suggested three years) for the forest to be considered protected habitat of an endangered species. Here the Ministry stated that based on findings by GR Canada’s former ecological consultants, Dougan Associates, that they “can confirm that Acadian Flycatcher habitat is on site.”

MNRF scolded Savanata for not looking for the Acadian Flycatcher where it was found earlier by Dougan. On December 11, 2017 McKenna told Herlovitch that the area Savanta examined “in 2017 did not include the original location where the male Acadian Flycatcher was identified in 2015. In addition, this species is known to have site fidelity but may not utilize it on an annual basis. As such MNRF is of the opinion that that additional studies carried out have not sufficiently demonstrated an absence of the species on site.”

In response to the approach taken by Savanta MNRF indicated that it would define the habitat area of the Endangered Acadian Flycatcher. This would have excluded development from part of the Riverfront lands. MNRF announced it would do this through procedures established under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act.

The day after the MNRF letter was received by Herlovitch, Savanta agreed, faced with the prospect of unilateral imposition of a protected area for the Acadian Flycatcher, to provide habitat mapping for MNRF to review. When Savanta’s March 2018 Addendum to their Environmental Impact Study (EIS) came out, there was no mention of the earlier MNRF comments, or of Savanta’s pledge to assist in mapping Acadian Flycatcher habitat after their December 12 meeting with MNRF. The failure to address the habitat of the Endangered Acadian Flycatcher did not provoke public criticism because of the suppression of the MNRF correspondence.

Old growth forest in area recently identified in secret report by MNRF. Photo Martin Munoz.

The battles between Savanta and MRNF over the Acadian Flycatcher are similar to another dispute detailed in the suppressed letters over the extent of forest protection in the proposed Riverfront development area. There are on the Riverfront lands a number of blocks of identified provincially significant forests, delineated by the Niagara Regional Official Plan. These are designated as Environmental Conservation Areas. (ECAs) According to the regional plan development cannot take place on these lands unless an approved Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) illustrates that there is no loss of ecological function.

In their EIS studies, Savanta argued that the ECA forests were about to lose their ecological function as native Green Ash proceed to die off from Ash Boer infestation to be replaced with invasive, exotic Buckthorn. A critique of these arguments were spelled out by MNRF in their December 11, 2017 letter. Here McKenna wrote that, the Savanta “EIS seems to suggest that the woodland areas …should not be considered significant because of further canopy decline due to Emerald Ash Boer.”

McKenna found that although, “The potential future decline in ash canopy may change the dominant canopy species but not necessarily the functional value of the woodland. The woodlands are contiguous with existing forested wetlands and upland forested areas which contribute to the overall species and structural diversity, size of the larger wooded areas, and the functional linkages between the different features within the Study Area and beyond.” She further stressed MNRF’s Natural Heritage Reference Manual detailed how despite ash die off impacted forests would continue to provide important ecological functions such as woodland area size and “interior area, linkages, and proximity to other natural heritage features.”

McKenna’s criticism were based on the contents of the original Savanta EIS released when Riverfront was unveiled in October 2017. Although the subsequent Addendum to the Savantat EIS was purported to be a response to comments from MNRF, their earlier criticism of the implications of Buckthorn die off was not acknowledged. This helped Savanta make in this document even more extreme conclusions about the impact of Buckthorn, which were further inflated by Herlovitch.

Herlovitch amplified Savanta’s comments on the Buckthorn issue in his May 8, 2018 report to Niaara Falls City Council. He wrote that Savanta’s “EIS has demonstrated that woodlands within the subject lands while currently meeting the Region’s criteria for significance, will lose their significance within two to five years due to losses resulting from Emerald Ash Borer and Dutch Elm Disease. These trees will be replaced, if left unchecked, with invasive species such as Buckthorn. At this point the woodlands will be no longer considered significant.”

By suppressing MNRF’s comments on Ash Die Off Herlovitch was able to engineer a science fiction approach to land use planning guided by Savantat. The suppression also helped him to craft Condition 11 of his recommendations, which so far, by its ambiguity, has prevented any appeal to the LPAT of council’s decision. This calls for future studies to produce “maps illustrating the areas recommended for woodland removal.” The entire premise of this recommendation is based on a trick which endorses the science fiction approach of Savanta through burying the contrary views of MNRF.

These suppressed December 11, 2017 comments by MNRF also dealt with another issue subsequently ignored by Savanta and their draft EIS . This is that much of the proposed Riverfront lands north of the Con Rail Drain are old growth forests. McKenna pointed out that earlier EIS work by Dougan had found that “old growth forest elements” were located here. The old growth nature of the forests here also meant that they should be considered to be provincially Significant Wildlife Habitat.

McKenna further stressed that the omission of old growth forest recognition reflected questionable changes that Savantat had made from Dougan’s original Ecological Land Classification (ELC) mapping. She pointed out that “MNRF staff would appreciate clarification on how this was carried out and if there are any data sheets showing that it has been remapped. It appears that a combination of Ontario Wetland Evaluation System mapping and ELC have been used to make a new map.”

In his report to council Herlovitch did recommend much of the protection for potential bat habitat in Riverfront based on the April 30, 2018 MNRF comments which were released. He did not address however, the reality that these areas are within the same old growth forest tract identified by MNRF in their earlier December 11, 2017 comments. These areas moreover, requiring a lot of oak, maple and hickory trees for bat roosting to take place, are not vulnerable to forest canopy loss from ash die off.

Since MNRF’s concerns about bats were extensively addressed in the published April 30th letter, some of their comments were adopted into the May 8, 2018 report by Herlovitch. The main impact was to designate the formerly protected Wetland Number One as a Special Policy Area because of its potential significance as a bat maternity roosting area. This did not include however, all of the potential bat habitat, even that mapped by Savanta in Figure 13 of their EIS Addendum.

Savanta’s EIS Addendum shows an area of potential bat habitat west of an abandoned rail line at the northern edge of Riverfront. This is part of the area identified as Old Growth Forest by MNRF in their December 11, 2018 letter. In their later January 15, 2018 letter, MNRF requested that a detailed snag density study be published as a prelude to bat monitoring. This was not undertaken, although such snags, (dead trees) are often found in Old Growth areas.

In his May 8, 2018 report to council Herlovitch made a detailed list of currently ECA protected forests. In his report there was a map which listed “woodlands to be removed (due to loss of canopy:”. The report has a red line going from this map legend to the doomed forests. One of these doomed forests was identified by MNRF’s December 11, 2017 as being old growth. It was also identified in Savanta’s EIS as candidate bat roosting habitat. To meet this criteria the old growth forest would have to have a lot of old oak, hickory and maple trees. These are conditions which would prevent canopy loss from Emerald Ash Boer predation.

The two suppressed letters from MNRF also contained important comments on the significance of a threatened moist prairie-savannah species, Dense Blazing Star. Although since the issue of its habitat protection was addressed in the published April 30, 2018 from MNRF letter, the unpublished documents refuted claims by Savanta that MNRF regarded the species as an artificially introduced population.

On December 11, 2017 MNRF wrote that Savanta’s approach to the Dense Blazing Star as not native to Niagara “is not consistent with the Endangered Species Act.” They requested that the habitat “be mapped and submitted to MNRF.” This still has not been done by Savanta. Although it claims to have excluded the Dense Blazing Star from the development area, the version of Amendment 117 approved by Niagara Falls City Council on May 8, 2018, still has an arrow for a future road going through where the population is located.

Basically what two blocked MNRF letters reveal is what reasonably environmentally concerned people, aware of the precious bio-diversity of Carolinian forests would have known all along. This is that cutting up large blocks of native deciduous forest is fatal to species diversity. It also shows that claims to legitimate these assaults based on the triumph of Buckthorn are junk version of science fiction.



Drama Over Provincial Land Use Planning Will Persist by Dr. John Bacher

Another original article:
June 25, 2018

Drama Over Provincial Land Use Planning Will Persist
Dr. John Bacher

In an otherwise flawless election campaign, the Progressive Conservatives under Doug Ford made the questionable suggestion of weakening the Greenbelt. However, the looming threats to the Ontario Greenbelt masked a seldom discussed issue: provincial land use planning. Since its inception in 1969, the use of provincial land use planning as an instrument to protect wildlife was approached with caution. MPP Jim Bradley came to be one of the longest serving members of the provincial legislature due to his ambitions to put substance over partisanship. In fact, he was the only Liberal Party caucus member to oppose the dissolution of the Niagara Escarpment Act in 1977.

Fragment of the Niagara escarpment green belt on sunny warm day. Credit: ©Vitaldrum

At its core, provincial land use planning is a complex contest between politicians, public servants, developers, various public and private sector stakeholders, and, of course, environmentally concerned citizens and advocacy groups. In our opinion, it should be a high stakes event, more noteworthy than any televised program. Unfortunately, it suffers from low ratings encouraged by poor media coverage. With that being said, it’s important to recognize that it’s more than the attitudes of politicians and public servants that contribute to provincial land use planning. Above all, it’s everyday citizens who care about the earth that can have the largest impact in environmental policymaking. This cannot be better illustrated than in the case of the Oak Ridges Moraine Plan, (link is external) passed during the Harris Government.

Environmental groups had previously attempted and failed to persuade the preceding NDP-run government to bring about similar legislation. In its first term the Harris government, amidst rolling back many of NDP’s planning reforms, was similarly apprehensive. Eventually, prevalent public mobilization caused it to embrace provincial land use planning. As a result, a ten year moratorium on any urban boundary expansions was imposed as part of the Oak Ridges Moraine Plan. Through Greenbelt initiatives over the years, Ontario Liberals led by Premier Dalton McGinty turned Harris’ 10-year Moraine freeze into a 14-year one. Unfortunately, recent changes in the legislation surrounding the Greenbelt has shown that ice is thawing.

Ford was able to propose weakening the Greenbelt legislature with such ease because it has, in reality, already been partially undermined. Apart from the Niagara Fruit Belt, Holland Marsh, and the Niagara Escarpment, most of what the Greenbelt Plan calls “protected countryside” is much less protected than before. Now, apart from the aforementioned areas and what are termed “specialty croplands” or “natural heritage areas”, urban expansions are to be considered by upper and single tier municipalities as part of their normal five year reviews. This means that we need to be vigilant in monitoring municipal plans and oppose inappropriate urban expansion propositions. Sierra Club asks you, the people, to share the reins in the fight for a greener future – find out more about provincial land use planning here.

Flowerpot Island, Fathom Five National Marine Park, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario. © Natalyalt

Original article was written by Dr. John Bacher, Chair and Greenbelt Campaign leader at Sierra Club Ontario.

Link to article


Haudenosaunee Strive to Protect Thundering Waters Forest, Dr. John Bacher

Another original article by John Bacher:
June 2, 2018

Haudenosaunee Strive to Protect Thundering Waters Forest
Dr. John Bacher

For the past two years the Haudenosaunee have been involved in a heroic struggle to protect the more than 500 acre Thundering Water Forest in Niagara Falls. Located in Niagara Falls near the conflux of the Adam Beck Generating Power Canal and the Welland River, this rare mix of Carolinian habitat forms a large forest block, including publicly owned parklands along the Welland River.

Dr. John Bacher (l) and Danny Beaton, Mohawk Turtle Clan, Photo by Les Stewart, Waverley Uplands

In this struggle a prominent role has been played by an Oneida family with long roots in Niagara Falls, the Dockstaders. A respected elder of this family Bob, spoke to Niagara Falls City Council on May 8, and identified himself as part of the Oneida Bear Clan. Karl Dockstader has been involved in the struggle in many ways, notably penning a tribute to an ancient tree he termed the “Thunder Oak.” It was a little seedling in the forest when the Treaty of Niagara was signed near the forest in 1764.

The Dockstaders have in practice carried out the wise teachings of native elders and intellectuals that I have been blessed to hear from, frequently working with my friend, Danny Beaton, a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan. What this learned people teach is that native sovereignty is not something that is cited in abstract texts. It is asserted, or taken in practical measures.

While the Thundering Waters Forest is overwhelmingly diverse precious native Carolinian habitat, home to threatened native species such as bats and turtles, along its edges there has been trash dumping. This problem has been used by developers and politicians in support of its destruction as a rationale to legitimate their schemes. Tackling this problem is not easy, since GR Canada has threatened those such as Owen Borjen, who propose to organize trash clean ups, have been threatened with arrest and substantial fines.

The Dockstaders took part in an unusual assertion of native sovereignty a trash clean up. Garbage notably tires were pulled out of a vernal pool, now identified in a consultant’s report as Wetland Number Five. This wetland, which the owner GR Canada attempted unsuccessfully to be Down Rated, may contain polypods of the Endangered Jefferson Salamander.

Removing tires with their toxins that can kill salamanders was an act of asserting sovereignty. The tires were gathered below in Wetland Five, pulled up with a rope, assembled and driven in a truck by a dedicated ecologist Adrin Willems. This simple act done of defiance of GR Canada, a corporate entity owned by the powerful state of China was a powerful assertion of native sovereignty.

In their eloquent speeches to Niagara Falls City Council, which incorporated native teachings about the important role of the now exterminated Passenger Pigeon, whose arrival in the past served as s symbol of the arrival of the sap of maples for trapping, the Dockstaders stressed the role of the Thundering Waters Forest for simple human happiness. In describing the joy it gave to children blessed by experiencing its presence, the Dockstaders built upon experiences of myself and one of the presenters on May 8 who lives near it, Derek Jones.

Quite movingly, Jones described how the Thundering Waters provided comfort for him during critical periods of his life, being a place of solace for his family in times of trauma. I have found that camping in the forest has cured deep depressions.

Karl Dockstader has been quite eloquent about the great beauty of the place. He has written that even lands which are not designated as protected forests (Environmental Conservation Areas) under the Niagara Region’s Official Plan, “are host to pollinator meadows that include important plants such as the dense blazing star and milkweed – the only plant that can sustain the monarch butterfly a species of concern.”

Karl Dockstader has pleaded that such so called “disturbed areas” based on actions in the 1920s, “look beautiful to the common person.” These areas mocked by developer paid consultants as “cultural thickets” may in reality be hawthorn savannas.” They are a refuge for a Endangered bird, the Barn Swallow.

The Dockstaders presentation of healing truths to power was combined with work on a more customary approach to native land rights. Karl Dockstader’s brief stressed that, “The Project will impair treaty rights and at a minimum will have the affect of extinguishing harvesting rights on the subject lands.” Despite this Alex Herlovitch, Director of Niagara Fall’s City Planning Department maintains that “as the subject lands are removed from the slough forest, the traditional rights of hunting, harvesting and fishing have been protected.”

Herlovitch’s attempt to say that maintaining harvesting rights are compatible with forest and savanna destruction for urban development are based on his science fiction approach to land use planning. This maintains that before the forests will be destroyed for urbanization in two to five years they will be replaced by invasive Buckthorn. Such an approach to land use planning based on assumptions of Buckthroun replacing Green Ash killed by the Emerald Ash Boer will be replaced by Buckthorn. More reliable scientific study conducted by the US Forest Service has found that the successor species are various varieties of oak.

The trickery used around the issue of Buckthorn resembles the deviousness earlier around what was termed “bio-diversity offsetting.” This concept of destroying old growth forested wetlands to be recreated resulted in an oppositional brief by a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan to Niagara Falls City council, Danny Beaton. Folllowing his protest, wet land offsetting was rejected by the provincial government.

The Haudenosaunee have struggled to defend the natural heritage protected by the treaties that were blessed by the shade of the Thunder Oak. Let us hope their wisdom prevails in future land use planning battles by the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT) now that Niagara Falls City Council has approved the Riverfront development.

Jane Pepino Declares War on Thundering Waters Forest, Dr. John Bacher

An orginal article by Dr. John Bacher:
May 26, 2018

Jane Pepino Declares War on Thundering Waters Forest
Dr. John Bacher

In a lengthy summation argument just before the Niagara Falls City Council by an eight to two vote approved a 120 acre development called “Riverfront” in Niagara Falls’ over 500 acre Thundering Waters Forests, a surprising revelation was made. The was repeated twice by the solicitor for the development corporation that seeks to replace the diverse natural Carolinian forests with urban development, Jane Pepino.

Pepino twice repeated the mantra of destruction for the demise of Thundering Waters Forest. The forest, now largely a protected wetland, is home to three species of endangered bats and the Endangered Barn Swallow. It is also a haven for Species at Risk such as the Wood Thrush, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Snapping Turtle and Midland Painted Turtle.

While the Niagara Falls Planning Department Alex Herlovitch stressed the control his 27 conditions over Riverfront Pepino made it clear that her client, GR Canada Limited ha s bigger ambitions. Twice in her presentation she told City Council that the current proposal would be followed by what she termed a “Phase Two” development proposal.

Before Pepino’s concluding remarks Owen Borjen a biologist and film maker had earlier expressed concern that the harmful ecological impact of the Riverfront development would encourage through triggering species loss, additional development. This is because through drainage, reduction of the size of habitat blocks, and encouragement of inbreeding there might occur species loss on lands which are now protected wetlands. Such species loss could then trigger wetland Down Rating, causing more land in the Thundering Waters Forest to be opened up for development.

Borgen also spoke on how toxic contaminants which around the proposed development could trigger species loss. He told City Council that he found this most disturbing as a result of the reaction to GR Canada to his proposal to do a trash clean up around the perimeter of the Thundering Waters Forest.

Owen Borgen complained that City Council must have shared his request for their participation with GR Canada which triggered a hostile response. He received a letter from GR Canada’s lawyers indicating that if he actually carried out a perimeter trash clean up that he would be arrested and subjected to a $10,000 fine.

Borgen complained to council that the threats against him by GR Canada’s legal team was especially inappropriate in view of the illegal activity that he has seen frequently on site. “The threats against me came at a time when nothing is being done against the various illegal activities that I have witnessed. These include illegal dumping, wildlife poaching and damage by all terrain vehicles.”

Trash problems around the edge of the forest were used frequently by City Councillors who supported the GR Canada development to justify their votes. Such arguments were bolstered by their manipulative use of testimony by a Professor of Biology, Miram Richards. She commented on the amazing diversity of wildlife such as vital pollinating insects such as bees found even in areas where dumping had taken place. Councillors seized upon this honest argument of awe with the forest to justify its destruction.

Impressive arguments for the defence of Thundering Waters were made by a Niagara Falls conservationist, Linda Manson. She read from a recently published Appendix to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of GR Canada’s Ecological consultants Savanta. He contained page after page of comments where Savanta clashed with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) over the Riverfront development. She repeated MNRF’s comments that the protection of wetlands has to be based on existing policies, not “evolving” ones, such as bio-diversity offsetting.

Attention to comments by MRNF were also made by two councillors that voted against the Riverfront proposal Wayne Campbell and Carolynn Ioannoni. Councillor Ioannoni stressed a MNRF letter of April 20, 2018 by Tara McKenna District Planner for MNRF that the EIS which is supposed to guide the development of provincially significant forests and wildlife habitat on the site is still incomplete. Their comments were reinforced by one of the public speakers, Daniel Nardone, who stressed the need of a Peer Review of Savanta’s work.

The contempt for the concerns of the public regarding the need to protect endangered species was well summed up by the views of councillor Wayne Thompson, a former Mayor of Niagara Falls. One of the reasons that MNRF has been so determined to protect the Thundering Waters Forest is their conviction that it is an important refuge for Endangered bat species. To this concern Thompson replied that while he worked in Public Health he was heavily concerned with killing bats.

Willful Blindness by Dr. John Bacher

An orginal article by Dr. John Bacher:
April 18, 2018

Willful Blindness
Dr. John Bacher

There is now a push by GR Canada Limited by get approval for “The Riverfront Community”, in the heart of rare and ecologically diverse Carolinian wildlife habitat in Niagara Falls. This threatened life zone has come to be known through a decade of struggle to rescue it from backhoes as the Thundering Waters Forest.

GR Canada is focused now on a May 8 Public Meeting under the Planning Act. This spectacle is expected to trigger a few weeks later an approval by Niagara Falls City Council of Amendment 117 of their official plan.

GR Canada’s “expert” advisors are seeking to prove that 11.6 hectares of what are now defined as Environmental Conservation Areas, (ECAs) are dead and dying forests. They claim these ECA forests mapped over a decade ago by the Niagara Region have become dominated by dead and and dying Green Ash trees, and Buckthorn. Savanata, GR Canada’s ecological consultants, claim that the ECA lands free of the Buckthorn blight are so tiny in scale that they cannot be mapped.

Savanta is so blind to anything but ash and buckthorn that it cannot make exceptions for ECA lands that have been identified as a Bat Mater Colony. There are three Endangered Bat species, which the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MRNF) believe may root here. The right type of locations need to be selected so that the sound based (acoustic) instruments can record bats during their short roosting period from June 1 to June 30th. Bats require forests of mature or dead trees, notably oak, hickory and maple. They also benefit from oak lives. Ash trees do not assist in their roosting.

GR Canada is seeking to rush for approval before the bat studies are undertaken within Riverfront. Its consultants, the Niagara Planning Group, says that if the bats are found after Amendment 117 is approved the impacted areas can be protected through a Holding Zoning designation.

The ECA Polygon where bats may roost is termed Polygon B, (FOD7-3). Savanta’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) indicates that such designations are living deciduous (leafy) forests. The term FOD means Fresh (dry, or non-wetland) Forests. While not mapped as a viable ECA area by Savanata its own test plots here for forest health reveal Polygon B is thriving. Here test plot Number 14 is given a green dot- the symbol of a healthy forest.

Savanta’s willful blindness has impaired its sight to be unable to see the oak, hickories and maples among the dead ash and living buckthorn. It admits there are healthy Cottonwood and Sliver Maple dominated forests on other ECA lands. I saw such forests near a sinkhole where a brook flows underground just outside Riverfront’s boundaries. Above it soars a tall Eastern Cottonwood. While withdrawn from Riverfront after the sinkhole’s discovery, these lands, vulnerable to collapse and ground water pollution, are still proposed through arrows in Amendment 117’s land use schedule for a future road.

GR Canada is pushing for a public meeting before MNRF is scheduled to undertake three wetland evaluations in the summer. These wetlands are proposed by Amendment 117 as the site of a future collector road, residential development and “mixed use”. (ie. potential shopping center)

The Public Meeting will also be held before the permitting process is conducted for an Endangered Species which has summer roosting habitat in Riverfront, the Barn Swallow. It thrives on the insect rich Hawthorn dominated lands which occupy most of the land within Riverfront. Unlike surrounding farmlands, these Hawthorn fields have not been poisoned by agricultural chemicals, fatal to Barn Swallows. If the amendment is approved before the permitting process is completed this unusual Hawthorn habitat be be eliminated through the “authorized destruction” provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

With the planned Public Meeting not having the needed information to inform the public on what Riverfront may do-let us pray that it will be canceled by Niagara Falls Council until further notice.

The Challenge of Greening Hamilton: Building on Past Legacies of Eco-Justice, Dr. John Bacher

An original article:
March 29, 2018

The Challenge of Greening Hamilton: Building on Past Legacies of Eco-Justice
Two very different planning process went on in Hamilton during the 1950s: nature was protected in West Hamilton while being systematically destroyed in Central and East Hamilton.
John Bacher

In response to my recent essay on rioting in Hamilton as a negative response to nature deficit disorder, I received a private response advising me about two positive greening projects in central Hamilton that are worth considering in more detail.

These involved two paper projects – the Gage Park Master Plan and stormwater management on Ottawa street – which have not yet been realized. Understanding this situation points to the reality that those in power have created a situation where east end and central Hamilton are trapped in a nature deficit.

Hamilton’s nature deficit disorder is based on similar elements of class oppression that have been recognized by urban geographers and historians around the world.

The term “east end”, describes a ghetto for those with limited financial means. They essentially cannot afford to live in the luxury of having wildlife friends, such as singing blue jays and colourful Hummingbirds around them.

This is a reality shaped by prevailing winds that disperse industrial pollutants to the east.

And it continues to this day. A terrible scheme seeking to make Hamilton the garbage-building capital of the Great Lakes was only stopped on July 22, 2017.

The slowness of paper greening schemes to come to reality in central and east Hamilton is expressive of harsh reality, shaped by narrow class oppression myopia and political corruption. Nature deficit is caused by what political scientists who value social solidarity call democratic deficit. The way out of it is to get more people involved in the democratic political process.

In this regards, Hamilton can learn much from past heroes, such as a former Mayor Sam Lawrence, his close friends and park advocate, Thomas McQuesten, and a sadly obscure artist, Murray Thomson.

Gage Park and Ottawa Street North
One paper project that shows the crawling pace of change is the Hamilton’s long-term plan for Gage Park. It was approved in 2010 after five years of consultations. Eight years later, nothing has come out of the more innovative aspects of this plan, which would help in restoring vanished natural diversity.

The Gage Park Master plan calls for bio-swales in the park’s parking lot. Good idea, but where are they eight years later?

Another fine aspect of the Gage Park master plan is “introducing maintained meadow” as part of “a reduced lawn care program.” Where are such naturalized meadows today?

The Gage Park Master plan apart from has a protection on cheap approach towards the Niagara Escarpment. It properly prevents the construction of any buildings Gage Park that would block vistas of the Escarpment. At a time of strained park budgets, however, such risks are remote.

The plan ignores pricy measures such as building an eco-passage bridge that would actually allow rabbits and hikers to connect to Gage Park without the fear of being hit by a train or truck.

Another paper project which has yet to be realized is an award winning design for bio-swales on Ottawa Street North around Argyle and Edinburgh streets. This green blessing is essentially a much-needed windfall from the corporate philanthropy of the pharmaceutical retailer, Rexall. It has plans for a new outlet here.

The rezonings needed for the Rexall development were approved three years ago.

‘Utopian Days’
To understand what can be done beyond the slow-moving paper promises, it is helpful to go to a time which the great Canadian philosopher, George Grant, who spent his most productive thinking time in Hamilton, termed the “Utopian Days.”

During these Utopian days, the great Stelco strike of 1946 laid the basis for collective bargaining in Canada. It was a time when there was no democratic deficit – mobilization in political struggle was at its peak.

Sam Lawrence was Hamilton’s Mayor during the Utopian Days. Lawrence was part of a CCF slate that controlled City Council. He refused to call upon the army to break the Stelco strike, saying he was a labour man first, chief magistrate second.

At the same time, Thomas McQuesten served on the boards of the Hamilton Parks Commission and Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) board. This was also the most creative time for the Hamilton artist, Murray Thomson, who was a Westinghouse production worker. He also organized an artists’ union.

Woodlands Park
Thomson was the product of the greatest cultural hubs of Hamilton, Woodlands Park. Dubbed “The People’s Park”, its giant shady tress were once part of an old growth forest called Land’s Bush.

Union workers assembling at Woodlands Park (Image Credit: Workers’ City)

Located next to the Westinghouse factory, the six acre park was a venue for political discussions and protests. Some of the demonstrations there were frequently broken up by firemen and police in violation of Democratic norms. This “People’s Park” was the start of a 10,000 march to Stelco at the peak of the 1946 strike.

What most distinguished the strike of 1946 was the artistic flair of the marchers who gathered in Woodlands Park. The marchers were led by Thomson, disguised in a masked effigy of the reactionary Conservative party politician, Nora Francis Henderson. Other masked marchers were linked arm and arm as the Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, and a notorious capitalist called “Old Iron Jaw Hilton.”

While union rights triumphed in 1946 and as Thomson banner’s proclaimed labour did “knock out” their political foes, changes after 1946 were negative for central and east end Hamilton. This was during a time when McQuesten had died and Lawrence began a slow retirement from politics.

It was a downhill time for Hamilton’s Centre and east end. No new nature parks blessed the city. Instead, homes were bulldozed for an asphalt sea of parking lots, many of which were subsidized by massive “urban renewal” schemes paid for by the federal government.

Slumming by Design
The efforts to try to turn much of Hamilton into a giant slum was vividly witnessed by the demise of Woodlands Park as a cultural hub. This was accomplished through the uprooting of its majestic trees. Its landscape was converted to treeless aesthetic fields which still dominate the park. According to labour activists such as Bert McClure, this mutilation was done to prevent large-scale gatherings from being held there.

Woodlands Park with Westinghouse building in background (Image Credit: Jason Nason)

When plans emerged that would eventually mutilate King’s Forest Park for the Red Hill Creek expressway in the 1950s there was a very different approach taken in West end Hamilton moreover. This west end extended into the entire Halton region and to much of the adjacent lakeshore landscape of Peel.

I got a sense of the basic divisions between the West end and East end of Hamilton, when walking with Don McLean and other foes of the Red Hill Creek expressway to Toronto.

When we got to the Burlington side of the beach, we met an affluent businessman from this community. He told us why he supported the Red Hill Creek expressway but opposed the Mid-Peninsula Expressway in his home town.

Essentially, he wanted pollution to stay in the east end, away from his friends, employees and family. Fumes from east end Hamilton for the Red Hill Creek expressway would be blown away by the prevailing winds and not choke his loved ones.

Central Hamilton Under Attack
Two very different planning process went on in Hamilton during the 1950s. Downtown Hamilton became marred by one-way street expressways. This doomed an attempt at a small enclave of civility, Hess Village.

Victorian Hamilton neighbourhoods based on transit were pulverized by the demands of the automobile. New industrial areas in the east end around Stoney Creek had no aesthetic embellishments, such as trees or ponds.

Similarly, it is not surprising that the air of the east end would be toxified by the ill-fated but mercifully short-lived SWARU municipal garbage incinerator. The fumes it belched out made Hamilton’s steel mills look like green wonders of design.

To this day, the Hamilton Port Authority continues its mad incineration mania, seeking to have garbage from throughout the Great Lakes region shipped in by lake freighters.

Different Planning Approach
An entirely different approach took place in the west end Hamilton, Burlington, and Oakville. Here there was a determination that even oil refineries should be built in a way that was in harmony with nature. This succeeded to a remarkable degree. The oil refineries were built with careful buffers, including complete forests, some of which provided a refuge for the endangered Red Headed Woodpeckers.

Halton Region and Peel along the lakeshore may be the only area in the world where the homes of the one percent are adjacent to oil refineries. Here the grounds of petroleum refineries are also refuges for deer and rare woodpeckers. There is no nature deficit in Halton Region, despair its plethora of heavy industry. This green pattern is clear all along the Lake Ontario lakeshore, with massive forests lining oil refineries as far as Port Credit.

Efforts to wipe out the legacy of the green planning in the west have led to protests and political organizing. This has resulted in municipal councils being controlled by the Green Party of Canada, through its regional affiliate, Halton Greens.

A critical aspect of its organizing was a campaign against the development for residential purposes of a former oil refinery buffer in Oakville on Lake Ontario, Shell Park. This political mobilization to defend the green legacy of the good planning of the past ended the democratic deficit that had allowed paving interests to dominate municipal councils in Halton.

Art Crawls Through Ugliness
Think tanks such as the Hamilton Institute are right to criticize art crawls which are disconnected from the broader landscapes. Art crawls through ugliness don’t make sense.

The Pollution Crawl that helped stop schemes for making Hamilton the garbage-burning capital of the Great Lakes is helpful in showing how crawls can seek to restore beauty to our landscape. Sherman Inlet in Hamilton Harbour was to have been the site for a garbage-burning facility.

It is to be hoped that its restoration will be on a bigger scale than anticipated and that more of the buried river will be exposed and brought back to life.

Cleaning up the polluted legacy of the past is difficult for Hamilton to finance, with the decades-long struggle to clean up Randall’s Reef being a vivid example. Past Pollution Crawls can be morphed into restoration crawls, on the scale of the artistic marches that were launched from Woodlands Park in 1946.


John Bacher is the Chair of the Sierra Club, Ontario Chapter. He is a member of the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) and sits on the steering committee of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance.