Should the federal and provincial governments invest in a Carolinian National Park or help fuel a fossil: a stock-car track in Fort Erie?

An original article from Dr. John Bacher called, Canada’s Most Sensitive Ecological Zone Threatened by Zaniness: (pdf)

John Bacher niagara

Author in threatened Niagara Falls Forest next to giant Black Gum tree.

Niagara Falls and Fort Erie are now the healthy heart of Canada’s most diverse and ecologically endangered ecosystems, the Carolinian life zone. This tiny area dominated by leafy,  deciduous hardwood forests has a quarter of our nation’s  human population but only one per cent of its land base. It is home to the most ecologically diverse landscapes  and the greatest concentrations of species at risk.

The Carolinian zone extends from around Grand Bend on Lake Huron to the eastern suburbs of Toronto. Although this area does contain a lot of rural land, precious little of this is forest. Much of what was at the end of the 19th century still a relatively healthy landscape, with a good mixture of forests and farmland, is rapidly becoming a sterile monoculture. The municipality of Chatham-Kent suffers the worst deforestation in Canada, without any controls on the private deforestation of land.  When last year its council debated having a tree protection by-law some 1,500 acres of precious Carolinian  forests were cleared away.

Southern Niagara Falls and all of Fort Erie contain Canada’s most magnificent and ecologically diverse wetland swamp  forests. In ignored backwoods near the Queen Elizabeth Highway there are magnificent towering Black Gum giants, a species which is at risk. Most of these forests are provincially  protected wetlands. They are filled with  vernal pools, lined by awesome gigantic  Pin Oaks. These intermittent pools  are important habitats for a great variety of frogs and other amphibians, including the threatened Blue-Spotted Salamander.

Farmers in southern Niagara have the sense today  to protect their forested wonders despite the abuses of the past. As a result of their wise stewardship, pushed by pioneering conservationists such as Edmund Zavitz and Bert Miller, they have stayed out of wetlands poorly suited for cultivation.  Unique for the Carolinian zone forest cover in southern Niagara is steadily increasing. The fruits however, of such  sane rural wisdom are now threatened by the zany schemes launched by politicians and developers in smoke filled rooms.

Ferns

Ferns of the Niagara Falls Forest.

For the past twenty-five years environmental damage and debate in Niagara has focused on assaults and efforts to defend threatened Carolinian swamp forests. The alarm bell suddenly sounded in 1993, when a clear cut was made on what a recent ecological survey had identified as the threatened Ramsey Road Forest in Niagara Falls. The clear cut, which north of Oldfield Road removed all but 12 acres of linear forest, which provides habitat for a threatened vine, the Round-leaved Greenbrier. After an arbitration by the Ontario Municipal Board, (OMB), only 2.5 acres of this protected forest that had vernal pools providing habitat to amphibians such as the urban intolerant Wood Frog,  was rescued – the rest, this year was bulldozed away.

20151113 Vernal

Vernal pools saved from clear cut.

In Fort Erie unlike Niagara Falls  there has been mercifully little forest swamp busting. This happy situation however, may change if a scheme known as the “NASCAR like”,  Canadian Motor Speedway, proposed for a vast tract of 821 acres, is actually developed.

What is so zany about the mercifully unbuilt schemes in what still remains of the Ramsey Road Forest and the Fort Erie Speedway is that they involve weird twists of provincial policy, a proposed revision in wetland protection rules called “biodiversity offsetting”, and foreign trade missions by powerful politicians. In October 2009 the then Ontario Minister of Economic Development and Trade, Sandra Putatello, accompanied by the Mayor of Fort Erie, Doug Martin and its economic development General Manager, Jim Thibert, went on a trip to Dubai. Here she made an announcement endorsing the Speedway. According to Mayor of Niagara Falls. Jim Diodati, Ontario’s Premier, Kathleen Wynn while in a recent  trip to China, worked hard to entice foreign investors to China to build in what is left of the Ramsey Road forest. This is  approximately 450 acre area associated with what is termed the Thundering Waters Secondary Plan, south of Oldfield Road.

Round-leaved Greenbrier

The Round-leaved Greenbrier: an endangered species in the Ramsey Road Forest.

While Wynn toured China her government  engaged in a consultation she initiated on what is termed “biodiversity offsetting.” In Niagara this approach  was first suggested in 2008 to permit development in wetlands in the Thundering Waters Secondary Plan area south of Oldfield Road. It died when this wetland on the basis of discovery of threatened Black Gum trees and breeding habitat for the Blue-Spotted Salamander, was upgraded to provincially significant status. At a recent meeting in Niagara Falls on the province’s wetland review, advocates of development here supported biodiversity offsetting.

While the biodiversity offsetting policy is still under public review, the template for such a change was unofficially pioneered in Fort Erie. Here what had been a linear forest of dominant canopy  Swamp White Oaks and Pin Oaks had its provincially significant wetland status removed.

As a result of the wetland down rating  change following the acceptance of a Speedway funded ecological study, prohibitions against the cutting of the tall oaks for an arm of the race track were removed. The study claimed that the butchered  linear forest would be compensated by expanding existing swamps. However,  later during fieldwork for an Ontario Municipal Board, (OMB) hearing,  this area in the undevelopable  flood plain of Frenchman’s Creek  was shown to be already regenerating successfully into a Pin Oak Forest.

Michigan infield

What Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, MI looks like.

Zany schemes involving the luring of foreign investors with trade missions and high profile politicians  to build in swamps should stop. Rather than come up with new schemes of biodiversity offsetting, we should develop tourism by an appreciation of our natural wonders.

Black walnut forest

Black walnut forest threatened in Fort Erie by proposed speedway.

Instead of acceding to Fort Erie’s request made last year for $42 million to pay for improved water and sewer services for the Fort Erie motorway, and a reduced request for $12 million this year, the federal and provincial government should allocate this level of funding to protect and expand the core of Canada’s threatened Carolinian heritage. An investment in an adequately sized Carolinian National Park makes more sense than investing in a dying industry of stock car motor racing. Major venues for this sport, such as the Daytona Speedway are reducing their stands- in this case from 189,000 to 101,000.

John Bacher PhD is an environmental writer, researcher and consultant, JohnBacherPhD.ca. 

Originally published on DemocracyWatchSimcoe.ca.

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