Endangered Species Act Review Threatens Two Great Wetlands, Dr. John Bacher

February 16, 2019

Another original article by Dr. John Bacher, SPCC Advisory Council:

JohnBacherPhD.ca
February 14, 2019

Endangered Species Act Review Threatens Two Great Wetlands
Dr. John Bacher

(l) Dr. John Bacher and Mohawk Elder Danny Beaton, Turtle Clan.

After becoming leader of the Conservative Party of Ontario, Ontario Premier Douglas Ford announced his election campaign with an ominous promise. This was that “If I have to hop on that bulldozer myself…we’re going to start building roads in the Ring of Fire.” Ford promised to make 5,000 square kilometer stretch of James Bay Lowlands-now a vast water strong and carbon sequestering wetland: a source of riches “comparable to the oil sands of Alberta.

Ford is not climbing on the bulldozer in a literal sense. What he is doing however, is igniting a review of Ontario’s Endangered Species Act which will end on March 4th. To influence what is happening go the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, website and comment through the Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) Registry.

One of Ford’s revealing initiatives is to remove “Climate Change” from this Ministry’s name. One of the areas threatened by his review of the Endangered Species Act, the James Bay Lowlands, sequester 12 megaton’s of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas contributing to human induced climate change, every year.

The review consultation document now available through the EBR is full of negative comments about the Endangered Species Act imposing onerous restrictions on business. There is little to say about the value of saving species from extinction and regional extirpation.

The most disturbing specific proposal is would increase the harm caused by the creation of exemptions for hydro, forestry and commercial development carried out in 2013. The consultation paper has a suggestion to adding changes that would politicize this process through exemptions based on ministerial discretion. In terms of a practical achievement that could be won through a campaign abolishing this loophole, inserted several years after the act had been passed through onerous public consultations is the best that can now be achieved.

Ford’s review threatens two great wetlands of fundamental regional significance to Ontario. One is the best example of the still relative intact ecology of vast Hudson Bay Lowlands, still beyond the limits of commercial logging and roads. Another is the biggest wildlife refuge for the landscape of southern Ontario, dominated by agriculture.

In northern Ontario, the review threatens the Hudson Bay wetlands. It is the third largest such complex remaining in the world, and a colossal carbon sink. It is the largest contiguous temperate wetland complex in the world.

The other great vulnerable reservoir is the Minesing Wetlands. It is the biggest remaining wetland complex in southern Ontario’s landscape dominated by agriculture. The Minesing wetlands have become a refuge for species in the landscape being wiped out here such as the American Bittern, Least Bittern and the Lake Sturgeon. It is a place big enough for previously extirpated species such as the Bald Eagle, and the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly to return.

The Endangered Species Act current protects Ontario’s greatest threatened wetlands, by safeguarding their highly visible and spectacular indicator species. The forested peat wetlands of the James Bay Lowlands are the only success story for the Threatened Woodland Caribou. It is an iconic species on the Canadian Quarter. The James Bay Lowlands where Ford longs to drive the bulldozer is the only part of Ontario that has seen populations of Woodland Caribou actually increase in the ten years the Act has been in operation.

The Endangered Species Act has helped to hold back the very roads that Premier Ford is so keen to take a ceremonial opening ride upon. Despite considerable protests from sports fishermen and recreational hunters it has served to close roads which threaten the caribou’s habitat.

The Minesing Wetlands is guarded by another charismatic species. It is the Endangered Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly.

Minesing’ vernal pool wetlands are the only place in Canada where the Endangered Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly survives. The nearest American population is located in across the waters of Lake Huron in Michigan. Its presence is helping to slow down sprawl in Midhurst by being a concern in the reviews being undertaken through an environmental assessment.

The Minesing Wetlands is already being damaged from pollution laden sediment from adjacent agricultural operations. This causes parts of the wetland to be marred by a growing ring of ominous dead trees. While the presence of dead trees, long associated with two great heronies is normal, what is happening is a warning signal. The expansion of zones of snags and the failure of living trees to succeed them is a sign of ecological degradation. Over time the snags themselves disintegrate and an artificial lake full of exotic invasive species replaces the former wetlands.

A new wave of tree killing pollution may be unleashed by the planned explosive growth of Midhurst. An increase in population for this community from new development for over 12,000 people would unleash a flood of storm water into Willow Creek, which drains into the Minesing Wetlands. Such pollution would threaten an important indicator Species At Risk, the Lake Sturgeon. Minesing has became the last healthy population of this species, which once gave Ontario caviar, in the entire Lake Huron/Georgian Bay Basin. It is also a refuge for the Wood Duck, Trumpeter Swan and Sandhill Crane.

It is appropriate that one of the leading defenders of the Minesing Wetlands has become Danny Beaton, a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan. Beaton reveres this region as the “Peacemaker’s World”, the birthplace of the founder of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. That a member of the Turtle Clan has become such a towering figure in the battle to save Minesing from a deluge from sprawl is appropriate. Turtles have now become one of the alarm bells that have been triggered by declines monitored by the Endangered Species Act.

Recently the Midland Painted Turtle has was designated as a Species At Risk under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. While vanishing throughout most of Ontario, including another threatened wetland, the Thundering Waters Forest of Niagara Falls, painted turtles are still commonly seen in Minesing. Long before this species was designated in 2018, Minesing was greatly appreciated by Beaton as a refuge for other turtle species. These include the Snapping Turtle, Wood Turtle, Blanding’s Turtle and Musk Turtle. All these turtle species would be threatened by residential development near Minesing since they are vulnerable to pet predation.

Beaton has travelled the world, including the Amazon, to alert attention to environmental dangers. He recently, helped by Mohawks teachers in the region, went to the Hudson Bay Lowlands to study environmental threats. This journey was appropriate since the water contained in these wetlands, ecologist John Riley has found, approximates that of the entire Great Lakes. Beaton in his journey to the Amazon warned native communities not to have their traditional territories despoiled for corporate resource extraction.

Ford in his lust to build roads in the pristine James Bay wetlands is following the call of not only mining companies but an influential lobbying organization the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. (OFAH) While it has sometimes championed legitimate environmental causes, notably protecting the Great Lakes from invasive Asian carp, the OFAH has advocated roads in the James Bay wetlands, and denounced the Endangered Species Act’s regulations to protect Woodland Caribou habitat for blocking them.

According to the junk science put forward by the OFAH, to quote from their website, “Restrictions on development in Crown Forests are limiting the productivity of industries that sustain Northern Ontario communities..” It takes the view that, “Many opportunities will be lost due to a reduction in public access in public accountability to crown land that occurs only” through “forest access roads.”

As opposed to the junk science view of the OFAH that favours roads through caribou habitat, the Recovery Plan for Woodland Caribou of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, (MNRF) takes a very different view. This accurately reflects the history of Woodland Caribou’s decline throughout our continent. It notes that, “Generally woodland caribou require seasonal ranges in order of tens, hundred, or thousands of square kilometres of undisturbed or little disturbed boreal forest.” The plan notes that Ontario’ has lost fifty percent of Woodland Caribou habitat since 1880, and that it is advancing at a rate which threatens to wipe the species out by the end of this century.

The Recovery Plan for the Woodland Caribou clashes directly with the junk science positions based on Northern Ontario boosterism of the OFAH. It notes that roads within Woodland Caribou habitat are “linear corridors” which serve to “fragment existing habitat tract and impede Woodland Caribou movements, distribution and survival.” The Recovery Plan notes that the presence of Woodland Caribou is a “good ecological indicator of a healthy boreal forest.”

The James Bay Lowlands where Woodland Caribou populations area expanding is also one of the few areas in the province, where the species survives in sufficient numbers to assist in the subsistence economy of the native Creek and Ojibway communities of Northern Ontario. He found no need to spread such warnings in the Ring of Fire region. One of the reason that for the past decade the Ojibway and Cree have not been enticed to endorse road to mines schemes our collective memories of the consequence of past industrial assaults on their lands. Their communities listen to their elders who recall how hydro dams built in the 1930s caused rivers to dry up. Now these waters are threatened by toxic leakages from chromite and nickel mines.

Beaton’s warnings make him akin to prophetic figures like Sitting Bull who sought to protect the Great Plains from the ravages of European agriculture in the 19th century. This reality is shown by the Hudson Bay Lowlands now becoming a bastion of habitat for the Snow Goose, as the birds have retreated from former nesting areas on the Great Plains. Now more than five million Snow Geese live in the Hudson Bay lowlands, in such abundance that hunting restrictions have been abolished.

It is to be hoped that Ford’s planned bulldoze drive into the Ring of Fire will end up as modern day version of Custer’s Last Stand. Hopefully, an awakened public will force a retreat comparable to the one experienced regarding clean water legislation and the Green Belt.

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Dr. John Bacher urges Ontario to increase thier influence on Conservation Authorities to stop wetlands destructions.

October 20, 2017

An exceptional article from Dr. John Bacher on the threat that the Midhurst Secondary Plan poses to the Minesing Wetlands and all of Ontario’s great wetlands

Sierra Club of Canada
October 19, 2017

The struggle to protect Ontario’s Great Wetlands show a need to restore provincial appointments to Conservation Authority Boards
Dr. John Bacher

Conservation Authorities since 1946 have played a major role in protecting Ontario’s landscape from deforestation and consequently, rescuing the province from the blights of desertification and flooding… Since changes in 1996 which made municipal councils responsible for the appointment of conservation authority boards, they have been weakened to the threats caused by urban sprawl over critical wildlife habitat.”

The struggle to rescue two of Ontario’s great wetlands shows the need to restore provincial oversight over our conservation authority boards. This removal previously ensured by the appointment of the chair and four other members to conservation authority boards was one of the worst excesses of the “common sense” revolution of Premier Mike Harris. This change needs to be reversed, along with new provisions in the Conservation Authorities Act to provide for an interim provincial supervisor of boards if found necessary by the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Over the next few weeks the Ontario Legislature’s Committee on Social Policy will be debating the proposed government legislation to reform Conservation Authorities and the Ontario Municipal Board,  contained in Bill 139, the Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act. What is most significantly missing in the government’s proposals are provisions to restore a measure of provincial supervision over authorities. The need for such measures is vividly witnessed by the struggle to save the Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara and the Minesing Wetlands near Midhurst, in Simcoe County.

Conservation Authorities since 1946 have played a major role in protecting Ontario’s landscape from deforestation and consequently, rescuing the province from the blights of desertification and flooding. Since changes in 1996 which made municipal councils responsible for the appointment of conservation authority boards, they have been weakened to the threats caused by urban sprawl over critical wildlife habitat.

Battle #1: Fighting urban sprawl Minesing Wetlands, Simcoe County
The Minesing Wetlands are frequently called Canada’s Everglades. They are full of amazing wildlife. Unusual species found here include the gigantic Lake Sturgeon, the once endangered Trumpeter Swan, and the threatened Wood Turtle.

There is an endangered species in Minesing Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly, which is found nowhere else in Canada. It is a vernal pool obligate species. In this regards it is similar to the Spring Peepers, Chorus Frogs and Wood Frogs which explode every spring in Minesing in their mating chorus.

The Minesing wetlands are threatened by urban sprawl onto prime farmland around them adjacent to what is now the small village of Midhurst in Springwater Township. The proposed expansion of the village by 30,000 people threatens Minesing with a cesspool of sewage.

The staff of the Nottawsaga Conservation Authority bravely tried to stop sprawl around Midhurst. This resulted in the firings through the municipally controlled board of the General Manager, Wayne Wilson (who had served for 23 years) and a Patti Young, a senior planner.

Battle #2: Fighting development in Thundering Waters Forest, Niagara
Similar battles caused by municipal politicians bullying conservation authority staff are witnessed in Niagara over the 483 acre Thundering Waters Forest. Much like Minesing, most of the wetland is a swamp forest, which in springtime explodes in a musical frog mating chorus. Recently a recent sit-in part of the wetland which still remains vulnerable to development discovered a threatened beautiful prairie wildflower, Dense Blazing Star.

I explained the terrible treatment of the staff of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) in a brief I recently delivered on behalf of the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society. This was set out a brief to the Ontario legislature’s Committee on Social Policy, concerning Bill 139. In my brief I stressed the crucial work of NPCA staff in securing the protection of the Thundering Waters Forest in a wetland evaluation that went on from 2008 to 2010. This triggered the massive firing of staff by the directors of the conservation authority.

It is a crucial time to send a clear message to the Ontario government and legislators of all parties. This is to amend Bill 139 in two ways – 1. Restore provisions for five provincially appointed conservation authority board members, one of which should be the Chair; 2. The other is to give the provincial government the power to have interim supervisors manage conservation authorities.

This article was written by Dr. John Bacher, Greenbelt Campaign leader at Sierra Club Ontario, and a member of the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS). This article appeared on the Sierra Club Canada Foundation site, Yvonne Siew Ching Ho, Ontario Chapter Coordinator http://www.sierraclub.ca/en/provincial-appointments-ca-boards

Blog image is a photo of a wetland in the Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Region, obtained from The Media Co-op website.


Is the Angus Tree Seed Facility to be sold to developers by the Ontario government?

September 26, 2017

The plan was to sell off Springwater Provincial Park for residential development when it was made inactive in 2012.

That’s what the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, MNRF wanted to do in 2012. (rationale) The MNRF is the ONLY ministry that can sell crown land.

 

Same plan, different redeemed wasteland.

BTW: who do you think ensured the quality of the trees that were planted in the 192 ha of Springwater Park and  the 32,000 acres of Simce County forests?

 


Tree-seed collection going to private sector, Anne Learn Sharpe

September 25, 2017

Another forestry cultural jewel is being closed down.

The Barrie Examiner
September 22, 2017

Tree-seed collection going to private sector
Anne Learn Sharpe
Opinion

After 94 years, our provincial government is closing the doors of the Ontario Tree Seed Facility. Why now?

When the Tree Seed Plant was opened in 1923, it was a key part of an ambitious reforestation project in Ontario. The 19th-century lumber industry left acres of stumps and slash that farmers burned to plant crops. With the trees gone, water sources disappeared, soil turned to blow-sand, easily eroded by wind and rain.

A group of far-sighted foresters, politicians, civil servants and farmers pushed forward a long-term tree planting agenda that repaired the devastation and resulted in the Ontario Tree Seed Plant, the Midhurst Tree Nursery, Simcoe County Forests and the planting of two billion trees in Ontario. That’s quite a legacy.

But the challenges that faced those conservationists are still with us. Deforestation continues, due to development pressures and some agricultural practices. Climate change is escalating. With their capacity to store carbon as well as water and to moderate temperature, trees and forests are essential mitigators of climate change.

In 2018, the Ontario government plans to leave tree-seed collection to the private sector. If there is a business plan in place for this transfer, it hasn’t yet been made public.

Tree-seed collection is not a high-profit enterprise. A network of collectors from across the province must be trained to find quality seeds from healthy trees. At the Ontario Tree Seed Facility, exact temperature, humidity and timing must be maintained in each of the stages of processing seeds. Some of the equipment is industrial seed processing machinery and some has been adapted by longtime employees over many years.

This kind of experience can’t be transferred in a year.

Local tree nurseries are concerned about the continuity and quality of their seed supply and storage capacity to compensate for lean years. They have good reason. Will the private sector be able to provide the same consistent and professional service? Is that possible in a for-profit scenario?

Municipal officials were surprised by the closure announcement; the community and stakeholders were not consulted.

Have the impacts been assessed and a transition plan formulated? Have expanded uses for the facility been explored? And what will happen to the beautiful grounds planted with specimen native trees and shrubs?

The Ontario Tree Seed Facility is a positive legacy from politicians who acted for the long-term public good. Its closure would mark an abandonment of those principles.

Anne Learn Sharpe

Is there any provincial politician with ties to Simcoe County that cares two-hoots about trees?


Springwater Park contributes to students’ growth during Eduction Week and Mental Health Week

May 5, 2017

Being on the land promotes physical, mental and spiritual wholeness.

Barrie North Collegiate teacher Andrew Clark watches student Will Barry tackle the slack line during the school’s wellness day at Springwater Provincial Park on Wednesday, held in conjunction with Education Week and Mental Health Week. Beausoleil First Nations, which operates the park in partnership with Ontario Parks, also had representatives offering various sessions.

Ian McInroy of the Barrie Examiner writes in Wellness day more than a walk in Springwater Provincial Park:

Students experienced a variety of events that can contribute to positive overall wellness.

Barrie North staff led sessions on activities such as guitar playing and song-writing, Tai Chi, hiking, food and mood, among other things.

“We are also fortunate to have Beausoleil First Nations staff leading a medicine walk, drum circle and other sessions,” said Barrie North vice-principal Peter Bowman, who is part of the wellness team at the Grove Street school.

Beausoleil First Nations have operated Springwater in partnership with Ontario Parks since July 2015.

Bowman said having First Nations representatives take part was important.

“We are here in this part of the world and they were here a long time ago and had a whole bunch of things figured out,” he said. “I think we can learn from that and they are looking at doing some great things here at Springwater (park).”

And what do the students think?

Barrie North student Sam Sampson watched Beausoleil First Nations member Steve Beedie lead a fire-bow demonstration.

“Having First Nations here today is amazing,” she said, after watching fellow student Bree-Anne Bessey coaxing some smoke from the fire bow. “They were here before us. This is their land and we get to learn about their culture.


Methven A. “Matt” Adamson overcame many obstacles to found, nurture and defend Springwater Park.

May 4, 2016

A fellow forester told me recently that Major Adamson had to fight like hell with his superiors about the park’s very existence.

19490627 Adamson photo

From the Barrie Examiner June 27, 1949:

METHVEN A. “MATT” ADAMSON is superintendent of the Ontario Forestry Station at Midhurst. He is one of those responsible for the beautiful development at Springwater Park, picnic and recreational centre for thousands of Simcoe County folk and visitors from all over Canada and the United States.

Plaque Adamson

Plaque reads:

Springwater Park:  An everlasting tribute to the foresight, ingenuity and resourcefulness of Methven A. Adamson Superintendent Provincial Forest Station Midhurst during the period 1929 – 1956.

Plaque Adamson distance

Across from the Vespra Boys cairn, the main maintenance building in the back.

canadian-forestry-corps1

For more details, please see:


Did the Midhurst Secondary Plan sprawl development overrule Ontario’s own endangered species law?

November 27, 2015

Why didn’t the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry apply its own laws and protect the Minesing wetlands habitat for this at-risk species?

eco small

Will Ontario continue to only listen to mega-sprawl developers?

An important article by Sara Carson at the Barrie Advance (not online), Rare dragonfly in Minesing wetlands declared at-risk speciespdf

An endangered dragonfly could lose its only known Canadian habitat if development takes place atop the Snow Valley ski hill, says Ellen Schwartzel, acting Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO).

And she blames the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for not doing enough to protect the Hine’s emerald dragonfly and its habitat in the Minesing wetlands.

“That was a very good example of where the science says this is what’s needed and where the ministry stopped short of protecting that habitat,” Schwartzel said.

20151127 Hines

This Hine’s emerald dragonfly was spotted close to the Minesing Wetlands at North Simcoe Railtrail near Sunnidale Road. CHRIS EVANS

The ECO’s annual report released Nov. 3 and titled Small Things Matter, used the Hine’s emerald as one example of the province not following a species’ recovery strategy, prepared under the Endangered Species Act.

“The province has had the opportunity to show some on the ground successes for the Endangered Species Act, they haven’t yet done that. And that’s disappointing,” Schwartzel said.

The Hine’s emerald recovery strategy, created in 2013, recommends its protected habitat include the Snow Valley Uplands because its groundwater feeds the entire wetland. Schwartzel is calling on the ministry to take recommendations in the recovery strategy seriously because the area is under development pressure.

“Given the specificity of this recommendation in the recovery strategy, and with no explanation of the ministry’s decisions provided, the ECO concludes that the MNRF opted to favour development, rather than to prioritize the protection of this species at risk habitat,” the ECO’s annual report states.

The habitat regulation for Hine’s emerald includes a 500-metre area around the habitat used by the species. Ministry spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski said this area protects the flow of groundwater into the wetlands, and aquatic areas used by the species. But, she added, this does not mean development outside the habitat won’t require provincial approval.

“If activities outside this area are likely to have an adverse effect on the habitat, they may still require authorization under the Endangered Species Act to consider the needs of the species,” she said.

Kowalski added the recovery strategy is one source of information used to develop habitat regulations.

“Biological consideration of the species, community knowledge, socio-economics, and public input contribute to best available information by which habitat regulations are ultimately determined,” she said.

Chris Evans said it’s unknown what level of human disturbance this dragonfly can tolerate. BRERETON FIELD NATURALISTS’ CLUB PHOTO

Chris Evans, president of the Brereton Field Naturalists’ Club, discovered the Hine’s emerald here in 20074. It is also found in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Missouri. He said it’s unknown what level of human disturbance this dragonfly can tolerate.

“Perhaps its extirpation from other areas of Ontario indicates that we are damaging our aquifers and water supplies in ways we do not yet understand. Why not identify and protect all known and potential Hine’s emerald habitats from human development until we know the safe limits of our impacts?” he said.

Water levels are very important to the Hine’s emerald because these dragonflies reproduce and live as larvae in crayfish burrows that are very sensitive to disturbance, said local naturalist Bob Bowles. He takes part in the annual dragonfly count in the Minesing wetlands.

“Any development of the area would impact greatly on the Hine’s emerald,” Bowles said.

To read the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s report visit: http://eco.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2014_2015-AR.pdf

To learn more about the Hine’s Emerald and to see its recovery strategy, visit ontario.ca/page/hines-emerald.


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