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

February 19, 2019

A Letter to the Editor:

Thorold News
February 19, 2019

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

Stock image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dennis Edell is Chair of the Niagara Chapter Trout Unlimited Canada: tucniagara@gmail.com
John Bacher is Chair of the Niagara Restoration Council: pals@becon.org

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Province Proposes to Rescue Huronia Through Greenbelt Expansion article by Dr. John Bacher and Sierra Club Ontario

January 4, 2018

Another in a series of interesting article written by Dr. John Bacher. Note the implications of a greenbelt for the Nottawasaga River.

Sierra Club Ontario
January 3, 2018

Province Proposes to Rescue Huronia Through Greenbelt Expansion
Yvonne Ho’s blog

20180103 map“Protecting Water for Future Generations” warns that increased storm water discharges created by urbanization “adds sediment to streams that can negatively impact fish and other aquatic species” and also “increase water temperature, affecting the survival of fish species such as brook trout that need cold water”. It stresses that Brook Trout will not survive in warmer water created through the ecological degradation associated with urbanization.

Fighting hard to protect local waters
The Mohawk elder of the Turtle Clan Danny Beaton has spent much of his recent life in defending what he terms the Peacemaker’s World. It is the sacred landscape which nurtured the founder of the League of Peace, the Peacemaker. Usually called Huronia, in memory of the people whose remarkable leader founded the League, it is dominated by the watershed of the Nottawasaga River.

The cold water Nottawasaga fed by the aquifers that provide the world’s cleanest waters, support a thriving population of Brook Trout. It is a key ecological indicator species for most of southern Ontario. This species vanishes when watersheds become subjected to urbanization. The Nottawasaga future as a healthy cold water fishery may be ensured by a proposed expansion to the Greenbelt now undergoing a 90 day public consultation.

Beaton went to prison for three days as a consequence of his leadership in a nonviolent blockade that stopped an an attempt to excavate a garbage dump known as Dump Site 41 (link is external)on top of a critical aquifer from which the world’s purest water flows. The proposed dump near Elmvale, was close to the largest Huron settlement recorded by archaeologists.

Beaton also played a significant role in a year long occupation of Springwater Provincial Park (link is external), a former tree nursery, which was a cradle for ecological restoration in Huronia. Its surging spring waters in the past provided an important staging area for the recovery of a once endangered species, the Trumpeter Swan.

20180103 swannPhoto of Trumpeter Swan

We were able to view some of the spectacular nature of the threatened landscape following the end of a five day march from Toronto to the site of the proposed Dufferin County mega quarry. (link is external) A leader called Smiling Yogi, took us to a White Cedar shaded Brook Trout stream through which was threatened with de-watering by the quarry. We were awed to see Brook Trout leap through the stream’s sparkling fast running cold waters, laced with riffles, runs and pools.

New Greenbelt policy proposal: “Protecting Water for Future Generations”
Protecting these waters is the key focus of a discussion document by the provincial government. It is termed “Protecting water for future generations (link is external).” As summarized by the Minister of Municipal Affairs, the Honourable Bill Mauro, the discussion paper provides “scientific, technical and land use planning analysis” of the “greatest concentration of water features associated with urban growth.”

“Protecting Water for Future Generations” has a good summary of how sprawl threatens southern Ontario waters. It notes that, “Urbanization threatens the longtime health of hydrological systems throughout the region. Urban development impacts water resources in several ways. Water cannot flow through hard and impermeable surfaces such as roads, buildings and other paved or concrete areas and often collections as surface runoff in drains and storm sewers. As a result, more water flows directly into streams and lakes, and less water seeps into the soil to recharge aquifers for drinking water and support ecological processes.”

One of the important ecological processes are to supply the groundwater that feeds cold water streams. They frequently at seepage points, are lined with watercress. Diverse insect populations, most notably Stone flies, Walter Penny’s, Mayfly and Caddisfly, also thrive in cold water stream environments.

“Protecting Water” warns that increased storm water discharges created by urbanization “adds sediment to streams that can negatively impact fish and other aquatic species” and also “increase water temperature, affecting the survival of fish species such as brook trout that need cold water.” It stresses that Brook Trout “Will not survive in warmer water” created through the ecological degradation associated with urbanization.

Five of the seven areas proposed for Greenbelt expansion are within Huronia, in the regional governments known as Dufferin and Simcoe Counties. Two are on the fringes of Huronia. One of these, the Escarpment Area Moraines, the discussion paper explains, “provide base flow to streams flowing from the Niagara Escarpment. They are critical for groundwater that supplies communities” such as Shelburne, Organgeville, Fergus and Guelph with drinking water. Another is the Oro Moraine, located west of Orillia and Lake Couchiching. “Protecting Water” notes that it is “composed primarily of highly permeable sand and gravel and is a significant groundwater recharge area.”

Three of the proposed Greenbelt expansion areas are in the heart of Huronia. One is called the Nottawasaga River Corridor. Among the critical goals of these expansions is to protect the Minesing Wetlands, an important wildlife refuge for herons, Trumpeter Swans, Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly and the endangered Sturgeon from polluted storm water from Midhurst.

Middle Reaches of the Nottawasaga River

Middle Reaches of the Nottawasaga River

Photo of Nottawasaga River obtained from NVCA website. (link is external)

What can you do:
It is remarkably easy to read the snappy to the point discussion paper and to make comments in time for the March 7, 2018 deadline. Both the discussion paper and a feedback form are on the website of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. Comments can also be made through the registry of the Environmental Bill of Rights (link is external). Comments can also be made through email to protectingwater@Ontario.ca (link sends e-mail).

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) (link is external).
Map showing geographic location of Huronia was obtained from Ontario Nature website (link is external).

 

http://www.sierraclub.ca/en/greenbelt-expansion-huronia

 


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.


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