Browsing the blog archives for April, 2010.

Can You Still See The Forest?

South March Highlands

This is the text of the presentation that I gave to the Ottawa Forest and Greenspace Advisory Committee meeting on April 26, 2010.

I am here today as a local resident

  • who is part of a larger coalition of concerned citizens that oppose the TFD expansion project

I’m here to ask Why does this City keep systematically destroying the SMH?

  • This has been going on for the past 40 years

In the past 10 years the City has been using the road to justify development of the area and vice versa.

  • This has been going on for so long that it is now difficult to tell which came first
  • The chicken or the egg

What baffles me most is how is it that City planners (who have been so busy planning how to cut down trees) have lost sight of the importance of the very forests within which they stand?

So with this presentation I’d like to start by stepping back about 50 km so that we can properly see all the forests involved.

Ottawa’s Other Transportation System

As you can see from this aerial photo, looking down from 50 km, we can see 3 major eco-corridors running in parallel to each other:

  • Gatineau Park to the North
  • Constance Lake – Shirley’s Bay along the River
  • South March Highlands to the South

Each of these eco-corridors plays a vital role in the transportation system of the National Capital:

  • They enable the transportation of animals, fish, and birds who live in and travel within them
  • Who in turn carry native seeds, pollen, and other genetic material up and down these corridors
  • This transportation of vital  genetic material helps the City fight off the invasive species that our now threatening us as a result of the combination of irresponsible development and climate change
  • These eco-corridors also help absorb the GHG emitted by the City’s other transportation system, turning these noxious fumes back into life-giving oxygen.

 How is it that City planners have been oblivious to the whole transportation picture?

Integral To Shirley’s Brook Hydrology

Now let’s zoom in a little so that we can see another transportation system at work

  • This map uses the City’s hydrology database
  • To show how the SMH are the source for the hydrology of Shirley’s Bay
  • The provincially significant wetlands are all shown in Blue so that they show up better
  • Shirley’s Brook drains the SMH wetland complex, transporting water that feeds the nationally significant wetland in Shirley’s Bay
  • In other words, the SMH eco-corridor is connected to the central eco-corridor that we saw on the previous slide.

 Ottawa’s Most Important Ecological Reservoir

Let’s zoom in a bit more and take a closer look at SMH in perspective

  • This area has been described by scientists as  one of the most important ecological reservoirs in the City of Ottawa

 Densest Bio-diversity in Ottawa

SMH has been called a “wild island” that has the richest biodiversity per hectare in the City

  • Over 654 identified species
  • Probably actually over a thousand because the area has not been holistically studied
  • All within a 3×2 km area

 What are we doing to protect it?

Even though this area has been identified as needing protection since 1972, the City has failed at conserving it.

Only 1/3 of the original “protected” 1972 lands remain

  • Lost to development in the south
  • Losing to development in the north
  • Hollowed out in the middle

 It’s Time to Stop The Madness

What little that does remain will not be sustainable if TFD is allowed to cut the remaining area in two:

  • Enabling so-called development within the arc of the road
  • Trillium woods will cease to be a forest
  • South March Conservation forest will die as a forest
  • And all we will have is yet another urban park with nothing left but squirrels and some diseased trees

Greenbelt Shepherd’s Hook Alternative

But it’s not too late to do the right thing!

  • We can extend the greenbelt with a shepherd’s hook that includes SMH
  • This will simultaneously provide protection of both SMH and Shirley’s Bay

 Ottawa’s Gatineau Park

We can then extend this with eco-corridors that encompass the wetlands beyond

  • Perhaps working with the NCC to build Ottawa’s own version of Gatineau Park
  • And then we will have a real and  holistic transportation plan that values eco-connectivity as much as we value automotive connectivity

 It’s Never Too Late To Do The Right Thing

Many I’m sure will whine about the consequences of all the bad decisions made in the past

  • Some will argue that it is too late and we can’t turn back the clock
  • Others will conveniently blame the OMB
  • But it is NEVER too late to do the right thing

All it takes is vision and the courage to follow what your heart knows is right.

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Acer Nigurm Requiem

South March Highlands

Sadly none of you, nor anyone else, will ever see the 200-year old Black Maple (Acer Nigrum) that was in the way of this road.  It was clear-cut along with a significant stand of tall White Pine (100 feet) and other Black Maples. 

The Black Sugar Maple is very uncommon in Ontario and is only found in southern Ontario.

Located at N45’15.231” / W75’55.492”, this unmistakable tree was originally surveyed by Daniel Brunton in 1992 and was identified by a photograph in a City-sponsored study as a significant feature in the NEA lands at that time. 

For it to be this age meant that it had survived the great forest fire of 1870 that devastated the Ottawa Valley.  Sadly it could not survive our City’s greedy feast at the federal pork barrel.

This ancient tree once stood over 75 feet tall, had a circumference of 10’9” (328 cm) and a diameter of 3’7” (109 cm).  A well known local botanist, Martha Webber, analyzed the rings to verify the age of the tree to be well over 200 years old and confirmed that it was perfectly healthy prior to being destroyed.

If not the oldest tree in the City of Ottawa, it would have been one of the oldest. The oldest trees in the Dominion Arboretum are date back only to 1889.

Old trees are important, not only for their heritage and historical significance, but also for their bio-diversity.  The genetic makeup of ancient trees includes disease-resistant chromosones that play a critical role in protecting the local eco-system.

A “younger” Black Maple nearby was also destroyed.  That tree had a circumference of 7’5” (226 cm) and a diameter of 30” (76 cm).  Ms. Webber verified the age to be well over 120 years old. 

This tree, as old as Confederation, was on the edge of the roadway, in perfect health, and could easily have been retained.  In fact the City has a by-law that is supposed to protect trees having a diameter of greater than 50 cm.

The City project staff responsible for this irresponsible act were well aware of this tree and had been instructed by the City Councillor, Marianne Wilkinson, to try to retain it.  Subsequent email confirms that the tree was destroyed without her authorization. 

If this is an example of how the City will protects it’s natural and historical heritage in a Conservation Forest, then the City of Ottawa must immediately transfer stewardship of its parks and forests to the NCC.  That trees of this value were so recklessly cut down – in a Conservation Forest is completely unacceptable.

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Citizen Article Whitewashes TFD

South March Highlands

On April 17, 2010,The Ottawa Citizen published an article called  “Critter Patrol on Terry Fox“.

Unfortunately this article presents a one-sided and whitewashed description of what is really going on.    Here is some important errata:

  1. It presents information from “The experts….”, creating the impression that there is no expertise among the hundreds who oppose this road. In fact, there are many experts in opposition including well-known botanists, biologists, turtle experts, civil engineers, etc.  All of the expert scientific information about this area, conveniently suppressed by City, raises signficant concerns about any development in this area has been compiled by eminent regional experts. The article is an insult to all of those experts.
  2. It fails to highlight that there are in fact 17 Species-at-Risk identified as being impacted by this road and nowhere in the article is the environmentally sensitive nature of this area discussed. 
    • The City’s own South March Conservation Plan states that this is the most densely bio-diverse area in the City of Ottawa and that  “The Conservation Forest represents one of the most important reservoirs of ecological potential in the City of Ottawa, providing resources for the renewal of depleted natural areas elsewhere as well as encouraging diversification within established habitats.”
    • In addition to providing habitat for 17 Species-at-Risk, it is home to 423 native species of vascular plants, including 41 Regionally Significant species, 134 bird species, over 50 fish & mammal species, and uncounted reptiles and insects.  These “critters” depend on over 30 differentiated ecotypes of vegetation that comprise 10 distinct habitats – all packed into an area less than 6 square Km – and all within City limits. 
    • The bio-diversity of this area has been designated as a Provincially Significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) by Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources.
  3. It quotes the project manager, Mr. Mike Flainek, whitewashing history by stating “The City of Ottawa from Day 1 has made some very conscious decisions to make sure that environmental impacts have been, first of all, managed, and second of all, reduced.”. 
    • The Citizen did not question how this statement could be true when at the outset of planning the road the City selected the worst possible routing for it as measured by environmental impact (based on the City’s own evaluation of alternatives).   The route chosen is in fact 5x worse than the environmentally best alternative which is simply to fix up Goulbourn Forced Road.  Using GFR instead of bulldozing a Conservation Forest for TFD will save $47 M in taxpayer’s money since the upgrade work for GFR is already scheduled at a cost of $18 M. 
    • The Citizen also did not question why the City is building a 4-lane road when a 2-lane road will suffice (assuming that the current routing).  According to the planning assumptions used for this road, employment growth for the West area was to more than double between 2001 and 2011. 
    • In reality, the employment numbers available in North Kanata between the 2001 and 2006 censuses reveal employment growth has been less than 20%. With the recession and troubles in the high-tech sector, there would have been no where near the anticipated employment growth since 2006.  The extra $10 M in cost and environmental impact of a 4-lane road is not necessary.
  4. The “experts” are quoted as saying, “When the turtles come out of hibernation over the next two weeks …”.  How can these “experts” not know that the turtles are already out of hibernation and have been seen basking in the sun for several weeks?  Perhaps these photos taken on the Easter weekend in the South March Highlands should be added to the identification wall of their trailer.  There is a photo of a Blanding’s in the photoset.
  5. Evidently we are to believe that “The fencing around the construction site … should keep the Blanding’s turtule out during road work.”  A visual inspection of the area readily identifies many gaps in this Maginot Line that turtles will never cross.
  6. A more serious inaccuracy is the assertion that “To help protect the turtles in the longer term, a permenant fence will line both sides of the roadway throughout the forested area.”  In reality, the CEAA Screening Study states that the fence is only on one side of the road because the forest will be destroyed by development on the other side.  The Citizen also did not question how this fencing will be used to prevent turtles from crossing at intersections or on the transecting collectors such as GFR and 2nd Line where there are no fences planned.  Perhaps the City is planning to train the turtles to use the culverts, but I doubt it.
  7. The article states “…they’re a threatened species protected by provincial law” but fails to mention that both the turtles and their nesting sites are protected by both provincial and federal law.  The Citizen did not question how the City will avoid destroying nesting sites when they have not taken the time to do a turtle study to determine where those sites are. 
  8. One has to wonder about how the City has chosen the location for the environmental crossings discussed in the article when, according to minutes of the City transportation committeee, the only wildlife movement study done by the City was a 3-month long winter study.  Those “experts” must be really smart to be able to use a study done when both frogs and turtles are hibernating.
  9. The article observes that the City may be chasing $32 M in federal funding.  It is too bad that the Citizen didn’t note that federal funding still comes out of the same taxpayer’s pockets as municipal.  Left pocket or right pocket, the buck stops with the taxpayer.

Notwithstanding the whitewash, it’s time to stop this madness and revisit the real question of (a) is this road still needed at all, and (b) if so is it in the right place?

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Shirleys_Pond

South March Highlands

Shirley’s Pond

Shirlley’s Pond is the headwater for Shirley’s Brook which will be disrupted by the Terry Fox Drive expansion.

Shirley’s Brook is a breeding ground for the endangered Bridle Shiner, a fish that is now very rare in the Ottawa River.

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Harper Owes Us Minimum EA Standards

Canadian Politics, Legislative Gaps

The changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA)  proposed by Harper will withdraw or limit the Federal government Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency from mandating or participating in a wide range of Environmental Assessments (EA).

Since the federal government will not require EAs on a broader range of projects, this creates a vacume of responsibility that effectively hands over more responsibility to the provinces for assuring that EAs are actually done.

While we should question the wisdom of a federal retreat on EAs, we must absolutely insist that if the government wants to retreat, then they must ensure that a higher minimum standard is in place to be enforced by other levels or branches of government.

There are many holes in the current set of provincial standards as is well evidenced by the current Terry Fox Road fiasco in Ottawa.

For example, current code of conduct for EAs:

  1. Do not require species impact assessment to be performed when species-at-risk are threatened by a proponent of a project.
  2. Do not identify hard minimium criteria for when mitigation alternatives must be considered by a proponent.
  3. Do not require that effectiveness assessment be performed for proposed mitigation measures when the are intended to protect endangered species.
  4. Do not require a proponent to specifically address the issues raised by public consultation – they only require that public consultation occurs.
  5. Do not provide a minimum standard of practice to be used when evaluating alternatives. For example, there is no requirement to prioritize criteria nor is there a required code of practice for evaluating alternatives.
  6. Do not identify hard criteria to guide the selection of scope for an EA. Existing guidance varies by province and uses woolly terms such as “project complexity” which is to be interpreted solely by the proponent.
  7. Do not require minimum criteria to ensure provincial oversight of the EA process. The Class EA process in Ontario, for example, is a proponent-driven process with little involvement from provincial authorities to ensure that it is properly completed.
  8. Do not identify hard criteria for determining when an EA Addendum is required due to changing project circumstances. As an example, the City of Ottawa took the position that it did not need to file an EA Addendum even though it’s project planned to divert the only tributary that drains a sub-watershed.
  9. Do not require proponents to publish and entertain feedback on planned environmental measures.
  10. Do not provide a basis for appeal after completion of the EA process when new information arises that contradicts the assumptions made during an EA. For example, a poorly executed study may fail to identify species-at-risk during the EA process. Subsequent discovery should be basis for appeal.

There are many, many other improvents that can be made to the EA process. If Harper wants to retreat, then he should strike a royal commission to assemble minimum standards to be left in his wake.

Please post your own suggestions for minimum EA standards.

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Climate Change Data Exhonerated

Climate Change

On March 31, 2010, the Science and Technology Committee of the UK House of Commons issued its official report into the allegations of dishonesty at the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia University.

The scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact… We have found no reason in this unfortunate episode to challenge the scientific consensus.”

The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. ”

On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, “the Committee  considers that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community but that those practices need to change.”

On the much cited phrases in the leaked e-mails—“trick” and “hiding the decline”—”the Committee considers that they were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead.”

” Insofar as the Committee was able to consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU, the Committee considers that there is no case to answer.”

Even if the data that CRU used were not publicly available—which they mostly are—its published results would still be credible because the results from CRU agree with those drawn from other international data sets.

On the matter of Dr. Jones’ use of the phrase “trick” in an email referring to Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick graph, the Committee concludes:

Critics of CRU have suggested that Professor Jones’s use of the word “trick” is evidence that he was part of a conspiracy to hide evidence that did not fit his view that recent global warming is predominately caused by human activity. The balance of evidence patently fails to support this view. It appears to be a colloquialism for a “neat” method of handling data.”

On the matter of Dr. Jones’ email including the phrase “hide the decline”, the Committee finds:

Critics of CRU have suggested that Professor Jones’s use of the words “hide the decline” is evidence that he was part of a conspiracy to hide evidence that did not fit his view that recent global warming is predominantly caused by human activity. That he has published papers—including a paper in Nature—dealing with this aspect of the science clearly refutes this allegation. In our view, it was shorthand for the practice of discarding data known to be erroneous.”

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