Browsing the archives for the Conservation Forest tag.

Misinformation in the South March Highlands

South March Highlands

Misinformation #1 ? This Area is not an Old Growth Forest

Urbandale says that this forest was studied by IFS Forestry who determined that the trees in this area are roughly 60 – 80 years old and definitely not old growth.  Further confirmation of the age of the trees is found in the 1861 Agricultural Census indicating that the Graham family was active in farming this property at that time.

The MNR defines old growth as older than 120 years old.  There are many examples of old growth in the SMH, as an example the 250-year old Black Sugar Maple that was destroyed to make way for Terry Fox Drive Extension.

These trees survived the great fire of 1870 that destroyed much of the Ottawa River Valley which is why the vast majority of trees in Ottawa are younger.  However, because the South March Highlands is a mountain wetland, it provided a firebreak for the town of March and thus many old growth trees are found. 

It is well known that many farms in the area failed because of the thin soil layer that covers the Canadian Shield in the South March Highlands and although several homesteads existed, very little of the land was cleared and used for farming.

 Misinfo #2 ? KNL Isn’t Clear-Cuting Environmentally Significant Forest

 KNL’s development agreement with the City was designed to protect environmentally sensitive areas including Beaver Pond, Kizell Pond, and Trillium Woods. As required by the 40% Agreement, KNL will be giving approximately 265 acres of the most ecologically sensitive land to the City.

However, KNL will destroy the majority of the remaining forest for its subdivision.

The City already owns an additional 1000 acres of forested area in the neighbouring South March Highlands.  This is the same so-called “Conservation Forest” that the City recently built a 4-lane highway through.

According to the City’s Environmental Assessment for Terry Fox Drive Extension filed in 2010 to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the entire area of the Beaver Pond Forest is designated as Natural Environment Area – the highest level of land use protection.

 Misinfo #3 ? KNL Is Trying to Rush This Development to Avoid Debate or Find Alternate Solutions to Preserving the Forest

The City has zoned these lands for development since the 1981 40% Agreement was approved in spite of objections from environmental groups who have opposed development for 30 years.  This opposition included 2 OMB appeals that took years to resolve.

KNL has completed and submitted to the city multiple studies looking at the environmental impact of this development including fish habitat, tree species and age, site archaeology, agriculture potential and more. These been reviewed and approved by City Planning Officials, City Council and the OMB even though these plans will result in the removal of endangered species, such as Butternut, and the destruction of critical habitat for an estimated 20 species at risk.

KNL has never met with the community despite being obligated by their conditions of subdivision approval to implement a communications plan and recently declined offers from the community and the city to buy them out at a profit based on a fair-market evaluation for their property.

Misinfo #4 ? There are no Significant Aboriginal Findings on the Site

As part of the approval process, KNL was required to conduct complete Stage 1 and Stage 2 Archaeological Resources Impact Statements of the site to the approval of the Ministry of Culture and Communications.  This study attempted to find evidence of aboriginal habitation and not surprisingly found nothing of archaeological interest on this site.  Most grade school children are aware of the fact that the ancestors of the First Nations of Canada were nomadic and therefore few had permanent residences.

Recently KNL’s consultant was called back to study a group of stones forming a circle which appears to be a possible indication of a burial ground or Medicine Wheel. 

According to KNL, the same consultant who found no evidence of aboriginal residences is also of the opinion that it is not a medicine wheel because finding such an artefact would be provincially significant as none others are known by him to exist in the province of Ontario.

KNL has stated that the site will be protected pending his confirmation that this is not of archaeological significance – which appears to be a foregone conclusion by him.  Many people feel that this diminishes the credibility of the consultant and that an independent assessment performed by the NCC is the right thing to do.

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Species Loss in South March Highlands

South March Highlands

Species-at-Risk (SAR) are classified based on the risk of extinction due to declining population within geographic areas.  As populations decline and vanish, the species’ classification increases until the species is either recovered (saved) or ultimately goes extinct.

This is not a theoretical risk.  According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), there are 13 species that once existed in Canada and are now extinct and a further 23 species that no longer exist in the wild in Canada (but exist elsewhere).

The loss of bio-diversity can readily be seen in the South March Highlands (SMH) as evidenced by the SMH Conservation Forest Natural Environment Assessment [Brunton 2008].

Click on the tabs below to see how real the risk is and why it the SMH should not be further developed.

Extirpated

The following 11 species are already believed to be extirpated (previously observed and no longer present in the SMH) as a result of development that has occured to-date in the SMH:

  1. Cathcart’s Woodsia
  2. Oregon Woodsia
  3. Spiny Coon-tail
  4. Adder’s-tongue Fern
  5. Back’s Sedge
  6. Large Duckweed
  7. Long-spurred Violet
  8. Showy Orchis
  9. Southern Arrow-wood
  10. Strawberry-blight
  11. Virginia Spring Beauty

Endangered

The following 3 species have been observed in the SMH and are Endangered both provincially and nationally:

  1. American Ginseng (a plant known to exist in SMH and once thought to be extirpated, subsequently re-discovered in 2009 when surveying for Terry Fox Drive Extension and subsequently extirpated in 2010 to make way for the road)
  2. Butternut (the SMH is one of the few locations in North America with some healthy, disease resistant trees)
  3. Loggerhead Shrike (possibly extirpated as there are no recent observations of this bird)

Threatened

The following 8 species have been observed in the SMH and are Threatened:

  1. Blanding’s Turtle (Ontario & Quebec)
  2. Whip-poor-will (All provinces east of Alberta)
  3. Golden Winged Warbler (Ontario & Quebec)
  4. Western Chorus Frog (this species is listed Federally for Ontario & Quebec but not yet listed under Ontario SARO)
  5. Eastern Musk Turtle (Ontario & Quebec and possibly extirpated in the SMH as there are no recent observations)
  6. Olive Sided Flycatcher (All Provinces)
  7. Chimney Swift (Ontario)
  8. Bobolink (Ontario)

Special Concern

The following 9 species have been observed in the SMH and are of Special Concern:

  1. Bridle Shiner (a small fish observed in Shirley’s Brook and Kizell Pond)
  2. Short Eared Owl
  3. Black Tern
  4. Common Nighthawk
  5. Snapping Turtle
  6. Eastern Milksnake
  7. Monarch Butterfly
  8. Bald Eagle
  9. Red Headed Woodpecker

SAR Candidates

These additional 18 species have been observed in the SMH and are on the COSEWIC Candidate List for Ontario:

  1. Evening Grosbeak (high-priority)
  2. Eastern Wood Peewee (high-priority)
  3. Wood Thrush (high-priority)
  4. Bank Swallow (high-priority)
  5. American Bullfrog (mid-priority)
  6. American Kestrel (mid-priority)
  7. Belted-Kingfisher (mid-priority)
  8. Eastern Red-Backed Salamander (mid-priority)
  9. Field Sparrow (mid-priority)
  10. Blue-Spotted Salamander (low priority)
  11. American Toad (low priority)
  12. Bluntnose Minnow (low priority)
  13. Boreal Chickadee (low priority)
  14. Killdeer (low priority)
  15. Midland Painted Turtle (low priority)
  16. Northern Two-Lined Salamander  (low priority)
  17. Green Frog  (low priority)
  18. Wood Frog  (low priority)
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McNamara’s Fallacy In Action

South March Highlands

The City of Ottawa has been warned by scientists, several times and in several studies, that TFD fragments the eco-system in the South March Highlands (SMH) and dramatically reduces the ability of the SMH to withstand change.

This warning is a well-considered and inevitable scientific conclusion, backed by years of research, that sadly cannot be scientifically quantified.  Questions like: How much further change can the SMH take? How much change is introduced by urban development? How long will the Conservation Forest survive, etc simply cannot be quantified.

So does that make the unmeasurable any less important to decision-making?

McNamara's Fallacy

Robert McNamara  was Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War and was obsessed with making decisions based on only what could be measured.  He also had a predilection to prefer only information that fit into his metric-based world view.  This led to increasingly absurd decisions by the US Government for many years until they finally withdrew from the Vietnam conflict.

Sociologist Daniel Yankelovich described a process he called McNamara’s Fallacy to explain why some of us have a tendency to under-value what cannot be measured.  The mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead has also referred to this tendency the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness“.

McNamara’s Fallacy is a process having 4 steps.

  1. Measure what can be measured.  This is fine as far as it goes.
  2. Disregard that which can’t be measured or give it an arbitrary quantitative value.  This is arbitrary and misleading.
  3. Presume that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t very important.  This is blindness.
  4. Say that which can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist.  This is madness.

TFD Fallacy

The Terry Fox Drive (TFD) extension is an excellent example of McNamara’s Fallacy in decision making.

Step1.  The City haphazardly commissions several piece-meal studies of the South March Highlands (SMH) area to identify existing ecological conditions and count species.  However, only easily studied vegetation is studied.  There are no comprehensive studies of fauna, insects and non-vascular plants.

Step 2.  Issues such as the size of eco-passages are ignored since the impact of the size on the effectiveness of eco-passages cannot be predicted (disregard what can’t be measured).   This leads to mitigation planned for TFD relying on experimental ideas whose effectiveness has no established scientific evidence at all (assigning an arbitrary value to them).

  • Instead emphasis is placed on having several smaller (measurable, so more must be better) passages instead of fewer, larger (more costly) ones. 
  • The location of these eco-passages is inferred from a 3-month winter study of wildlife movement because a summer study is too hard to do for the wide-variety of species affected.

Step 3. The long-term impact of losing ½ of SMH to development is never studied (too difficult to measure so don’t look at it at all).  The City has never examined its economic justification for TFD relative to its environmental impact (no cost/benefit analysis) because it is presumed that ecological value is unimportant (because it is difficult to measure).

Step 4. Councillor Wilkinson asserts that TFD can be ignored when promoting SMH as an NCC-owned wilderness park.  The the long-term effect of fragmentation of habitat and species kill-rate caused by TFD don’t exist (because they can’t be measured).

The reality is that the effect of TFD cannot be mitigated because it cannot be measured.  The very concept of mitigation depends on establishing an equal and compensating benefit to make up for the impact.  This is not possible when the impact cannot be measured.

Precautionary Principle

The Precautionary Principle holds that where there is uncertainty regarding an approach that could cause significant harm, the uncertainty should be resolved before proceeding.

This principle is well established both in law and in medicine.  It is a statutory requirement in the European Union.  Perhaps it is also time for City Hall to apply it to the environmental assessment process too.

In the meantime, anyone that contemplates allowing TFD into the South March Highlands does so at great peril to the environment and to all the species that live in it.

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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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