Browsing the archives for the Ministry Of Natural Resources tag.

The City’s Failed Wildlife Strategy

Green Reality, Legislative Gaps

The City of Ottawa’s Wildlife Strategy is a disappointing response to the public and to environmental groups who have been highly critical of the reactive and negative way in which the City responded to wildlife conflicts.

The public has been routinely frustrated that wildlife-related decisions are handled by an inter-agency group that included the City’s by-law department, the NCC and the Ministry of Natural Resources – without any transparency or accountability.

So, without any transparency or accountability, it appears that Mayor Watson has done what he seems to do best, a backroom deal that puts the City’s Wildlife Strategy in the hands of the City’s Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee – even though this group has no mandate to do this and its chairman, Doug Thompson is an advocate for coyote culls.

Killing wildlife whenever there is conflict may be a strategy, but Mayor Watson is it a good one?

So after more than 3 years of deflection and delay and a 200-page report filled with a lot of empty platitudes, it will be ‘business as usual’ for beavers killed at the majority of conflict sites in Ottawa.  Neither will there be any real help for people experiencing a wildlife conflict.

As for the process, the City’s public consultation created a new low for public participation initiatives undertaken by the City because it was deliberately stalled and dragged out.  Several of the community stakeholder groups resigned because the working group had not met in over 16 months after the draft strategy was released. Nor were any community stakeholders involved in its development.

Meanwhile a parallel and secretive process was running in background between city staff and agency representatives, some of whom had obstructed the process on the working group from the very beginning.  This is the same inter-agency group that operates without transparency and accountability – take for example, the MNR’s arbitrary refusal to allow the Constance Creek Wildlife Centre to open.

According to the mayor, ARAC was given responsibility for City-wide wildlife management in 2011. If this is true it is another example of the secretive way that the Mayor runs the City because there is no public record of approval for it.  The wording in ARAC’s 2011 Terms of Reference with respect to wildlife is identical to that in its 2006 Terms of Reference and both documents explicitly state that its responsibilities do not extend outside the rural boundary.

So why is this committee now responsible for managing wildlife conflict within the urban boundary?

Mayor Watson’s abysmal record on the environment continues to reflect 18th century colonialist attitudes.  Maybe it’s time to

  • dispense with backroom deal-making
  • operate an inclusive decision-making process in the public sunlight
  • establish a balance between the needs of development and nature
  • look for creative 21st century solutions to age-old problems.

We can only hope for a new mayor in the near future actually cares for the environment, public participation, and for implementing democratic process.

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MNR Proposal Abdicates Responsibility for SAR

Green Reality, South March Highlands

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR)’s current regime for managing approvals for permits affecting Species-At-Risk (SAR) is already flawed and the proposed changes described in the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry (EBBR 011-7696). make the situation worse – not better.

The current regime is based on providing a process for approving an activity that might harm SAR, or SAR habitat, that is based on an emphasis that mitigates impacts.

  • This is based on a false presumption that mitigation is always possible.
  • Most permit applications are granted if the mitigation for the SAR in question is relocated to a different ecosystem (i.e. moved, transplanted, or seeds replanted).

The existing Approvals process completely ignores the ecosystem implications of a permit by focusing too narrowly on the SAR in question and not on its relationship to the ecosystem it resides in and contributes to.

No vegetation or wildlife (or humans) exist in isolation of other living things.  Each has an impact on the other and within a natural ecosystem, these impacts are beneficial, balanced, and necessary for the whole – otherwise the ecosystem would be different.  Ecosystem change is usually caused by a dis-balance caused by an external event such as human activity, disease, fire, flood, or invasive species.

Instead of (a) requiring a burden of proof that mitigation is possible and (b) ensuring that broader ecosystem effects are included in this process, this proposal makes matters worse by continuing the MNR’s policy of ecosystem piecemealing via regulation.

The breadth of exemptions in the proposal is unreasonably broad because it includes all already approved or planned activities that might damage habitat.

  1. Encompassing all activities is unreasonable in scope.
  2. The proposal does not take into account the fact that approvals (such as a PTTW or CoA) have been granted in the past by agencies without regard to impact on SAR.  These agencies granted their approvals under the expectation that the MNR would fulfill any SAR-related approvals. If the MNR abdicates responsibility, then there is no consideration for SAR under any prior approval granted by any provincial ministry.
  3. The definition is so vague as to allow virtually any activity to quality – for example proposed plans of subdivision approval that have not yet been approved under the Planning Act.  This would remove what little protection exists for all 22 SAR documented in the South March Highlands.

The MNR’s rationale for grandfathering so many activities & exemptions is so dubious as to completely lack credibility.  How will the grandfathering and creation of so many exempt activities that damage habitat contribute to the overall benefit of SAR?

While it is apparent that the MNR seeks to shrink its job in the face of insufficient funding by McGuinty, the creation of so many exemptions will create an unsustainable workload for the MNR to manage the enforcement of compliance with.  Any alleged violation would require considerably further substantiation and validation of prior approvals by other agencies.  In my view, not performing such validation would constitute environmental negligence on the part of the MNR.

The proposed exemptions would also create two classes of SAR (existing and new) which has no reasonable basis in the Crown’s primary obligation to protect all SAR.  This also creates a legal liability for the province in view of recent Federal Court ruling on the fiduciary obligation of the Crown to provide such protection.  Protection of critical habitat is a duty – not a government discretion.

The Federal Court ruling sets a precedent that all levels of government must follow.  In Ontario, this duty is also enshrined in the Environmental Bill of Rights.

The proposed changes amount to abdication, not modernization, and should be opposed.   The Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands, Carolinian Canada CoalitionOntario Nature, and the David Suzuki Foundation have already expressed their opposition to this.

If you also oppose this, please make an individual posting to the EBBR.  Type in the 011-7696 Registry Number in the search box.  Search for and select the proposed change to bring up a description of it.  From there it takes less than 5 minutes to click on the Submit Comment button on the right side of the screen and to fill out the form or to cut and paste your comment.

Feel free to use any or all of the above via cut-and-paste if you wish.

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Why Denley Is Wrong About South March Highlands

South March Highlands

The Ottawa Citizen seems to consistently avoid publishing all the relevant facts about the environmental diaster unfolding in the South March Highlands.  Why?

Randall Denley’s commentary on “Wilkinson backs down in face of opposition” is off-the-mark and reflects two common misconceptions about the South March Highlands (SMH).

  1. The Kanata 40% Agreement was not a “generous” grant of land by developers that can be compared to a 5% allocation of open space elsewhere. 
     This misconception assumes that developers originally had any right to develop any of this land as they do elsewhere. 

    The reality is, since 1972, ALL of the SMH were protected from development.  The 40% Agreement was agreed to by Campeau in 1981 so that they could obtain the opportunity to develop 60% instead of 0%. 

    Many people believe that this was the worst planning decision made by the Regional Municipality during the 1980s.  This is hardly “one heck of a deal” as Mr. Denley asserts.

  2.  The SMH are not the same as any other property commonly slated for development.
     Studies done for Ottawa’s Greenspace Master Plan identifies these lands as having the same significance as Mer Bleu, Shirley’s Bay, and Stony Swamp.  It also specifically references the Trillium Wood subsection of the South March Highlands as particularly valuable to the City.

    This is confirmed by ecological surveys done by the National Capital Commission and by previous City studies.  

    Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources has rated these lands as having provincially significant Areas of Natural Scientific Interest for Life Sciences as well as provincially significant, Class 1, wetlands.

Contrary to the impression created by Denley’s commentary,  Ms. Wilkinson is responding to the overwhelming demand from over 5000 residents to protect these lands from development. 

This may be seen by some as a change in posture, but it is nonetheless a sign of democracy in action.  It is unclear why Mr. Denley believes this to be a bad thing.

In the popular movie, V for Vendetta, the hero’s tagline is that “government should fear its people”. 

Any politician that does not respect and respond to the democratic will of the people that they represent should indeed fear them.

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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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City of Ottawa Kills Butternut Trees

South March Highlands

Butternut Secret

On March 28, 2010 a team of concerned citizens walked the land that is to be destroyed by the Terry Fox Road Extension. 

This team included long-time residents of the area, Kathleen Riddell, Judy Makin, Paul Renaud, as well as two-well known and highly-respected local biologists, Martha Webber and David Seburn, and an environmental photographer, Scott Newman.

 The team of Land Walkers were astonished by the discovery that, despite an attempt to mark and preserve endangered trees, the City of Ottawa has cut down two endangered Butternut Trees using an undisclosed permit obtained from the Ministry of Natural Resources to cut down canker-affected trees prior to giving them a chance to reproduce.

 This act is further evidence that the City’s hurry to fast-track Terry Fox Road expansion through this ecologically sensitive area is just plain wrong. 

The City has not performed a high-quality, comprehensive environmental assessment of the area despite warnings from Canada’s leading environmentalists that the failure to do so may lead to the eradication of the local population of Blanding’s Turtle.

 The Team also discovered a 200-year old maple tree that is in the centerline of the future roadway.  The City currently has no intention to protect it even though this tree predates the Confederation and likely even the City itself.  

Are there so many 200-year old maples in Ottawa that the City can afford to cut one down because it is in the way of  a poorly planned road?

Prior Studies

 The prior environmental assessments (EA) done in 2000 and 2007 prior to City amalgamation were poorly executed. 

The study done in 2000 failed to note the presence of endangered species at all, while the study done in 2007 notes that 3 endangered species are present but then ignores them for the balance of the assessment. 

Neither EA faithfully applies the prioritized assessment criteria that was developed during public workshops with the residents of the area (residents wanted environmental concerns to be given highest priority). 

Neither EA performed any impact assessment on the ecology of this Provincially Significant area – let alone on endangered species.

Meanwhile, protection of endangered species, such as the Butternut Tree and the Blanding’s Turtle exists at both the Federal and Provincial level.

Paragraph 32(1) Canada Species at Risk Act:  

No person shall kill, harm, harass, capture or take an individual of a wildlife species that is listed as an extirpated species, an endangered species or a threatened species.

 Paragraph 9(1)(a) Ontario Endangered Species Act:

No person shall, (a) kill, harm, harass, capture or take a living member of a species that is listed on the Species at Risk in Ontario List as an extirpated, endangered or threatened species.

The Right Thing

 It is never too late to do the right thing.  The City needs to immediately halt work on the Terry Fox Road expansion pending a comprehensive assessment of the entire ecosystem affected by this roadwork. 

This assessment can then be used to properly plan the road, its mitigation measures, and to control and guide the expansion of the urban boundary in this ecologically diverse area. 

 In the meantime, the existing federal funding for the road should be re-directed towards upgrading the relocated Goulbourn Forced Road and 2nd Line Road as well as creating an adequate ecological crossing where Kizzell Drain crosses the Goulbourn Forced Road. 

This will satisfy short-term transportation needs of both residents and animal life while a more viable longer-term plan is developed by the City.

Biologist Report

 I checked butternut trees in, and adjacent to, the section now being cleared for the Terry Fox expansion from Morgan’s Grant  to the vicinity of the railroad tracks. Butternut trees in and along the proposed route have been designated by number and fencing.

 I searched the ground around the bases of a number of the trees growing in the forest south of the cleared area, but found no remnants of shells from last year or previous years. They would have been chewed by squirrels but the hard shells take years to disintegrate.  Neither did I find young seedlings.

But at least two very old, large and still living butternut trees (trunks marked by number to designate them) were cut and piled in the section already cleared for the new highway.

Both had many live branches with healthy buds and the largest cut stump had a squirrel midden, larger than several footballs, beside the base  composed of  thousands of chewed butternut shells. 

That was the only tree in the area that I could identify to have been a major producer of  nuts through last year.  It may have been  the largest and oldest in the area, there were signs of decay in the trunk, but the tree was  vigorous and upper branches should have produced fruit for years to come.

This is the result of my sampling of the state of  butternut trees adjacent to, and within, the marked route of the Terry Fox Expansion on March 28, 2010.

Martha Webber  (


 Photos Taken by Scott Newman:

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