Browsing the archives for the Mitigation tag.

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.

No Comments

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.

1 Comment


/* ADDED Google Analytics */