We Must Act Now To Save Our Trees
Guelph Mercury, June 19, 2009
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?
If a developer cuts down acres of trees and no one does anything about it, should we make some noise?
Along Gordon Street beyond the sprawling subdivisions and ugly strip malls, some beautiful natural areas remain — treasured by the families who have owned and loved them for many years, areas of rolling hills, towering trees, large ponds and abundant wildlife.
Sometime during the last week, Carson Reid Homes sent a diesel-powered machine called a feller-forwarder into one of those pristine areas. Looking like a huge praying mantis, it rumbled through the stands of large old maples and ironwoods other hardwoods including cherry, elm, ash and century-old fruit trees, clear cutting approximately 30 hectares of woods on Paris Galt Moraine land in the Hanlon Creek watershed.
The trees, a combination of old-growth and secondary-growth forest — coniferous plantings by the Ministry of Natural Resources project as part of the Hall’s Pond wetland complex protection — were mowed down on development land between Clair and Maltby roads. The cutting was difficult to detect from most public vantage points as it was behind a wide, untouched buffer zone. An alert neighbour notified city bylaw officers about the work, who ordered the cutting stopped.
The affected area abuts a natural area and is essentially the only remaining east-west linkage between the Hanlon and Mill Creek subwatersheds — deemed key to protect in the 1993 Marshall Macklin Monaghan Hanlon Creek subwatershed study. It is also the only link between the Hanlon Creek subwatershed and a provincially significant area of natural and scientific interest (ANSI). The City of Guelph’s draft natural heritage strategy identified the area for protection, calling it “environmentally significant.”
But once it’s significantly cleared of its large trees, can anyone do anything about it?
The city is developing a natural heritage strategy to support its 2007 strategic plan goal for “a biodiverse city with the highest tree-canopy percentage among comparable municipalities.” This strategy would enhance the provincial policy that encourages “wise management of natural heritage resources.”
Guelph Urban Forest Friends have repeatedly called for immediate action on an interim protective tree bylaw, along with an independent urban-forestry department, a certified forester, and an urban-forest advisory committee. The group, along with city councillors Leanne Piper, Maggie Laidlaw and Mike Salisbury previously warned of the risk of pre-emptive work by developers opposed to the Heritage Strategy.
An investigation is warranted into whether Carson Reid has upheld Guelph’s tree bylaw. The bylaw states it is an offence to injure or destroy any live tree over 4.5 metres inside the city without written approval, and that every tree injured or destroyed on a property larger than an acre will be considered a separate offence. Each offence has a maximum fine of $2,000.
Also seemingly at issue is whether this development could be considered in concert with terms of the Migratory Birds Convention Act. That federal legislation prohibits the disturbance, destruction or taking of the nests or eggs of migratory birds by activities such as logging — and some migratory birds nest in June.
A question for investigators might be whether migratory bird habitat was impacted in this case.
Now, the trees have fallen. News of their felling should be trumpeted community-wide as a dirge to the loss of Guelph’s natural heritage to the interest of development.
It is time for citizens to take action.
I urge all who care about our city to take an interest in the followup of this affair. I hope city council refuses all future zoning change requests and building permits with the company linked to this cutting until the ravaged land is rehabilitated.
And I urge all of you to write to city council and to the Ontario and federal governments asking for stronger laws to protect our remaining natural treasures for future generations.
Susan Ratcliffe’s column appears monthly. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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