Save David Dunlap Forest

Walk  To Save Southern Ontario’s Vanishing Forests.

By John Bacher

Today we have a bizarre situation where hard wrested environmental progress is being turned back. This is the shrinking of Southern Ontario’s forests, in the fertile agricultural area south of  the Canadian Shield.

Following the invasion of what was called Upper Canada there was a rampant destruction through burning of the forests of the land which, after Confederation, became called Ontario. Most of these forests were used to produce ashes, to manufacture soap and other products manufactured in Europe. It took sixty large maple trees to produce a single barrel of potash to be shipped across the sea.

The result of forest destruction on an extreme scale was quite horrific. Many landscapes now cherished by ecologists because of later  reforestation,   such as the Oak Ridges Moraine were turned into deserts. Massive  flooding took place, which culminated in 1954 in the heavy death tools associated with Hurricane Hazel.

An early conservationist, Harold Zavitz, saw the mad destruction of forests as a great sacrilege. A devout Quaker, like his uncle Charles Zavitz, a founder of the Canadian Peace movement, he termed it a pagan sacrifice to the “god”  of Agriculture.

The long serving Chief Forester of Ontario, Edmund Zavitz, was largely responsible for the massive reforestation, coupled with tree protection by-laws which for the first time protected trees on private land, which reversed desertification.  The policies and programs he promoted were able to boost forest cover from a rock bottom low of 9.7 per cent, to a record high in Southern Ontario in 1963 to 25.2 per cent. Marching deserts  and inundations of cities with floods went into the history books. 

The restored forests of Ontario are vanishing. In 2010 the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Gordon Miller issued a report on this problem, which warned that another billion trees in Ontario are needed. While Miller  found that forest cover had slipped a bit to 23 per cent, the thrust of his report was a plea for forest cover to be boosted by another billion trees to a minimum for ecosystem health of 30 per cent.

The situation Miller described only four years ago has grown far worse. Cut backs have been made in public programs by regional stewardship councils to promote reforestation. Most seriously there are now new assaults of forests by both developers and farmers.

Mercifully, most developers have not chosen to battle environmentalists in attempting to build in the urban or near urban landscape for at least large forests of more than 10 acres in extent.  There is one notable exception to this pattern, Metrus.

In 2008 Metrus purchased the David Dunlap Forest from the University of Toronto, which had previously used it as a light pollution buffer for an astronomical observatory it declared to be surplus.  The land was then zoned institutional, which does not allow for residential development. The company’s efforts to change the zoning   has triggered  two mammoth hearings at the Ontario Municipal Board between Metrus, backed by municipal governments and the Richmond Hill Naturalists.  The decision of the second OMB decision has not been announced.

Metrus’ development plans are to remove 44 acres of the 125 acre David Dunlap Forest the largest remaining upland forest south of the Oak Ridges Moraine in the Don watershed. When the Richmond Hill Naturalists went to court to challenge the basis of an OMB decision based on non-compliance with an earlier hearing of another tribunal, Metrus sought and obtained from the courts its legal costs. Metrus is also engaged in an effort to build in the North Gwillimbury Forest located on the South Shore of Lake Simcoe. It is one of the ten largest remaining forested areas in the Lake Simcoe watershed and contains provincially significant wetlands. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR)  the 70 hectares of predominately White Cedar  forest here “support sensitive forest bird species such as Pileated Woodpecker, White Throated Sparrow, Ovenbird and Ruffed Grouse.”  Development proposed by Metrus would also leave the Matthews Nature Reserve immediately west of lands proposed for subdivisions, isolated and cutoff from the rest of the North Gwillimbury Forest.

What makes Metrus’ plans for the North Gwillimbury Forest so offensive is that the Lake Simcoe Recovery Plan, to which the province of Ontario pays lip service, calls for more not fewer forests. The plan urges a five per cent increase in the forest cover in the Lake Simcoe watershed to reduce the threat to the survival of Lake Simcoe from phosphorous pollution.

Higher prices for crops such as corn and soybeans triggered by a rush for bio-fuels have led to a new assault on Southern Ontario’s forests. The only laws that prevent privately owned forests from being cut down by their owners are termed tree protection by-laws, first authorized by 1946 legislation that Edmund Zavitz was able to persuade the Ontario legislature today.

During the battle against the Dufferin County mega quarry, pushed by the Hedge Fund investor, the Highland Group, farmers who were critics of the proposal used the company’s violation of tree by-laws to bring it into disrepute. This criticism was effective. Following a protest march, organized by Mohawk environmentalist of the Turtle Clan, Danny Beaton, the violations ceased.

Tragically, Dufferin County farmers had an odd way of celebrating the Highland Group decision to withdraw their application to build the mega quarry. In an boisterous  country ho-down, the County Council  upon the request of a farmer, revoked their tree control by-law. This now makes it possible for any private landowner in Dufferin County to strip their forests of trees, except for a narrow belt of  lands safeguarded by the development control regulations of the Niagara Escarpment Commission.

Dufferin County’s resolve has been a source of inspiration for farmers across Ontario who want to burn out their forests. In Huron County an attempt is being made to declare that restrictions on tree cutting imposed by tree control by-laws represent an illegal effort to restrict “normal” farming practices protected through the Farm and Food Production Act.  Its example have been cited by the foes of having restrictions on tree cutting in Chatham-Kent, the most severely deforested region in Canada.

A report authored by Kent County conservationist Tom Beaton illustrates the impact of Chatham Kent’s deforestation. It documents how the municipality has “the highest rates of hospitalization due to cardiovascular diseases, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease” in Ontario. It has the highest death rate for preventable cardiovascular disease. Deforested Chatham-Kent has the lowest rate of leisure activity and the worst problem of obesity Its lack of shade causes recreational trails to be idle. Its urban areas have been found to be 10 degrees Celsius and it also breaks records for the hottest schoolyards.

Beaton’s report advocating a tree by-law provoked outrage among farmers. Last year 1,500 acres of forest were clear cut to cash crops by Chatham-Kent farmers. Relief has been expressed this year that only 250 acres have been annually stripped away.

Aggressive clear cutting in Chatham-Kent contributes to this year’s catastrophic surge of phosphorous into Lake Erie, which has contributed to massive algae blooms. These were so severe that for three days the people in Toledo, Ohio, could not drink their tap water.

The massive clearance of forests in Ontario is the biggest threat we are facing to our health and drinking water. It robs the earth of a needed carbon sink and will create more misery before harmful climate change is reversed our region. To take a stand against this crisis, march in the walk to save the David Dunlap Forest, which will be led by Mohawk  Danny Beaton of the Turtle Clan, who earlier through such tactics, helped stop the Dufferin Mega Quarry and Dump Site 41. 

Visit the event page for more information.