Save Niagara’s Green Lifeline

By John Bacher

From the raging torrents of the Niagara River to the placid Welland Canal one can walk for ten miles through the wooded forest gardens of the Niagara Escarpment. Here in some patches, old growth giant oaks and maples soar above wild ginger and may apple. This shady glen has spectacular lookouts over the Niagara Fruit Belt to Lake Ontario, such as Queenston Heights and the Woodend Conservation area. These wilds overwhelm relics of 19th century assaults on nature, such as lime kilns, a “haunted” “ghost” tunnel under which the Bruce Trail travel and the stone ruins of the abandoned Third Welland Canal.

Niagara’s eastern wilds are at risk of being severed in two and being degraded with genetic uniformity. While north of the Escarpment one sees magnificent vistas of vineyards, orchards and forests protected by Ontario’s Greenbelt, those below risk becoming a wall of cement. The views from the top of Brock Monument at the start of the Bruce Trail at Queenston are of industrial brutalism. They are of a massive abandoned quarry destined to be a housing development, an expressway and the barren rock piles which line the Adam Beck Two Reservoir. West of here subdivisions in Niagara Falls crawl up to the Escarpment’s edge. Some of these were approved in the dark ages of Premier Mike Harris, right over Ontario’s largest documented Indian burial grounds. Buried here are also streams, causing the springtime chorus of frogs to be forever stilled. One of the last streams to be entombed in Ontario, the headwaters of Beaverdams Creek was put to rest in the Harris era over the ignored objections of a dedicated conservationist, Jean Grandoni.  East of the Welland Canal is a massive quarry which is gradually being converted into a garbage dump.

Between the rock piles, buried streams and dumps that line the southern edge of the Niagara Escarpment is a narrow 1.7 kilometre wide swath of forests and farmlands. This is Niagara’s threatened green life line. Were it to be lost to urban sprawl, the forests and farmlands of the Greenbelt community of Niagara on the Lake would be severed from the rural lands that stretch from the Escarpment to Lake Erie.

Amid the crop lands of the lifeline are Pin Oak dominated swamp forests, with vernal pools that support rare Buttonbush communities. These provide important breeding habitats for a variety of amphibians, such as the Western Chorus Frog, American Toad, Green Frog and Leopard Frog. Mature forests here have numerous snags, providing habitat for the Red-bellied Woodpecker. Wetlands are connected by the Ten Mile Creek, whose headwaters are now at risk of becoming a cesspool from urbanization.

The Green life line has been termed an “island core”, “Meta Core” and “Connected Core” in the Carolinian Canada Big Picture Project. For 10 miles west of the Niagara River south of the Niagara Escarpment this five hundred acres is the only place where species that use farm fields for connectivity, such as deer, coyotes and wild turkey, can travel between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Here is a deer wintering area identified by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).

Protecting the green lifeline is the focus of an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing which is scheduled for eight days beginning on May 26. Losing would create a dangerous bottleneck for biodiversity. The Ten Mile Creek is at risk of becoming like the contaminated urbanized Shriners Creek to its south. It has been identified by ecologist Dr. Michael Dickman as a “health hazard”, because of its astronomically high E. coli counts, a strong indicator of sewage contamination. It is important that the efforts of the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) and Jean Grandoni at the OMB receive broad support.