Sierra Club Works to Save Irish Grove Forest

By Dr. John Bacher

A new threat to the environment and the future of the Greenbelt on the eve of its 2015 Review has emerged in Niagara. It is a proposal to extend through the Greenbelt in Grimsby,  a Niagara Regional Road, Livingston Avenue (Niagara Regional Road, 512)  in the middle of the old growth Irish Grove Forest.

The Irish Grove Forest is a 26 acre forest which has never been farmed. It contains huge Red and White Oaks that have been estimated by experts to be 450 years old. It also contains towering super-story White Pines of a hundred to 150 years in age. Most of the trees in this climax Carolinian forest are climax mature  Sugar Maples and Shagbark Hickories which are regenerating well.

The Irish Grove Forest is a good example of a very rare ecosystem, the Lake Ontario Plain Forest. Naturalist Bruce Mackenzie has noted that such rare forests “contain tree and flora species and their genotypes that reflect the species of the original forest. These woodlots are also significant to wildlife in the area as they present some of the few areas available to them and are quite important to the migrating birds that enter and exit Ontario each year as sop over places for feeding and resident as they travel around the Great Lakes or stop along their shores. The soils in these woodlots also preserve the original soil structure and its characteristics and related life forms.”         

Mackenzie has exposed how the extension of Livingston Avenue will also disrupt another rare Lake Ontario Plain forest at 438 Main Street, and cut through an extensive area of successional woods. He finds that rural Grimsby is one of the most severely deforested areas in Ontario, with only one per cent of the landscape in forest cover.

The Irish Grove Forest has been protected largely due to the good stewardship of the two families, the Hunters and the Irish, which have owned the property since the early 19th century. Originally fruit and grape growers, the Irish family now have a landscaping business.

The proposal to cut through the Irish Grove Forest is now being reviewed under a Class Environmental Assessement. The need for this highway is being based on the Town of Grimsby Transportation Planning Study, Final Report Preferred Transportation Plan by Delcan Limited that was released in 1995.

Figure 7 of the Delcan  report, now being used to justify opening a road through the Irish Grove Forest, shows the threatened woodland and a large area west of Casablanca road as a “Potential Urban Settlement Area Boundary Expansion.” The extension of Livingston Avenue the report notes is required to “provide required access to new development in the area.”

The Irish Grove Forest and the other Lake Ontario Plains Forests Mackenzie has identified are not isolated remnants. They are connected through watercourses, to the larger forested Niagara Escarpment. This allows for the movement of larger wildlife species, notably deer.

The threats to the Iris Grove Forest and its surrounding unique tender fruit lands show the need for vigilance on the eve of the 2015 Greenbelt Review. A key feature of the Greenbelt Plan was that the tender fruit lands, which surround the threatened tracts of Lake Ontario Plain Forest, were to be “permanently” protected. The nefarious use of the Delcan report shows that this permanence means only until the review.