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Steward's Notes

Environment, Making and Everything in Between

Despite Lack of Provincial Leadership Dianne Saxe Offers a Vision for Way Forward

Its difficult to envy the position that Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe finds herself in every day. Her role as an independent commissioner of the legislature is to oversee Ontario’s ministries through an environmental lens and to administer the Environmental Bill of Rights. Throughout her tenure as the ECO she has issued dozens of reports critical of government activities and responses to pollution, environmental degradation, and planning. Just last week she released the annual ECO report detailing worrying trends in Ontario regarding wetlands, woodlands, water and wildlife. The report seems to have fallen on deaf ears at the legislature. Even worse, funding for the ECO office was cut nearly immediately following the release of the report.

It was a coincidence that that very day here in Peterborough we were fortunate enough to be joined by Dianne Saxe to discuss the protected areas shortfall that the province is facing in meeting our Aichi target 11 goals to protect 17% of Canada’s landmass for conservation y 2020. Currently Ontario sits at 10.4% protected area which is less than the global average of 14.5%. The response from Doug Ford and the CPC cacus has been that it was an agreement signed federally (by Stephen Harper), so it isn’t his problem.

Peterborough citizens making a difference!

Near the beginning of her presentation, Dianne offered examples of how leadership from cities, towns and other low tier governments is creating real change in the absence of higher leadership on environmental issues. South of the border, the “We Are Still In” coalition is on track to meet their Paris climate targets representing a constituency of over half of American Citizens an an economy of 6.2 trillion USD.

Now that the City of Peterborough has elected a council that may take environmental issues seriously, it may be time to discuss how our city may reach out to others to meet climate, water or protected area targets in the absence of provincial leadership. Perhaps our council and the engaged and eager citizens of our city can step forward as a leader in Ontario to create a vision for the future of not just our city, but the province as a whole. Organizations such as the Kawartha Land Trust, GreenUP, and The Nature Conservancy have all demonstrated the real change that can happen from the ground up when we decide to work together, lets hope that we can find an ally in our new city council.

Dianne Saxe may have a difficult road ahead as the environmental commissioner, and it may be difficult to be the harbinger of bad news but my respect for her comes from her ability to offer real solutions to the large problems that we face. I’ve trusted her advice since she took office and regardless of what happens, she will continue to be an invaluable asset for the people of Ontario.

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Should Peterborough Profit from Environmental Degradation?

In any democracy, as administrations change so do their priorities. In the case of environmental management, it often is the case that a single administration is capable of undoing decades of work to protect natural spaces. In Peterborough, the last several years have been marked with conflict around how our administration has approved countless measures to degrade the wetlands, creeks, and forests that are valued by humans and wildlife alike. With work commencing on the policy portion of the official plan, now is our chance to shape policy that will discourage environmentally destructive behavior by our city.

Harper Creek regulated to the side of the road by urban development. (2018)

There are many proponents of environmental degradation, one of the more obvious ones are real estate developers. Many real estate developers across the province have realized that it is not in their best interest to destroy the things that make these places desirable to live. Others in Peterborough have yet to catch up. Based on the sheer scale that they operate it is possible for them to have an outsized environmental impact on our city’s natural spaces. The approach thus far to prevent development within sensitive environmental areas has been to set a limit or buffer around each sensitive area and declare that no development should take place within these areas. Unfortunately, this has not been enough for the city to stop granting approvals that violate this policy.

One of the major drivers of development approvals for municipalities is development charges. Approvals for construction often come with a fee that is paid to the city. Therefore, the more development that a city approves, the greater access they have to funds. As an example, a recent apartment complex approved with a 20m setback from a provincially significant wetland (PSW) in Peterborough (100m beyond Otonabee Region Conservation Authority policies.) The development charges for the property are $12,910 per unit, totaling $555,130.00 raised for the city. When cash strapped city councils approve development, it is no wonder that when the environment comes into question a nice half a million dollar payout wins out.

The “conservation community” currently under construction at the edge of Peterborough.

I would propose that as part of the natural heritage system the following policy should be put in place:

“The city shall not collect development charges for site plans approved within 120m from provincially significant wetlands, 30m from permanent water bodies, or within areas identified as part of the natural heritage system”

This removes the cash incentive for approving development within environmentally sensitive areas. The other option that may be more appealing to some would be to offer developers a discount on development charges if properties that they are developing contain environmentally sensitive features providing a discount based on the area that is occupied. It by no means prevents developments from happening in this area, but it at least removes the dollar sign distraction from clouding the vision of our city council.

Night of the Salamanders (And Newt)

This past week the Peterborough Field Naturalists and the Kawartha Land Trust hosted the 4th annual salamander night at the Ingelton Wells property. Despite the rain it was incredibly well attended. By the end of the night we catalogued 3 different species of salamanders on the property and a couple more on the way home! If you’re interested in salamanders and other excellent field trips in the Kawarthas and beyond, definitely consider becoming a member of the Peterborough Field Naturalists!

If you want to stay up to date with interesting naturalist news in the region be sure to sign up to the Steward’s Notes Monthly Newsletter

3D Printing Peterborough Watersheds

Within the sphere of 3D printing there are a plethora of examples of how to print topographic maps. Much of this interest comes from the reproduction of topographies from popular video games or modeling significant landscape features such as mountains or canyons. The standard format has been to display these models using arbitrary or aesthetically pleasing boundaries, often a square or a circle (or even puzzle pieces)

One of the primary motivators for my acquisition of a 3D printer was the ability to reproduce landscapes with the natural watershed boundaries that already exist. This turned out to be a much more daunting task than I had initially anticipated, however I think the results were well worth it! Now that I have started to refine my techniques, I hope to be able to reproduce interesting watershed topographies for all of Peterborough and beyond!

The Mississippi River model as seen from the air (US Army Corps of Engineers, 2006)

Watershed models have a long history in the management of water resources. The US Army Corps of Engineers produced a gigantic scale model of the Mississippi basin to assist in flood prediction and management long before computers were able to complete the task. Even today, physical models are able to produce results that computers are unable reliably recreate. Perhaps with the refinement of 3D printing technologies we will once again see the models that assisted our resource planning in the past reemerge as a common element of our watershed planning future.