February 10, 2016
Developer’s plan fails to show ‘overall benefit’ for Kanata Lakes species at risk
After intensive negotiations with the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Kanata Lakes North Development Inc. (KNL) has applied for a permit to destroy up to 124 hectares of Blanding’s Turtle habitat, remove up to 120 Butternut trees and “kill, harm and harass” Least Bittern––species designated as either endangered or threatened.
The granting of this permit would allow the company to proceed with developing subdivision phases 7 and 8, located between Kizell Wetland and the South March Highlands Conservation Forest. (Readers may recall this developer’s wholesale destruction of forested land in 2002––the Great Kanata Tree Massacre––and in 2011––the destruction of Beaver Pond Forest.)
KNL could be given this permit if it can demonstrate that taking certain actions would result in an “overall benefit” for these species.
This application should be rejected for the following reasons:
- The ministry botched the process. Information posted on Ontario’s Environmental Registry website is vague on how an overall benefit would be achieved. Halfway through the initially announced 30-day comment period, Councillor Marianne Wilkinson got wind of additional information that was available and, over three weeks into the comment period, was able to make paper copies available in the Beaverbrook branch of the Ottawa Public Library. As a minimum, the notice should be withdrawn and reposted, and all the background documentation should be made conveniently accessible to all.
- The application is incomplete as it does not mention other species at risk also found on the site, including Whip-poor-will and American Ginseng.
- In the Ministry’s words, “Overall benefit is more than ‘no net loss’ or an exchange of ‘like for like.’ Overall benefit is grounded in the protection and recovery of the species at risk and must include more than mitigation measures or ‘replacing’ what is lost.” The bulk of KNL’s proposed measures consists of no more than mitigation, e.g. the extensive fencing that would be erected to channel Blanding’s Turtles into corridors and construction of new nesting and overwintering sites that it is hoped the turtles will make use of. These are experiments — that they would be an “overall benefit” is speculative.
- Doing research on the Blanding’s Turtles population is given much attention in the application, but that research consists mostly of monitoring, which is even less of a standard than mitigation. Monitoring could consist of observing the extirpation of the local population. In fact, a tentative agreement with a university professor foresees an “out” in case there is nothing left to research.
- The application duly describes three possible alternatives––destroy everything, destroy nothing, or do something in between––but argues that destroying nothing, which means leaving this sensitive habitat alone, is not a “reasonable” alternative. This is a fundamental misinterpretation of the legislation. When the Endangered Species Act refers to “reasonable” alternatives, it means reasonable with respect to achieving the objectives of the Act, i.e. the protection of the endangered species. The profit of a developer does not come into it.
This application fails to demonstrate that an overall benefit would be achieved for the three species at risk mentioned by KNL. On the contrary, there would be a massively destructive impact on these species and their habitat.
We urge members of the public to send in their comments on this application before February 17. Search for notice 012-6270 posted on Ontario’s Environmental Registry website (www.ebr.gov.on.ca).
Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital
For further information, please visit www.greenspace-alliance.ca
Metro Ottawa, on its front page on February 9, published a “shock headline” on the application. The story on page 4 quotes Ministry official Scott Lee, Councillor Wilkinson and Mario Poirier, a member of the Ottawa Duck Club. The latter complains about the lack of substantive information on how an “overall benefit” would be achieved.
The Metro piece was actually copied from the Kanata Kourier-Standard. – which, to its credit, had a less shocking but accurate and informative headline: “Request to ‘kill, harm and harass’ threatened species raises alarm — Ministry extends comment period on ‘overall benefit’ permit request.”
This week’s (Feb 10) Metroland papers carried an editorial, “Environmental laws blatantly rigged.” Quote: “It’s hard to see how running over protected turtles with bulldozers or chopping down rare trees could end up benefiting said flat turtles and dead trees, but that’s how the system works. … The public has a chance to provide comments, but bizarrely does not get to know what KNL will do in return for killing protected species. The developer need only provide ideas of what it might do. … a sick version of Let’s Make a Deal… no one at all could make an informed decision without all the facts.”
On March 10, we wrote to Minister Mauro (cc Premier Wynn):
Like many Ontarians, the Greenspace Alliance is very concerned about the application by Kanata Lakes North Development Inc. (KNL) for an “overall benefit” permit so that they may destroy up to 124 ha of Blanding’s Turtle habitat among other things. We have responded to EBR Notice 012-6270 (attached).
While this application was made under section 17(2)(c) of the Endangered Species Act, we note that section 17(2)(d) provides an alternative route under which a permit could be considered.
In light of the significantly inadequate information and proposals made by KNL, we urge you to follow the latter process.
If you do so, we would very much like to receive a copy of the report of the independent expert you would consult with (ref. subclauses ii and iii).
Also, we understand that there currently is no recovery strategy for Blanding’s Turtles and that earlier attempts to devise a multi-turtle strategy have stalled. We encourage you to see to it that such a recovery strategy be finalized as soon as possible as due to development pressures this species is increasingly endangered.
Thank you for your consideration.
On April 11 we received this unhelpful reply:
Thank you for your letter regarding the Kanata Lakes North Development Inc. (KNL) development.
The KNL’s residential development received draft plan approval from the City of Ottawa under the Planning Act.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has been working closely with the City of Ottawa and the proponent to ensure the development complies with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The City has applied for a 17(2)(c) permit which requires reasonable alternatives to be considered, an overall benefit to the species to be achieved within a reasonable time, as well as conditions in the permit that will minimize adverse effect on the species. My ministry is committed to protecting Ontario’s species at risk under the ESA, including Blanding’s Turtle, Butternut tree and Least Bittern.
On January 4, 2016, a proposal for an Overall Benefit Permit was posted on the Environmental Registry under EBR registry #012-6270 for 44 days for public review and comment. The public comments submitted through the Environmental Registry will be taken into consideration prior to making a decision on the ESA authorization..
If you have further questions or require additional information, please contact Scott Lee, Resources Operations Supervisor, Kemptville District, at (613) 258-8230 or scott.lee@ontario..ca.
Again, thank you for writing.
ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry
c: Scott Lee
Here is Fred Schueler’s submission to the EBR:
The proponent’s proposals to “minimize adverse effects on individual members of each species” and “achieve an overall benefit for each species” are both corrupted by the words “may include.” In a situation where a keystone area of habitat would be removed, there must be concrete detailed plans, based on local research into the populations to be affected, before “net benefit” can even be speculated about.
With Butternut and Least Bitterns the habitat requirements are fairly well understood, and a prospective plan (which is not presented here) could conceivably be evaluated.
For a species as cryptic and wide-ranging as Blanding’s Turtles, where the wintering habitat is so different among different populations, and a process such as wetland construction for mitigation of destroyed habitat, where the failure rate is so high, the only acceptable way to allow a plea of “net benefit” would be to first
1) support a research project to track and monitor the movement of the Turtles to see if there is a deficiency of nesting and overwintering habitat near the to-be-destroyed habitat, then
2) to create the new nesting and overwintering habitat, and then
3) support a research project to track and monitor the movement of the Turtles to see if the new habitat features are used enough for the post-destruction population to be larger than that which is present now.
This would take at least a decade, and perhaps by then the proponent’s financial backers would have lost interest or become impatient,
4) allowing the habitat to persist.
The more merciful thing – for the Turtles, the proponent, and the ecosystem – is to treat the proposed “net benefit” scheme as the fantasy it has so clearly been composed as.
UPDATE – November 10, 2016
Today the Ministry granted KNL the requested “Overall Benefit” permit. A summary is on the EBR web site. The full text of the Permit is here (45 pp., 10.7 MB). From the web site one learns that MNRF received 422 comments; most can be read on the EBR site; some additional comments are here. The posting also says:
Effect(s) of Consultation on this Decision: Comments were considered, however no changes were made to the permit proposal as a result of the comments received in response to the Environmental Registry notice.
By any measure, our campaign protesting the issuance of this permit received a terrific response. But it made no impact on the Ministry.
UPDATE – 5 December 2016
Today the City issued a Tree Permit to KNL, giving it the green light to start clear-cutting the forest in Phases 7 and 8. Among other things, the developer is required to adhere to tree preservation and wildlife protection conditions, found here; the associated map is here (6.8 MB).
UPDATE – 3 January, 2017
The destruction did indeed start today. For updates, including a video of a big machine at work, go to Councillor Wilkinson’s web site.
For more on the community’s reaction to this development, please go here.