For the Welland Tribune: by Adam Shoalts
A recent walk in the woods confirmed to me what the calendar confidently asserts: spring has indeed returned to Niagara.
The birds were singing, the frogs were croaking, the pike were running, the swamps were brimming, and best of all, the hordes of mosquitoes were still absent.
I think it’s only natural that such beautiful spring weather should breed optimism for the future—optimism about real change being implemented in conservation issues here in Niagara.
Specifically, that this upcoming summer, the good folks who constitute the upper echelons of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority will finally experience a long overdue conversion to environmentalism.
Readers can be forgiven if they mistakenly believed that environmentalists already run this organization. The name after all, certainly seems to suggest it.
As a matter of fact, the NPCA does contribute positively in some respects to conservation. However, in other respects, this organization falls dramatically short of its own mandate.
The NPCA includes 36 conservation areas across the Niagara Peninsula, which combined encompass roughly 2,800 hectares. Unfortunately, the NPCA fails to preserve significant portions of some of these sites.
Indeed, strange as it may sound to someone not acquainted with these sites, the NPCA in fact engages in ecologically destructive practices at many of them.
For example, the NPCA irrationally and irresponsibly maintains artificial habitat, namely mown lawns, which has nothing to do with the conservation of Niagara’s natural habitat. Obviously, short-mown grass cannot provide needed habitat for wildlife.
The mown lawns of the NPCA occupy space that should and could be used to plant trees. This would restore at least some of Niagara’s natural habitat, which has been regrettably destroyed over the years.
Indeed, when one simply considers that fewer than three centuries ago, Niagara was entirely blanketed by virgin forests, it should reinforce the immense scale of deforestation that has since occured. The peninsula underwent a dramatic transformation from virtually 100 percent forest cover to perhaps five percent today.
Reforesting the entire peninsula is of course a fantasy. However, what can be restored should be without delay. The NPCA, unfortunately, seems not to share this view.
With a population in excess of 400,000 people, the Niagara Peninsula is one of the most densely populated areas in the whole of Canada. As such, we cannot afford to persist with hopelessly outdated approaches to conservation.
Furthermore, the NPCA’s construction of a multimillion-dollar complex at Ball’s Falls is quite frankly outrageous.
The construction of such a large building will not only degrade the natural environment on site, but also severely diminish the historic atmosphere of the place.
Claims the new visitors centre will be environmentally friendly are meaningless; any construction of a large modern building on a conservation and heritage site is not an improvement. Moreover, it does not take a genius to perceive that those funds could be put to infinitely better use elsewhere.
Such as, for example, the purchasing of tree saplings to be planted at Chippawa Creek and Long Beach conservation areas, to name but two of many sites in need of reforestation.
These two conservation areas, Chippawa Creek and Long Beach, are abominations: far from preserving a natural environment and providing habitat to wildlife, these sites have become virtual trailer parks. In contrast to maintaining the natural ecosystem, the parks contain vast stretches of mown lawns and motor homes, as well as basketball and volleyball courts.
The NPCA would do well to reforest these sites, as far as feasible, and to limit camping to strictly tents, not trailers. This would perhaps scare off a few of the surbanites who currently spend their summers there in all the comforts of their trailer-homes.
However, by signifying that the NPCA is at last becoming serious about conservation and reforestation, new visitors and campers would surely fill the void.
With opinion polls indicating that environmental issues are at long last taking centre stage in the minds of Canadians, what better time could there be for the NPCA to truly go green?
And once the NPCA converts to true environmentalism and ceases the mowing of lawns at conservation sites, perhaps other organizations, such as the Niagara Parks Commission, can be presuaded to follow suit.
Adam Shoalts for the Welland Tribune.