Laura Howarth stands in her Bay Berry Lane backyard bordering on the ravine that leads to the Two-Mile Creek near Butler’s Burial Ground. The life-long Niagara-on-the-Lake resident points to a pair of ash trees poking up from the valley, standing ominously behind the residential homes. Their tops have been removed and they are totally devoid of any leaves.
“When you stand up on my deck, you can see the height,” she says. “They grow this way, toward the sun. All these trees grow this way. And those are dead as doornails, those two. And there’s two more right there. They are tall enough.”
Tall enough to wreak havoc, she fears.
Howarth and other Bay Berry Lane residents are concerned that the dead trees may eventually fall and end up causing damage to their yards, and potentially their homes.
On the morning of July 22 Howarth’s garden was in a state of disarray.
“The tops had come off the ash trees and they were all over my garden, two feet from my deck. And I had just put a new deck in.
There were large branches, about 20 feet, that did the damage. “I had to throw them down (into the ravine). It knocked out solar lights and a bird house, and my fencing came out.”
The activity in the area was part of a forest and stream rehabilitation effort begun by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) on July 5. The forested floodplain is owned and managed by the NPCA.
In June, the NPCA distributed letters to nearby residents describing the planned removal of ash trees affected by the emerald ash borer infestation, as well as Manitoba maple trees that are not native to Niagara. A reforestation of the area, with native tree plantings, is planned for spring, 2022.
By the time Howarth had arrived home after attending some appointments later the same day, the crews from third party Aecon Six Nations had removed all of the heavy machinery used to tear down the trees and mulch the trunks and branches. Howarth was miffed when she saw the dead trees still looming and the equipment gone.
“I got a hold of Dan (Drennan, NPCA forester and forest conservation bylaw officer),” Howarth says. “He said they never intended to take these trees down. He said he stood below where the dead ash trees were and felt that they would not reach my home.”
Howarth then called NPCA director of land operations Adam Christie to explain her concerns. He confirmed that the crew was done clearing trees and deferred to Drennan’s decision-making on those near her property.
The Local was able to contact Drennan this week.
“We have taken down a lot of trees, and we had to leave some standing because of wild habitat, birds and bats,” he stated. “She’s up-slope from the trees, so that’s one of the advantages that she (Howarth) has. We are following up on the damages that she said happened to her property, and we may have to take another look at those trees as well.”
Howarth is also concerned about the general state that the conservation area has been left in. Her worries are similar to those of nearby Mary Street resident Mary Ann Novaco, who often walks in the conservation area.
“It’s unbelievable that they have to make a two-lane highway to cut down dead trees,” Novaco says about the wide swath left open, covered in wood chips from the felled trees. “They’ve been there before, and took down some of the ash trees and didn’t do any damage.”
“What they’ve done now,” she added, “I can’t even begin to think of how many years it will take to replace that ‘road’ that they’ve made.”
Both Howarth and Novaco fear that felled trees laying across the creek on the south side of the road may bring flooding this winter. As well, they have concerns with the depth of the wood chips left on the path, especially in light of higher temperatures and news of forest fires in northern Ontario and elsewhere.
Drennan says there is very low potential for any kind of fire hazard along the creek.
“The ground is wet, it’s an actual floodplain-slash-wetland,” Drennan says. “Somebody would have to go in there and purposely light a fire for that to happen.”
“The intent was to reforest that property,” he adds. “When you do these operations, and I have 30 years experience in this, it doesn’t look pretty. When you fell 400 to 600 dead ash trees, it’s not going to be pleasing to the eye.”
Drennan asks the residents for patience.
“They will see the planting next year, and they will see the results over several years. It’s not an overnight thing. We’re creating plentiful ground for a spring 2022 plant of roughly 5,000 stems. Remember, this is not a walking path, it’s not a park, people should stick to the trails. We don’t want them walking through and ruining what we plant next year.”
“We keep taking away natural habitat,” says Novaco, “now in the name of conservation. Kids use Butler’s Graveyard all the time. God forbid someone lights a cigarette or sets off a firecracker. And think of the animals that they’ve displaced.”
Howarth also fears that deer, wild turkeys, beavers, coyotes, ducks and other species may never return to what she considers a safe haven. Earlier this week she discovered a turtle along the cleared area. Its shell had been partially crushed, likely by a felled tree. She picked it up and placed it in the creek.
“They should have just left the darn things (the ash trees) and let nature take its course,” concludes Novaco. Howarth echoes that sentiment.
As for the Bay Berry backyards, Howarth points to the information distributed to the residents stating that one of the objectives of the NPCA operation was to remove hazardous trees close to residential areas.
“This has not been done,” she says. “No one wants trees crashing through their roofs. The trees should be removed and others should be trimmed.”
Howarth and the other Bay Berry Lane residents are hoping to have a meeting with Drennan soon about the handful of trees they feel still threaten their properties.