It is with a sense of fatigue and frustration that I find myself reporting on the first large-scale cutting of trees and drainage of wetlands at the Thundering Waters Forest, one of Niagara region’s most biologically significant remaining ecosystems.
This is not the first time where I’ve mentioned the invaluable but controversial plot of land located just outside of Marineland, towards the southern end of Niagara Falls.
Before I discuss the implications of the pictured habitat elimination you see here, I will give the most succinct background event leading up to this pivotal day.
A 484-acre ecosystem caught the attention of a Chinese investment group called GR Can during Kathleen Wynne’s time as premier. Through municipalities like Niagara Falls, there was a celebrated economic opportunity to allow a foreign developer create a city within a city, amidst swaths of provincially-protected wetlands and other habitat features.
The geographical layout of such protected features should have drastically reduced or even outright prohibited the size of this particular development, but initial maps and plans showed a more dominating and destructive layout.
I and many locals, as well as professionals from biology backgrounds, sounded the alarm through regional, city, and other public meetings while the previous board of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority essentially sat on their hands. However, in the meantime, that same board of directors was very pushy and public about the concept of biodiversity offsetting, an idea where species richness removed in one area can be recreated in other areas to offset the loss.
The issue became national news when the dots connected during a corruption scandal with the region’s previous CAO, who was involved with the NPCA, who had political ties with the City of Niagara Falls city council. It led to citizens being sued for speaking out, acts of backdoor lobbying, and two slaps on the wrist for the developer who repeatedly probed the land before they were legally allowed to.
Does this sound like a cynical, unbelievable story? A few quick Google searches will verify everything I just mentioned.
This back-and-forth battle of trying to have the development project moved somewhere less environmentally-destructive went on for years. Thundering Waters Forest went from national notoriety to eerily silent during COVID-19, when our society was blindsided and then all-consumed by the events at hand. I feared the silence, and the next thing you know, the shovels were officially in the ground as mid-March, 2022, seven years after it became a talking point.
I learned about the recent logging from the core group of citizens I was once fighting this issue with against developers. I remember seeing the photos just a day before heading out on my Appalachian road trip over March break. I relate the feeling of receiving the news to losing someone close to me.
My big drive down in the U.S. certainly gave me a lot of time to contemplate the emotional aspect of the loss. Then, there is the cyclic nature of asking myself, ‘could I have tried harder? Did we try hard enough? What more would it have taken? Was the strategy right in some areas and misguided in others?’
With every big moment in life, there is hopefully a lesson. How can we apply ourselves moving forward when we see the warning signs of such an event?
During the Thundering Waters years of conversation, I had to admit that when a larger force is in play, it can and will do everything in its power to maintain the power. In this case, once the initial deal was signed and nobody was publicly made aware of it, it was going to be hard to walk it back. It had already sunk its roots in, with the brutal irony of the roots it was about to rip up in Canada.
Money has a big mouth, and admittedly, it is a hard mouth to close, even if what it is yelling about is wrong. If you yell back, as I did many times, you will be chomped at by said mouth, or it will turn around and yell to the public how you’re just a special-interest tree hugger. It may even bite so hard, that it could sue you for trying to protect a rare parcel of our natural heritage.
There are also victories to consider. We ultimately shrunk the original size of the plan significantly. If we hadn’t spoken up, they would have succeeded in levelling and indirectly polluting dozens and dozens of more acres than planned. We did that through passion, education, and successful face-to-face communication as a team of local citizens. In the environmental field, let alone any field, people can accomplish a lot when they work in unison.
From a past and present tense, there are two things I find particularly disturbing about the cutting happening in Thundering Waters Forest.
On a grand scale from the past, there was a particularly voracious and sincere hunger to have this project accomplished. All of the legal and controversial aspects are just points to show how determined the powers-to-be were to push this through at any cost.
Secondly, and at present, I find it disrespectful and scientifically tone-deaf to be doing all of this development in early spring, where the species that inhabit the forest’s seasonal wetlands are emerging from hibernation and gathering to reproduce.
I must also say that I do not own the image accompanying this article. I will not disclose who sent it to me, for the respect of that individual who has worked countless hours and years to advocate for this forest. I currently have paperwork in my office telling me how if I ever took photographs on that property again, I’d have a legal consequence at the door. Meanwhile, the property is no stranger to illegal garbage dumping and hunting as
As the backhoes and saws continue to pursue their way into what was once the jewel of Niagara’s swamp forests, I wonder how to move forward with this event on a personal and professional note, but also, what more can be done currently and in the future as more big-money investments come to town?
Ultimately, politics has a direct impact on our environments, and that has a direct impact on you.