Letter: Help…Our Wetlands are Under Attack!

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When you drive north out of Wiarton a large billboard announces that you are entering a World Biosphere Reserve. “Biosphere Reserve” is a designation awarded by the United Nations. Our Niagara Escarpment is designated by UNESCO as one of eighteen Canadian World Biospheres Reserves.

The MNBP Official Plan has a vision statement that says ….

 “The People of The Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula are committed to — a community that is environmentally protected”..… and who “recognize that development must be planned in an effective and fair manner.” and that “All reasonable efforts should be made to protect and enhance….. the natural environment.”

I do not question the emphasis that the MNBP has on economic development and job creation but it is possible for development to occur in harmony with the preservation of the natural environment without compromising each other. The three foundations of biosphere reserves are conservation, sustainable economic development and capacity building. 

 My concern has to do with residential zoning and building permits for these areas zoned as Resort Residential [RR2]. Our home is in an RR2 area that contains many sensitive environmental features such as rare plants and endangered reptiles, amphibians and birds whose habitat is threatened. Wetlands are the common denominator for all of these. I could be describing just about any area on the Peninsula that is zoned RR2. In Ontario some wetlands have been identified as ‘areas of natural scientific interest’ but not all. That should not mean that every one of them isn’t important as habitat for so many endangered species. 

Wetland interrupted by a driveway.

I do not understand how it is possible for building permits to be given to owners of properties that include wetlands, without insistence that the wetlands remain undisturbed and that buffer zones be established around them. The MNBP has building bylaws for residential areas that are in place to protect the natural environment. 

In my neighbourhood, I have watched incredulous, as wetlands have been ravaged. One wetland site was pump drained over several days to allow a house foundation to be dug. Another travesty was the erection of large commercial looking buildings on land that includes parts of wetlands. Yet another was the building of a driveway using rock fill to interrupt a wetland. This driveway that disturbed the nesting site of woodcocks, leads to nowhere. All of these projects had building permits. I could go on. I’m sure many of you have similar stories. 

Our schools are members of the UNESCO Associated Schools Network which has identified Education for Sustainable Development as a priority. This states that “By acquiring the values, attitudes, skills and knowledge that are needed to contribute to sustainable development, learners can take informed decisions and responsible actions and become agents of change in their schools, communities and societies”. 

Driveway to nowhere interrupting a wetland.

At BPDS in Lion’s Head and at St. Edmund’s in Tobermory, students have been involved in garden projects, environmental and resource management courses, provincial science fairs and competitions and field trips that immerse them in the natural world. Both schools participated in creating the beautiful municipal ‘Zero Waste Calendar’. ‘Simply Living Simply’ was a BPDS on-line community focused ‘eco challenge’ to help residents make lifestyle changes that would benefit the planet. 

Don’t we too have an ethical responsibility to honour our UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve by doing all we can to preserve it?

This is our home but it is also home to a great diversity of at-risk animals and plants. We need to prioritize what really matters and to guarantee the survival and continuation of all species, not just humankind.

Actions speak louder than words. Our municipality needs to be held accountable for its actions. With enough concerned and vocal citizens, this can happen. A first step is to become familiar with the MNBP Official Plan and the current by-laws concerning zoning and building permits. Whenever we notice that sensitive natural areas are being sacrificed for development, especially when the development appears not to be consistent with our by-laws, we need to notify the MNBP. It is also our responsibility to be environmental stewards for our own properties. 

A healthy sustainable future can be secured for next generations, but we all need to contribute. 

Judi MacLeod