Government approved sprawl

The environmental assessment (EA) process, which is explored in “Why we can’t save this forest” [Autumn 2009], was created, in essence, to protect important ecological attributes. The sad fact is that now it is used to “green light” controversial developments.

The most disturbing case where the EA process has been misused is for the approved development of a whole new city called Seaton. This city is to be built between Toronto and Pickering, and is projected to match the size of Peterborough, at 70,000 citizens. The marketing push for the project is a pure greenwash, as it is being touted and sold as a “green” community. However, if built, the format will be the usual low-density sprawl. It would be built on top of Duffins Creek, the last remaining healthy watershed on the entire north shore of Lake Ontario. Currently the area is in pristine condition and is home to species lost to most other watersheds in the Greater Toronto Area because of pollution and overdevelopment. The fields and forests comprise the largest tract of true green space left in the region and [are] home to a multitude of local and migratory species that no longer have suitable habitat left in this part of southern Ontario.

I spent months attending the public consultations for the EA process for Seaton. I spent hours reading through plans, making notes and recommendations about the effects building would have on the environment and watershed. Other community members and I brought forth important ecological information, such as numbers of mammals and other species documented as living on the proposed development site. Virtually none of our concerns were acknowledged or dealt with, and the proposed plans were approved in haste. Now the future city of Seaton will destroy what little nature is still left in the already overdeveloped GTA. What we truly need is more protected green space, not more cities and suburbs.

Bernadette Zubrisky, Agincourt

Questionable methods

There is no disputing that agricultural pesticides can significantly impact wildlife populations, including passerine songbirds. And there is no disputing that apple orchards in Ontario receive more pesticide treatments than most other crops. However, as a lifelong naturalist, and as a biologist that has been involved in developing pesticide reduction strategies for apple orchards for 25 years, I feel I need to point out some serious errors in the Bishop study described in “The killing fields” [Autumn 2009] regarding impacts of pesticides on tree swallows and eastern bluebirds, which lead to some gross misrepresentation of the results.

First some facts: One, the 12,000 hectares of apple orchards in Ontario represent only 0.16 percent of the 7.4 million hectares of prime agricultural land in the province. Two, cavity nesters like tree swallows and eastern bluebirds do not normally nest in orchards, nor do they regularly forage in orchards. Tree swallows are aerial foragers and bluebirds are grassland species that prefer open meadows and pastureland for foraging. And three, the Bishop study was conducted in two Brant County apple orchards in which bluebird nestboxes had been installed.

Based on the above facts I would argue that the levels of exposure to pesticides in the two bird species were greatly magnified and artificial (not a real-life situation). To make conclusions on impacts of pesticides on these two species in the context of artificial nesting sites in commercial apple orchards is misleading and results in exaggeration. The real issue here is the exceedingly poor decision of a well-intentioned naturalist to persuade an apple farmer to put up bluebird next boxes in an orchard, thus needlessly exposing these birds, including adults, eggs and young, to unacceptable and unnecessary risk. Perhaps if these studies had been conducted on robins, mourning doves or chipping sparrows, which do occasionally nest in orchards, there would be a stronger scientific argument to Bishop’s methodology.

Bernie Solymar, EarthTramper Consulting Inc., Port Ryerse

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