By Amber Cowie

Despite objections from Ontario Nature, local citizen groups and environmentalists, the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) project – a development that entails building a large addition to existing border facilities in both Ontario and Detroit and the construction of several roadways – is moving ahead. Naturalist groups have raised concerns about the DRIC, because it will destroy the habitat of eight endangered and threatened species that live in Windsor’s already heavily fragmented natural areas.

Because the DRIC will harm wildlife listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) the Minister of Natural Resources must approve the project in accordance with the requirements of the act. Should the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) green-light the development, much of what little tallgrass prairie remains in the area will disappear.

“Once the habitat for these species is paved over, it’s gone for good,” says Rachel Plotkin of the David Suzuki Foundation. “The ESA commits government to protecting Ontario’s natural heritage; if the act is to succeed, MNR needs to take a stand in the face of short-term economic growth by ensuring that habitat is protected for species persistence.”

To lessen the severity of the DRIC’s impact on the ecosystem of the area, Alan McKinnon, of Citizens Protecting the Ojibway Wilderness, recommends that part of the project’s budget should be allocated to land protection, namely, the restoration of a 101-hectare section of land that will provide an important habitat corridor between the Detroit River and Windsor’s Ojibway Prairie Complex. (The Ministry of Transportation has proposed ways to minimize the impact of the project on at-risk plants and animals, but the strategies put forward for two of those species, Butler’s garter-snake and white-tubed colicroot, have never been successful before.)

“Given the multi-billion-dollar scale of this project, and the fact that it will exist for generations as a gateway for visitors to Canada, we believe DRIC has a responsibility to enhance and protect one of the rarest and most beautiful landscapes in the country,” says McKinnon. “The fragile ecosystems of Ojibway are already under severe pressure, so strategic land acquisition and expansion would help ensure that they survive despite the construction.”