Rosemary Speirs

Credit: robertmccaw.com

—As told to John Hassell

I have been involved with many Ontario Nature campaigns during my 10 years on the organization’s board of directors. Looking back, I’m proud of the milestones that we have reached along the way. When the mayor of Pickering openly flouted conservation easements by selling 1,600 hectares of land to developers, we took up the cause and were able to get the easements reinstated. That was a good fight, which set an important precedent.

But I’m also aware of other issues about which we have yet to effect change. I sit on the Altona Forest Community Stewardship Committee, and I unsuccessfully pushed for a full environmental assessment of the proposed widening into a five-lane highway of a two-lane road running through Peticoke Creek, a conservation area in the Greenbelt. Not to be able to save a creek that I have known since my childhood is very frustrating. Given the widespread awareness of climate change and sustainable development, one would expect environmental impacts to carry more weight, but too often they are ignored in the rush for development.

For me, environmentalism was inspired by my uncle J. Murray Speirs and aunt Doris Speirs, both accomplished field naturalists. I still vividly remember a trip with my uncle, one of the founders of Ontario Nature and a zoologist at the University of Toronto, to examine sea lamprey, an invasive species that was killing salmon in the streams around Sault Ste. Marie. Back then, field naturalist groups were almost exclusively men. Having founded the Margaret Nice ornithological club for women, my aunt was a trailblazer, and some years later I followed in her footsteps and became a junior member of the Toronto Field Naturalists.

I initially joined the board of Ontario Nature on the recommendation of former conservation director Don Huff after I retired from covering politics and some environmental policy issues as a journalist for the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. Don and I worked together calling for an environmental assessment of logging in the boreal forest of the far north and a stop to the spring bear hunt.

I was compelled by Ontario Nature’s commitment to protect wildlife – not just wild places, to which many environmental organizations limit their protection efforts. The organization’s composition, which includes more than 130 member groups and representation from across the province, incorporates diverse perspectives and provides a credible, powerful voice.

Over the years, we have strongly advocated for nature while always remaining firmly rooted in good science. This is the case with our current Ring of Fire campaign, which opposes unregulated mining development that is threatening the hydrology, wildlife and habitat of the pristine James Bay Lowlands.

Ontario Nature is starting to reach out to new Canadians. Many people come to Canada interested in green space and wildlife but live in suburban “box” houses with limited access to natural places. This is a cause of nature deficit disorder, which, as Margaret Atwood explained at our Green Tea fundraising event, has profound human health ramifications.

As I step down from the board, I am acutely aware that I am leaving at a precarious time as we face the environmental menace of climate change. But I am comforted by the knowledge that Ontario Nature is well equipped for the challenge.