Ontario Forest Under Attack

By Dr John Bacher and Danny Beaton, Mohawk of the Turtle Clan.

In Memory of Alicja Rozanska.

One of the most important environmental battles now going on in Ontario is a debate in the council chambers of Chatham-Kent to decide if the municipality is to have a tree cutting by-law. A temporary by-law has been imposed, but it is scheduled to be lifted on December 14, 2021.

The temporary by-law was imposed on April 26, 2021. It followed an ugly incident. A grove of endangered American Chestnuts was threatened by a landowner determined to clear them out. This was stopped only when agents of the Ontario Ministry of the Environment issued, under the Endangered Species Act, a verbal Stop Work Order on site.

There have been so many deputations on the tree by-law that public comment portals have been closed. To see some real television drama, you can watch the Chatham-Kent council meetings on your computer or TV for the rest of the year. The bi-monthly meetings can be easily viewed on the council's website.

Chatham-Kent has the lowest forest cover, at only 3.5%, of any municipality in the Carolinian Zone — which is Canada's most biologically diverse ecosystem. Most of the remaining forest cover is in protected areas, notably Rondeau and Wheatley Provincial parks, and in the Moraviantown Delaware Reservation.

The Delaware Nation fled the United States after the American Revolution to escape frontiersmen determined to burn out their homes and forests. Their 13-kilometer Reservation is an island of forest in Chatham-Kent. Their Chief, Greg Peters, has lamented that the region's deforestation destroys his Nation's "aboriginal right to hunt and fish." He has deplored how the lack of forest cover causes silt pollution in the Thames River, destroying fish habitat.

Deforestation in Chatham-Kent creates serious health problems by inducing horrible heat. Leisure activities such as walking are discouraged by the absence of tree cover. Temperatures in Chatham are on average 10 degrees hotter than in the better-treed Windsor. Heat causes people to stay indoors, increasing obesity. The community has the worst death rates from stroke and heat diseases in Southern Ontario.

Under the leadership of leaders such as the Mohawk Confederacy Chief, George Johnson, reservations had laws to restrict tree cutting in the 1870s. Such laws began to be applied seriously in most of the Carolinian Zone in the 1950s, under the leadership of such dedicated conservationists like Monroe Landon, the enforcement officer for Norfolk County. While in such municipalities as Norfolk, tree coverage is around a third of the landscape. In Chatham-Kent it is at only 3.5 per cent and shrinking. Stay tuned to observe how forest protection efforts fare in Chatham-Kent for the rest of the year.

Although we are in the midst of a national election where massive wildfires devour wide swaths of our nation's landscape, the nation is asleep to the threats of climate instability, even in areas where people should be focused on how to prevent such disasters from happening here.

Toronto, while much of the rest of the world burns, experienced one of its most pleasant summers in the living memories of longtime residents. However, all of this could change in two years, after widely ignored environmental reviews of two proposed roads for mining in an area of the Hudson Bay Lowlands (the planet's refrigerator), may be given the go ahead. Mining advocates hope that the roads will start being built in 2023.

Wildfires this summer ravaged Northwestern Ontario, where roads facilitate accidents by humans that can spark catastrophic blazes. Such blazes, however, were completely absent from the vast roadless areas of peatlands that form one of the planet's most important carbon deposits. This could all change in two years and residents of Toronto may be choking with fumes of burning forests, like the residents of Calgary and Vancouver. The new roads can become dams that dry up peat and turn the wetlands of the north into an exploding emitter of greenhouse gases.

The environmental reviews of the Ring of Fire fail to take into account the risk of the Hudson Bay Lowlands burning up like the similar spruce-dominated wetlands that once surrounded Fort McMurray before the community was incinerated. Having a serious review of the fiendish scheme to wreck the nation’s refrigerator should be the key issue in this national election.

The war on Mother Earth is like a relentless genocide on The Garden of Life, as the world is on fire from the industrial revolution that spurred the gasses that got trapped in the lower atmosphere. Canada is being bought and sold by profit seekers as the government cannot see the consequences of letting forests, water, animals, birds, fish and insects be destroyed by lawyers, architects and bankers. Yet everyone in Canada is watching the fires burn all over the world.

North America may be getting it the worst. In California and Oregon, citizens can breathe in the smoke from New York and across their country. Europe was so bad that Russia decided Global Warming was very serious and their leader, Vladimir Putin, said they would make changes to stop the fire burning in his country. But how do the developers see profit coming from concrete and wires, destroying forests, wetlands, farmlands and making life for their children to live in Planet Inferno?

We, the Human Beings, are supposed to be a voice for all life on this Sacred Mother Earth. What happened to common sense? What happened to basic human consciousness? We humans and developers, architects, bankers and lawyers need to look at life before it is destroyed by stupidity — because killing the lungs of life is it. How can we protect the rainforests in Brazil when we can’t protect our own backyard and our children's future? The young people and citizens in Chatham-Kent are doing their best to protect natural life, forests and creation. But like everywhere else where a profit can be made, Mother Earth is made to suffer.

As a Mohawk Environmentalist, I am becoming ashamed to be living in such cruelty and disrespect to all sacred life. If anyone can gain strength and peace from my words, it is to protect and honour life the way we were meant to walk on Mother Earth and for all life to be equal and in harmony.

Photo credit: John and Danny Niagara Falls 2016.

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