To: Marie Lemay
Chief Executive Officer
National Capital Commission (NCC)
From: Richard W. Woodley
environmentalist, hiker, mountain biker, snowshoer, cross country skier, kayaker
I am writing to you about two subjects of concern to myself and many other residents of the National Capital Region. While they may not seem related at first you will see that indeed they are.
The most critical issue I am writing about at this time is saving the South March Highlands from development. The other related issue is the NCC's attitude to mountain biking.
Myself and many other cyclists in Ottawa were very pleased to read of your vision for cycling in the nation's capital as reported in the Ottawa Citizen:
OTTAWA — The NCC wants to inspire Canadians about the capital region by becoming a model for transportation, combining a network of cycling lanes and pathways across the downtown cores of Ottawa and Gatineau.As well as being a cyclist who rides the bike paths and roads in the National Capital Region, I am also a mountain biker. The National Capital Region, with it's Greenbelt and Gatineau Park, as well as the South March Highlands, has the potential, and the geography, to be a haven for mountain biking, and mountain biking should be included in any vision for cycling in the capital.
Marie Lemay says she hopes that “people would turn to us and say: How is it done in Ottawa? How is it done in our capital?”
Although the NCC has maintained recreational biking paths in the national capital region for 40 years, Lemay said she realized last summer the importance of moving beyond those paths to create a safe, integrated network of cycling lanes and pathways across the downtown cores of Ottawa and Gatineau.
Unfortunately the NCC has a very poor reputation with mountain bikers, largely due to their lack of understanding of the sport, and policies based on prejudice and misinformation, as I have written previously about mountain biking in the Gatineau Park in The Fifth Column:
The NCC, in it’s wisdom, has decided that mountain bikers should be second class citizens in the park. If they want to ride single track trails they are relegated to a small section of the park (Camp Fortune) run by a private operator where fees are charged. Meanwhile hikers and trail runners have free reign over all of the public trails in the park at no charge, including the wide trails designated for mountain biking.I would also at this time like to reference my three submissions on Mountain Biking in the Greenbelt to the NCC's Greenbelt Review. They provide more details on how the NCC can make the National Capital Region a haven for mountain biking.
I appreciate having the wide gravel trails to ride, they are fun, but mountain bikers, like serious hikers, love rough natural technical single track trails, which are a lot more environmentally friendly than widened gravel roads, which the NCC loves to build and call trails.
There are two arguments for keeping mountain bikers off single track trails - user conflicts and environmental damage. However, neither of these arguments holds up to scrutiny.
In various places, including the NCC’s own greenbelt (where bicycle use is against NCC regulations but the regulations are not enforced), hikers and bikers regularly share the trails with each other with few problems. I can personally attest to never having had a conflict with hikers on the greenbelt trails while riding them regularly (several times a week). I can also attest to hiking and mountain biking in the South March Highlands and always having other trail users treat me with respect, whether as a hiker or a biker.
As to the environmental impact, the overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that hikers and mountain bikers have equivalent impacts on trails. See, for example, the reviews done by the International Mountain Bicycling Association and the New Zealand Department of Conservation.
For more information on mountain biking see the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) website and the Ottawa Mountain Bike Association (OMBA) website.
The NCC has an opportunity to make the Gatineau Park an internationally acclaimed location for both road cycling and mountain biking. Let us see if they are up to the challenge.
Winter Trail Conflicts on the Greenbelt Trails
Old Quarry Youth Mountain Bike Skills Park
When I first moved to Ottawa I spent a lot of time in the Gatineau Park. However when we moved to Kanata we reduced considerably the time we spent in the park. Partly it was due to having the Greenbelt in our backyard but a large reason was because we had our own ecological jewel, our own Gatineau Park so to speak, in Kanata, in the form of the South March Highlands.
Now that jewel is threatened. While a portion of it has been purchased and protected by the City of Ottawa a large portion is slated for a housing development (KNL/Urbandale lands).
And the protected lands are going to be divided by a four lane highway, the Terry Fox Extension, using what has been described as the worst possible route from an environmental perspective. The City of Ottawa is rushing the project through even though the initial demographic projections for population and traffic have been considerably reduced (without even considering the now possibility that the KNL housing development may not proceed), and they are doing it by playing fast and loose with the environmental assessment process.
The reason for the fast tracking is free money provided as part of the federal government's economic stimulus plan. Now one might expect a government that claims to be fiscally responsible to attach conditions to it's funding requiring that the money be spent wisely and that the partners take the time to do things right. But apparently the only condition placed on the stimulus funding is that it be spent quickly.
So now we have a double threat - a housing development through an ecological jewel and a road being rushed through prematurely to serve that development.
Let us talk about the South March Highlands from an environmental perspective. The south March Highlands have been studied extensively by Dan Brunton who has authored many studies of the area, including:
Natural Environment Area boundary in South March Highlands Special Study Area: Final Report, June 2004
Natural environment assessment: South March Highlands Conservation Forest, May 2008
This is how Dan Brunton described the South March Highlands in his 2004 report:
3) OVERVIEW OF THE SPECIAL STUDY AREA (ADAPTED FROM BRUNTON 2000)The following is from Brunton's 2008 report, which discusses the impact of reducing the protected area of the South March Highlands to 35% of the original conservation area. Notice the use of terms like "ominously" and "disquieting".
The Special Study Area is situated at the southern end of the Precambrian Shield bedrock outcrop known as the Carp Hills which extends from Kanata northwestward to the Ottawa River in the Galetta area. This wetland-rich landform is unique in the City of Ottawa, constituting a 'island' of rugged, heavily-glaciated, rocky, Gatineau Hills-like habitat on the otherwise ±level, sedimentary lowlands. The end result is a landscape with severely limited agricultural potential and substantial challenges to residential/ commercial development. It has remained largely undeveloped, constituting one of the largest areas of continuous natural landscape in the City. The more or less original natural state coupled with a uniquely complex geology has resulted in the southern portion of the Carp Hills (the South March Highlands) supporting a diverse and significant natural biodiversity including Provincially and Regionally significant features and habitats (Brunton 1992a; 1992b; 1997).
The South March Highlands incorporates a number of watercourses and their watershed areas. The SSA incorporates catchment areas for the Carp River, Shirley’s Brook and Watts Creek. Most of the drainage in the SSA is westward down the Hazeldean Escarpment slope and into the Carp River. The northeastern corner of the area drains eastward, however, flowing into the south branch of Shirleys Brook. So too does the Watts Creek headwaters which commence immediately west of the First Line Road ROW in the southern half of the area and flows easterly through Kanata (‘Kizell Drain’), eventually discharging into the Ottawa River (Dillon Consulting 2002). Numerous small and/ or intermittent drainage channels occur in the many depressions and ravines occurring in this rugged landscape, all other eventually reaching the Carp River system.
The SSA (Figure 1) is part of the South March Highlands natural area which, in various configurations, has been identified as a candidate Provincially Significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) (Brunton 1995), a High Value Natural Environment System Strategy (NESS) natural area (Ottawa-Carleton 1997; Brunton 1997) and Natural Environment Area-A and Natural Environment Area B (Ottawa-Carleton 1999). The significance of this area is reflected in the purchase of over 225 ha of natural landscape north of the railway for long-term ecological protection purposes by the former Region in 2000 (Figure 9). This ‘Regional Conservation Land’ area was enlarged by the City of Ottawa through the purchase of an additional 20 ha of adjacent natural landscape in 2002.
The SSA supports a rich diversity of native plant and animal species typical of superior examples of their respective habitats within the South March Highlands (Brunton 1992a). Some of these species are found within the Highlands only in or immediately adjacent to the SSA (see section 4.1, Significant native species, below). The mature upland deciduous forest habitat in the northern half of the study area contributes the greatest number of these representative and locally unique species (Brunton 1992b).
The SSA contains an extensive complex of common and rare habitats demonstrating a high degree of ecological integrity. Over 80% of this area supports Regionally rare vegetation types (Geomatics International 1995). A number of the nesting bird species present here and in the adjacent forested landscape to the east breed successfully only in extensive woodlands (Brunton 1992b; Muncaster 2002c). Habitat fragmentation is rare here, with the First Line Road ROW providing the only physical interruption crossing the length of the SSA.
A high level of natural biodiversity is identified as an important contributor to the identification of a Provincially Significant natural area (Ontario 1997). The contribution of the SSA to the ecological integrity of the larger South March Highlands natural area is an important element of the latter area’s overall significance and conservation value.
6.1 SIGNIFICANCE AND SENSITIVITY CONCLUSIONSAnd this is how he described, in his 2004 report, the impacts the KNL development and Terry Fox Road extension would have on the South March Highlands.
Remarkably, much of the native biodiversity identified in the 1991 - 1992 South March
Highlands inventories is retained within the 35% of the former South March Highlands conservation area presently designated as Conservation Forest. Approximately 94% of the native vascular plants of the larger area, for example, are (or were) found here. The fragility of this representation is underscored, however, by the wide variety and serious nature of present and increasing environmental stresses described in section 5. Impacts and ecological challenges (above).
It also bears repeating that the 41 Regionally Significant plant species now known from the Conservation Forest represent only 85% of the 48 such taxa known from the larger former conservation area and include none of the known Provincially Significant species of the South March Highlands. More ominously, perhaps, is the fact that 13 (27%) of Regionally Significant taxa, are either known or suspected to have been extirpated. Similarly, one known SARA-scheduled (Threatened) animal species, Blandings Turtle, has only been observed at the very western and northern edges of the Conservation Forest while another SARA-scheduled (Threatened) species, Golden-winged Warbler occurs at a site adjacent to a proposed arterial roadway corridor.
This evidently lower level of sustainability for the most vulnerable components of the native biodiversity of the Conservation Forest is particularly disquieting when future ecological isolation and the fragmentation of remaining natural landscapes is factored in. The proposed residential and transportation development within the South March Highlands (Terry Fox Road arterial, Second Line Road extension, etc.) undoubtedly markedly increase ecological stress on both the representative and exceptional natural features and functions of the Conservation Forest.
KNL lands:So where do we go from here.
Residential development is committed in the majority of the KNL lands between the First Line Road ROW and Goulbourn Forced Road. This has major implications for the ecological significance of both the SSA in particular and the South March Highlands in general. That includes a major reduction in the ecological corridor function presently active between the Regional Conservation Lands north of the Terry Fox Road ROW and the Trillium Woods Urban Natural Feature (UNF) within and immediately east of the Extended Study Area, along either side of Goulbourn Forced Road (Figure 9). It will also increase the edge effect impact of the Terry Fox Road ROW on the adjacent Regional Conservation Lands habitat. The KNL residential development area is transected by Kizell Pond Urban Natural Feature along Watts Creek.
The KNL development plan dramatically reduces the existing area of ecological connectivity between the SSA and other significant natural areas of the South March Highlands (Brunton 1992a; 1992b; 2000). The remaining UNF west of Goulbourn Forced Road constitutes about 100 ac (40 ha) of upland and wetland habitat (S. Murphy, pers. comm.). The Richardson Forest in Lot 6 will be particularly negatively effected, being completely isolated from comparable natural habitats to the north and east. As well, virtually all of the interior forest values of the Richardson Forest will be eliminated.
The loss of continuous forest habitat within the KNL lands north of Watts Creek in the West Block will have similar though less intense impacts on the northern portion of the SSA. The negative impact is lessened in that area by the existence of continuous natural habitat along the top and face of the Hazeldean Escarpment to the west of the SSA (Figures 2, 3, 4 and 5). Development of portions of the West Block on the KNL property will result in the loss of native biodiversity, a reduction in biological restoration and recruitment potential and the initiation of microclimatic changes. It will inevitably reduce the self-sustainability and overall ecological significance of the adjacent portion of the SSA. Without detailed on-site examination of the lands involved, however, it is difficult to quantify the loss of particular natural features.
4.8.3 Terry Fox Road extension impact
Dillon Consulting (2003) has established that construction of the proposed Terry Fox Road extension across the SSA will have a significant, negative ecological impact ....“Terry Fox Drive will form a barrier and break between the northern and southern portions of the presently continuous South March Highlands [natural] area”. Recognizing the importance of maintaining ecological connectivity across this barrier, Dillon Consulting. (2003) proposes a system of modified culverts and a major sub-roadway ecological passageway along the preferred roadway ROW to partially mitigate these loses.
As part of the recent discussions on the design of this road, an alternative route crossing the SSA and located slightly west of the preferred route (Dillon Consulting 2003) was suggested by a landowner. Dillon Consulting (2003) considered that the Balys & Associates alternative route would have “a higher impact on the environment (volume of rock knolls to be removed, and wetland impacted)”. In a later assessment of the natural environment implications of the Balys & Associates proposed route, it was suggested (Muncaster 2002b) that the degree of ecological disturbance along this alternative route for the crossing of the Hazeldean Escarpment and the SAA might be no greater or even somewhat reduced to that of the preferred Terry Fox Road ROW. That opinion, however, does not address the question of maintaining ecological connectivity across the roadway ROW other than to suggest that roadway development along either alternative will inevitably have some impact
Regardless of the route selected, it is clear that the extension of the Terry Fox Road arterial across the South March Highlands will constitute a major ecological challenge to the Provincially Significant values in and about the SSA and throughout a large segment of the South March Highlands. Major mitigation measures, as described above, will be required to at least reduce the losses of significant ecological value here.
The Sierra Club has launched a campaign to stop the Terry Fox Drive extension as reported in the Ottawa Citizen:
OTTAWA — The Sierra Club Canada plans to start a national campaign this week attempting to stop the extension of Terry Fox Drive through the sensitive wetland habitat of the threatened Blanding’s turtle.As well, the Ottawa Forests and Greenspace Advisory Committee has recommended that the City halt construction on the Terry Fox Drive extension as reported in the Ottawa Citizen:
John Bennett, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, said the club will use its network to reach thousands of environmentally minded citizens, asking them to put pressure on municipal, provincial and federal politicians to stop the four-kilometre, $47.7-million roadway.
“It’s just a stupid, stupid plan. This is about greed and avarice and building more houses in a place that’s not appropriate,” Bennett said. “They don’t need to build this road through this wetland.
The Ottawa forests and greenspace advisory committee will ask city council to put the construction of the Terry Fox Drive Extension on hold and order a more thorough environmental review.This has rekindled interest in the preservation of the whole South March Highlands and led to local residents forming a Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands .
The committee passed a unanimous motion Monday night to ask the city to "immediately re-examine the demographic, transportational and economic rationale" for the project and to halt construction until an "in-depth ecological analysis is undertaken."
The request will come before the city's planning and environment committee, where it would need the endorsement of councillors before it could be voted on by City Council.
What needs to be done now is to find a way to preserve what has not yet been developed in the South March Highlands or face a situation, as indicated by Dan Brunton, where only 35% of the original conservation is preserved and that 35% is at a great risk of being unsustainable, as Brunton indicates in his reports.
The following map is from Brunton's 2008 report. The Terry Fox Drive Extension route is added (not on the original Brunton report map).
Many believe that the South March Highlands can only be saved if the NCC becomes involved and acquires the SMH lands that remain undeveloped. I believe that may be our only hope. Although the City has been purchasing adjacent lands, they do not have the funds to buy the KNL lands, nor the other undeveloped SMH lands. And even though much of the remaining land is zoned "environmental protection" that becomes meaningless once a developer goes before the Ontario Municipal Board. The only way to really protect environmental lands is to purchase them and the only entity capable of purchasing the undeveloped SMH lands is the National Capital Commission.
Some have suggested that the NCC swap land in the Greenbelt for the KNL lands, but I believe that would be a short sighted solution that would be regretted in the future. The Greenbelt is a corridor and it all serves a purpose. Some of the farmland may not be environmentally sensitive but in many cases it provides a buffer between environmental lands and developed land. As well we are just beginning to realize the potential role that urban farmland can play in our society.
I would only consider a Greenbelt land swap to be a solution as a last resort and even then the land would have to be very carefully selected. Swapping urban development land that might be in the NCC's possession might be an alternative though.
Fast action by the NCC is necessary in order to be able to convince the City of Ottawa to stop the Terry Fox Drive Extension work before even more damage is done to the environment of the South March Highlands. As well, KNL plans to start work on its housing development very soon.
The NCC has, I believe, a short window of opportunity to save the day and save this precious environmental jewel in the National Capital Region, but they should do so without sacrificing that other jewel of the National Capital Region, the Greenbelt.
The South March Highlands and Kanata Lakes trails are known as the place to go for technical mountain biking in Ottawa. If you are not sure what technical mountain biking is think of a rugged natural trail that you have hiked and could not imagine anyone riding a bike on, and then think about someone riding through the trail on a mountain bike and you've got it.
The City of Ottawa is currently developing a management plan, for the South March Highlands Conservation Forest. This is the 35% of the original conservation area that is owned and protected by the City of Ottawa. In developing the management plan the City has worked closely with all user groups and one of the main items of consensus was that the trail system would be a shared system with mountain biking as one of it's main uses. The City is currently negotiating a shared stewardship agreement for the SMH trails with the Ottawa Mountain Bike Association.
While I may not agree with everything in the city's draft plan, such as the denaturalization of some of the single track trails, I would hate to see the consensus that has developed regarding shared trail use threatened.
I have raised my concerns about the South Mach Highlands Conservation Forest draft management plan in the submissions referenced below:
Submission re: South March Highlands Conservation Forest Management Plan
Submission re: South March Highlands Conservation Forest Management Plan Draft Trail Plan
South March Highlands Trail Plan – Where Are The Environmentalists
Saving the remaining undeveloped lands in the South March Highlands from development can only benefit the mountain biking community, by increasing the potential trail system, to keeping the trails further from the impact and noise of development, to eliminating the need for a four lane highway beside and through the middle of the trail system.
However, you can appreciate that considering the NCC's historical record and attitude to mountain biking that the mountain bike community would have serious concerns regarding any involvement of the NCC in the South March Highlands.
There are a number of potential scenarios that could happen if the NCC was to step in and do what is necessary to purchase the remaining SMH lands and save the South March Highlands from further development. Certainly the idea of having one land manager is going to come up. There are a number of ways that this could be dealt with. One is to have the NCC deed all the lands to the City because the City has already started the process of drafting a management plan for the area. Another is to have the City and NCC jointly manage the lands. And a third option might see the NCC take over all the lands. All of these options have potential benefits.
Whatever option may be chosen, for the South March Highlands to be saved from development the more stakeholders that support the plan the better. Getting support from the mountain biking community for an NCC role, which I believe is vital, is going to require strong assurances that all the work that has been done in developing a strong consensus on a shared trail system recognizing mountain biking as an important activity in the South March Highlands will not be ignored.
I call upon the NCC to give a strong corporate assurance, and yourself to give a strong personal assurance, that if the NCC is involved in the South March Highlands that they will recognize that the trail system will be shared and mountain biking considered a legitimate and important activity in the South March Highlands.
Together we can save the South March Highlands.