A petition calling for KNL Developments Inc. to halt tree clearing in north Kanata over the winter has gathered more than 2,400 signatures in one week.
Janice Seline, a member of Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital, created the online petition on Jan. 14, to call on a number of political officials and the heads of development groups Urbandale and Richcraft to stop the clear cutting and spare the lives of hibernating and resident wildlife.
Seline, a Manor Park resident, said she didn’t expect the petition to garner as much attention as it has but is happy to see people reacting to it.
“I've been out to the South March Highlands, and it’s a beautiful area,” she said. “To have old growth forest in an area this close to a city is really special … It’s really not fair to do this (tree clearing) in winter when they're hibernating. It really makes my blood boil.”
KNL Developments, a partnership between Urbandale and Richcraft, began clearing trees on its land in the South March Highlands on Jan. 4. The developer received the necessary permits to cut trees from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the city in December.
Jack Stirling, consultant for KNL Developments, said the developer will not halt tree cutting as KNL has the required permits to complete the work.
“We have certain windows to get certain work done, and we have to take advantage of the window,” he said. “To defer to (fall) 2017, another group would have another reason to defer to another timeframe.”
The city said in an emailed response sent on behalf of Lee Ann Snedden, director of planning services, that tree cutting will continue as long as the developer complies with its permit.
“KNL has met the requirements to receive a tree-cutting permit,” wrote Snedden. “So long as they act in accordance with the permit, the city does not have the authority to require the tree cutting to cease.”
Andrew McKinley, a senior biologist at McKinley Environmental Solutions who works with developers, said in an earlier interview that winter is the best season for large-scale tree clearing because it minimizes the risk to wildlife as a whole as there are fewer species moving around the work zone.
“Every accredited environmentalist will tell you, as harsh as it might appear to people, the best time to do this is when we’re doing it right now,” said Stirling.
Workers are leaving stumps in the ground until later in the year to protect hibernating wildlife. They are also cutting around trees that may have wildlife living in them.
“The contractors will usually start by cutting around that tree and they’ll leave it for at least, usually, a couple of days,” said McKinley. “The disturbance and the noise around will give the opportunity, if there is an animal, for it to leave the area.”
All contractors on site have received training and a manual on what is required, including wildlife protocol measures, he said.
Injured animals have to be taken to a veterinarian, said McKinley, adding he would be called in, or a licensed wildlife relocation professional, if work crews came across wildlife that won’t or can’t relocate.
“In most cases, the animals do leave on their own,” he said. “It’s rare that we would find an injured animal.”
Crews are clearing trees in the winter so KNL can erect turtle fencing, a special barrier that keeps turtles away from the road and work zone, by the ministry’s March 15 deadline, McKinley said.
“They keep saying they're following the protocol, and they are to a point,” said Seline. “But the main point they're missing is doing this in the winter. The regulations need to be respected and enforced. I think there’s respect but there’s been a lot of skating around.”
The city’s wildlife protocol sets out guidelines for developers to help protect wildlife during construction. The protocol lists the winter months as a “sensitive time” for wildlife living in wooded areas. Developers should avoid, where possible, cutting during sensitive times of year, it says.
Snedden wrote that the ministry’s permit laid out a time frame, from mid-October to mid-April, where tree clearing could take place to avoid bird nesting season, the active season for Blanding’s turtles, and the breeding season.
“Knowing that the timing of the work would coincide with hibernation season, city staff and KNL’s environmental consultants prepared wildlife mitigation measures that are occurring during tree clearing,” wrote Snedden. “The Tree Clearing procedures were designed according to the requirements of the city's ‘Protocol for Wildlife Protection during Construction.’”
Many sharing the petition online say they don’t believe enough is being done to protect the wildlife in the area.
“This is old growth forest that they tried to protect and were unsuccessful. Can we not at least therefore find a way to compromise with nature and clear the land when it's proven to be safest for the animals? I am appalled that in 2017 this is still allowed to happen. We have the knowledge to do things with the least damage possible. Please take action to do what is right!” wrote Lana Paine on Facebook.
The petition had been shared more than 500 times on Facebook and more than 150 times on other platforms.
Paul Johanis, co-chair of Greenspace, said he’d like to see developers apply the wildlife protocol “to its full extent,” instead of using it as a guideline.
Seline said what she’d really like to see is the work halted indefinitely. Barring that, tree clearing should be postponed until the late summer and early fall, the least sensitive time identified in the wildlife protocol.
She said she would present the petition to Mayor Jim Watson; Kathryn McGarry, Ontario's Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry; as well as Richcraft owner Kris Singhal and Richard Sachs, owner of Urbandale, on Jan. 23.
“They really shouldn’t be doing this at all,” she said. “We’d really like it to stop. That seems to be not possible, but who knows, anything’s possible.”
Johanis, a resident of north Kanata, said the group wants to press Watson for “restorative compensation” for the loss of green space by protecting natural environment areas elsewhere.
“From a city perspective, this is a disaster,” said Johanis. “We can’t afford to lose green space in the city. It’s important to maintain the green space we have.”
He wrote an open letter to Watson and asked him to designate 100 hectares of green space elsewhere in the city as protected land to offset the tree cutting in the South March Highlands.
“This is within your power,” he wrote to the mayor. “Only such a grand gesture can really wipe out this blot on this city’s environmental conscience.”
Snedden wrote that the city doesn’t have policies that address restorative compensation.
“Where habitat compensation is necessary to conform to provincial laws, regulations and policies, the city works with industry and the province to facilitate it within the framework of the Official Plan and applicable bylaws,” wrote Snedden.
Johanis also called on KNL to be more transparent by allowing access to the site and communicating with groups such as Greenspace.
“We understand the project is going ahead,” he said. “But we have a lot of skeptical people. It would be helpful if they could organize access.
“We’re looking for communication. Connect with us.”
Stirling said that request comes too late.
“If they wanted to have a conversation they should have thought about it before publishing a whole bunch of counterproductive documents,” he said, referring to the open letter and petition.
He added that Greenspace has not contacted KNL directly.
“I think their approach historically over the last number of years has been unproductive, unco-operative, and now they want co-operation,” said Stirling. “They're going to get treated in the same manner. They're not an agency that we need to deal with. We’ve gone through all the regulatory agencies. We’ve followed all the rules.”