Environmental measures around a new condo development

Clearing trees for a condo

On Monday night Guelph City Council gave a developer permission to begin clearing a site at the corner of Gordon Street and Arkell Road for a new condominium. In fact the environmental review urged that the work proceed immediately before migratory birds arrive and start building nests. Friday morning all the trees had been cut and the work crew was removing them.

This is my neighbourhood. It had already been rezoned and was undergoing environmental studies when we moved here in 2011. It is located near Hanlon Creek Conservation Area and a provincially significant wetland, the same park our house backs onto. I did not know the background. Because of where the notices were posted, I expected construction would occur right beside the marsh at the bottom of Edinburgh Road. I was disgusted.

As the Guelph Mercury article points out, nearly 1,000 trees would be removed. This sounds like a lot, but the area being cleared is in fact much smaller than I expected. It does not abut the marsh.

Construction site for new condo

Guelph Mercury article says the trees are “mostly Scotch pine.” First of all, Scotch pine is not a thing; they are called Scots pine. It is a non-native species, which hardly warrants protection. However, I would be interested to know how many were actually white pine, a native species which completely comprises the nearby plantation behind our house. I did not think to scrutinize the trees on the ground, but many of those still standing in these photos are certainly white pines.

But a pine plantation, whether native or non-native, has limited environmental value. As I’ve written here before, ecologists used to think pure pine forests originally covered Ontario. Conservation authorities planted pines by the millions some decades ago, presumably in an effort to restore habitat. The same thing happened at Pinery Provincial Park.

The old ecologists were wrong. The Pinery proved these plantations are hardly beneficial. Now we know the original habitat along the Lake Huron shoreline was probably oak savannah.

Pine monocultures support minimal species diversity. Red squirrels and chickadees like them. We do see quite a few different birds behind our place. We even hear barred owls once in a while. But as for plant species, hardly anything can gain a foothold. Even in the openings I would have a hard time finding much more than garlic cress, burdock and a few grass species.

I love white pines. They are one of my favourite trees. But a hectare of monoculture is not valuable habitat. Few Neotropical migrants such as warblers and thrushes would nest or forage in this woods. The developer is supposed to plant 900 native trees and shrubs, which will almost certainly be more valuable to wildlife.

Tree protection zone

What impressed me about the site was the protection zones created around it. Fences shielded large sections of habitat. At right in the photo above they also appear to establish a future pedestrian walkway that would pass between the development site and the wetland.

Tree protection zone sign

Sorry for the poor quality image. The sign reads: “Tree protection zone (TPZ). No grade change, dumping, storage of materials, storage of equipment, unauthorized entry, tree injury or removal, disturbance of any kind. This fence must not be damaged or removed.”

The same fence creates a clear boundary around the back of the development site to prevent workers or equipment from straying into the adjacent wetland. A small wetland on the site is similarly protected.

Wetland protection

I often walked past this woods. I always hate to see trees cut. But it was too densely planted to be accessible for walking or any recreational purpose. I was relieved to see the small size of the clearing. The measures the city has taken to ensure protection of adjacent habitat, particularly the trees, was new to me. This development has been handled with considerable care to minimize environmental impact..

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