A Northern Parula sings at the edge of the three-acre woodlot while my students are measuring the diameter of some labeled Hop-hornbeams, Black Cherry trees, and towering, 150-year old Red Oak trees.
The woodlot is called Crerar Forest, just south of the Linc between Wellington and Wentworth. It's migration season, and a few more warbler species, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and a Solitary Vireo join the parula. They seem happy to have found a rare island of green in the midst of an ocean of roofs, streets, and parking lots.
My students love to be out in the bush. It not only breaks the monotony of sitting and listening, but they also feel they are involved in useful information gathering and interpretation as they measure trees which their predecessors measured last year.
In this way they gather information about the current growth rates of various species. They really appreciate the opportunity.
I interrupt some students in their work to show them the two young hawks peeking out from the top of the nest, which a Red-tailed Hawk pair had fashioned high up in a Sugar Maple. The students' 'Cools' and 'Wows' remind me why I took them into the forest in the first place. They beckon other students to come and check it out.
That was last year.
Last October the chainsaws and heavy equipment moved in. A patient developer readied to make his move. The result: more than half of the forest was leveled, leaving just a few feeble, damaged, lone young trees in their wake.
What a disaster. More roofs, more streets, and more parking lots.
Half of the green island, one hundred and fifty years in the making, was gone within two months. And it was one of the few islands of green left between the Mountain brow and Dickenson Road, south of Rymal Road.
Is nothing being done about this? Can the City of Hamilton not put an immediate stop to this? A few people have made it their aim to find out how this plundering for profit is possible and how it can be stopped.
One of them is Anita Thomas and she lives in the vicinity of Crerar Forest. She and a few other committed citizens have rallied neighbours and town councellors, and harassed city departments trying to find answers and solutions.
But Thomas is looking beyond Crerar Forest to the sad condition of our by-laws that will make it possible for developers to level other green islands as well. She writes the following on her blog:
Slowly, but surely, the urban forests in Hamilton, Ontario are being chipped away at a very steady pace.
If we don't change the current by-law now, so that it properly protects what remains of these urban forests, ALL forests in this city are at risk of eventually being razed in the name of "development" and profit.
It is very important we protect these natural heritage assets. The legacy left by T.B. McQuesten, one that other municipalities looked to for improving their own cities, is being battered and obliterated by incessant, ruthless development.
None of us wants by-laws that are so restrictive that we can't cut down a few trees on our property as needed. But the purchase of land for development, which contains these forests - important environmental assets to our city - needs to come with some restrictions. The few remaining remnants of forests within the city limits, need to be protected.
Under the current by-law, a developer can purchase land, and cut down trees that are over a certain diameter, under the premise of "logging" or harvesting. He does not need permission, only needs to file a notice of intent to cut. There is nothing anyone can do to stop them. Then as they are bulldozing those larger trees, the smaller ones which are in the way silently fall, too.
None of those remaining forests in our urban landscape are of substantial enough size for true, responsible logging, but they are certainly of very significant size for the flora, fauna and ecosystem they support. Reduction in size of these urban forests should not be permitted. As our city grows, expanding into farmland, any forests present must retain a minimum set size.
The science of trees tells us that they dramatically improve environmental quality. They clean the air of our city, removing tons of carbon and pollution yearly. Residents, organizations, businesses, developers, architects and urban planners; municipal, provincial and federal agencies, should all be making the preservation of these urban woodlots a priority. We all have something to gain from that: quality of life, health and nature. Basic needs don't get much more basic than that.
Urban Forest Benefits:
- Improved Air Quality
- Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Improved Wildlife Habitat
- Storm water Management
- Noise Abatement
- Increased Psychological Well Being
- Improved Energy Conservation
- Increased Property Values
One time a friend of mine and I saw a Least Bittern resting in a tree at Crerar forest. It turned out to be a record early sighting for this species for the HSA.
The next day we saw him there again. It shows that even threatened species are using green islands as a place to rest as they are moving North.
Please check out both websites that document the destruction of Crerar Forest and the many stumps that are left behind. Let's start a movement to demand from our [city councillors](/council) a change in the by-law. Then our students will be able to continue to measure growth rates of living trees, rather than tree stumps on which no parula sings and that will never grow again.
First published in the May, 2013 issue of The Wood Duck, the magazine of the Hamilton Naturalists' Club.
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