Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign is now under way

Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign is now under way

Press Release

January 29, 2015

A campaign has just been launched by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists to promote awareness and raise funds to save the Burnt Lands Alvar from ‘development creep’. A property owner recently obtained approval from Lanark County to build a “cluster lot” housing development within this alvar region.

The Burnt Lands Alvar, a rare ecosystem of exceptional quality,  is designated an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) by the Province of Ontario because of its uniqueness and ecological significance. Local residents will be familiar with the open tract of land on the northwest side of March Road, between the Burnt Lands Road and Golden Line Road, which is part of the Burnt Lands Provincial Park. The Burnt Lands Alvar, however, extends well beyond the park boundaries in all directions, and into Lanark County both to the north of Almonte and to the southwest of Golden Line Road.

The campaign, officially launched at the monthly meeting of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) on Thursday, January 15, in Almonte, was attended by over 120 people. MVFN president Cliff Bennett began the meeting by saying, “In our role of protecting nature, we are challenging this [development] at the Ontario Municipal Board”.

Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI is a rare ecosystem of exceptional quality: seen here on a rainy day in May, 2009; guided tour of the alvar led by Dr. Paul Catling.

Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI is a rare ecosystem of exceptional quality: seen here on a rainy day in May, 2009; a Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists guided tour of the alvar led by Dr. Paul Catling. Photo Pauline Donaldson

Ken Allison, past president of MVFN, gave an engaging presentation to explain what an alvar is and why it is so unique. The many rare species of plants and animals supported by this ecosystem are under significant threat for reasons mostly related to humans: gravel quarrying, illegal dumping, ATV usage, and urban/suburban sprawl.

See the slide presentation

Ken explained that the Burnt Lands got their name from the many fires that have occurred there over the years. Recovery from these fires is lengthy due to the thinness of the soil over top of the limestone rock bed. “The Burnt lands have always been, and probably always will be, repeatedly disturbed, and it’s part of what makes it special,” said Ken. Manmade destruction, however, is a huge concern given the current rate of planet-wide extinctions and the global warming trend.

Theresa Peluso, chair of the MVFN Environmental Issues Committee,  concluded the presentation by noting, “We learned that what looks like a piece of scrub land is actually a beautiful natural gem with an abundance of unusual plants and animals … a piece of land we should treasure.” Theresa outlined the MVFN plan for an OMB challenge in order to protect this land, explaining that significant funds will need to be raised very quickly to hire a planner and lawyer for the hearing, which is expected to take place in four months’ time. Meeting attendees generously contributed to a collection jar at the entrance, providing a positive start to an effort that will involve several fundraising events, appeals, and social networking. To donate to the Save Burnt Lands Alvar campaign, go to the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists website at http://mvfn.ca/ and look for the Donate Now button. Further information about the alvar, campaign updates and contact information can be found on the MVFN website, with updates also posted to the MVFN Facebook page.

 A 'barren' landscape, but lush with spring growth: photo May 2009, Burnt Lands Alvar tour.

A ‘barren’ landscape, but lush with spring growth: photo May 2009, Burnt Lands Alvar tour. Photo Pauline Donaldson

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CBC News Covers Launch of Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign

CBC news crews arrived at the January 15, 2015 meeting of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists to film the large crowd in attendance as Ken Allison presented an overview of the alvar to kick off the Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign.

Link to the news story:

 CBC  TV News: Almonte Development Draws Protest

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SEE ALSO:

DONATE NOW to Save the Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI

Press Release –  Field Naturalists launch campaign to save the Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI

Presentation by Ken Allison – What is an Alvar? Burnt Lands Alvar: A rare ecosystem of exceptional quality 

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Field naturalists launch campaign to save the Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI

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Press Release

January 9, 2015

 

 

 

DONATE NOW to Save the Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) have recently launched an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board in order to prevent development that would destroy a portion of the Burnt Lands Alvar, a provincially significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI), one of several natural treasures in Lanark County.

A developer was given provisional approval on November 10, 2014 by the Lanark County Land Division Committee to build a cluster lot housing development between Ramsay Concession 12 and Golden Line Road, south of March Road. This development would violate provincial and municipal regulations for this ANSI by degrading the ANSI landscape and its ecological functions, and it could set a precedent for further development in the Burnt Lands.

Alvars, which date back to about 10,000 years ago, support distinctive flora and fauna, and are found in very few places – parts of Ontario and the U.S. Great Lakes Region, and in a few regions in Sweden and Estonia. The Burnt Lands Alvar is considered the fourth best example in all of North America.

These natural features are characterized by limestone plains with thin or no soil. Often flooded in the spring and affected by drought in midsummer, they are home to a very hardy group of flora and fauna that have adapted to the harsh conditions of the alvar.

The Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI is located east of Almonte, straddling Ramsay Ward and the City of Ottawa, on either side of the March Road.  It is an outstanding example of alvar habitat – combining alvar pavement, alvar grasslands, alvar shrub lands, treed alvar and wetlands. Besides its unique flora, the alvar also supports 82 breeding bird species, 48 butterfly species, 98 species of owlet moths, globally rare species of land snail, globally rare invertebrates, and a kind of carabid beetle found nowhere else in the world. Although the alvar is not a prairie, it hosts many prairie species such as prairie sawflies and a thriving population of wingless prairie leafhoppers.

Conserving biodiversity is essential for Ontario’s long-term prosperity and environmental health. The treasures of our natural world need to be preserved for future generations. The cluster lot development in the ANSI would cause widespread disturbance and degrade flora and fauna, including the habitat of endangered species and threatened species. It would also compromise connectivity to adjacent alvar properties and introduce many non-native species.

The Provincial Policy Statement, the Lanark County Official Plan and the Mississippi Mills Official Plan all require protection of the habitat of endangered species and threatened species. Furthermore, they require that there shall be no negative impact on the ANSI or its ecological functions, or on adjacent lands.

Part of the Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI is private land, and many private landowners cherish their land and provide good stewardship; part is a Nature Reserve Class Provincial Park; and part is owned by the City of Ottawa.

In addition to submitting an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board to halt this development, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists have started a campaign to publicize the issue and raise funds for the appeal process.  The campaign begins with a short presentation by Ken Allison, past president of both MVFN and the Ottawa Field-Naturalist’s Club,  on January 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the United Church Hall, 106 Elgin Street, Almonte, before the featured lecture.

The public can support the campaign through the DONATE NOW button on the MVFN website or by contacting Theresa Peluso at .

SEE ALSO:

DONATE NOW to Save the Burnt Lands Alvar ANSI

Presentation by Ken Allison – What is an Alvar? Burnt Lands Alvar: A rare ecosytem of execptional quality

 

 

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How will Mississippi Mills grow over the next 20 years?

Excerpt of Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists Press Release February 23, 2014

 by Tineke Kuiper

How will Mississippi Mills grow over the next 20 years?

This is usually a question that Town Planners ponder while they develop well-integrated approaches for future growth, yet it should really be of interest to all of us. In 2005, leaders and volunteers in our community came together and created our first Community Official Plan (COP). The COP is a legal document containing the goals, objectives and policies that will guide the development, growth and change of the Town of Mississippi Mills over a 20-year period. The vision adopted by Town Council at the time was and still is:

“Mississippi Mills is an outstanding urban and rural community that is recognized for its natural and architectural beauty, high quality of life and respect for its heritage and environment. In its vision of the future, the community will be seen to promote and manage balanced economic growth.”

Every five years the COP is reviewed and updated to take into account changes in the community and provincial policy requirements. The Plan builds on the tradition of responsible stewardship of the resources and assets of the community.

 Mississippi Mills

The Town of Almonte (population ~5200) is located about 50 km from the centre of Ottawa, and as such it is an exurban town rather, than a suburb of Ottawa. The profile of our town is gradually changing from that of a rural mill town in an agricultural setting in the late fifties, to a self-sufficient, up to date and lively place with fine community spirit and cultural aspirations. It has gained a reputation as a good place to live and so, it also appeals as an exurban bedroom community for Ottawa and a retirement community. Both longtime residents and many newcomers alike share a strong sense of history, and optimism about the future of the community. Over the next 20 years, the municipality is expected to grow at a moderate annualized rate of 2.0%.

There are several villages, hamlets and settlement areas in the rural areas, and growth has varied. Between 1981-2001 annualized growth in Ramsay ward accelerated to 4.67% (with most dwellings on private services) compared to 2.45% in Pakenham ward and 1.03% in Almonte ward. The haphazard growth during that period dramatically changed the rural character and physical landscape of Ramsay. There were increased concerns about the loss of natural areas and the health of the environment, loss of farmland and noticeable impacts on the local agricultural industry. Most noticeable was the visual impact of scattered rural residences and country estate lot subdivisions. There were also concerns about cost and economies of scale of providing services to a dispersed population and urban sprawl.

 Fragmentation

Subdivisions often cut through natural areas. This breaks the natural area into two pieces, or fragments, thereby fragmenting wildlife habitat and altering wildlife movement patterns. The fragmentation of a large forest and wetland habitat into smaller patches disrupts ecological processes and reduces the availability of habitat for some species. It is the greatest threat to native biodiversity. Some forest fragments are too small to maintain viable breeding populations of certain wildlife species, especially bird species that require forest interior habitat (i.e., habitat that is in the interior of a forest, a long way from the forest edge). Ecological changes resulting from fragmentation include the introduction of invasive, exotic (non-native) species and increased predation and parasitism. Creating small, isolated forest patches can also interfere with pollination, seed dispersal, wildlife migration and breeding. Ultimately, these changes can result in the local loss of species.

While at first glance some may look nice, country estate lot subdivisions contribute strongly to fragmentation, much more so than normal severances (Figure 1). They directly impact biodiversity, through the direct removal of habitat, through the loss of interior habitat, through the introduction of non-native plants, and through predation/harassment by domestic animals, especially housecats. These effects are well documented in the scientific literature. Country estates lot subdivisions are also detrimental to the sustainability of villages, as residents of such subdivisions do not appear to support village services and amenities, but tend to commute to suburban areas, strip malls, etc., to conduct their business and shopping. As a result, many municipalities, such as Ottawa and Kingston, have now banned country estate lot subdivisions.

 Urban Sprawl

In a recent article in The Millstone (February 3, 2014), Brian Barth paints a picture of how urban sprawl in the USA, in the form of rural subdivisions and strip malls, has consumed many small rural towns, which prior to this had an unequivocally rural mentality and identity, like Mississippi Mills. This is a picture that is also being played out in Canada. He suggested that Ottawa is certainly not growing at the rate of cities like Atlanta, but its sprawl will eventually consume the communities around it. If the footprint of the Greater Toronto Area were to be transplanted to Ottawa, half of Lanark County would already be in it, he said. Urban sprawl consumes agricultural lands, natural areas such as wetlands and forested lands, adding impervious cover in its place.

 Smart Growth instead of Urban Sprawl

One of the alternative development strategies to counteract urban sprawl is the concept of Smart Growth, an idea developed in the early nineties, and a strategy adopted in our 2005 COP, and promoted by the Province. Smart Growth is about reducing sprawl, it’s about growth management, it’s about creating livable communities, it’s about economic growth, it’s about protecting the environment, it’s about efficient government – it’s about all of these things! Communities across the country are using creative strategies to develop in ways that preserve natural lands and critical environmental areas, protect water and air quality, and reuse already-developed land. They conserve resources by reinvesting in existing infrastructure and reclaiming historic buildings. By designing neighborhoods that have shops, offices, schools, churches, parks, and other amenities near homes, communities are giving their residents and visitors the option of walking, bicycling, taking public transportation, or driving as they go about their business. Through smart growth approaches that enhance neighborhoods and involve local residents in development decisions, these communities are creating vibrant places to live, work, and play. The high quality of life in these communities makes them economically competitive, creates business opportunities, and improves the local tax base.

 Smart Growth Principles

Based on the experience of communities that have used smart growth approaches to create and maintain great neighborhoods, the Smart Growth Network developed a set of ten basic principles:

1. Mix land uses

2. Take advantage of compact building design

3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices

4. Create walkable neighborhoods

5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place

6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas

7. Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities

8. Provide a variety of transportation choices

9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective

10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions

Preserve important Natural Heritage Areas

One of the principles of smart growth is to ensure that important natural areas are protected from development, so that critical habitat is preserved, and nature is able to run its course, providing fresh air and clean water. . . [the first step is . . . identifying and characterizing the most important areas and in developing a system of interconnected Core natural areas that will greatly benefit the community.] Based on mapped data, provided by OMNR, on provincially significant wetlands, significant woodlands, areas of natural and scientific interest, wildlife and other features, the first phase has been completed and several important Natural Heritage Core areas, such as the Wolf Grove and Pakenham wetland complexes, the Appleton wetlands, and the Burnt Lands Alvar, can now be designated. This information is important, as it allows for planning decisions on the appropriate location of development, as well as set an appropriate level of protection for individual Core areas. The next phase of this project will be completed within the next few years.

Difficult decisions ahead for Council

The current COP is not saying no to development, but rather provides direction on how to develop in a way residents have said they hope to see their community progress. Council is grappling with the question of how much development is appropriate and how we should go about doing it without losing the small town and rural character and natural heritage areas that we all highly prize and that our COP tries to help maintain. Thus, Councillors face some tough decisions. Your input is important at this time. A public meeting is being planned. Stay tuned.

 

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