Tell Minister of Municipal Affairs to Rescue Freele Tract
Those were the days: Danny Beaton at Gate 3 of the Site 41 Unity Protest Camp in Tiny Township, on August 14 2009. -Doug Glynn photo
By John Bacher Sierra Club Canada — June 22, 2020
One of the great victories of the environmental movement of Ontario is now under attack — the Simcoe County Forests. The system was created under the leadership of Premier E. C. Drury, and his friend Edmund Zavitz, to rescue the Simcoe County from being buried in marching sand wastes. This was triggered by ruthless deforestation.
The Freele Tract is being defended by a valiant 770-member environmental protection group which should never have had to be organized. It’s called the Friends of Simcoe County Forests.
The Friends of Simcoe County Forests is now battling to defend the integrity of the forest against schemes to have five per cent of the tract become used by Simcoe County as a Waste Transfer Station. Apart from fragmenting the forest, it could spark a fire that would run the risk of destroying the entire habitat.
Fragmentation would disrupt the value of the forest for three endangered species and breeding birds which require large tracts of intact forests. There may be more endangered species found if acoustic surveys for bats are conducted.
The Friends of Simcoe County Forests emerged several years ago to defend from the desecration of a 207-acre forest established in 1948 as the Freele Tract. Although most of the tract was planted 65 years ago, careful thinnings have helped it become a mixed forest, with some areas now being dominated by sugar maples. This has caused the tract to assume the characteristics of a naturalized woodland. Locally significant plants found here include the ox eye sunflower, running strawberry bush and the tall goldenrod.
The Freele Tract is interspersed with vernal pools. In the springtime, these provide critical breeding habitats for the Western chorus frog and the spotted salamander. The wetlands are dominated by native vegetation such as the bulrush. Its dominance would be threatened by the proposed truck roads through the Freele Tract. These could bring through truck tires with seeds of invasive species, such as phragmites.
Large tracts of forests bigger than 200 acres are rare in the agriculturally dominated landscape of rural Ontario. This makes fragmentation of the forest by a waste transfer station likely fatal for four Species at Risk found here. These are the wood thrush, the Eastern wood pewee and the red-shouldered hawk. Plus, in the winter, the large size of the Freele Tract has provided shelter for the barred owl. It is home to 21 bird species that benefit from large forested tracts.
The threatened tract is part of the 32,000-acre expanse of Simcoe County Forests. The Simcoe County Forests, the Friends acknowledge, “are the envy of forest management professionals around the nation … and around the world.” Revenues from selective thinning of coniferous plantations have helped to acquire more lands to bring critically environmentally sensitive areas of Simcoe County under its normally protective mantle.
The basic reason that Simcoe County wants a Waste Transfer Station in the Freele Tract is free land. The County Forest does not plan to demand payment transfer as part of its holdings to the County waste management service. This is what is causing the need for a Ministerial Zoning Order, to permit the Waste Transfer Station to locate in the Freele Tract. Currently, the Freele Tract is in Agricultural Zoning, which does not permit the establishment of a Waste Transfer Station. The County should — like a private business seeking an industrial type of operation — purchase a site in a suitably industrially zoned location.
While the County Forest system began in 1921, since 1976 the Simcoe County has had a bad record for using it to obtain cheap land to construct facilities having nothing to do with forest conservation. This was when the County cut out of a forest tract near Midhurst to create its new administrative building. It is an ugly pile of cement cut out of what was a County forest tract. Could it be bad architecture breeds bad ideas? such as putting Waste Transfer Stations in forests that are refuges for declining species such as frogs, salamanders, and forest interior birds.
From 1921 to 1976, the Simcoe County forest system was planned in a beautiful building in Barrie. It was designed by the architect, George H. Brown. It was a moving blend of styles combining basic Ontario Gothic with a tower that followed the styles of the French Second Empire. Here, men of passion and reason — such as Drury who became sheriff of the County following his abandonment of politics — created the woodlands that stopped the marching desert sands.
The forest land grab of 1976 resulted in an equally monstrous courthouse in Barrie. Its greatest significance in history was to be the scene for the bail hearing of Danny Beaton. (Turtle Clan Mohawk). He was imprisoned for three days for his role in blocking a proposed Simcoe County dump on top of the world’s purest water. Before being imprisoned, Beaton refused to sign a waiver that would keep him out of prison, asking “Who will speak for the trees and water?”
To save the Freele Tract, it is not required to endure three days in prison like Beaton did. What is required is to quickly write to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. Do not delay, since the Ministerial Zoning Order could come at any time.
Please email the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, The Honourable Steve Clark, at email@example.com.
Author of “Two Billion Trees and Counting – The Legacy of Edmund Zavitz” (Dundurn – 2011), and “Petrotyranny” (Dundurn – 2000), Dr. John Bacher is a researcher, educator, writer, and environmentalist.