Looking back on the 1993 Niagara Chain Saw Massacre
The Ramsay Road Woodlot
By John Bacher Sierra Club Ontario
In 1993. as the provincial government was working to develop legislation to give municipalities ability to strengthen their powers to regulated tree cutting on private land, came one of the worst assaults on the environment in Niagara since the 1950s. Then in Niagara Falls north of Oldfield Road near Dorchester Road came what those of us who lived through the event remember as the Niagara Chain Saw Massacre. A swamp forest full of Pin Oaks, Pignut Hickories, full of forested vernal pools and unusual species such as the southern arrow-wood, came tumbling down.
What makes the chain saw massacre so terribly poignant is that a decade earlier the forty acres of butchered forest had been identified as part of a much larger two hundred acre forest complex. It was identified in an inventory of environmentally sensitive areas as the Ramsay Road Woodlot.
The 1993 Niagara Chain Saw massacre did have the happy consequence of resulting in the Niagara Tree-by law. This regulation later strengthened by a similar incident in Niagara Falls involving the wiping out of a seven acre forest on Garner Road, is a cornerstone to protecting the environment in Niagara. It protects forests from being clear cut away, even under development pressure until a tree saving plan is completed when the subdivision is registered.
While eighty per cent of the Ramsay Road forest is still intact, it has been chewed away by the Thundering Waters Golf course, which is becoming a subdivision. One of the most recent controversial developments has been a subdivision north of Oldfield Road. Until last month, it contained a 12 acre linear forest, which survived the 1993 clear cut.
Originally the representatives of the developers denied they could find a Threatened species in the forest. It is a rare vine, the Round-leaved Greenbrier. When it was found and photographed, it was not until a mediated Ontario Municipal Board, (OMB) hearing, that two and a half acres of the forest was rescued. The developer offered only to save an acre.
So far the largest part of the remarkable Ramsay Road urban forest south of Oldfield Road remains unscarred. This is largely the work of heroic employees of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. (NPCA) Later fired, they assisted me in efforts to have a formerly Class Three Regionally significant wetland here upgraded to Provincially Significant status.
When in 2008 Niagara Falls Official Plan Amendment 81 was passed to change the designations of the Ramsay Road Forest from industrial to residential I filed an objection at the Ontario Municipal Board. (OMB) A mediated settlement was reached with representatives of a developer. The objection was withdrawn on the basis that the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) could have access to the site in order to conduct a wetland evaluation.
What the brave NPCA employees did was share significant information with MNR, which persuaded them to upgrade the status of the wetland south of Oldfield Road. One significant fact was that in the wetland was a provincially rare tree, the Black Gum.
The NPCA employees also revealed that the forested wetland’s vernal pools (these are temporary ponds, which do not have fish in them), provided breeding habitat for the Blue-spotted Salamander. This species is in serious decline throughout eastern North America because of deforestation associated with urban development. The combination of points for Black Gum and Blue-spotted Salamander habitat pushed the wetland score above the threshold needed to be considered provincially significant.
After the provincially significant wetland designation halted development south of OldField Road, a reign of terror was unleashed by the NPCA board against its employees. This provided the impetus for the authority’s eventual unionization. .
Although rescued from subdivisions, the Ramsay Road forest still got cuts. For an industry near the forest an access road was cut through Oldfield Road, which is fenced and guarded by cameras. It is in the vicinity of the vernal pool lined with rare Black Gum which provides Salamander habitat. While viewing this road for research in connection with this article, I also saw a public meeting sign for zoning changes in another part of the forest.
The over twenty-year war of cuts on the Ramsay Road Forest shows the need to have this threatened ecosystem protected by the Ontario Greenbelt. Let us hope that the panel studying the Greenbelt as part of the comprehensive review of provincial planning studies recommends that provincially significant forests within urban boundaries be protected by it.