On May 14th I went to Beavermead Park to check out the “Trees for Canopy Conservation” festival. It was a cheerful sunny day and the trees of Beavermead Park were in their glory, new leaves unfurling and catkins on display. I glimpsed a mother mallard with her twelve ducklings in a small creek in the park. Someone was swimming in the lake among the jumping bass and the geese.
The Tree event was hosted by the City of Peterborough in partnership with ten community organizations who share the mutual goal of preserving and growing the City’s urban forest. The event featured information and activities that focus on the importance of trees and their role in mitigating climate change. In attendance were GreenUP Ecology Park, 4RG, The Sacred Water Circle, Otonabee Region Conservation Authority, Peterborough Youth Empowerment, Peterborough Alliance for Climate Action, Camp Kawartha, Kawartha Land Trust, Peterborough Kawartha Rotary, and Catchacoma Forest Stewardship Committee of the Wilderness Committee.
GreenUP and Camp Kawartha displayed educational programs for overall appreciation of the value of the natural world. The Otonabee Region Conservation Authority provided watershed-related information beyond the trees that focused on water, including the Otanabee River’s surface water Report Card. The City distributed 300 trees to property owners who’d signed up for a free tree. As I wandered among the kiosks and tables, I talked to people and filled out a ribbon tree display about what I value the most that is at risk from climate change: my son’s future.
I learned a few things from my chats with people manning the information stalls and from their excellent literature:
- The Need to Stop Logging Rare Hemlock Old-Growth in Catchacoma Forest: A now rare stand of old-growth hemlock trees that currently provide a dense canopy that cools the creeks that feed Catchacoma Lake, is currently slated for logging by BMFC under their logging lease with the crown. “Dr. Peter Quinby, who leads Ancient Forest Exploration and Research, with the help of students from Peterborough, found this landscape to be the largest known mature hemlock stand in Canada,” writes the Peterborough Examiner. Old growth hemlock forests are one of the most rare types of forest ecosystems in Ontario and are on the decline. These huge trees and associated forest community provide habitat for moose, Algonquin wolves, and a wide diversity of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and plants. At risk species include the cerulean warbler, hognose snake, and Blanding’s turtles. Considered to provide highly valuable ecological services, this forest should not be logged. Six hundred year old trees take 600 years to grow back. Old-growth hemlock forests are rare, on the decline and need preserving. Help establish a moratorium on the logging. Email MPP Dave Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jesse VanAllen at email@example.com. And visit the forest! I intend to. Email Katie@wildernesscommittee.org to find upcoming community hikes.
- Otonabee Region Watershed Report Card: Based on data up to 2018, the Otonabee River (the drinking water source for Peterborough) received a C Grade for surface water quality, based on phosphorus levels and benthic invertebrate community. The main culprit was “development.” What does that really mean? Most city dwellers don’t think much about our water beyond the convenient use of our house taps and showers and knowing (taking for granted) that we have safe clean drinking water to drink, cook with, shower in and even use to flush our toilets and water our lawns. But where does that clean water come from and how does it stay clean? What are the pollution risks to our waterways—not just our drinking water sources (which may—as in Peterborough—be the very river running through the city)—but all the surface and ground water in the watershed we live in. Most of us might envision the obvious point source polluter: a single source, usually by an industry discharging effluent via a dedicated outfall into a natural water system. But we don’t think of the non-point source polluters. Examples include excess fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides from agricultural lands and urban runoff from residential and commercial areas. Urban runoff flushes oil, grease and toxic chemicals (such as PCBs, PAHs, heavy metals and other hormone disruptors and carcinogens) from vehicular traffic and construction into our waterways. Sources of sediment include improperly managed construction sites, sloppy agricultural practices, and ignoring necessary riparian buffers or water intake protection zones (IPZ) by building too close to a water system, removing trees and other bank stabilizers. Bank erosion is one of the main consequences with devastating impacts to a stream’s benthic macrofauna and fish. Conservation Ontario’s excellent pamphlet on “Intake Protection Zones” describes eight ways citizens can protect drinking water at the source: conserve water; dispose hazardous waste properly; use non-toxic products for cleaning; clean up pet waste; prevent pollutants from entering into runoff; refuel gas tanks carefully; take your car to commercial car washes; stay informed and vigilant.
- Drinking Water Myths: An excellent pamphlet by Conservation Ontario provides four key myths many people hold about their drinking water that put our drinking water quality at risk. I want to explore the fourth myth, because it focuses on our behaviour near any water source (e.g. along the Otonabee, which provides the drinking water for the City of Peterborough). The myth is that “we don’t have to protect sources of water, since we already treat water and make it clean enough to drink.” The City acknowledges that its treatment systems do not remove all contaminants from water, particularly chemicals. Municipal water treatment is just one aspect of a ‘multi-barrier approach’ to protect drinking water and of itself does not fulfill all criteria for protecting precious drinking water. An important aspect of protection remains at the source, in the river or lake basin, through riparian protection, regulation of emissions and outflows, individual stewardship, and continued vigilance by citizens. Refer to my article on the pollution of a small storm sewer intake stream that fed into the Otonabee. Without continued vigilance, we run the risk of individual and corporate noncompliance and outright cheating at the expense of our health. Refer to my article on what happened to Parkersburg residents whose Ohio River drinking water was secretly contaminated for decades with toxic chemical PFOA by DuPont’s Washington Works plant.
- The Value of Trees: 4RG provided a comprehensive poster of the various ways urban trees help the urban environment:
Councillor Kim Zippel, Chair of the City’s Environment and Climate Change portfolio, shared that, “Urban forest renewal helps to mitigate many of the societal challenges faced by cities, and is key to conserving and improving biodiversity, sequestering carbon, cooling and filtering our air, and reducing flood risk. Plus, a healthy urban canopy provides an environment that is good for our mental and physical wellbeing.” Keep in mind that urban trees and urban forest meant very different things’ each provides different benefits to the urban environment. Keep in mind how these terms are used, particularly to do with urban planning and management. My article “Our Well Being in the City: Urban Trees vs. Urban Forests” clarifies these differences.
The City of Peterborough proactively manages the community’s urban trees through maintenance, planting, removal, and pest management for publicly owned trees and regulates the removal of trees on private property through the Tree Removal Bylaw 21-074.
What is Peterborough doing about its urban forests? Jackson Creek forest, or the Trent Nature Sanctuary? Is Peterborough protecting these from encroaching development and contamination?
Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.