Written by guest blogger Denise Deby, who writes on local and global social and environmental issues, and likes stories with happy endings.

A “good news” story waiting to happen: that’s Ottawa’s South March Highlands.

If you’ve been following what’s going on there, or read previous posts on it, then you’ll know that it’s an ecologically and geologically unique area in west Ottawa that’s under threat from residential and road development.

Almost everyone acknowledges its environmental and economic value as a natural area. This includes the city, the province, independent environmental experts, national organisations like the Sierra Club of Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation, and the thousands of people who support the Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands and the Beaver Pond Facebook Group. But the South March Highlands isn’t out of the woods yet, if you’ll forgive the pun.

The area has already lost 11 species at risk as a result of the last 30 years of urban development. The fate of the remaining known 19 species at risk (and 18 more that are one level away from being classified as species at risk) may well be decided in the next few weeks.

There’s cause to hope that their story might be a happy one:

  • Community support for the area has grown from a few concerned residents to a broad Coalition and organisation, South March Highlands-Carp River Conservation Inc., that has tons of vision, energy and expertise;
  • In October, Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson brought a motion to City Council that Council unanimously approved, directing city staff to prepare a strategy to obtain 30 hectares of land north of the Beaver Pond (owned by KNL Developments) by land swap or purchase;
  • At the request of Council, KNL has agreed not to cut down any trees in the 30 hectares until Council decides about acquiring the land;
  • Many creative ideas have emerged about how to save the entire area, including community management, and incorporating it into the National Capital Commission’s Greenbelt review;
  • The Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands has prepared a Stewardship Plan for the Beaver Pond area (see the Ottawa’s Great Forest website), which they’re asking individuals and groups to sign on to before City Council’s November meeting. The Plan is a framework for obtaining support and financing from community groups, corporations, funding agencies and individuals for managing the area and for promoting ecotourism, education, recreation and conservation there.

So what’s next? City Council deferred a decision about acquiring the land until its next meeting on November 19, but it’s not clear what the outgoing Council will be able to authorise, or how the new Council coming in December will view the matter.

Let’s hope they see this for the opportunity that it is: for Ottawa to preserve and promote this amazing natural area. It’s a chance for the outgoing Councillors, the new Council, and the developers to be heroes in our story.

As one Coalition member, Paul Renaud, told me, “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”

You can help by contacting your current Councillor before November 19 to voice your support for “Ottawa’s Great Forest.”

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