Written by guest blogger Denise Deby, who writes on local and global social and environmental issues.

KNL/Urbandale plans to cut down the Beaver Pond forest starting on Monday (January 10).

They’re clearing the trees to build a 3,200-home subdivision, despite:

  • A rally this afternoon to tell Urbandale that people aren’t happy with their decision, and that they have other options;
  • Letters from senior Algonquin First Nations elders to the mayor, council and premier telling them that this is sacred land;
  • Letters, facebook and twitter messages from residents to all levels of government and the media, and a petition for people to pledge not to buy Urbandale or Richcraft homes if they cut down the forest.

Urbandale knows that destroying the forest isn’t the only solution. The Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands contacted KNL with an offer to purchase the land through a charitable land trust and publicly recognise KNL’s contribution. The arrangement would benefit both KNL and citizens – and all Canadians. Land trusts have worked elsewhere in Canada, and could work here.

The Coalition’s letter to KNL states: “We hope that in considering this offer, you reflect on the merits of taking a long-term view of the benefits from enhancing your eco-stature and brand over a status quo course of action that appears likely to significantly damage it.  We believe that you will conclude that it is better business to work with a community than to continue to fight against it and we trust that, together, we can both start the new year on a positive note.”

The Coalition’s Stewardship Plan for maintaining the forest and its work with the National Capital Commission to have the South March Highlands included in the Greenbelt are other options – but time is running out. (The NCC will be posting its proposed scenarios later this month at the earliest.)

Many Ottawa residents believe Ottawa City Council protected at least some of the forest last November. But the deal to swap or purchase land from KNL fell through in December, when KNL and the City couldn’t agree on the value of the land and the new City Council was reluctant to incur any costs for obtaining it or delaying development.

The City and Province have the mandate (and responsibility) to request new archaeological and environmental assessments in light of new information since the subdivision was approved, including an ancient stone circle found in the Beaver Pond forest – but they’re not doing so.

The Beaver Pond forest is the most well-used part of the South March Highlands, which are home to Ottawa’s last old-growth forest and at least 679 species, 20 of which are at risk of extinction in Ontario and Canada. It’s also the site of 10,000-year-old artefacts – twice the age of the Pyramids – and several stone circles.

This is something we should all be concerned about losing, and so easily.