Update on the South March Highlands

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

The Beaver Pond forest has been cut down, but many people in Ottawa, and across the country, are renewing efforts to protect what’s left of the South March Highlands. Much of the remaining wild landscape is owned by private developers with plans to build residential subdivisions further into the Highlands.

The group that was working to save the forest might have been expected to dissipate after KNL (Urbandale and Richcraft) clear-cut it, but the opposite is happening. The group reports that it is now 15,000 strong, attracting new support from Canadian icons such as Robert Bateman, and more determined than ever to save what remains of this magnificent ecosystem.

The Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands – comprised of individuals, community associations and First Nations communities – continues to grow. Its legal entity, the South March Highlands-Carp River Corporation Inc. (SMH-CRC), is holding its first annual general meeting on Tuesday, April 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Kanata Beaverbrook Community Centre, 2 Beaverbrook Road. They’re looking for volunteers to take on leadership positions and to help with communications, research, education, fundraising and other tasks. More information about the SMH-CRC’s work is at www.southmarchhighlands.ca, and you can contact savethesmh@gmail.com for more information.

For an organisation created and managed entirely by volunteers who care about this precious part of Ottawa, the Coalition and SMH-CRC have done impressive things, in just one year. With thousands of people and dozens of organisations expressing support, they’ve developed a community-led Stewardship Plan for the Highlands. A small core of people have maintained an array of initiatives – Sacred Fires, rallies, legal challenges, continued pressure on Ottawa’s and Ontario’s governments, constructive engagement with various groups, and a website, Facebook site and Twitter account. They could use more help.

The Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands sums up the current situation in one of their recent newsletters:

“This past year was a bittersweet year of both victory and defeat. We lost both the Richardson Ridge Forest and the Beaver Pond Forest.  The jury is still out on the TFDE [Terry Fox Drive Extension] Environmental Assessments and the archaeological battles. We were successful in getting Kizell wetland re-designated as a Provincially Significant Wetland and now have the opportunity to stop further development with Kizell Wetland as the southernmost boundary of Ottawa’s Great Forest. As well, we have won many smaller concessions and changes in how the City treats the SMH, including:

  • preventing a diversion of Shirley’s Brook;
  • obtaining a development hold on lands being rezoned from “environmentally protected”;
  • forcing the city to conduct an environmental assessment for the water diversion prior to KNL proceeding with Phases 7 & 8;
  • obtaining acknowledgement from the NCC that protecting the SMH would be one of the alternatives in the Greenbelt Master Plan;
  • forcing the city to review stormwater management practices in Richardson Ridge;
  • documenting 20 species-at-risk in the SMH; raising the visibility of the SMH as Ottawa’s most significant wilderness area.

At a provincial and national level, we enjoy the support of the Algonquin First Nations, two Officers of the Order of Canada, the Council of Canadians, Sierra Club, the United Church of Canada Right Relations and All Native Circle, the Jewish Council in Solidarity with First Nations, the David Suzuki Foundation, the provincial NDP/ Conservative/Green parties, and the federal Green party as well as two MPs within the federal Conservative party. We have support within the Assembly of First Nations, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and the Native Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada (NACOSAR).

Locally we have strong support from Greenspace Alliance, Greenbelt Coalition, Ecology Ottawa, Ottawa Riverkeeper, Kanata Chamber of Commerce, school boards, Kanata Environmental Network, Ottawa Field Naturalists, McNamara Field Naturalists, Indigenous People’s Solidarity Movement Ottawa and all of the Community Associations in Ottawa. We also enjoy active support from several scientists, the Canadian Biodiversity Institute, Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre, Constance Creek Wildlife Refuge, and the City of Ottawa’s advisory committees for Aboriginal Heritage & Culture, Arts & Culture, Environment, and Forests & Greenspace.

With each passing month our support continues to grow as a result of all our efforts. There is One Forest and One Team dedicated to her protection. Something we have all learned from last year is that when you do the right thing, others will step forward to help you as they recognize and accept that it is also the right thing for them to do. And, although the context may change with time, it is never too late for anyone to do the right thing.”

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