Citizens for Charleswood Habitat Preservation believes the natural area assessment the city conducted in November 2011 for the Ridgewood precinct plan is incomplete and inadequate for planning purposes.
In June 2011, the city and a handful of developers led by Qualico created a study team who held a public meeting to notify Charleswood residents of plans to develop the area known as Ridgewood South, approximately 800 acres of largely vacant private land in south Charleswood.
The area is home to important city assets including the Harte Trail and the Varsity View Sportsplex.
CCHP is a community group formed in response to the city’s plans to develop the area, and whose mandate is to represent Charleswood residents’ concerns on protecting natural areas and traffic problems that the proposed development may cause.
After reviewing the natural area assessment, CCHP requested a further assessment be conducted in both spring and summer of 2012, to address gaps in data for all species.
Of the surveys used in the assessment, not a single site was surveyed in the spring or early summer to identify early blooming plant species. Consequently, the current survey would have missed any early-blooming plant species at risk.
The assessment includes records of four plant species at risk in the area. These need to be confirmed and more exact locations recorded for appropriate planning to occur.
Furthermore, the NAA did not conduct a wildlife survey as reflected in the city’s ecological significant natural lands strategy policy document. Ecologically significant natural lands refer to natural areas within the city that are ecologically significant and contain important pockets of natural flora and fauna.
In a meeting with the study team, the city naturalist indicated a wildlife assessment was not required, because they felt grading sensitive areas gives a general idea about habitat quality, which in turn is a proxy for wildlife accommodation.
However, independent biologists consulted by CCHP conclude this position is not evidence-based and that wildlife assumptions based upon habitat grading cannot replace wildlife surveys.
For example, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada lists Bobolinks as a threatened bird species. These birds have nested in the Ridgewood area reliably every year. The Yellow Rail bird and Northern Leopard frog, both listed as "special concern," have also been documented in the area.
The current NAA suggests the areas where these species visit are of low quality and were not good candidates for preservation. The presence of these species suggests otherwise.
CCHP has made the following recommendations to the city:
• Conduct an assessment that includes breeding birds, mammals and amphibians as required by the city’s ESNL;
• Conduct a natural area assessment in both spring and early summer 2012 to address current gaps in data for plant species;
• Conduct an archeological survey to identify areas of significant cultural and heritage importance;
• That the planning process cannot proceed to the secondary stage until these comprehensive surveys are conducted.
CCHP believes responsible planning decisions cannot be made until these issues are addressed and that this is an opportunity for the city to take a leadership role in creating an urban green infrastructure.
Victoria Macdonald is a Charleswood-based writer and president of the Citizens for Charleswood Habitat Preservation.
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