by Marc Nadeau
I occasionally drive along Somerville Road and my eyes are still not accustomed to the big block of cleared land that was, until recently, a vibrant forest. I feel compelled to do something to oppose or challenge the extensive land clearing that is occurring here in North Grenville and elsewhere.
I am troubled not only by the loss of the trees and habitat, but also by the ease with which this can be done. The land is sold and heavy equipment is brought in to make short order of the work. Mechanization leaves little time for public discussion to consider other courses of action. It is a reflection of our economic priorities that such clearing is considered ‘land improvement’. We need to balance the benefits of forests with our incentives to cut them down.
Forests and woodlots should be highly valued, given the benefits they offer. They provide a habitat for other animals and plants with whom we share our common space. Forests help retain and filter water, thus buffering floods and maintaining creek and river flow during droughts. There is also an increasing awareness of the psychological benefits of a walk in the woods.
It is ironic that some land is cleared of oxygen‑producing and carbon‑sequestering forests to grow corn that requires chemicals and fossil fuel to produce. One market for corn grown in this area is the ethanol plant in Johnstown. Ethanol is considered a biofuel, but an energy audit would shrink the “bio” term significantly. This is an example of the conflict between economic opportunity and environmental well‑being.
In the case of the land adjoining Somerville Road, it has been cleared to build subdivisions. These neighbourhoods are car‑dependent and do little to address the challenges of people who are without secure housing. There is a conflict between building more houses to meet our growing population, and a desire to create sustainable and livable spaces. Accessible forest and woodlots play a role in improving our quality of life. One only needs to consider the value that residents place on the Ferguson Forest Centre. Here, in North Grenville, preserving existing woodlots should be a priority and new neighbourhoods should be located on marginal lands whenever possible.
When I see the vacant land on Somerville Road, I feel powerless, as though there is nothing I can do but watch the loss of something I value. I have chosen not to remain silent, but rather to speak out. I encourage others who cherish forests to act as well. The simplest action is to share your opinion with those around you and with public officials. Instilling these values in your children will ensure that they will be good guardians of the environment. Plant a tree. Explore the forests of our area – Limerick Forest and Ferguson Forest are fantastic spaces ‑ and further your appreciation of their benefits.
Forests are too important for their fate to be left in the hands of those who see them as an obstacle to opportunity.