A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Endangered Species and Landowners

I recently saw that the Ontario Landowner Association had gathered to destroy potential habitat for endangered species on a members farm and whist not advocating such extreme action can certainly see their point. It was I suspect more of a publicity move than a real removal of a critical habitat, after all many farmers grub out fence lines in order to maximize their crop lands and whilst these “corridors” are important to wildlife few contain “endangered species”. Or do they?

There are several things that we need to know about the Endangered Species legislation and the lists of creatures and plants covered by these laws. Firstly there is Provincial and Federal legislation on Species at risk they can be Endangered, Threatened or of Special Concern with corresponding regulations and interventions, the average landowner simply will not have a clue as to what is involved in all this.

“If a species is listed on the Species at Risk in Ontario List as an extirpated, endangered or threatened species, the Bill prohibits killing, harming, harassing, capturing, taking, possessing, collecting, buying, selling, leasing, trading or offering to buy, sell, lease or trade a member of the species. Some of these prohibitions also apply to parts of a member of the species, and to things derived from a member of the species.”

More importantly “If a species is listed on the Species at Risk in Ontario List as an endangered or threatened species, the Bill prohibits damaging or destroying the habitat of the species.”

Secondly a habitat once identified by the MNR or a Conservation officer who feels that it needs “protecting” and the process started, the landowner may have little control over the outcome, hence the publicity stunt by the OLA. Whilst most conservation authorities do encourage cooperation between the landowner and the authorities the bottom line is that private land can be seized, managed or declared a protected area by the authorities WITHOUT compensation to the landowner (in so far as I know or can tell, there is little said on the pages above about the actions that can or will be taken). This seems to be where most of the opposition by more radical landowners comes from.

Lets take a look at one particular “species” that has just been declared in danger and the possible ramifications of that. The Butternut grows in many parts of SW Ontario and is rarely cut down as it is not considered a “valuable” wood by most and has few commercial uses. Carvers and hobbyist do like it when available as it is a soft straight grained wood that is easy to work and polishes to a nice finish, but to say that even a small percentage is cut for sale would be misleading. The Butternut, at least here in Ontario, is susceptible to a fungal disease called Butternut Canker that results in it dieing off before it reaches full maturity, although many do reach a size that in a Maple would be considered a “harvestable” size before doing so. There is little doubt from my observations that the majority of these trees will succumb to the disease and fall to the forest floor eventually, the protection of HEALTHY trees is perhaps necessary and is no doubt the intention of the legislation. The actual regulations however are such that the landowner is dammed if he does and damned if he does not.

At a recent presentation by a conservation officer on tree recognition a piece of butternut log was held up so that participants could see the characteristics of the bark with the remark “it is probably illegal for me to have this”, which started a discussion as to why. None of the participants, which included several woodlot owners, were aware of any restriction regarding this tree, most of us would probably preferred to remain ignorant!

We were told that it was now illegal to cut down ANY butternut tree without a permit, even those that are dead and in danger of falling upon someone or something must be “assessed” by a certified BHA (Butternut Health Assessor) and “approved” for felling. If the darn thing did fall over it was still illegal to cut it up and that the mere ownership of a piece of butternut may well soon be a crime, is this then Canada Ivory! Ridiculous, if its standing there in the spring with the bark peeling off and no leaves on it, its dead folks, we don’t need to retain a forestry consultant to tell us that, and furthermore the wood from such a tree is perfectly usable for the type of projects mentioned above why leave it rot on the forest floor. One would think that the diseased trees should be removed from the woodlot as soon as identified for that is certainly what we are told to do with cankered or diseased trees of other species.

Here are some extracts from one pdf document found regarding this, very few other web sites were found…

“It is the landowner's responsibility to contact a BHA to determine if their Butternut tree is retainable. Even if the tree appears to be dead or dying, it must be assessed by a BHA before removal. If a Butternut tree is removed without a Butternut Health Assessment or without a permit the landowner may be at risk of prosecution under the ESA.”

The information I have at this time (and it may well have changed since it was posed on the web site consulted) says that Butternut MAY be possessed and used provided it comes from a “non retainable tree” i.e. one that has been cut with a permit. Hmmm, how would anyone know which was which?

“A person is entitled to possess any items made from Butternut wood that were legally possessed before the ESA was put into place on June 30, 2008, regardless of the health of the tree the items came from. Any wood from a non-retainable Butternut tree can be used, bought or sold.”

We were the told that “protection of habitat was being considered” for healthy butternut trees and since “Butternut is intolerant of shade” this involved removing all the trees around it to create a clearing, even it would seem for a small sapling. So it seems that if we have one of these trees identified or it self seeds in the surrounding mixed forest we must then start hacking down everything around it, that doesn’t sound like “conservation” to me, particularly when one can find few growing in isolated open areas but many in some mixed forest situations.

Once a tree is identified by an outside agency on a private landowner property he or she may have little choice but to comply with “orders” from the authorities, and if they find other flora or fauna “at risk” you can imagine the possible implications.

It all comes down to this, the protection of species is an important initiative but it cannot be successful without the cooperation of landowners. If even those of us who make an effort to preserve sections of our property in as natural a state as possible are reluctant to even look for “species at risk” for fear of the financial, bureaucratic or land use implications that may result. How then do you expect the farmer who’s whole operation may be put at risk for finding a Lesser Spotted Bureaucrat or some such in the middle of his corn field to react knowing that he will not receive any compensation for losses thus incurred. Truth be known, a scientist closely studying any given piece of land, particularly forested land here in Grey & Bruce has a fair chance of finding something on one of these lists of birds, animals, plants & trees so that many landowners could be impacted at one time or another. The addition of the Butternut to this list increased that probability considerably.

We all benefit from the protection of these things, or at least they are protected on our behalf so we should all pay for such protection, not just the affected landowner. Therein lies the fatal flaw in the “act”!

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