Sanctuary Park: Summary of issues involved

We have reached a point at which a comprehensive examination of our goals, our findings, and our conclusions seems necessary. There also is a need for a thorough assessment of our actions and strategies, to date. It’s time to provide clarity by presenting the whole picture in one compact and cohesive summary.

Environmental impact

The main agenda and the original mission of our group is to prevent  encroachment of infrastructure and human activities on the remaining ecosystem in and around the Dundas Valley area. In our research and our efforts, we aim at protecting the natural habitat and the travel corridors on which deer and other wildlife in this unique ecosystem depend on for their movement, food, and shelter that are necessary for their survival.

It is impossible to predict an exact feeding cycle and movement pattern of the deer, as they depend on many factors, such as time of the year, the food available, temperature, precipitation, barometric pressure, wind, Moon phases, light levels, and extreme weather conditions. They also depend on the proximity, frequency, and intensity of human activities in the area.

However, there are some specific characteristics of deer activities that are well known and are relatively constant. Two of them are especially important in our considerations.

Firstly,

“With its four-chambered stomach, a deer is designed to feed quickly to minimize exposure to predation, then retreat for security cover to ‘chew its cud.’ Deer must feed rhythmically or the microorganisms living in the first chamber of their stomach, the rumen, will die. Without these microbes deer won’t last long, because they won’t be able to digest woody fibers and food matter high in cellulose. So deer, like other species on the planet, feed on a regular schedule.” – (Source)

Secondly, our study on the movement of deer in and around Dundas Valley indicates that deer in this area feed both during the day and at night, with periods of rest and cudding in between. During the day, deer tend to feed in remote places located far away from regular human activities. At night, especially in late fall, winter, and early spring, they also frequent open spaces, streets, backyards, and frontyards in residential areas.

The fact that deer risk coming out of the woods at night indicates that they need varying sources of nutrition and that there is not enough food available to them in more secluded and safer areas of Dundas Valley.

The issue that has triggered our present action was the introduction of the outdoor ice rink in the Sanctuary Park located in Dundas.

The ice rink covers the exact spot where, in previous years, deer used to feed regularly at night, especially in winter. The new lights cover the entire eastern part of the park and penetrate its wooded borders on the north, east, and south side, spilling into all main entry points used by the deer in the past. Both the ice rink and the accompanying lights have forced the deer to stop visiting the park. Not one deer has been seen in the park, since the lights and the ice rink were implemented. Initially, some deer were approaching the park along their most frequent entry points at its northern edge, but were leaving without entering it. Recently, they stopped approaching the park alltogether. 

As a result, one of the integral and inseparable parts of the Dundas Valley ecosystem was just excluded from the ecological equation and lost. Consequently, deer are now more frequently seen feeding at night in the surrounding streets, especially between Skyline Drive and Pleasant Avenue.

Political issues

As far as we know, prior to issuing the outdoor ice rink permit and installing the new lights, the City of Hamilton did not conduct a full environmental assessment on the impact these changes would have on the ecosystem and the deer feeding patterns in the area.

Instead, the decision was based on a current political trend to provide children with opportunities for physical activities, in order to prevent medical, economic, and social consequences of inactive lifestyle. Unfortunately, in this particular case, the trade-off included a unique natural ecosystem, part of which was compromised in the process. We believe that this was not necessary, we believe that there were other options available. Furthermore, we believe that preserving our natural environment is more important for the well-being of future generations than skating.

In a climate of specific political expectations, the criteria were adjusted and a political decision was made. Environmental considerations were dismissed. Consequently, none of the politicians and bureaucrats are now willing to revisit the criteria and correct the priorities in order to modify the decision that they had previously supported and approved.

Perhaps, if deer were voting in the next election instead of people, political priorities and administrative criteria would fully reflect environmental needs and considerations. In the meantime, we have to wait for the end-of-the-year political inventory, for the administrative reports, and for the check boxes to be filled with check marks, before we move to new priorities and new criteria. Maybe, just maybe, an International Year of Environmental Awareness will follow and all decisions involving outdoor ice rinks and natural habitats will be reconsidered and corrected.

Legal concerns

What makes accepting the dismissal of legitimate environmental concerns even more difficult, is the improper and illegal way in which the outdoor ice rink in the Sanctuary Park is mostly used.

In violation of the provisions of the City of Hamilton By-law No. 01-219 (The Parks By-law) and in clear contradiction to the authorized “NO HOCKEY ALLOWED” sign posted by the City at the entrance to the ice surface, most of the time this ice rink is being used for hockey practice and hockey game.

We have a good reason to believe that this was originally the intention of the neighbourhood volunteer group maintaining the rink. However, the hockey activities taking place at the Sanctuary Park seem to be coincidental, unscheduled, unorganized and increasingly interfering with legitimate recreational skating, for which the permit was exclusively issued by the City. This means that the political reason for dismissing environmental concerns in the interest of recreational skating has also been compromised.

As correcting consequences of political decisions is somewhat tricky and risky, nobody is willing to enforce the law in this case. According to the by-law itself, the Municipal Law Enforcement Office, the Hamilton Police, and the appointed employees of the City are all authorized to enforce this by-law, but nobody wants to do it. The City’s Parks Manager says that he and his employees cannot enforce the law. The Municipal Law Enforcement works Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., while the ice rink is mostly used in the evenings and on the weekends. In addition, they told us that they didn’t enforce the Parks By-law, although their web page says that they do. The Hamilton Police “does not have the resources.” We were transferred to Culture and Recreation Division, and even to the Roads Department, but they don’t want to deal with this, either. It’s most frustrating to try to figure out who in this city is willing to enforce the Parks By-law.

If this is the case, then why do we need by-laws that cannot be enforced? How much did it cost the taxpayers to have this by-law debated, edited, consulted, corrected, enacted, and implemented, with the only practical outcome being that politicians and administrators could justify their salaries? And why there is an “authorized sign” posted by the City of Hamilton, with the By-law 01-219 listed and the telephone number given to report infractions, if nobody is willing to enforce it? Is there a way out of this dead end?

Strategy considerations

Having failed to secure a more forceful support of the ecologists involved in this matter;
having failed to negotiate one positive outcome with the City’s Parks Manager; and
having failed to find an effective way to have the existing law enforced,
it is difficult to assess our past and current strategies as effective. They are not, and they need to be adjusted.

We strongly believe that there are many taxpayers and voters in the Hamilton area who truly appreciate the beauty of Dundas Valley, its natural harmony, and its unique wildlife. We know that Hamiltonians understand how fragile and isolated this ecosystem is and how easily it can be destroyed, if we continue to encroach on it. This area belongs to all of us and we need to protect it, so that our children and grandchildren can also enjoy it in the future.

To this end, we are considering a publicity campaign in local and provincial media, and we are planning to facilitate a petitions campaign in local neighbourhoods and communities.

In addition to these new initiatives, we will continue recording our observations as well as monitoring and documenting all changes and negative effects caused by the new ice rink and associated with it light pollution in and around the Sanctuary Park. We will keep the City of Hamilton updated, and we will bring this matter to the attention of local and provincial politicians. We will also try to invite and engage scientists and organizations specializing in environmental protection, protection of wildlife, and promotion of natural habitat.

Hopefully, our efforts will bring some positive effects.

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