Update 2 – Development and construction in environmentally sensitive parts of Dundas Valley

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Deer in Dundas Valley Conservation Area. Photo: Lech Biegalski. (Click to enlarge)

In response to my post, Protection of Dundas Valley Deer and Ecosystem Neglected by Officials, I have received an email from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Guelph District – (posted below). In particular, the MNRF confirms that responsibility for planning and enforcement “on matters of provincial interest related to land use planning and development” lies with the City of Hamilton and with the Niagara Escarpment Commission. I am, therefore, asking the Mayor of Hamilton Fred Eisenberger, the Ward 13 Councillor Arlene VanderBeek, our local MPP Ted McMeekin, and the Niagara Escarpment Commission for their substantive opinion and information on what they can and will do:

  • to better protect environmentally sensitive land in Dundas Valley;
  • to stop new development that keeps cutting deeper and deeper into the habitat and remaining natural areas of Dundas Valley;
  • to enforce existing construction/development limits;
  • to effectively control and immediately stop violations of current development permits.

A previous reply from the Office of Mayor Eisenberger – (See HERE) – was both misleading and unsatisfactory. I have sent additional inquiry but have not received any further correspondence from the Mayor. Until today, I have also not received a substantive reply from our Councillor Arlene VanderBeek, or any replies at all from the Niagara Escarpment Commission and from Ted McMeekin, our local MPP and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing responsible for the Land Use Planning and for overseeing the implementation of both the Provincial Policy Statement [Link 2] and the Planning Act.

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Here is the response I received from the MNRF:
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Dear Mr. Biegalski

A copy of your email below was forwarded to my attention and I am pleased to respond on behalf of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry Guelph District (MNRF).

I have reviewed your article posted to the “My Dundas Valley Website,” and I understand you are concerned with the impacts of new residential development activities within the Dundas Valley on deer populations. The Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) provides policy direction on matters of provincial interest related to land use planning and development. Under Section 2.1 of the PPS, natural heritage features are to be protected. This protection is implemented through decisions made by an approval authority under the Planning Act. Such decisions must “be consistent with” the PPS. In this case, the City of Hamilton is the approval authority for residential development in the City. The Planning Act affords the opportunity for concerned citizens/parties to be involved in decision-making processes under the Act. It is recommended that you contact the City to discuss any concerns you may have with development that may be proposed.

Dundas Valley is also within the Niagara Escarpment. It may also be appropriate to contact staff at the Niagara Escarpment Commission, to discuss if development within the Dundas Valley would be subject to approval under the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act.

I also understand that you have expressed some concerns with the hunting of deer within the Dundas Valley. It is important to note that Ontario uses a landscape-based adaptive approach to wildlife management which includes:

– population monitoring
– harvest planning and allocation
– hunter activity and harvest monitoring
– research
– habitat conservation and planning
– input from the public
– policy and regulation

MNRF Guelph District staff have monitored white tailed deer populations in and around Dundas Valley by accessing browse surveys, deer vehicle collision reporting, aerial surveys, and hunter surveys. The data suggested deer were abundant and our management objective has been to reduce deer numbers. We have provided technical support to the Hamilton Conservation Authority when they were considering allowing a controlled deer hunt on their lands. From an ecological perspective, MNRF Guelph District staff had no concerns with a modest reduction in deer numbers in the area. We will continue to monitor the population and can make adjustments to recommended deer harvest numbers if appropriate.

We appreciate you sharing your concerns with us and I would encourage you to contact me if you have any further questions

Al Murray
Resource Management Supervisor

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Guelph District
1 Stone Rd. W.
Guelph, ON
N1G 4Y2
(P) 519-826-4914
(F) 519-826-4929
al.murray@ontario.ca

[Emphasis added]

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And here is my reply to Al Murray:
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Dear Mr. Murray,

Thank you for your informative response to my inquiry regarding the protection of the Dundas Valley ecosystem from encroaching development and construction, and regarding the protection of deer and deer habitat in Dundas Valley.

The development and construction issue looks great on paper and in related regulations. However, in practice, what really counts is that development and construction keep crawling in and cutting ever deeper into the remaining wooded areas of Dundas Valley. These areas constitute an integral part of the Dundas Valley ecosystem that includes Dundas Valley Conservation Area. New development, construction sites, houses, backyards, front yards, swimming pools, septic tanks, fencing, driveways and access roads close deer crossings, destroy deer shelter and feeding yards, and increase fragmentation of deer habitat. Nobody wants to respond to public reports of permit violations or enforce permit limitations that are being violated.

To solve this problem, we need to stop the encroachment of new development and construction in the remaining wooded areas of Dundas Valley. We also need to enforce official permit limitations. If this is not done, deer habitat will keep shrinking and we will find continuous “deer overpopulation” per the remaining area to justify further killing of deer in Dundas Valley. Perhaps, it is not the increasing deer population but the decreasing deer habitat that is responsible for the problem.

I understand that the City of Hamilton and the Niagara Escarpment Commission make decisions regarding planning and land use in Dundas Valley. But I also know that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has (and occasionally uses) the power to overrule NEC recommendations. Please see the second half of this article that provides a concrete example and proof of this fact. The MNRF is, therefore, also responsible for development in Dundas Valley. It has the power to modify land use planning. My intention in originally writing to you was to establish what you could do to help protect the integrity of the Dundas Valley ecosystem. You do have a say in this and you can help. Will you?

As to the annual deer hunt, the actual, current “overpopulation” of deer in Dundas Valley is greatly overstated. I live in Dundas and since 2007 have conducted a private study on seasonal deer movement through the rural and urban areas surrounding Dundas, Ancaster, and the community of Mineral Springs as well as western part of Hamilton, including Princess Point, Royal Botanical Gardens, and the grounds of McMaster University. I was able to find and document most major deer trails, crossings and feeding spots in the area. I was also counting deer I saw on every daily “expedition”. In 2009-2011, I could spot anywhere between 30 to over 100 deer per night, and up to 40 during an average day. Today, following the same routes, I rarely see deer during the day, and encounter no more than 10 deer during an average night.

I know that deer population in Dundas Valley has dramatically decreased since 2011. I also know some of the local hunters and land owners. Their goal is to obtain hunting licenses and to increase deer hunting limits in Dundas Valley. Therefore, their “statistics” need to be taken with a grain of salt rather than relied on unconditionally. Deer vehicle collision reporting may also be an indicator of increasing fragmentation of deer habitat, rather than an indicator of increasing number of deer in the area.

I also know that the Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) has its own agenda that probably reflects the wishes of some of the local residents and land owners. I was told by a high ranking HCA official, “Deer eat plants!! Why don’t they just leave?!” On another occasion, I asked the HCA superintendent why there was no supervision and no control over the number of deer taken by the Six Nations hunters during the annual DVCA deer hunt? There is a limit. Who controls it? His answer was, “Nobody controls it. We rely on information they provide. Frankly, the more they take, the better.” This attitude shows that the HCA is engaged in eliminating deer in Dundas Valley altogether. There is no such thing as “a controlled deer hunt” on the HCA lands.

Thank you, again, for the information you had provided in your email. I wish that all major stakeholders would agree to meet and discuss the issues involved here. Unless this happens, people like myself will be sent from one organization to another and will never find one responsible or competent to make binding decisions regarding planning and development in Dundas Valley. Meanwhile, many officials and official organizations don’t even reply to public inquiries in this matter.

Lech Biegalski
Resident of Dundas
Editor of www.MyDundasValley.com

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