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Development in a Wetland: The Fraser Debate

By Scott Wootton

It takes little effort, focus or education to realize the impact development has had on our planet. We are all familiar with the concept of global warming and how our actions affect the environment. However, in order to exist we humans develop land, with a need for food and shelter being principle requirements of life. This is something our species has always done and will continue to do. I’m not against development, in fact, building and renovating homes is how I’ve made my living for the last 26 years. Question is, can it be done responsibly?

200 years ago when the first settlers were arriving logging, trapping and farming started to change the landscape and the environment of Ston(e)y and surrounds. Looking at old postcards of the lake, it’s obvious how denuded the landscape once was from the logging industry. These old photos show stringers of Muskie, Bass and even Salmon trout (now extinct) that once lived in the lake and it makes you start to think of the effects we slowly, but surely, have made. Twice the Trent Severn impacted the lake by raising the levels of the water to allow navigation of larger vessels. Back in the early days, few actually lived on the lakes, but now it is more and more popular and full-time residences replace seasonal dwellings at a steady pace. Indeed, Ston(e)y and Clear Lakes are now ringed by permanent dwellings and very few pieces of natural shoreline still exist.  

You can’t help but wonder, how close to capacity are we? We are starting to experience algae blooms in the lake and weeds are in much greater abundance, which can be attributed to a number of issues; zebra mussels clearing the water being one, but nutrient loading from development certainly playing a role. Fertilizer from grassy lawns, failing septics, boater pollution, fueling accidents…there are countless human activities that are constantly increasing the pressure on our lake system. Water quality has changed. When I was a kid we used to have annual frog jumping contests. A dozen or so kids would hunt down a Bullfrog, bring it to the event and then return the frog to its environment. Probably a few frogs didn’t make it back and we might have been part of the problem, but clearly Bullfrogs, which are an indicator species, have dwindled in numbers and are now extremely scarce on the lake. Stinkpot turtles, Blandings turtles and 32 other species are also now at risk and considered endangered in and around the Ston(e)y Lake area.

The negative changes, a consequence of development, are real. It’s happening. To this end the province is starting to take note. There have always been guidelines for development, especially around wetlands, which are considered water purifiers (they have a huge ability to cleanse and a powerful ability to support such a diverse ecosystem). The science is becoming more comprehensively understood and in 2005 the Province passed a new PPS (Provincial Policy Statement). This legislation forbids development within 120 metres of a wetland unless it can be proven that no negative ecological impact will occur. In 2014, a new PPS was introduced, the science is clearer than ever before and the laws are more onerous on development than ever.

The Fraser Estate is comprised of 790 acres of mostly wetlands and has been deemed significant by the province. Today’s applicable law would never allow the 60-lot development planned for it. What would current science suggest is reasonable development? If you use the 120-metre buffer laid out in the PPS, 17 lots of the 60 would be legal. The balancing act is to not kill all development, we know that development is needed at some capacity…the question remains, is this the right place or the right amount? And what will the impact to our lake be?