Update on the Woodlot: Development Compromise

11 10 2013
Written by Margo Sheppard on October 11, 2013


Corbett Marsh in the UNB Woodlot, now called the Creighton Conservation Forest. Photo by Tracy Glynn.

I just came in from a long walk in the University of New Brunswick Woodlot on the edge of the City of Fredericton.

It’s funny how such a simple act like walking and looking can reveal so much about society and our relationship to nature.

For those of you who might be unaware, the UNB Woodlot (now called, in part, the Creighton Conservation Forest) is located immediately south of the City of Fredericton on both sides of Regent Street towards New Maryland. Or beside Costco, if that’s your reference point.

For the past several years I have had a chance to—albeit slightly– influence the way this 3,500 acre plot of forest, wetland and stream will ultimately be used to benefit the City and the University of New Brunswick. The Creighton Conservation Forest Advisory Committee (CCFAC) of which I am a member, has done a complicated dance with those within the University who would prefer “development” over nature any day of the week.


Previous UNB Woodlot plan involved developing 50% of the area (dark green) and conserving 50% (light green).

Set up to address public opposition to the gobbling up of the woodlot by big box stores, the CCAFC, led by Dr. Rick Cunjak and populated with various UNB property and forestry experts and two community members including me, has reached a compromise between preservation and full-blown urbanization. Half the woodlot will be set aside in large contiguous chunks for conservation, protecting the Corbett Brook drainage area, while the other half will be gradually meted out for retail leases.


Final plan for the UNB Woodlot approved by UNB Board of Governors in 2013. The plan still is awaiting zoning in the municipal plan. Half the woodlot will be set aside in large contiguous chunks for conservation, protecting the Corbett Brook drainage area, while the other half will be gradually meted out for retail leases.

Back to my walk. It was essentially to scope out the location for a multi-purpose trail on the east side of Regent Street between New Maryland and Knowledge Park (at Costco) which bracket the property. As it happens there is already a well-drained woods road there that could, for all intents and purposes, become such a trail. It would require collaboration between the City and UNB, and possibly some mall merchants, but it could be done. Its existence would promote safe bicycle commuting from suburb to downtown.

After walking the future trail route, I headed back to scout the perimeter of the big box stores. Nearing the buildings, I encountered frost fencing and loads of garbage blown off the massive parking lots, typical of urban fringe zones of neglect. When I lived in Toronto, I became familiar with this type of blighted landscape when I was involved with the Black Creek Project, a conservation group formed to clean up Black Creek in Toronto’s west end.

Black Creek flows through a pioneer village and one of the densest, most socially-challenged areas in Canada, commonly known as the Jane-Finch corridor. South of that, it meanders through an area of Weston where slaughterhouses and rendering plants all seemed (at the time) to have mysterious discharges into the already-polluted Creek and its tributaries. Blobs of fat, leaking barrels of toxic material and oily sheens were common. Turning west, the Creek disappeared into storm drains, re-emerging from the underworld here and there to eventually join up with the Humber River.

I recall one workday (Black Creek Project held many tree planting events, cleanups and meetings with developers intending to pipe lengths of the stream) where volunteers scrubbed rocks in the stream bed which were covered in green algae in a futile attempt to improve water quality. So sad, I thought of the rock cleaning at the time; so hopeless a tragedy befallen an urban stream that once offered crystal clear water teeming with fish. And volunteers naive enough to think this act would help.

We planted trees along lengths of concrete channel which at other times became so bank-full during rainstorms that kids occasionally drowned, set loose by the slick concrete and lack of hand-holds in the channel. They perished, pinned underwater against culvert grates. We worked with what we had.

More optimistic members in our group suggested that we (Black Creek Project) approach the City of Toronto to rip up concrete channels where the stream flowed. Another suggested we get signs bearing names of Black Creek and its tributaries erected, so people would know a stream was there and perhaps grow to appreciate it, warts and all.

Back in Fredericton, turning away from the frost fence and garbage, I traversed the vast parking lot of the Corbett Centre, dog in tow, dodging mammoth SUVs and pickup trucks and shoppers with fully-laden carts heading towards their vehicles. How dynamic downtown Fredericton could be if only a fraction of these people so enamoured of Costco and Winners (where I have shopped many times) supported the downtown merchants, I thought.

What draws these people to these places, so morally conflicting and bereft of anything natural or appealing? Is it their need for “stuff” from China, evidence of which blows into the woodlot in the form of cardboard box fragments? Is the emptiness they are trying to fill worth the cost of destroying a wild area, home to many life forms and enjoyed by skiers, walkers and earnest forestry students?

There is indeed no free lunch. Although half of the UNB Woodlot is now to be protected in the form of the Creighton Conservation Forest, both it and the remainder will gradually be degraded through the construction of roads, storm water retention ponds and buildings which are expensive and inherently unsustainable in their design. Even in the area of the future “Conservation Forest,” the sound of car traffic is today a constant, drowning out whatever birds are there. It will worsen over time.

Will Corbett Brook become another storm sewer? Perhaps the trout living in it now won’t survive the increased sediment and heavy metals draining into the channel from parking lots. Stream temperatures will also likely rise as runoff settles into the many retention ponds, fully exposed to the blazing sun, making them even more inhospitable for fish and their insect cohorts. The cost of urbanization, I suppose.

When I left Toronto for Fredericton in 1995, city engineers were ripping up concrete channels along the Black Creek and replacing them with boulders, simulating a natural channel. Signs were being erected denoting the presence of streams all around the place. There was even talk of “daylighting” portions of Black Creek, something not even the most childishly optimistic in our group had dare contemplate.

There was hope after all.

UN: Transform Agriculture Before It’s Too Late

24 09 2013
by Ben Lilliston, originally published by Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy  | TODAY

Transformative changes are needed in our food, agriculture and trade systems in order to increase diversity on farms, reduce our use of fertilizer and other inputs, support small-scale farmers and create strong local food systems. That’s the conclusion of a remarkable new publication from the U.N. Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The report, Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before it is Too Late, included contributions from more than 60 experts around the world (including a commentary from IATP). The report includes in-depth sections on the shift toward more sustainable, resilient agriculture; livestock production and climate change; the importance of research and extension; the role of land use; and the role of reforming global trade rules.

The report links global security and escalating conflicts with the urgent need to transform agriculture toward what it calls “ecological intensification.” The report concludes, “This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production toward mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.”

The UNCTAD report identified key indicators for the transformation needed in agriculture:

  • Increasing soil carbon content and better integration between crop and livestock production, and increased incorporation of agroforestry and wild vegetation
  • Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of livestock production
  • Reduction of GHGs through sustainable peatland, forest and grassland management
  • Optimization of organic and inorganic fertilizer use, including through closed nutrient cycles in agriculture
  • Reduction of waste throughout the food chains
  • Changing dietary patterns toward climate-friendly food consumption
  • Reform of the international trade regime for food and agriculture

IATP’s contribution focused on the effects of trade liberalization on agriculture systems. We argued that trade liberalization both at the WTO and in regional deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) had increased volatility and corporate concentration in agriculture markets, while undermining the development of locally-based, agroecological systems that better support farmers.

The report’s findings are in stark contrast to the accelerated push for new free trade agreements, including the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the U.S.-EU Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which expand a long discredited model of economic development designed primarily to strengthen the hold of multinational corporate and financial firms on the global economy. Neither global climate talks nor other global food security forums reflect the urgency expressed in the UNCTAD report to transform agriculture.

In 2007, another important report out of the multilateral system, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development(IAASTD), with contributions from experts from over 100 countries (and endorsed by nearly 60 countries), came to very similar conclusions. The IAASTD report concluded that “Business as Usual is Not an Option,” and the shift toward agroecological approaches was urgent and necessary for food security and climate resilience. Unfortunately, business as usual has largely continued. Maybe this new UNCTAD report will provide the tipping point for the policy transformation that must take place “before it’s too late.”

Mary De La Valette: Return to the Rural

23 09 2013


Are rural areas declining, unable to support themselves, losing population and a drain on the provincial coffers? What solutions are proposed? Move out West? Move to the cities? Exploit the “natural resources” of the rural areas – somehow make them pay for themselves? Are cities the only viable areas now for people, and should rural areas be sacrifice zones?

For the duration of (modern) human life on earth, rural areas have been the foundation for our civilizations. They have provided us with food, water and materials for shelter.

With the advent of industrial civilization, 200 odd years ago, we have changed the way we live. Not content with the basic, aboriginal way of life – that revered the earth as the mother of all life – we want more… and more… and more… stuff.

More cars, more TVs , more gadgets, the latest iPhones, iPads – comfort and toys beyond anything our ancestors dreamed of. We call this progress.

The basic material for all this stuff is mined out of the earth. Fossil fuels tie it all together and make it work.

The cost is all around us: climate change, pollution, clearcut forests, cancer, dying oceans, extinct species, the horror of factory farming. Many scientists call it the Sixth Extinction, and it is human-caused.

While this information is widely available to anyone with a computer, any consensus on what to do about it is missing. The greed of the powerful pushes us forward on the same path. Our governments make GDP and growth their goals. We are as a giant juggernaut crushing everything in its path.

It would be convenient for industry and governments to have the population located in the cities, busy playing video games and shopping at the mall. Rural areas would then be open, without interference, to exploitation.

Only nature and wildlife would be impacted. New Brunswick could be dotted every square mile with well pads and open pit mines to extract every last drop of oil, gas and minerals out of the earth.

The nature poet, Wordsworth wrote in 1798: “Have I not reason to lament / What man has made of man?” “Nature has painted for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty.” So wrote John Ruskin, adding “it is that which uplifts the spirit within us.” This planet is still a wondrously, beautiful place. A walk in nature is the best medicine for anything that ails us. In nature, miracles surround us: spring after winter, a budding tree, a salmon run, the sun rising, the night sky.

We need to radically change how we think about our lives on this earth. Instead of the global infrastructure that now dictates that we get our hockey sticks from China, or our green peppers from Peru, because they’re “cheaper,” we need to build local infrastructures that builds jobs and businesses that produce food and necessities here for people here. Let Wal-Mart sell its Chi­nese goods in China.

Rural areas are the focal point of this new infrastructure, this new economy. The land is there to grow food, to nurture people. Every little village could have its own solar panel business – Europe does this; what’s wrong with Canada? – that could provide energy for itself with excess sold to the grid.

Every little village in Europe also has its own bakery. Why not here?

Each village could have its own Farmers Market. All that’s lacking is imagination. Where there’s a need, it could be filled locally and rurally.

Our rural areas presently support a healthy tourism industry, which employs many people. It is, however, a pretty well-kept secret.

It could be easily expanded to attract day trippers and evening excursions for dinner from our cities. The Laurentians in Quebec does it; why can’t we?

New Brunswick has a melting pot of cultures from First Nations to the francophone and anglophone populations to various immigrant groups. All have their own festivals and arts and crafts, that, given wider publicity, would attract tourists from all over the map. Such a flourishing diversity of cultures, languages and customs is not found in too many places on earth.

Where we are going in this province is up to us. If we have reached a point where we are so divorced from nature that we only care about “stuff,” there is not much hope. If we destroy the earth, we destroy ourselves.

Perhaps the nation of Bhutan can teach all of us Western peoples a lesson. Instead of a GDP index, to gauge how well it is doing, Bhutan has a GNH – Gross National Happiness – index.

It has enshrined the protection of Nature in its constitution. At the UN, a panel is now considering ways that the Bhutan GNH model can be replicated across the globe.

They have taken a different path from us. Again, John Ruskin, from a different century, wrote: “That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings” I’d say Bhutan has made a more sustainable choice. Mary de La Valette is the organizer of the Taymouth speakers series. In October, Prince Edward Island will host The Georgetown Conference: Redefining Rural, a symposium on the future of rural communities in Atlantic Canada. Since the conference is about bold ideas and recognizing the assets and innovation of rural communities, the Telegraph-Journal has committed to publish a series of thought-provoking commentaries on how New Brunswickers are re-defining small towns and the rural way of life.


The End of Sprawl in Canada

16 05 2011

The City of Winnipeg is at the leading edge of cities across Canada that have abandoned the suburban sprawl model of development that empties the downtown core and increases demand for costly, unfunded infrastructure in suburban areas. Notably, the Big Box store push of the 1990s amplified the push out to the suburbs, wasting land, decimating natural ecosystems, and costing taxpayers billions in highways, water/sewer services and energy infrastructure. From the Globe & Mail:

“Around the world there is a growing understanding that suburban sprawl is unsustainable, and that, for cities to survive, they must shrink back in on themselves, tightening up, promoting density and pushing their growing population into space already served by existing infrastructure and social services.”

. . .

“Ken Greenberg, a Toronto-based architect and urban planner, says cities around the world are realizing that promoting population density is no longer negotiable.

“Whether you like it or not, what’s going to drive the change between city and suburb is the cost of energy,” he said. “This is a crisis. It’s not even worth debating whether it’s worthwhile making these changes, the trick is to get ahead of the curve as much as possible.”

This means getting people to live inside cities rather than on their periphery, as sprawl requires new infrastructure and support services, which municipal governments do not have the money or the time to adequately provide.”