January 26, 2011

Let's plant trees faster than we chop them down

As published in The Erin Advocate

Some of my best friends are of the leafy, green persuasion. You know the type: perennial sun worshippers, on the tall side, firmly attached to the earth. I've never hugged one, but they do make for excellent company.

Until recently in our history, trees were seen mainly as obstacles to agriculture and as raw material for paper and lumber. Now, we sense more of a common cause among carbon based entities. When God told the first humans to "subdue" the earth (Genesis 1:28), that did not mean we should obliterate the very life forms She created to provide us with oxygen.

Greenery, unlike oil, is relatively easy to replenish. Do you see the newsprint you are holding as a product of dead trees, or as a renewable resource? We are lucky, too, to live in an area that has not been generally paved over.

"Erin is an emerald jewel in the heart of Ontario," said Bill Dinwoody, of the Recreation and Culture Committee, at a presentation to Town Council last month on trails and trees.

There is an effort to have the Town of Erin get more involved in tree planting. For the Town, the volume of trees is not the main issue. It is a matter of strategic planting on public land, and encouragement of planting on private land, to make the Town more attractive.

Of course there are other long-term benefits, like more shade, less erosion, better wildlife habitat, natural snow fencing and a place to hang your rope swing. Tree planting brings people together and erects living monuments to our shared values.

"The Town needs to take a leadership role," said trails enthusiast Steve Revell, who urged Council to consider a town-wide tree plan.

Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) has a broader mandate, since the sheer volume of trees is an important factor in the global effort to slow the rate of climate change.

"CVC is concerned that the potential impacts of climate change may adversely affect the watershed and has a number of initiatives in its strategic plan to both learn more about the potential impacts of climate change and to develop approaches to mitigate them," said a CVC report, done by Woodrising Consulting and ArborVitae Environmental Services.

Using scientific models, they estimated that the 16,844 hectares of forest in the Credit Valley watershed holds about 6.52 million tonnes of carbon, 48 percent in living biomass, 13 percent in dead wood and forest litter and 39 percent in the soil. CVC owns about eight percent of the forest lands.

"CVC recognizes that it can also play a role in efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) and to enhance the sequestration, or long-term removal, of GHG from the atmosphere. Forests and wetlands have the ability to act as carbon sinks, absorbing and storing carbon dioxide, the most widely known and ubiquitous GHG."

Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are generally not causing forests to grow faster and increase their rates of carbon sequestration. All the more reason to reduce GHG emissions and plant as many trees as possible.

Since 1960, CVC, the Ministry of Natural Resources and partners such as the Boy Scouts, have planted 2,534 hectares of trees in our watershed, which are moving into a rapid growth phase. CVC plans to plant 57 hectares of trees annually until 2014, and 91 hectares annually from 2015 to 2030.

The portion of the sequestration caused by future plantings may be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in the carbon market, an international mechanism intended to drive down industrial emissions through financial incentives.

New tree planting in the watershed is expected to sequester 5,459 tonnes of carbon per year. Unfortunately, about 7,500 tonnes is lost every year as 25-50 hectares of forest is chopped down to make way for new homes, businesses and roads. It is not happening in Erin, but it is not all that far away.

A recent CVC Fact Sheet describes the process: "Development removes all of the live biomass (organisms) and dead wood, causing the stored carbon to be emitted. Much of the carbon in the soil is emitted as well. Clearly, reducing forest loss is just as important as planting new trees."

January 19, 2011

Something special needed beside the Tim Horton's

As published in The Erin Advocate

With construction of the Tim Horton's progressing quickly at the north end of Erin village, I hope it is not too late to put in some suggestions for the lot next door, owned by developer Shane Baghai.

He invited suggestions from the public last month and ideas ranged from a pool to a grocery store. I thought back to the start of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) in 2009, when people were asked what they thought was needed in Erin.

A Tim Horton's was one of the most common suggestions, along with more stores, affordable housing for seniors, better health services, more parks and trails, a pool and many other things – even a paintball arena. The SSMP study is not just about sewers. It is a formal Environmental Assessment of how Erin will evolve, and there will be more opportunities this year for public input.

With construction of the medical centre and the donut shop, Baghai has in short order fulfilled two items on Erin's wish list, while the SSMP chugs along at a snail's pace.

If the Town ever decides to build a sewer system, perhaps Baghai could be engaged to get the job done quickly. Actually, I take that suggestion back; public works should be publicly owned and operated, much as we may be tempted to privatize.

The Town needs to work with developers in a business-like fashion, seeking benefits for taxpayers, just as developers seek a good return on their investment. We cannot expect an entrepreneur to build a pool, with no chance of recouping their money. The Town couldn't afford to maintain a pool, even if were given to us.

So what are the realistic possibilities for this "third lot"? It should probably be a project that will not generate a large amount of traffic. There will already be vehicle issues with Tim Horton's, such as truckers wanting to stop on the shoulders on both sides of the road, no access via the stop light intersection and traffic on Thompson Crescent. That zone could not handle a fast food restaurant, for example, and many people would not want one in the village.

What I would really like to see is a development with some retail on the ground floor and apartments for seniors above – or even a retirement home. The need is great, but I am not hopeful, since the land is not designated for residential growth. There may be better sites, and the Town has frozen residential development while the SSMP is in progress. I don't know if Council could make an exception for a highly desirable project.

I have not spoken with the developer, but I think he would like something that could be built soon, produce a solid revenue stream and look classy. We are a small market, and any growth is projected to be moderate. And while competition is a good thing, I would rather see a new development draw revenue away from other towns, instead of drawing it away from existing Erin businesses. We would appreciate services that we currently have to drive elsewhere to obtain.

If it is to be a store, or group of stores, the SSMP participants suggested a need for clothing and sporting goods. How about electronics equipment? In the entertainment realm, perhaps a bowling alley or a laser-quest style facility. How about an artists' co-op, flea market or farmers' market?

Exactly what goes there depends on an assessment of the market by those putting their money at risk. The main question for the public is whether it will enhance the Town as a place to live and a place to visit.

I am hoping for something practical and distinctive, both in concept and physical appearance. Something that will build on Erin's charm, not dilute it. I do not want to see the town develop into a miniature version of the urban areas I moved here to get away from.

From what I have seen so far, Mr. Baghai has the imagination and drive to make something special happen.

January 12, 2011

Try not to worry about things that might happen

As published in The Erin Advocate

I had a good time at the Mayor's Levee on New Year's Day, skating at Centre 2000. It was a nice family event, with little kids learning to skate, budding hockey tykes showing off their skills, parents chatting while keeping an eye on their broods and old folks proving that they can still get around on the ice.

A "levee" can mean any sort of reception, but it was originally an assembly of men hosted by the British monarch. Mayor Lou Maieron was on duty to greet the masses, and showed a good example by wearing a helmet, instead of a crown.

I've been skating on Monday mornings at the arena this winter, and I've taken to wearing a helmet as well, after a friend of mine fell and suffered a serious head injury. After a year, she is still struggling to make a full recovery.

My caution was reinforced at the levee when I saw a gentleman stumble and crash head-first into the boards. He ended up with a cut over his eye that took four stitches to close.

I'm not old yet (at least I don't think I am), and if I keep my body and brain active, I may be able to put off that stage for a good long while. The aches and pains are increasing, but they seem to rotate to different areas, instead of striking all at once. As my mother is fond of saying, "Getting old is not for sissies."

I went to visit her in Cambridge after the levee. Last spring, at the age of 80, she was golfing and swimming, after recovering from her second major cancer surgery. It was a short reprieve, however. Now it is in her bones and she can barely stand up.

We are at the stage where survival is estimated in months and relief measured in doses of morphine. It is a stark reminder that the advances of medicine may improve our quality of life for a certain time, but cannot save us from the inevitable.

She has made a transition, from strong and independent to frail and vulnerable, while maintaining a positive attitude, which is quite an accomplishment. Her faith in God is strong, and I think she wants to teach by example that suffering is to be expected, and accepted without a big fuss.

She will not be impressed if she reads this, only because these things are so apparent that to write them down shows an excess of sentimentality. The need to write things down can be a curse. Or perhaps it is a form of therapy, an attempt to impose some order on a confusing array of thoughts.

Anyhow, we had a good Christmas. She was able to come to the table and enjoy dinner in the company of her children, grandchildren and of course my father, who has devoted himself to her care without a big fuss.

A few days later, my sister and I were sitting at their kitchen table, working on things like the medication schedule and the power of attorney document, and my father seemed concerned about us.

"Try not to worry about things that might happen," he said.

That sounds like a good New Year's resolution, one that might make the other resolutions easier to achieve.