Property rights versus species-at-risk

Owners of vacant lots on Hastings Drive in Long Point have picked a bad time to try to re-occupy them.

Their campaign to use the lots for recreational purposes coincides with the arrival of new regulations regarding the Fowler’s toad, a species in southern Ontario deemed to be at risk.

The Ministry of Natural Resources issued the regulations at the end of May. They impact on toad habitat in Niagara Region, Rondeau and Long Point among other areas.

“In the areas near Long Point, suitable habitat would be protected up to a distance of 150 metres up and down the shoreline from known occurrences of Fowler’s toad and up to 700 metres inland from the shoreline,” an MNR document says.

The MNR does not prohibit recreational uses in beach areas and on sand dunes where the toad is known to live. However, the regulations forbid uses that “result in compaction of sand.”

The MNR also forbids “replacement of natural dune and beach shoreline with artificial stabilization and erosion control structures such as breakwalls or the construction of piers or gryones.”

Hastings Drive used to be densely packed with cottages. A severe winter storm at a time of record high lake levels in the mid-1980s wiped out dozens of them. Of the 148 lots on Hastings, 22 cottages remain.

With Norfolk County preparing to pass a new zoning bylaw, some owners of vacant lots are lobbying for changes to their properties’ hazard land designation. They want the right to bring in recreational trailers and tents and camp overnight.

Cottage owners on Hastings who oppose the idea brought their objections to Norfolk council Tuesday.

Cottage owner Ellen Boyce said some property owners are dumping coarse gravel and building make-shift break walls in anticipation of a change. At the podium, she held up handfuls of the coarse rock some are depositing along the shoreline. If true, this would be a violation of the new regulations.

“Under the Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to harm or kill threatened or endangered species, or damage or destroy their habitat,” Leanne Jennings, a species-at-risk biologist with the MNR, said in an email last week. “Contraventions can result in fines of up to $250,000 for an individual or up to $1 million for a corporation.”

Beach areas are important to the Fowler’s toad because it burrows into sand to hibernate and to avoid predators. It also needs unimpeded access to the waterline to cool off and to hydrate.

The MNR measures apply to shoreline areas of the former Charlotteville, Walsingham and Houghton townships. They also apply to shoreline areas of central and east Haldimand.

Long Point cottager Chris Bradley also spoke out this week against intensified activity on Hastings Drive. Bradley said this runs counter to what the MNR is trying to achieve with its species-at-risk designations.

“Why would Norfolk County consider changing zoning to allow damage to the ecosystem?” he said. “Any sort of change to that is going to destroy their breeding habitat. Increased traffic on the road is hazardous to wildlife.”

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