Forest fight above Toronto

Battle to save Don watershed's largest remaining forest lays bare mentality that climate change is simply an opportunity to make money


On Thursday and Friday (August 28 and 29), protesters will make a pilgrimage from the corner of Bayview and Hillsview in Richmond Hill to Queen’s Park in a last-ditch bid to save David Dunlap Forest.

The ongoing fight to preserve the largest remaining upland forest south of the Oak Ridges Moraine in the Don watershed lays bare the mentality of the powerful: the failure of bridges, sewers and roads due to climate change is simply a future opportunity to make money.

After the devastation when the Don overflowed its banks on July 8, 2013, which closed the Don Valley Parkway and a GO commuter rail line, there was no move to plant more forest cover that might prevent flooding and reduce sweltering summer heat.

The mighty simply yawned as lost rivers erupted out of their concrete sewers, Garrison Creek vividly staining the grass in Trinity Bellwoods Park with toxic mud.

More treed land in Downsview Park that could absorb rainfall was sold to developers. And another study is under way to sell more of this rapidly vanishing park.

Federal lands in Pickering that could have been a climate-moderating forest are slated to become a greenhouse-gas-spewing airport. A new “urban national park” in the Rouge is to surround the proposed airport, but most of that will be taken up with farmland to grow corn and soybeans for biofuels to power our auto addiction.

Mostly ignored by press and politicians after the Don deluge was one brave group of environmentalists, the Richmond Hill Naturalists, and their attempts to save David Dunlap from residential development.

Home of the Dunlap Observatory, the lands were purchased from the University of Toronto by developer Metrus in 2008.

The company’s effort to change the zoning has triggered two mammoth hearings at the Ontario Municipal Board. A final decision has yet to be announced.

What will make this week’s walk to save Dunlap Forest extra-informative is its route through the now urbanized former Langstaff Jail farm nearby, which is another example of short-term private profits trumping long-term public good.

The 156-hectare property was developed by the city of Toronto as a humane minimum-security alternative to the horrors of the Don Jail. It eventually became surplus in 1982. But rather than reforest the farm to prevent flooding in the Don, the city sold it to a developer for $75 million, of which $23 million was allocated to the newly created Toronto Atmospheric Fund.

That was a good cause, but it’s unlikely that anything the fund could accomplish in terms of greenhouse gas reduction and mitigation could be as productive as turning the farm into a forest.

When Langstaff was sold, the U of T still owned David Dunlap Observatory. The “intellects” of the university and the public service opted to pave over what combined might have been a 200-hectare public green space in the Don watershed.

The walk to save the Dunlap Forest leaves at 11 am from Hillsview Drive and Bayview on Thursday (August 28) and continues the next day at 9 am from Mel Lastman Square to Queen’s Park.

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