When I intended simply to show my friend Daniel Nardone the wonders of winter waterfowl in St. Catharines’ Centennial Gardens I was given a rude shock.
The ducks had been given an eviction notice and there was a tree massacre of colossal scale. There was also bizarre trimming of tree limbs so to make it easier to play what we soon discovered was a sport called Frisbee Golf. The limbs so far at least had no protective measures taken such as special tree paint, to prevent the spread of infections.
I am familiar with the usual arguments for cutting trees in the Centennial Gardens. One that has been goes that they have to be cut trees to protect sight lines. When trees crowd sight lines, the arguement goes, they make it possible for illegal activity to take place. In this regard, reference is usually made to sex work.
The matter of tree cutting in the Centennial Gardens discussed in St. Catharines City Council has been reported by the St. Catharines Standard for several years. Until now, the proposals have mercifully been defeated due to budget cuts. When I examined the tree butchery, I could not see any evidence of them being cut to maintain or enhance sight lines.
Most of the trees cut were adjacent to the Old Welland Canal in the middle of the park, far away from the Gale Crescent site lines. This stream has been identified as fish habitat by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. I have spoken to people who have been able to fish for native fish species, such as Brown Bullhead, in the park. Maintaining the existing tree cover benefits fish habitat by shading the stream.
While some trees have been cut on the north side of the old canal, more were cut in the intact forest block on the south side. This large block of forest is of sufficient size to provide beneficial habitat for good indicator species of native wildlife, such as the Wild Turkey. Tree cutting should have never taken place here. This area moreover was quite spectacular visually, and a valuable - if under appreciated - asset to our city. While cycling on the path often in the company of my spouse, Mary Lou, I frequently stopped in sheer wonder of the beauty of the place.
From observation, the trees cut appear to be various species of Willow. It was not possible for me in the surprise encounter without a field guide, to identify which ones were the native Black Willow, or the exotic White and Crack Willows. However, in terms of ecological function, the various willows were doing well before being cut, in places clear cut. They provided shade for the Brown Bullhead and habitat for native species such as the Great Blue Heron and Wild Turkey.
There was one particular area where I found the tree removal to be most offensive. This was an intermittent stream close to where the Old Welland Canal disappears into an underground channel. Trees which once provided shade to this intermittent stream were removed by clear cutting. This removal was especially tragic since this spot should be managed as a vernal pool, with the hope that it would eventually become a valuable amphibian habitat. This area needs to be reforested.
If there are any plans to cut more trees in Centennial Gardens they should be stopped. One good long term principle of management should be that tree cutting in this park should be left to a native species that is found here: the Beaver.
Parks such as the Centennial Gardens with forests providing habitat for forest-interior birds such as the Wild Turkey need to be managed better than this clear-cutting.