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RESEARCH SUPPORTS CLOSING ROAD

Research demonstrates "viability, necessity" of closing Cootes

Mac student says using road jeopardizes ongoing survival of turtle populations

BY CRAIG CAMPBELL
Wednesday, July 9, 2003 Dundas Star News
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Drivers would accept the closure of Cootes Drive, a main access into Dundas, because the road poses a serious threat to an endangered turtle species, says a third-year McMaster student.

And Julia Croome, an arts and science student who investigated the effect of the road on surrounding turtle populations and the possibility of closing the road for environmental reasons, believes much more research must be done on the road before the construction of a 565-space parking lot that would only increase traffic on the road. She said a detailed traffic study of Cootes Drive would be very useful.


"It doesn't appear that in-depth environmental studies were made before the road was built in '42, and I'd be interested in whether any are being made about the increase in traffic that would result from the construction of this parking area," Ms. Croome said.

Cootes Drive alrady poses a threat to an endangered turtle species. Since Ms. Croome wrote her paper, a proposal for a McMaster University parking lot at the corner of King Street East and Olympic Drive has come up.

Ms. Croome looked for pertinent research on the road, and interviewed a local ecologist and activist about the possibility of closing Cootes Drive to traffic. Her paper refers to research that found three species of turtles are affected by Cootes Drive, including the threatened Blanding's turtle.

That particular species is considered likely to become endangered "if limiting factors are not reversed" by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. The Ontario Game and Fish act forbids hunting or trapping of the Blanding's turtle.

Ms. Croome's paper establishes that major roads like Cootes Drive contribute to the deaths of species like the Blanding's turtle, and the road has the potential to do even more long-term damage to Coote's Paradise area turtle populations.

Just in 1999, 66 snapping turtles, 11 midland painted turtles, one Blanding's turtle and two unidentifiable turtles were killed in traffic on Cootes Drive, according to information in Ms. Croome's paper, provided by the Royal Botanical Gardens.

While the other two turtle species have populations large enough to absorb extra deaths caused by traffic, Ms. Croome learned from Brian Pomfret of the Royal Botanical Gardens that the local Blanding's turtle population numbers only about six with potentially only a couple of adult females.

While available research shows Cootes Drive may have a significant effect on wildlife population, there hasn't been enough research to begin a recovery plan, Ms. Croome's report states.

It was Dundas resident Randy Kay who introduced Ms. Croome to the idea of closing Cootes Drive to traffic. He has been leading a drive to close the road and reclaim the natural area it splits.

Ms. Croome surveyed Hamilton residents using a survey sent out through Ward 1 councilor Marvin Caplan.

Her survey, though based on a fairly small sample of 42 respondents, found that a large proportion were willing to take an alternate route to minimize environmental impacts of vehicles on local wildlife.

According to Ms. Croome's report, road closures around the world have not resulted in long-term traffic problems, and can even result in decreased traffic volume in the area.

"This suggests that Cootes Drive could be closed without the expected traffic problems," Ms. Croome writes.

Thirty-one of the survey respondents, or 70 per cent, said they were willing to use Main Street West rather than Cootes Drive.

Ms. Croome's report concludes that the research she found demonstrates the "viability, and necessity, of closing Cootes Drive entirely."


But the McMaster student is interested in pursuing this topic a little further. She would like to survey Dundas residents in particular, as well as student drivers - in light of the proposed McMaster parking lot just off Cootes Drive. She'd also like to investigate the cost of an overpass, underpass or fence to divert wildlife from the road itself.

"I knew before undertaking this project that Cootes Paradise is an ecologically important area, but I didn't understand to what degree," Ms. Croome said.

"I think it's important for people to know that using this road could very well be jeopardizing the ongoing survival of turtle populations in the area, and contributing to the degradation of Cootes Paradise."


Working on her paper left her with the sense that people are misinformed about the severity of the ecological impact of roads, and their necessity. She said the North American car culture is so pervasive that the public is not exposed, or open, to alternatives. That makes the idea of building fewer roads, seem radical.

"The fact that roads can be closed down with little effect on traffic is hugely important, and something that more people should be made aware of," she said.

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