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REBEL - FEBRUARY 2004

Undoing Environmental Damage

BY Penn Whithers, REBEL Zine

Reduce, Reuse and Recyle. Walk or use public transport when you can. Plant trees. Tear down a highway. Tear down a highway??!!What a radical idea! It's not really when you think about it for a minute. Man has always made colossal, and often, unfair demands on the environment. Planet Earth is struggling every second of every day to support its ever growing population, and is barely coping under the strain of pollutants constantly being thrown into its atmosphere and oceans. The possibility of several wildlife forms going extinct poses a serious threat to the rather delicate food chain - the web of life. It is impossible for nature to regenerate itself faster than the rate at which pollutants are being released. Mother Nature is in desperate need of our help to sustain life on this planet. We need to reverse some of the damage we have inflicted upon the planet. Tearing down unnecessary highways, and restoring natural flora and fauna is a brilliant idea that a local Hamilton activist, Randy Kay, has come up with.

The unnecessary highway that Randy, who lives in Dundas and works at McMaster University, is referring to is Cootes Drive, a four-lane access that links downtown Dundas to Hamilton. The highway cuts through Cootes Paradise and separates it from the Spencer Creek Watershed. Cootes Paradise is a nature sanctuary home to a variety of amphibians, fish, birds and plant life, some of which are threatened species.

Cootes Drive poses a very real and serious threat to the threatened Blanding's Turtle. The Blanding's Turtle is considered to become an endangered species if "limiting factors are not reversed" by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. In 2003, there were only about 6 Blanding's Turtles in the area. The Ontario Game and Fish Act prohibits the hunting and trapping of the Blanding's Turtle. Yet, road kill statistics compiled by the Royal Botanical Gardens show that a significant population of wildlife is killed each year because of traffic on Cootes Drive. In 1999, 41 birds, 19 mammals and 1338 herps (amphibians and reptiles) were killed in traffic. In 2001, 31 birds, 40 mammals and 238 herps were killed. The numbers are significantly smaller in 2001 than in 1999 because of the closure of the west-bound lanes to install a new sewage system pipe.

The restoration project aims to rehabilitate the natural floodplain that existed before the road was constructed and reduce water pollution in Cootes and the Harbour. It would provide more spawning area for the Atlantic Salmon and Pickerel, and would definitely benefit other species in the area. A survey carried out among Hamilton residents by McMaster student, Julia Croome, indicates that 70% of the people who responded to the survey would be willing to take Main St. W. instead of Cootes Drive to travel back and forth between Dundas and Hamilton.

If the idea seems radical at all, it's only because our fast-paced North American culture is so heavily reliant on automobiles to go from one place to another, no matter how short the distance is. A lot of families have a car for every family member who is of legal driving age. The more cars that people buy, the more roads they need to be built to accommodate these cars. Building more roads doesn't necessarily cut down on traffic jams. It only serves to increase pollution and threaten the delicate biological and ecological system that we are a part of. If anything seems drastic and radical, it is the idea of getting rid of the very few green spaces that we have left (like the Red Hill Valley) only to replace them with more highways. In Randy Kay's own words, "Flora and fauna haven't made demands on humans; It's their turn now. Imagine the quiet, soul-restoring calm of Cootes Paradise reaching right into the heart of Dundas. That's something to fight for."

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