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PenEquity Woodland Backgrounder

The proposed clearing of a significant woodland just south of the 401 and west of Wellington has caused a great deal of concern for those who understand the value our urban forest. The dwindling woodland cover in London threatens our health, our ecosystem, as well as our claim to be the Forest City.

Here are the facts:

  • The land, located behind Costco at 3130 and 3260 Dingman Drive and the rear portion of 4397/4407 Wellington Road South, is owned by PenEquity Realty Corporation. PenEquity wants to develop a 18,000 square metre shopping, recreation, and theatre space on this 31 hectare property. map of area
  • The property contains over 8 hectares of vegetation, including a deciduous forest, a swamp forest, a wetland, and meadow and thicket communities. All these vegetation types provide important habitat and ecological services. see a photo
  • The property contains a 4.2 hectare woodland that has been evaluated as environmentally significant. To be considered significant, a woodland must achieve one High rating according to the City’s evaluation protocol. This woodland achieved five High ratings which is quite uncommon and attests to the ecological diversity and value of the woodland. Some of the attributes that contribute to its significance are uncommon vegetation communties (including bur oak and white elm), the size of the woodland, and the fact that it contains a wetland, breeding amphibians, many bird species and other wildlife. more about this woodland's evaluation
  • PenEquity wishes to cut down all the trees in the woodland (which would also destroy the wetland), so they can build a retail and entertainment complex on the edge of town. The map below shows the proposed complex over laying the existing land. The blue and green areas are the woodland and wetland.

Why should you care?
There are many reasons why this development is not a good choice for London, but we will focus on the environmental ones.

The loss of trees is immense. The woodland is nearly as large as Victoria Park and contains a rich ecosystem. The total number of trees is unknown, but likely there are 5,000-10,000 trees. It is simply not possible to recreate this thriving mature woodland within our lifetime. For us, the loss is permanent.

Many Londoners participate in volunteer tree planting in parks and invest in planting trees on their own property to help make London greener and healthier. Clearing existing woodlands is contrary to the goal of a greener and healthier community.

We can’t afford to lose more trees. London’s woodland cover is already very low. At just 7.8% woodland cover, we fall far below the 30% woodland cover recommended by Environment Canada for a sustainable environment. Our woodland cover is so low that we cannot afford to lose anymore woodlands anywhere. We are already losing 500,000 ash trees to the Emerald Ash Borer in the coming years. A single tree planted anywhere provides many environmental benefits, such as cleaner air and water, storm water management, and shade. However, trees grouped together in woodlands provide even more benefits, such as wildlife habitat, ecosystem diversity, and protection of species at risk.

We need wetlands for clean water. Wetlands are important because they clean our water, filtering impurities before they reach our rivers and lakes. They act like giant sponges, soaking up rain and snowmelt as they occur, and slowly releasing this water in drier seasons. As climate change causes more extreme storms, this storm water management function will become even more important. Wetlands provide a temporary or permanent habitat to a wealth of species of plants, fish and wildlife. Wetlands also are homes to many endangered species. The vast majority of wetlands, once very common in southwestern Ontario, were destroyed when land was cleared for agriculture. It is estimated that 95% of our wetlands have already been destroyed. It costs the City $1 million to build a storm water management pond. Wetlands provide this service for free.

It’s the law. Provincial laws protect both woodlands and wetlands from destruction, and the City of London must uphold these laws. The City of London went to the Supreme Court of Canada to defend its woodland significance criteria, and won. The laws were created for these kinds of challenges.

Car-centered development is poor planning. Londoners have made it very clear that they want for a community that is conducive to all types of transportation. Bus, bicycle, and foot transportation are more environmentally sustainable and lead to better human and community health. This development continues London’s car-centered development, and is counter to the ideas generated by ReThink London.

Smart planning leads to better communities. Development and protection of the environment can go together. Development that respects existing valuable environmental features will make our community more sustainable, healthier, and stronger. This project may be good for PenEquity, but it is not good for London.

Economy and environment can co-exist. The proponent has promised 1200 new jobs in their retail and entertainment complex.  It is very valid question to ask if these jobs are really new or will they simply be relocated from existing retail locations. After all, there is a limited amount of retail and entertainment dollars to be spent in London. Adding more retail space does cause more spending and therefore may not deliver new jobs.  Choosing jobs over environment is a false choice we shouldn’t be fooled into making.

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