Three newly released Ontario Parks’ reports – based on available data, published reports and scientific literature – describe the same long-standing concerns Wildlands League has had about the ecological impacts of cottages in Algonquin Park. They also point out that Ontario taxpayers are heavily subsidizing these cottages. Read more here.

In the ecological impact summary, MNR concludes the “cumulative impacts of cottages and their uses contribute to the pressures on the park’s ecosystems. Their effects represent an additional challenge to the maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity of the park as defined in the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, 2006” (page ii).

The economic study states that, “[f]or the Crown to earn a fair 4% return upon the value of its capital stock of land, we estimate that it would need to collect over 200% more revenue than it does currently, effectively tripling fees and rents” (page 48).

These documents are very helpful.

They are intended to inform consultation and decision making process on the proposed extension of private cottage tenure in Algonquin Park. CPAWS Wildlands League welcomes the findings and support additional data sampling to inform future decision making. We wonder though why no environmental studies were done on the impacts of cottages in Rondeau Provincial Park. And if they were done, why weren’t they released at the same time as the Algonquin documents?

Where to from here? There is enough information in these reports about the risks of the cottages to the ecological integrity of the park to warrant a more thoughtful approach than what the government has proposed. CPAWS Wildlands League strongly recommends that Ontario does not extend the leases in its current process for either Algonquin or Rondeau. Instead, the Province should commit to making a decision on how to phase out the leases in the context of all uses of the park through a science-based ecological integrity action plan.

Here are just some of the concerns identified in the reports:

  • Risk to the health of the headwaters of Central Ontario’s major rivers;
  • Threats to lake trout and brook trout through lower water quality, spawning beds damage and invasive fish species;
  • Increased predation on nestling birds and baby turtles by common animals that benefit from human habitation such as red fox, skunks, raccoons and ravens.

When the Ontario government originally proposed extending Algonquin cottage leases (for the 3rd time since 1954) to 2038, CPAWS opposed the move. You can read our materials here.

At that same time, we also noted that there was no indication that any analyses have been done by the MNR to demonstrate that extending the cottage leases is compatible with these goals and objectives or the management priority of the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act (PPCRA). We now we know a bit more. MNR concludes the “cumulative impacts of cottages and their uses contribute to the pressures on the park’s ecosystems. Their effects represent an additional challenge to the maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity of the park as defined in the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, 2006” (page ii) (emphasis added). The report notes that “[e]ven small changes in the amount of development on lakes have been associated with shifts in fish diet and distribution, and the composition, abundance and diversity of small mammals, birds, invertebrates, aquatic plants and algae” (pg. ii).

This issue is a difficult one for cottagers because it’s personal. We are acutely aware of the emotional attachments that cottagers have to their leases. Most of us have fond memories of cottage life.  I, myself, grew up at our family’s small resort in the Ottawa valley where we had 11 cottages (these weren’t in a protected area). I still grieve the decision to sell that little piece of heaven.  I sympathize with the cottagers but I also know that even the most nature-conscious of cottage holders can damage a lake’s ecosystem. I have seen it first-hand.

In his landmark book, The End of Nature, writer Bill McKibben wonders whether he loves his adopted home in the Adirondacks enough to leave it-if by leaving he would help to heal the physical and climatic scars his presence had wrought. This is a question all of us who care deeply for nature need to ponder about our choices, our homes, our travels.  Because of the nature of their tenure in a public park, for Algonquin leaseholders this normally private question is of public concern.

That many Algonquin cottagers do care deeply for the Park and wrestle with such questions, there is no doubt. But there is a legal and ecological imperative to manage the heritage of Algonquin for ecological integrity.

So what’s next? The Ontario Parks documents point the way to some immediate actions such as curtailing phosphorous inputs in general, mapping and protecting all trout spawning beds in cottage lakes and identifying and fixing point sources of sewage leakage. This may entail the immediately addressing the impacts of specific cottages and/or increased restrictions on others.

But what is needed, from a big picture standpoint, is a scientific assessment of all uses in the park and a prioritized action list on how to lessen the impacts and remove the uses that are incompatible with maintaining and improving ecological integrity. This would mean targeting all uses but focussing on the biggest impacts on the ecological cost/benefit first.  It is foreseeable that such an approach would put logging roads at the front of the line.  The fate of cottage leases might be a lower priority, but would still need to be planned for in the clarity of a well-funded, science-based ecological integrity action plan.

 

By Dave Pearce, Manager Forest Conservation, CPAWS Wildlands League

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