by Christine Hanrahan
This article originally appeared in Trail & Landscape 2006; 40(2). It has been reproduced here with permission. Photographs were taken by Christine Hanrahan.
|“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” — Robert Louis Stevenson
Larose Forest is situated about 60 kilometres east of Ottawa in the United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR), near the towns of Limoges and Bourget. At roughly 10,540 hectares (26,000 acres) it is the largest forest in this part of eastern Ontario. Various inventories over the last few years have revealed a tremendous variety of flora and fauna, underscoring the important role this forest plays for wildlife. For this reason alone, it is worthy of our attention. But the forest has many dimensions, it is also a working forest, an outdoor classroom, and a place for hiking, biking, and other activities. It is gradually becoming a destination for birdwatchers, hikers, naturalists and those interested in outdoor recreation. This report updates my last article on Larose Forest (Hanrahan 2004) and provides information on the outcome of the 2004 OMB decision, and a number of other Larose related topics that have arisen, some new and some new-to-me.
When a local group, Francoscénie Inc. proposed a theatrical pageant/theme park called L’écho d’un peuple, for Larose Forest, there was widespread concern that the forest’s conservation values would be destroyed. Accordingly a number of people came together in an attempt to stop this project. Under the banner of The Friends of Larose Forest, they sought help from many quarters including the OFNC. As a last measure, they went to the OMB to appeal the UCPR Official Plan (OP) Amendment No. 4 which would allow this development. Despite what many thought, the OMB appeal was not against Francoscénie Inc. nor was there ever any doubt in anyone’s mind that the project itself was an interesting and innovative event that deserved to be staged — but not in Larose Forest!
The development proposal and the OMB
In 2002 Francoscénie Inc. put forth their plans for Larose Forest, at the same time applying to the UCPR for an amendment to the OP and to the City of Clarence-Rockland for a similar amendment, to allow this development. In March 2003, the UCPR approved the OP Amendment but Clarence-Rockland made no decision either way. Interestingly, at about this time UCPR also produced a map showing the project site as non-significant woodland (unforested) when in fact it is as thickly treed as the surrounding woodland deemed significant. How this “slip-up” happened has not been clearly explained. It should also be noted that Larose Forest is zoned Conservation land by the City of Clarence-Rockland within whose boundaries the largest portion of the forest lies.
The development proponents initially asked for 142 hectares (or just over 353 acres) in Larose Forest to stage their pageant. However, under public pressure, they modified their application, asking for 73 hectares (180 acres), of which, they said, only 11 hectares (27 acres) would be developed for Phase 1 (the pageant). In fact their plans called for a 6 hectare (15 acre) parking lot, a 6 hectare (15 acre) staging site, a 10 hectare (25 acre) septic bed, and 34 hectare (85 acre) theme park. Equally worrying was the precedent setting nature of this development, should it go ahead.
Tourism revenue is highly sought after and not just in Prescott-Russell, where it was hoped that L’écho d’un peuple would draw thousands of tourists (and their money) to the area. If this meant opening the forest to any development so be it, seemed to be the prevailing attitude at the time. Certainly a decision in favour of Francoscénie Inc. would give the green light for other proposals. According to an Ottawa Citizen story of February 5, 2003, Francoscénie Inc. was convinced that their project would bring an annual income of $6 million to the area economy, which seemed then, and seems now, quite astounding. For more about the proposed development see Hanrahan (2004) or check out The Larose Forest: History and Ecology.
Evidence of how much Francoscénie Inc. wanted the Larose site is borne out by the revelation that over 20 other sites were offered but all were turned down. Some of these sites already had the necessary infrastructure in place, and several were along the Ottawa River, making them ideal for this particular project. It was these conflicting views, the desire to develop the forest and the desire to see it preserved, that led to the lengthy and costly OMB hearing.
|“We must protect the forests for our children, grandchildren and children yet to be born. We must protect the forests for those who can’t speak for themselves such as the birds, animals, fish and trees.” — Attributed to Chief Edward Moody, Qwatsinas, Nuxalk Nation
Update on the OMB
Initially expected to take only two weeks, the hearing began in December 2003, resumed in February 2004 for a short period and was completed in March 2004. The Friends of Larose Forest (referred to hereafter as the appellants) did a sterling job rounding up witnesses, preparing mountains of evidence, and hiring a lawyer to present their case for preserving the forest. The OFNC participated in this process through the Conservation Committee. Although the OMB is supposed to be impartial and unbiased, the presiding judge left no doubt which side he preferred. When the decision was finally handed down in December 2004 it was in favour of Francoscénie Inc.
The ruling makes interesting if disturbing reading. The language is extreme, vindictive, and pejorative. Throughout, those presenting on behalf of Francoscénie Inc. are treated respectfully, while both the appellants and their witnesses are castigated. See the entire ruling.
However, this wasn’t the end of the story. Shortly after Francoscénie Inc. won the OMB, they served notice to the appellants that they intended to seek a Motion for Costs, this despite having almost all of their legal and other services provided pro bono. Equally upsetting and unforgivable was their truly nasty vilification in the local media, of those trying to save Larose. Having won their case, one would think some mercy would be shown! In January 2005, the amount sought by Francoscénie Inc. was revealed as $137,000 (read the decision). In the 51 page report accompanying the Motion, the language from the OMB judge escalated calling the appellants irrelevant, vexatious and frivolous. They were taken to task for supposedly asking questions that had already been decided by the Board, and for having witnesses who presented “irrelevant” testimony. How fair was it for the OMB judge to agree with and assign this Motion for Costs against ordinary citizens doing the job the United Counties should have been doing in the first place, ensuring protection of their natural heritage?
The appellants hired another lawyer and appealed the Motion and eventually, the costs were reduced from $137,000 to $15,000. Nonetheless, this on top of their legal costs amounted to approximately $75,000. The OFNC made a contribution towards the costs incurred by the Friends of Larose, as did some very generous individuals. The development proponents were well-funded with access to numerous professional resources. Throughout the process, they were also strengthened by a parallel defence mounted at public cost by the UCPR. The appellants had no access to such resources professional or financial and have borne the bulk of the costs.
While awaiting the OMB decision, Francoscénie Inc. finally opted for one of the 20 alternate out of forest sites, located at a tourist farm near Cassleman. It has all the necessary infrastructure in place and is easily accessible from Highway 417. Despite this, L’écho d’un peuple, quickly fell onto hard times. Numerous problems beset the project including lower attendance than anticipated, financial difficulties, and loss of key people on the board, all leading to Francoscénie Inc. seeking bankruptcy protection in 2005 (well-documented in local newspapers including the Ottawa Citizen). However, they have received support from local politicians and others and are set to stage their third season in 2006. Were it not for the above noted personal attacks through the media, one could feel a degree of sympathy for the group.
|“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.” — John Muir
Update on flora and fauna
In a Citizen article dated April 2, 2003, one of the founding members of Francoscénie Inc. was quoted as saying “this is an artificial forest and there are almost no animals.” We knew this to be false — our bird list was already quite substantial and a number of interesting and regionally significant vascular plants had recently been identified, but clearly more work had to be done to refute those who believed the forest nearly devoid of life. There is still a lot of work left in documenting the forest’s biodiversity, but we have made a very good beginning.
In the summer of 2004, Eleanor Thomson kindly offered to conduct a vascular plant survey in Larose Forest. Combined with orchid records from Joyce and Allan Reddoch and observations from a few other naturalists, her very lengthy list produced over 520 species for the forest. During 2005 a few more records were added for a total of 530 species to date. During an OFNC outing on August 4th 2005, we found an interesting new plant for the forest, Downy Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens). According to Joyce Reddoch, this plant was last found east of Ottawa in 1903. Unfortunately, another plant found in 2005 caused concern, not pleasure. A small stand of the very invasive Pale Swallowwort, or Dog-strangling Vine (Cynanchum rossicum) was found along Concession 8. These plants will be dug up before they set seed in 2006. There is still much left to find in Larose, but thanks to Eleanor and others, we have an excellent list to go on with (See Vascular plants of Larose Forest).
A number of species have been added to the Larose list since the original one was published in January 2004 (Hanrahan 2004). As of January 2006, 117 species of birds have been recorded in the forest, 93 species breed there, and a further 5 are suspected of breeding. Many more species are yet to be added (see Birds of Larose Forest). A brochure about the birds of Larose Forest including a list of species is available from me (email@example.com).
The first Larose Christmas Bird Count held in January 2005 and organized by Jacques Bouvier, promises to be a good addition to area CBC’s. As word spreads more people will participate in the count which covers an area greater than the forest itself.
Moose immediately come to mind when one thinks of Larose mammals, for it is one of only two places where this species may be reliably found in Eastern Ontario (the other is the Alfred Bog). Twenty-one species of mammals have been recorded to date, including Fisher, Coyote, River Otter and the occasional Black Bear. (See Mammals of Larose Forest).