Letter to the editor of the EMC

Submitted by Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists Cliff Bennett, President

Appleton wetlands aerial view

Dear Editor

In the August 28, 2014 issue of EMC Canadian/Gazette Mississippi Mills Councillor Denzil Ferguson submitted a letter from David Orazietti, the former Minister of Natural Resources (MNR,) “to clarify information regarding the Mississippi River water levels”. The letter, dated March 12, 2014, is a response by the former Minister to Mississippi Mills Council regarding concerns about a massive dieback of soft maple trees in the Appleton Wetland caused by high water levels resulting from Enerdu operations.

Unfortunately that letter contains a number of statements that the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists could not agree with at that time. Now that MVFN has completed a year of research and published a final report, The Appleton Wetland; Its Decline, Cause and Recommended Action, there is little doubt that the letter is erroneous and does not clarify anything. MVFN chose to do this study because MNR chose not to.

In particular, the conclusion that “there has not been a significant change in the use of flashboards and, therefore, high water did not cause the dieback” is wrong. Our research does show that there was an increase in flashboard height in the years immediately before 2001, along with changes to summer water control. The net result is water levels through the summer growing season were much higher (and still are) than the trees can tolerate, and this is the direct cause of the observed tree mortality. The trees are drowning.

We also object strongly to the Minister’s letter which states;

“It was noted that the wetland is healthy. However, the soft maples are dying and – because of this – the ecology of the wetland may shift, causing different species to form new communities.”

This is true, but the death of the trees will leave behind hundreds of hectares of dead tree boles for tens of decades to come. The wetland’s soft maples are the defining species of this unique wetland .

Further, the Minster stated;

“Making changes to save one species may cause cumulative impacts to other species in many locations.”

This statement is very misleading. What Minister Orizeitti should be saying is “Destroying one species will cause a cumulative impact on other species”.

The Appleton Wetland was a thriving soft maple swamp for centuries. It continued in good health throughout the early industrialization of Almonte and up to the end of the 20th century. It was unique enough to be granted the status of a Provincially Significant wetland. Its decline resulting from Enerdu operations has been limited to the past decade or so and correction of those operating water levels will allow the trees to survive.

We remain hopeful that the MNR response to our report will be positive, that the Mississippi River Water Management Plan (MRWMP) will be amended appropriately, and that nature will restore the wetland to its former state. With the recovery of the forest canopy many departed species will be able to return.

The MVFN report on the wetland can be obtained through the MVFN website mvfn.ca.