Sunday, November 06, 2005

Top Five List: Threats to the Don

Everybody produces these lists so why not a list for the Don? The Don is threatened by a wide range of factors so I thought that a list of threats would be particularly relevant. Here is my list:

1. Stormwater runoff
2. Non-native invasive species

3. Infrastructure
4. Inappropriate human use
5. Government bureaucracy

You may want to reorder these or add to them and I would be interested in hearing your opinion. Until then I will delineate my reasons for each. Since some of these are lengthy topics I will post a separate article for each. Today's article is #4.

4. Inappropriate Human Use

This is a bit of a catch-all for a variety of actions all human based. It's a combination of use, abuse, and overuse of the natural resource that our ravines and valleys provide. I will list a few of them here.

Living in the valley. As if the city doesn't provide enough space for humans to reside, some of us insist on setting up shop in the valley. Grouped under the eponymous term 'homeless', people reside in the valley for a number of reasons. Some people really are homeless and the valley seems a welcome respite to the hardships of street life. Others have jobs to go to but are trying to save money by living off the land rather than paying rent. Still others just want to get away from it all. Regardless of their circumstances, the ravine lands often lack the resources necessary to support a human lifestyle. For example, there is no sanitation so they use the a hole in the ground or use the river. There is no heating so they collect deadwood or chop down trees for a fire. There is no garbage collection so they just leave it scattered on the ground. As well when they finally do leave they abandon many possessions in their campground leaving a toxic mess for the rest of us to cleanup. There are rules that prohibit living in the valley but they are rarely enforced.

Dumping. As the city tightens up on regulations for disposing of waste at landfills or starts charging more for removal, some people think that a convenient and cost effective method is to dump their refuse in the ravines. There are many remote and out of the way places in the ravine system that allow people to dump tires, appliances, building materials, or just plain household waste without being seen. There is little risk of being caught and charged and even then the fines are ridiculously low.

Dog walking. There seems to be more dogs than ever in the city. There are a number of reasons for this that I won't go into but there is a definite negative impact on our natural areas, especially the ravines and valleys. When people take their dogs for walks in parks they like to let them off leash for exercise. While it may not seem that one dog is a problem, hundreds of dogs every day going over the same area is a big problem. Dogs like to root things out, dig up things, chase small animals, etc. This activity in the forest understory when done many times seriously degrades this delicate ecosystem. In some areas frequented by dog walkers, there is little left in the forest except trees and barren ground. When dogs run loose there is also less chance that the owner will dispose of dog feces that they leave wherever they feel like it. Since the ravines are often flooded all this crap gets washed away so we find that dog feces is a common pollutant found in our streams.

Mountain biking. The Don Valley has always been a destination for bikers who seek a challenging ride. Until recently this was considered a niche activity that attracted only a few aficionados. However in the past ten years there has been an explosion of activity in the sport. It is also an official Olympic sport and with the added publicity more and more young people are trying it out. With all the added people, the Don trails are now suffering from the overuse and are eroding badly. In addition the sport has segmented so it's not just trail riders. There is a subgroup called 'free riders' who tear down slopes where there are no trails looking for an added thrill. This causes untold damage to the delicate conditions found on valley slopes. Another group likes to build stunts. They build series of earthen ramps and jumps and supplement them with wooden trestles and bridges. What better place to do this than in the valley. These earthen and wooden works are often built without regard to the damage they cause to our natural areas.

There are other examples but these give you an insight into how we use our valleys and ravines. It all adds up to a collective lack of respect for our natural urban environment. Unfortunately policy makers say that the GTA will be home to 5 million more people in then next 20 years. If our current population overuses our ravines now what chance does the Don have in the future?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree, everyone does create the top five lists. Maybe you should checkout its a site that allows you to create and manage your top five, everything. Anyways, I read your article. I like it! Very well thought out.