The Ottawa Airport Authority has announced it is moving ahead with a plan to clearcut a section of forest along Hunt Club Road, despite community outcry.
The airport authority said in a news release Monday that the decision was “difficult”, but cited the poor health of the trees as its reason for moving ahead with the plan.
“Our decision to remove the trees is motivated by our commitment to safeguarding the well-being of Ottawa residents and the Hunt Club community by mitigating the risks associated with this neglected plantation’s dangerous state,” the airport authority said. “While we understand that there will be members of the community upset by this news, safety is of paramount importance to the Ottawa Airport Authority.”
The land is home to a plantation of red pine trees, which are grown to be harvested for use as telephone poles and lumber. The plantation was initially established in the 1950s and the area has since become a popular green space for residents, despite being classified as a commercial lot under the approved Airport Land Use Plan.
The airport authority says it plans to clearcut about 10 acres of land along Hunt Club Road, but says the trees to the south, which are on Department of National Defence land, will remain in place.
The area highlighted in red (YOW Pines~10 acres (19%)) is what the Ottawa Airport Authority says will be cleared. The federal lands highlighted in green (DND area ~43 acres (81%)) will not be cut. (Ottawa Airport Authority)
The airport authority says the plantation has not been properly maintained over the decades and the trees are prone to falling, especially during extreme weather events. The airport authority also said the site “lacks significant wildlife presence and biodiversity overall” and is frequently subjected to trespassing, litter, illegal waste dumping and vandalism, and that people often make fire pits in the area.
An undated image showing littering in the Hunt Club forest pines area. (Ottawa Airport Authority)
“Multiple consultants have confirmed that the only way to ensure the area is safe is through the removal of the trees,” the airport authority claimed, citing reports by McKinley Environmental Solutions and FSmith Consulting.
The 2021 study by McKinley Environmental Solutions said the site was “not considered an ecologically significant feature” and that removing the trees was not anticipated to have any significant negative impacts to the natural features and functions of the site.
The study was prepared for Novatech, which was the planning consultant for Otto’s BMW. The car dealership was planning in 2021 to build a parking and auto storage lot on the site once the trees were cleared, though the dealership later announced it was pulling its application.
Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Jessica Bradley posted on X to say she was disappointed.
“Despite this land being entirely federally owned, I am disappointed by this news and had hoped through the many efforts of the city, airport authority and the community that we would have found a better outcome. Particularly in a climate crisis,” she wrote.
A group called “Save Hunt Club Forest” launched a digital petition in 2021 to save the forest from development, which garnered more than 21,000 signatures.
“For many members of our community the stand of trees is a significant amenity. Accessible on foot, it is a convenient place for recreation for all ages, supporting physical and mental well-being,” the group says on its website.
Citing the city’s 2019 declaration of a “climate emergency”, the group said any move to destroy the trees would be counterproductive to the city’s climate goals.
The group lists more than 130 species of trees, shrubs, wildflowers and animals that make their home in the woods.
“Our city needs to be building solutions that will mitigate climate change and biodiversity loss, not accelerate these changes,” the group says.
River Ward Coun. Riley Brockington moved a motion at city council last year to tie community improvement grants for the airport to maintaining the forest, but it was not supported by council.
The airport authority says all other options for the land have been exhausted and it could not come to a mutual agreeable solution with the city of Ottawa to exchange city land for the forested area.
No date for the removal of the trees has been set, but the airport authority says it will begin clearing the area in the “days and weeks ahead” before marketing the land for development. The authority says there is no specific development in mind at this point, as all previous interest has either waned or found alternate locations.
“At this point, the failure to proceed with the tree removal on this site poses a tangible and immediate threat to public safety, which we cannot overlook,” the airport authority said.
“Our decision to remove the Pines plantation trees is motivated by our commitment to safeguarding the well-being of Ottawa residents and the Hunt Club community by mitigating the risks associated with this site’s dangerous state. We are committed to proper environmental stewardship of all airport lands as set out and enumerated in our Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) report.”
An undated image provided by the Ottawa Airport Authority showing what it called a tree fall hazard in the forested area along Hunt Club Road that it plans to clearcut. (Ottawa Airport Authority)
‘The forest is alive’
Michael Vorobej, with the Save Hunt Club Forest group, said he does not believe the airport authority’s claims that the forest is dangerous and needs to be cleared.
“The forest is alive and it’s doing well,” he told CTV News Ottawa by phone Monday. “If the trees were going to come down, they would have come down last May.”
The May 2022 derecho storm damaged a significant number of trees across Ottawa, including in Hunt Club forest. The airport authority cited the derecho as an example of extreme weather that could threaten the area and the people visiting it, but Vorobej says most of the trees remain in place.
“I don’t think these trees pose a danger to anybody,” he said.
Vorobej says he wants the federal government to review the Ottawa Airport Authority’s mandate to develop the land, though he said the federal government has not engaged meaningfully with them over the last two years.
“We don’t blame the airport. They have a mandate. We want to know why the mandate is still in place.” he said.
The group plans to meet Monday evening to discuss its next steps.
“I don’t think it’s a done deal,” Vorobej said, of the plan to cut down the trees. “We need the government to step in and review this mandate. We want to see a balance of action and rhetoric. All we’re asking is for the federal government to listen and ask whether destroying this forest is in keeping with its climate goals.”
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