Eco2Urb report: plan to protect

This past Monday,  July 6, Hudson council voted to release biologist Eco2Urb’s report and recommendations on how residents and administrations can best prepare to deal with the environmental challenges facing the town. [Go directly to the report at the foot of this post.]

Eco2Urb introduces us to the concept of resilience planning, “an approach that aims to optimize an ecosystem’s ability to resist and recover from disturbance. It ensures a natural area’s ability to keep providing ecosystem services despite environmental stressors such as invasive pests and disease, drought, and floods. Resilience planning maximizes an ecosystem’s biodiversity (including genetic, species and functional diversity) to better adapt to change.”

Commissioned in June 2019 at a total cost of more than $90,000 and delivered to council Jan. 21, 2020, the 97-page report builds on the 2008 Teknika HBA wetland/woodland audit and the 2016 CIMA+ conservation plan to provide the technical basis for a comprehensive approach to land use and management planning in all sectors of Hudson.

The study’s objective was to prioritize and rank natural areas for conservation across the entirety of the town’s natural areas in harmony with the Montreal Metropolitan Community’s goal of conserving 17 per cent of its total surface area. [The MMC’s Metropolitan Land Use and Development Plan (PMAD) seeks to concentrate development in sectors already supplied with roads, potable water, sewers, public transit, schools and businesses.]

“This prioritization will help inform urban planning initiatives and achieve the objectives set by PMAD, promoting biodiversity, ecosystem services, connectivity and resilience,” the report states. “Certain key elements of interest emerge from this extensive work, namely the importance of maintaining and expanding the network of blue-green corridors naturally found within Hudson due to its waterways and surrounding green infrastructure. This would contribute to supporting biodiversity while providing essential ecosystem services in suburban contexts.”

Two workshops and innumerable discussions later, I have come to see Eco2Urb’s report as a practical guide for this and future administrations in the resilience planning required to deal with the social and environmental challenges we all know are coming.  I can assure conspiracy theorists the report’s release was delayed by the need to have it translated and council briefed on its contents and implications. 

Only a fool would deny the growing pressure from environmental challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic is fuelling flight from cities to regions like Vaudreuil-Soulanges. Most of the undeveloped land in the county is zoned agricultural, raising the pressure to develop environmentally sensitive areas.  Climate change and incoherent upstream development threaten  the Viviry watershed, the source of our drinking water; over the last five years, residential projects in St. Lazare and Vaudreuil-Dorion have transformed replenishment zones for the Vaudreuil aquifer.

A study which would have allowed a 10-year comparison of production and consumption was cancelled, likely because it would have questioned the sanity of adding users by allowing development in the very production zones that once refilled the water table.

Warmer winters, invasive species and incompetent forest management are killing Hudson’s green canopy.  A third of Hudson’s forest cover are ash trees, doomed to slow death by the emerald ash borer. Our beeches, pines, hemlocks and even our maples are at risk from pests and disease. The only way to get ahead of the problem is by managing Hudson’s forests in collaboration with private landowners and developers. I proposed that the town consider adding forestry engineering expertise that would go a lot farther in maintaining our canopy than writing tree-cutting permits and tracking down rogue chainsaws.

Applied at the policy and operational levels, resilience planning:

— Conserves wetlands to improve overall tolerance to waterlogging, especially in the flood zone along the Ottawa River;
— Promotes tree functional group diversity to improve forest resilience;
— Favors a range of forest management practices (e.g. planting, selective harvests) that
contribute to stand- and landscape- level habitat diversity;
— Focuses conservation efforts on forests with higher levels of functional diversity;
— Focuses restoration efforts on forests with poor resilience;
— Sensitizes residents as to vectors of invasion for exotic pests and diseases (e.g. firewood), and on how to identify main biotic threats;
— Restores blue-green corridors between fragmented habitat patches;
— Conserves fragments of quality habitat that can serve as steppingstones facilitating animal movement;
— Protects ecological corridors essential to biodiversity.

Eco2Urb begins its report by identifying some of the global drivers of the environmental challenges to conservation: “Many of the challenges faced by [Hudson] are expected to grow in severity in the next century. A 3.1◦C increase in mean annual temperature is predicted for the municipality by year 2070 under a high carbon emissions scenario, which is expected to lead to more frequent flooding and drought events. […] Invasive pests and diseases, such as the emerald ash borer, are already impacting Hudson’s urban canopy. Additional accidental imports, such as the Asian longhorned beetle, have been recorded in southern Ontario and threaten the integrity of the Town’s forested ecosystems.”

Added to that, habitat fragmentation caused by urban development facilitates the widespread propagation of exotic plants that displace native species. “In a context of urban expansion and global environmental change, science-based solutions are needed to help maintain key natural areas, biodiversity and ecosystem services (e.g. climate regulation, flood control, recreation).”

Is Eco2Urb worth $100 grand? It depends on how we put it to use. The Prévost administration spent $70,000 plus on a strategic plan sitting unapplied and forgotten on the town website. I want to see Eco2Urb’s applications applied, embedded, integrated, operationalized. This may require changes to master plan bylaws 525 and 526 as required. It doesn’t mean freezing everything until someone gets around to it.

I can see linking blue-green corridor connectivity with the need to protect Hudson’s potable water source. I see Eco2Urb being applied in debating which infrastructure needs immunizing, which sector requires remediation or which issue demands regulation.

I can see the need for specialist intervention in ensuring the long-term health of Hudson’s forest canopy with a policy of diversifying the number of species with an emphasis on overall sustainability.

I insist on the need for a scientific basis on which this and future councils can direct development in harmony with our architectural and natural heritage. Eco2Urb has introduced us to measurement tools allowing Hudson’s urban planners and property owners to identify environmental constraints on a lot-by-lot basis.

If we stay on Eco2Urb’s core message — environmental protection as a component of the planning process — it was cheap at the price. If not, it’s another strategic plan.