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Could ice age grass freeze Tiny's proposed administrative build?

'An environmental assessment and detailed species at risk study must be thoroughly completed before any shovel is put into the ground at the proposed site,' local naturalist says

A local naturalist is sounding the alarm over the proposed site of Tiny Township’s new administrative centre.

Paul Bell, a forest entomologist, says ice age grass has been identified and documented as growing directly adjacent to and perhaps on the proposed construction site located just north of the Huronia Regional Airport.

Bell says that finding means any planned construction or design work should be halted immediately.

“A similar situation occurred on Christian Island,” Bell tells MidlandToday. “A planned construction of a community centre had to be stopped to have its footprint altered. The ice age grass was relocated to a nearby suitable habitat.”

Ice age grass (Aristida basiramea) is considered a critically endangered species in Canada.

“Like the eastern meadowlark, butternut (tree), grass pickerel, Monarch butterfly or Blanding's turtle, they are all species at risk in Canada,” Bell says.

“All endangered species are protected by law against harm, harassment, capturing or threat.”

Bell notes and government documents back up his assertion that ice age grass only grows in two areas in all of Canada, near Cazaville, Québec and in Tiny Township.

“This grass has a spiritual relationship with the Huron-Wendat and Anishnaabe people, and a connection to their settlements, historical movements and their canoe routes around Tiny, Beausoleil, Christian Island and Cazaville,” Bell says.

The forked three-awned grass stands about 15 centimetres tall and “is quite unremarkable,” according to a Parks Canada document.

“The people of the Beausoleil First Nation had lived with the plant for thousands of years and they didn’t distinguish it from other grasses," Parks Canada notes. "But now the First Nation residents are active stewards for this endangered species.”

And while protection and recovery strategies for this grass exist on Christian and Beausoleil Islands as well as Macey Lake, Bell says most of Tiny Township does not have a policy for its recovery and protection.

“Activities that destroy ice age grass, as shown in multiple federal and provincial studies, include construction of buildings, drainage changes and soil disturbances,” Bell says.

“This directly terminates the grass along with harming other species at risk, thereby encouraging the growth of invasive exotics.”

A request for comment from the township was not received by press-time.

However, in the township’s official plan, it states that provincially significant wetlands, including up to 120 meters beyond them, are to be treated as 'Environmental Protection One.'

That means, according to Bell, that no buildings, structures or any site alteration are permitted within this designation that could lead to the threat of habitat disturbance of an 'at risk' species.

“An environmental assessment and detailed species-at-risk study must be thoroughly completed before any shovel is put into the ground at the proposed site of the administrative centre,” Bell says. “Adherence to the law of the Endangered Species Act is not a debatable issue.”

Parks Canada goes on to note that the annual grass is more common in parts of the United States with the very few Canadian locations fall in the northern limits of forked three-awned grass. Awns are bristles, which help protect the plant’s flowers.

“The grass’s sand barren habitat is very restricted and shrinking in area,” Parks Canada explains. “It is naturally maintained by phenomena such as fires, storms and drought. Land development has eliminated much of this habitat.

“In the absence of natural disturbance factors, particularly fire, what remains is steadily being lost. A large concentration of forked three-awned grass is found on Christian Island.”

And since the species also occurs in Georgian Bay Islands National Park, “Parks Canada has taken the lead in preparing a federal recovery strategy for the species.”

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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country‚Äôs most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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