“Save Hunt Club Forest” a community group formed two years ago to resist the initial clear-cutting of the red pines for a proposed parking lot expansion, continues to stand firm in its dedication to preserving the cherished green space. Despite the suspension of the parking lot expansion application due to relentless community opposition and a petition collecting over 20,000 signatures, the looming threat to these trees has persisted.

The Ottawa Airport Authority (OAA) delivered a disheartening announcement on Monday, November 20, revealing plans to clear the entire four hectares of Red Pine forest and market the land for development. Citing assessments from hired companies and internal evaluations, the OAA asserted that the neglected woodland posed a “tangible and immediate threat to public safety.” However, conflicting reports emerged, with forester Fraser Smith, commissioned by the City of Ottawa, maintaining that his recommendations did not include the drastic measure of clearing the land entirely.

Smith’s consultancy firm meticulously outlined six recommendations for the red pine forest, ranging from the passive approach of “doing nothing” to a more involved strategy involving significant thinning, leaving around 120 trees. Despite acknowledging decades of neglect, Smith argued that there was currently no imminent risk to public safety and that the forest was salvageable.

Adding to the complexity, another report cited by the OAA, conducted by McKinley Environmental Solutions in 2021, focused solely on a parking lot expansion proposal by a nearby BMW dealership. Biologist Andrew McKinley clarified that his assessment did not consider public safety, raising questions about the validity of using McKinley’s report as a basis for the extensive forest clearing.

In direct opposition to the OAA’s safety concerns, the community group argues that the forest successfully weathered the region’s destructive derecho last year with minimal damage. Members of the group have been actively tracking the area’s biodiversity, identifying hundreds of different species. The potential felling of these trees not only eliminates vital habitats but also deprives the community of a significant source of clean oxygen.

Undeterred by the setback, Save Hunt Club Forest remains adamant in its commitment to fight the OAA’s decision. Collaborating with local city councillors, including Riley Brockington, who has been a vocal advocate against the forest’s clearing from the beginning, and proposed alternatives like a land swap last year. Despite these efforts, we lack support from upper levels of government.

The Minister of Transport clarified the legal constraints surrounding the OAA’s responsibilities, emphasising the arms-length nature of its operations. Despite calls from Federal MP McGuinty and City Councillor Brockington for public consultations, the OAA has not yet engaged with the community, creating more frustration and opposition.

As the two-year saga over the Hunt Club Forest unfolds, the clash between development interests and environmental preservation persists. The OAA’s latest decision has not only triggered public outcry but also laid bare discrepancies in the justifications provided. The ongoing battle underscores the challenges many communities face in advocating for the preservation of green spaces in the face of relentless development pressures. With an unwavering determination to save Hunt Club Forest, our community group remains resilient, advocating for a reconsideration of the development.

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