Value in the eye of the beholder

By Darren Lum

We never truly understand the value of something until it’s gone.
There’s a well-known aphorism related to a person’s gullibility, or a lack of intellect, by saying, “If you believe that, then I have swampland in Florida to sell you.”
Conventionally, wetlands (or swampland in the U.S.) are not a selling feature for people interested in buying real estate. However this isn’t matched by the value wetlands serve. As the protest in Haliburton on Gelert Road earlier this year reminded us of it’s clear perception differs and the value placed on them is different, depending on who you talk to. While some through social media exhibited anger over the filling, others showed a disregard for the true complexity of this issue and the harm filling poses for not just a wetland by the road, but how it represented an attitude that needs to change.
It’s not even a private property ‘let me do with it as I please’ versus ‘let’s save all wetlands’ argument.
Yes, a Dysart et al site-alteration bylaw in place could have enabled bylaw enforcement officers to act instead of waiting for upper levels of government agencies to intervene. Heck, the Haliburton County shoreline preservation bylaw would’ve served the same function, if it had been passed. That’s the issue now. There’s not much hope for a consensus at this point at the county level, so Dysart et al considering their own is a good thing.
What the Haliburton scenario does though is it serves as a reminder of how a municipal bylaw can ensure action is taken sooner rather than later because it is in the public eye. Interestingly, close to the time of the Gelert Road incident there was another wetland that was being filled near Elephant Lake that didn’t make the headlines, which was brought up by Dysart et al’s Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy at a regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 25.

With most bylaw infractions, it’s complaint driven. No complaints and enforcement isn’t likely unless observed in the act by a member of bylaw enforcement. Complaints raised concerns for the wetland at the centre of the maelstrom that set off discussion and calls for accountability.
It’s clear with the social media posts and close to two dozen letters that were sent to Dysart et al council that people not only wanted action, but expected immediate follow-up. Villianizing the property owner isn’t the answer. It’s a start for discussion.
The key to this is education. It’s important the public learns that wetlands does more than provide a habitat for wildlife, but serves everyone, whether we’re interested in the aesthetic of a natural setting, or protect the environment conducive to hunting and fishing, or feel good about ensuring a special turtle with a backstory to match could take her winter slumber without threat, or ensure quality of our water isn’t hampered further by filling in nature’s water filter.

Much of what is good depends on the community. It goes beyond enforcement. Yes, a site-alteration bylaw is needed. However, any bylaw, or any law, really, is only as effective as the enforcement behind it. We’ve seen in Ottawa recently how laws are only as good as the enforcement behind it. With a growing year-round population, we can’t rely on the municipality to do what we all need to do together, which is help conserve what we have … even if at first glance its seems like it doesn’t have value.