Letter to the editor: Need for wetland protection in Northeast Avalon region

As a response to the decision of the Torbay Council to rezone the very sensitive rural lands adjacent to the Gosses Pond wetland (January issue of NAT), I have decided to mount a campaign to save this area from development, to make the public aware of the discretionary power of Council to amend its Municipal Plan, and to seek the public’s assistance in helping to protect the rural character of Torbay. 

I have deep roots in the Gosses Pond area and feel a tremendous responsibility to protect this vulnerable habitat so that all future residents and visitors can enjoy the natural beauty of this wetlands area.  There are many compelling reasons why all residents should care about what happens to this unique and pristine wetland.  Gosses Pond is a rich, productive Horse Tail Marsh containing a massive food source for fish and wildlife. Its tributaries provide rich, but highly competitive, spawning grounds for the Rainbow Trout and Brook Trout. The fish in this system eke out a very fragile existence and any change in the habitat could have a devastating impact on their population.  There is an unusually large population of Canada Yew growing in the Gosses Pond area, possibly the largest grouping of these shrubs on the Avalon Peninsula.  

Gosses Pond is a waterfowl hot spot and has been declared a critical wetland under the Municipal Wetland Stewardship Agreement signed by Torbay in 1997.   Under this agreement and its accompanying Habitat Management Plan, Council is responsible for ensuring the wise use of this wetland and its associated uplands and for preventing the negative impact of development on this vulnerable habitat.   The towns new Open Space Management Plan, which will soon be presented to Council, calls for all rural lands to be protected including the rural lands around Gosses Pond.  Gosses Pond is a community gem!

Since 2001, Torbay has been losing its rural lands at an unprecedented rate, mostly through amendments to our approved Municipal Plan.  Even our agricultural lands are threatened, with 170 acres being identified for rezoning by the provincial government in the recent review of the St. Johns Urban Region Agriculture Development Area.  Urban sprawl is rapidly destroying the valuable green lands and forests surrounding the developed core of Torbay, threatening our rural way of life.  Gosses Pond is just the latest in a long and growing list of ponds and pristine lands already developed or being sought after by developers: Western Island Pond, Jones Pond, Island Pond Brook, Whittys Ridge, Watts Pond, Gallows Cove Pond, the highlands north of Indian Meal Line, South Pond, and so on. 

The past few weeks have opened my eyes to what is happening in Torbay and around the Northeast Avalon.  Everywhere you look, natural green spaces and wetlands are shrinking or put at risk.  I have talked to many people affected by development issues and spent time doing research on municipal governance.  I sat at a Council meeting where five councillors admitted they had not visited the Gosses Pond area as part of their comprehensive review of the rezoning proposal.  As of today, not one of them has accepted my invitation to tour the area. I have sent letters to Council and created a web site: http://www.conservetorbay.info. 

My hope is to form a network of individuals dedicated to protecting the green spaces of Torbay like Gosses Pond. I am new at this and need the help and support of all Torbay residents. I also welcome advice from residents of other communities in the Northeast Avalon and elsewhere in the province who have been affected by the destruction of our rural areas. The public consultation process on the Gosses Pond rezoning has not yet begun, however, when it happens, the public only has a twelve-day window to send in their comments.  We have been told that we would need upwards of 20-50 letters for Council to pay attention.  I will keep the public updated on what is happening with the Gosses Pond proposal and what you can do through my web site.

Please join me in my efforts to protect Gosses Pond and other precious green spaces from development so that we can leave a healthy, rich and diverse environment for future generations to enjoy.  If we dont protect what we have now, more backcountry will be destroyed and opportunities to experience the outdoors will continue to shrink in Torbay.

By Lee Harvey (leeharvey@nl.rogers.com)

This Letter to the Editor was originally submitted to the Northeast Avalon Times (March 2011 edition) and is republished on this site at the request of the author.