Dr. Doug Larson's Opinions and Comments

May 16, 2022

Doug Larson is an Emeritus Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, at the University of Guelph, having retired after a 35-year teaching and research career. He is best known for the discovery of the ancient forests of the Niagara Escarpment.  Four books and 130 research papers formed the core of his distinguished academic career.  See his credentials and curriculum vitae here.

We contacted Dr. Larson and he was kind enough to provide us with his opinions and commentary in several email exchanges.  He has provided us with permission to share what he has written, with the simple caveat that it be clearly understood that he does not take sides on a given issue, but responds to such matters objectively as a scientist, and based on his considerable knowledge and applied experience.

Here are the key excerpts from the email exchanges from Dr. Larson to Friends of 12 Mile Creek:

April 15, 2022

“I think your group has exactly the right concerns about the construction of a mountain bike trail along the sloped edge of the 12 mile creek valley.  Bearing in mind that I have not actually walked or sampled the area myself, I have made some simple observations based on the videos and a study of the satellite imagery.

 The second growth forests from the riparian zone to the forest ecotone at the top of the bank appear to be undisturbed with the exception of walking trails.

  1. The slope is unstable.  The nature of the shales and clays of the Escarpment in this area creates soils that are prone to slippage because of their high-water content.  Erosion would be accelerated by both construction of trails and their subsequent use. Any use of the trails in the frost-free months would likely results in extreme broadening as cyclists avoid soil sloughing.
  2. Any trail created in this area will result in expanded use once the games are finished.  The trails will degrade over time because of lack of maintenance.  Any damage created during construction and use during the games, will become greater once the games are finished.  Regulations will not help: the experience from other Conservation Authorities should have told the NPCA that.
  3. The site will be dangerous to all but the most experienced mountain bike cyclists.  People will be injured or killed using this trail on the route described in the application and shown on the satellite map.  The proponents of the trail system, the Games organizers, the City, the mayor personally, and the NPCA will be liable in my opinion because they will have been warned about the risks to the public.  The first time a hiker is struck and killed by a cyclist, the trail system will likely be closed.  As a result, all of the effort and expense of doing the construction in the first place will be for nothing.
  4. The above warning should be written and presented to the NPCA and all other concerned so that they cannot deny the risks.

 Of course, I have to admit that these are personal opinions based on limited information in this specific case, but considerable experience as a scientist studying human disturbance in other natural habitats.

 If someone were to approach me to ask if such a proposal would be acceptable to me, I would answer with a resounding ‘no’.  The environmental, financial, and public safety costs grossly outweigh the benefits”.

April 15, 2022

” … the real issue for the NPCA should be liability. They will end up getting sued for injuries and probably death within the first season after the games.  They should have contacted the HRCA (Halton Conservation) or the GRCA (Grand River Conservation Authority) who both have regretted allowing super-high-risk sports from expanding the way they have.  There will always be people who don’t follow the posted rules and still hurt themselves.  Mountain biking is indeed an extreme sport that places great pressures on the athletes and the forests both.  Even construction is risky and damaging.  It is not worth the cost in terms of $ or the environment.”

 May 11, 2022

“I am not on anyone’s side. I am on the side of the natural habitats of southern Ontario and elsewhere.  To that end, I am not a NIMBY person, rather I am a NIABY (not in ANYONE’S backyard).  I am against mountain bike trails in any undisturbed or minimally disturbed or recovered forest, wetland or other location where a trail does not already exist.  I’ve been through this with climbers and hikers before and my thoughts don’t change much. 

The natural habitats – the wilderness – in southern Ontario have shrunk from 50% reported in 1880 to 0.07% in 1989 (OMNR).  The areas that remain, the areas that are recovering naturally, and the areas that have been restored derive no benefit at all from any kind of human recreational activity.”

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