What’s in the wilds of Pierrefonds West?
A nature walk with David Fletcher…
by John Symon
We wrote earlier about the controversial 6,000-home residential project in Pierrefonds West that
is strongly opposed by environmentalists. To understand their point of view, The Times did a nature walk there with David Fletcher, 75, a retired teacher who is extremely knowledgeable about local flora and fauna. This 185-hectare parcel was farmed until the 1980s, but now sits fallow.
“The ground will be wet so wear rubber boots and bring along bug spray,” Fletcher advised the
day before. He suggested we meet there at 6AM on a Sunday morning. A swarm of mosquitoes greeted us at the parking lot and I chose to wear a bee suit. Together with big rubber boots, it felt like I was
wearing a spacesuit.
“This is called ‘wet meadow’ and you can see why,” Fletcher said above the squelching noise made by our boots in the muck. We tromped around for five hours and nowhere did we hit dry ground.
“Because the ground is so humid, this is a bad place to build houses. Even with three feet of landfill everywhere to build the ground up above the water table, capillary action will still draw water into basements. This will lead to mould problems that are bad for people’s health.”
“The land cannot be used for conventional agriculture either, it is too wet for most crops to grow. It was previously used for hay crops that are very water-tolerant.” For Fletcher, the land must become a nature preserve.
While there, we spotted a Cooper’s hawk, yellow warblers, a merlin, a turkey vulture, blue herons, a
northern waterthrush, a barn swallow, and Bohemian waxwings.
Walking this area is not for everyone; clouds of mosquitoes circled us the whole time. Comically, Fletcher advised against taking a shortcut through some woods, “because there are more mosquitoes in there!” I confess being glad to end the walk and finally take my bee suit off.
Fletcher, on the other hand, was a man in his element, tromping through grasses sometimes chest high, following indistinct paths from one field to the next. For him, everything had a name in both English and Latin. He stopped under a tree, disappointed not to rediscover a deer leg left by coyotes after a recent kill.
“Our ancestors lived for millennia in African savanna not very different from these fields. We are
adapted for this; even the smells here boost our immune system.” On the way back to our cars, Fletcher broke off a clump of red sumac fruit to nibble; I hesitantly tried some. He remarked on its refreshing lemony taste that pioneers made pink lemonade from.
It is tremendously clear that the abandoned farm fields of Pierrefonds West are a paradise for local flora and fauna, including species that are threatened or nearly so (bobolinks and northern map turtles among animals, wild ginger among plants). Sadly, we are entering a period of mass extinctions on a world scale; biodiversity will become the gold of the future. Wild things now need our help to save them; to do that, we must preserve a variety of habitats.
“All of this is considered ‘unimproved’ land by local politicians, developers, and urban planners. That’s mainly because so few of them know anything about biology,” concluded Fletcher.