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Ed Smith. Photo courtesy of Ed Smith.

On Trent Land: An ED-ucation

Written by
Francene Francis
and
March 3, 2021

Canadian lands have been degraded for generations and the Trent Lands and Nature Areas Plan (TLNAP) presents more forms of degradation that the land will endure. Curious about the impact of the Lands Plan on Trent lands and ecosystems, I asked a colleague and avid environmentalist, Edward Smith, who is also the President of the Trent Society of Ecological Restoration (SERTU) about his opinions on the Lands Plan and its approval by the Board of Governors in early February, 2021. His opinions that will be stated are strictly his own and do not reflect the views of SERTU. 

On Trent Land: An ED-ucation
Ed Smith. Photo courtesy of Ed Smith.

Ed became involved with SERTU in his second year at Trent after wanting to be more involved with the student body. He sought to be a part of an active club that focused on issues he was passionate about; SERTU came to his rescue with their campaign to evaluate and protect wetlands around Trent.

Ed has always been interested in restoration, especially that of wetlands as he feels that they are undervalued by society and especially by Trent. The approval of the Lands Plan despite its damage to several wetlands proves his theory. During his tenure with SERTU, they have been involved in several restoration projects including wetland evaluations, and the expansion and addition to the Nature Area to the right of Promise Rock. They are currently involved in several projects including the attempt to control the gypsy moth population around Trent and have upcoming plans for a native restorative plant nursery for native and Indigenous pollinator species to rehabilitate the campus and its environs. 

While we spoke, Ed mainly had a negative connotation of the Lands Plan, though he acknowledged that there were salient efforts to protect the environment. He generally feels that the plan was shortsighted and development-driven without real thought into the effect it would have on students and the environment. In our discussion, Ed mentioned that North-South Environmental (NSE), the consulting company Trent utilized for land evaluations, is based in Guelph. It takes about two hours to drive from Guelph to Peterborough, accounting for an eight-hour workday, half the time would be spent on travel to and from the study site, leaving only four hours of actual land evaluation. According to Google Maps, there are 13 environmental consulting firms in Peterborough, why would Trent choose one in Guelph? 

Ed also mentioned the lack of initiative by the Trent government and the professor population on the active restoration and protection of the Trent environment. An example he used was the overgrowth of dog strangling vine (European swallow-wort), an invasive plant that strangles native species, on the lady Eaton drumlin. This overgrowth occurred on a trail that is frequently used by professors and lab demonstrators and yet the swallow-wort grew undisturbed because of the inaction of our educational leaders. Ed also informed me that most plants on campus are invasive and Trent knows of these environmental issues, they choose to be inactive unless they receive alumni funding or projects are completed by student groups. Many student groups would be willing but are limited in their activities by sparse levy amounts. This encapsulates the environmental issues of Trent, they want to fix them and we want to fix them, and the Lands Plan acknowledges that there are issues to be dealt with. The reality at Trent is that there simply isn’t enough funding circulating.

As we concluded our interview, I asked Ed if there was one thing he could change on the Lands Plan, what would it be? After pensive thought, he suggested that Trent should prioritize experiential learning over growth. One of the main marketing ploys Trent uses for prospective students is the promise of experiential learning. How is this learning possible when so much natural habitat is being degraded or lost? A poignant example Ed discussed was the movement of the Trent Experimental Farms (now called the Trent Farm). The soil of these farm plots has been specifically cultivated and adapted for years to grow the desired crops. When you move these farm plots, you’re essentially restarting that whole process in conditions that may not be favourable for growth. The Experimental Farm is a long-term experiment of successive Trent student generations. The purpose of the farms is to build upon the knowledge of previous scientists and by relocating these farms, Trent is cutting the experiment, telling students to start anew, and rendering the work of past researchers as insignificant.

In summation, Trent believes in growth, but growth at the expense of the environment. They’re willing to demolish a drumlin for Cleantech Commons, deplete Western chorus frog habitat for an old age home, construct roads disturbing wildlife corridors, and degrade wetlands for new buildings. 

These developments are great for Trent. Cleantech Commons will likely generate marvelous innovations in clean technology, and an old age home will grant nursing and medical students experiential learning, but the environmental costs of these developments are too great to ignore. As Ed so eloquently stated, the TLP “is like a smoker switching from cigarettes to vaping because it’s better for the environment”. It’s still damaging. 

If you agree with the opinions stated in this interview, I urge you to join SERTU. Though Ed’s opinions aren’t representative of those of the organization, the group focuses on the environmental protection and restoration of Trent lands. Be a part of the team fighting to protect Trent’s environment from future depletive actions.

*This article has been edited by the author for accuracy.

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