Work to remove dead trees and those infested by the devastating Emerald Ash Borer has residents and users of the Mud Lake Conservation Area up in arms.

Mud Lake is one of the most ecologically important natural habitats in the urban part of Canada’s capital region. It is home to 269 species of birds, dozens of rare and uncommon plant species and wildlife species at risk. It is a provincially significant wetland and an area of natural and scientific interest by the provincial government. 

This winter, the National Capital Commission cut down trees in Mud Lake that “posed a safety risk to people” and completed work on other invasive species. According to the NCC, roughly 29 per cent of the total area of this natural habitat is covered by invasive, non-native plan species like glossy buckthorn and honeysuckle. 

“The trees that were cut – not cleared – were dead or would be in various states of decline though often that is not apparent to the untrained eye,” said Jean Wolfe, the Senior Manager of Communications with the National Capital Commission. “The goal is to take as flexible an approach that is feasible to ensure safety and manage the debris; this is mainly a function of the density/volume of ash on the site.” 

Residents knew the work was happening but thought it would just be a few trees here and there. Then, when the snow finally melted in the spring, wetland users were shocked to discover large sections of Mud Lake were unrecognizable. 

“It’s really disappointing frankly,” said Annie Boucher, the president of the Lincoln Heights Community Association. “You think someone will take care of that conservation area and they you see this happen and you just don’t understand.”

Wood waste, in the form of mulch and large pieces of broken trees, were left scattered on the ground. The NCC says the dead trees were mulched instead of removed from the area to protect the wildlife in the area. Experts say it could take decades for the wood to decompose, suppressing new growth in the meantime. 

“It looks brutal. It’s a big expansive opening that means the microclimate changes, that means wildlife can’t cross” said environmental consultant David Brunton. “The amount of tree debris is a problem for the water way.” 

Brunton helped the NCC create the pedestrian pathway through the wetland in 2004 and said it appears that more than just ash trees were cut down. He believes there was a better way to deal with the beetle and that this work was excessive. 

"The NCC's public trust is going to take even longer to restore than this area because they betrayed us and they betrayed this natural area they promised to take care of," Brunton said. "It may take decades to really come back."

The member of parliament for the area has spoken to the NCC and is proposing a meeting between experts and local residents. 

"Residents deserve answers and I want to make sure this doesn't happen again," said local MP Anita Vendenbeld. "I feel a lot of emotion when I see it because it's a special area for this riding and it's very difficult to see this kind of thing." 

The NCC says it will be surveying the area later this spring to determine where replanting should happen. 

"The National Capital Commission replanting standards, generally speaking, aim at planting a new tree for everyone that is cut, with indigenous species – as opposed to ash trees that were imported," Wolfe said. "Indigenous species will likely be more resistant to diseases and parasites. Though it is too early to discuss timelines for Mud Lake."