Two Highlands environmentalists are criticizing Dysart et al council for an education-first approach to protecting waterfront and environmentally-protected zones.

Terry Moore, vice-president of Environment Haliburton! said since the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations (CHA) Love Your Lake project, “it’s mind-blowing to me that Dysart can still be seriously debating education versus regulation while natural shorelines keep on being hammered by development pressure.

“Everyone agrees that education about the importance of natural shorelines is essential but it is patently obvious that it is not sufficient.”

Moore added after the Love Your Lake assessment, and despite continuous lake association and CHA educational efforts, “things have not improved one iota and development projects continue to eat away at what’s left.”

He is hopeful the County shoreline preservation bylaw, which went into effect April 1 in Algonquin Highlands, Highlands East and Minden Hills, will start turning that around in “some small way, at least with respect to future major projects.” Dysart et al opted out of the County bylaw for its own made-in-Dysart model.

Council decided at a June 22 meeting to first focus on education and then work to pass a bylaw, with at least one councillor questioning whether a bylaw is actually needed.

Moore said, “we cannot educate our way out of the natural shoreline crisis any more than we can educate our way out of the climate emergency.”

In his opinion, Dysart mayor Murray Fearrey and his council “are just ragging the puck while the same old game grinds on. Travesties like clear-cutting cry out for a site alteration bylaw with teeth in addition to a strong natural shoreline preservation bylaw.”

County director of planning, Steve Stone, confirmed for The Highlander July 10 that there had been a recent clear-cut on Kennisis Lake in which 14 mature trees were felled. Stone said a fine and restoration order had been issued under the County’s tree preservation bylaw.

He added the County is investigating seven additional works without a permit. He did not say in which municipality.

Stone said several exemptions have been granted, and the first permit application was filed last week under the new shoreline preservation bylaw.

Alex McMaster has become the County’s first permit administrator/bylaw compliance officer. He started July 10.

Moore said society doesn’t rely exclusively on education to slow speeding drivers and, “we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in the educational basket when it comes to protecting the ecology on which the entire County’s future depends either – including our precious natural shorelines and wetlands.”

With Dysart having the largest percentage of privately-held land in the County, Moore noted what happens there will have an outsized impact on shorelines, water quality, and biodiversity across the entire region.

“We can’t afford this nonsense and the community will pay dearly for their astounding lack of leadership.”

The Land Between and Turtle Guardians’ founder, Leora Berman, was also critical of Dysart first promoting education with a bylaw not yet in place.

“While education is important, it doesn’t work without pragmatic or enforceable solutions. That has been our experience, and that of our partners at Watersheds Canada, who are the designers of the Love Your Lake program.”

She added, “there have been ample resources, including educational resources, in Haliburton County, thanks to multiple groups, for at least the last 10 years. That has not stopped the over-development of shorelines and the loss of significant fish nurseries and wildlife habitat.”