The provincial government is investigating alleged illegal clearcutting of a woodlot which sits on public and private land near the Ojibway Provincial Nature Reserve in LaSalle.
The land is about 13,000 square metres and sits off Malden Rd. beside the Todd Ln. roundabout.
In an emailed statement to CBC News, The Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks said they were investigating "alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act at a privately owned site near the Ojibway Provincial Nature Reserve."
A biologist said that it is unfortunate the land was clearcut, as it was designated as a critical habitat for the massasauga rattlesnake by the federal government.
"We've been losing critical habitat to development over the years," said Jonathan Choquette, a conservation biologist with Wildlife Preservation Canada. "I don't want to see more get lost."
According to the Endangered Species Act, a first offence against it carries a maximum fine of $1 million for a corporation and a maximum fine of $250,000 for an individual. Subsequent offences see the fines doubled. The act also says the total fine paid could be affected by the number of animals, plants, or organisms involved.
No additional comment was provided by the ministry, citing the ongoing investigation.
Members of a private Facebook group called 'LaSalle Community' initially voiced their concerns when they noticed the trees were being cut down.
The town looked into this in March 2022. Acording to Mayor Crystal Meloche, town staff went to the site and asked the people clearing the land to stop until they obtained approval.
Meloche said the town then contacted upper government in April 2022. No further information was provided, but Meloche says the owner "still hasn't secured any of the formal approvals, etc. for their property."
The private land is held by two owners. One told CBC News they had nothing to do with the clearcutting. The other did not respond.
The clearcutting of the land comes as a private member's bill sponsored by Windsor West MP Brian Masse to turn the reserve into a national urban park is set to go before the House of Commons for a final reading on Feb. 3 before being voted on five days afterwards.
Danger to the environment
While Choquette admits he has not surveyed the site, he believes the land was also a habitat for both fox and garter snakes.
"Less space for a local population means increased risk of local extinction," he said.
Choquette is not the only one who is concerned about the clearcutting of the land.
Bill Roesel, president of the Friends of Ojibway Prairie, said property owners tend to clear land first before getting permission from the relevant authorities.
"This has been happening for a long period of time," he said. "Unless there's protected lands, it makes things very difficult to enforce."