By John Bacher
Posted March 17th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
(This is another in a series of pieces s by John Bacher that Niagara At Large will be posting in the days and weeks ahead on the recently released Crombie panel report and related issues to do with keeping what is left of our natural areas in Niagara and other regions of the province from being paved over.)
One of the disturbing features of the Crombie advisory panel’s recent report to the Ontario government is that it suggests a more general application of the idea of “Bio-diversity Offsetting” – currently being touted in the province’s Wetland Policy Review.
This brings about the prospect that Ontario’s Growth Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, the Niagara Escarpment Plan, and the Greenbelt Plan, could all have new provisions in them for conducting bio-diversity offsetting as a way to move natural wetlands out of the path of sprawling development..
In the Crombie panel’s review of the above four plans, unlike a Wetland Review, where the idea was clearly put forward for public discussion by the province’s Ministry of Natural Resources, bio-diversity offsetting comes out of the blue in the Crombie report.
There was nothing about this idea in any of the workshops and discussion booklets prepared by the Crombie panel for public meetings it held across the province. Crombie does not cite any participant at those meetings who touted the idea.
Yet there it is in Recommendation 44 in the Crombie report released earlier this year, discussed as part of the Natural Heritage Policy reference in the report, it is discussed again in Recommendation 47 as part of the Aggregate Policy.
Crombie’s combining of Aggregate Policy and bio-diversity offsetting is especially ominous in view of the fact that it comes at the same time the province is having a consultation to revise its wetland policy.
This is because the wetland policy soon after it came into force in 1993 became the only instrument of the provincial force that blunted the power of the aggregate policy which began to exercise draconian impacts a decade earlier. If the policy is changed to reduce protections on provincially significant wetlands, it could open up quarries on lands now protected from extraction.
One of the reasons the approval of the Niagara Escarpment Plan in 1985 was so important was that before then in the early 1980s the province’s aggregate policy had become a blunt instrument of the quarry lobby. The Escarpment Plan’s Protection and Natural Areas were in effect a ring of fire against quarries. Such strong protection on the Escarpment was required since everywhere else, municipalities became required to identify, map and protect aggregate resources.
After it was proclaimed in 1980,’. the Provincial Aggregate Policy to protect supplies as Crombie states “close to market”, made it impossible for municipalities and citizen group to protect farmland and natural areas from quarry proposals.
Every time such interveners went to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) to take on a quarry they lost. It was with a sigh of relief that by the mid-1990s the OMB rejected quarry applications for the first time, although only because they proposed site alteration that was prohibited under the new Wetland Policy in provincially significant wetlands.
Crombie’s language around bio-diversity offsetting is highly specialized being incomprehensible to a vast majority of even the most ecologically literate public. In both Recommendations 44 and 47 he speaks of what is termed a “mitigation hierarchy”, that is supposed to “Minimize the loss or degradation of natural heritage systems.”
I had no idea of what the concept of “mitigation hierarchy” meant until I had the good fortune to wander around the periodicals collection of the Robarts Library of the University of Toronto. Here I saw an article in the British magazine, Geographica. It was one the concept of bio-diversity offsetting in Great Britain. From this I learnt that the idea of the hierarchy, is that the first step is to avoid damage in the first place.
I am grateful for the translation by the British publication, Geographica, for some confusing words in the Crombie report. These are “mitigation hierarchy” and “emerging compensation protocols.” What it points out the obscure language means is that foremost, any assault on natural features should be avoided.
Strong “hierarchy” is what we have now in policies that protect provincially significant wetlands and the natural features of the Niagara Escarpment and Oak Ridges Moraine. These are protected from “development or site alteration.” In the new world of offsetting, this clarity is threatened by the “emerging compensation protocols.”
The same language should be applied to natural areas such as provincially significant forests and wetlands in all the four plans, which would protect these features from the offsetting schemes of developers and quarry operators.
By removing incentives for developers to use such tricks, this would nullify the idea of compensation through their destruction.
John Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario and long-time member of the citizen group, Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society. A past contributor of posts to Niagara At Large, his most recent book is called ‘Two Billion Trees and Counting – The Legacy of Edmund Zavitz’. John also works with the Greenbelt Program Team at the Sierra Club of Canada Foundation.
For more on the Crombie panel and how to review a copy of its report click on the reports title here – Planning for Health, Prosperity and Growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe: 2015 – 2041. – or click on the report’s Executive Summary.
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