We Still Have Time To Tell Government We Want What’s Left Of Our Wetlands Saved!
By John Bacher
Niagara, Ontario – A new “White Paper” from the Ontario government – titled “Wetland Conservation Strategy for Ontario” -marks another sorry stage in a provincial consultation process whose key goal appears to be to weaken one of the strongest cornerstones for effective land use planning across the province.
This is the establishment of what are termed Provincially Significant Wetlands”, (PSWs). Once these areas are identified, largely through a point scoring weighted towards maintaining the habitats of rare species, they are protected from what the policy terms, “site alteration.”
The basic wetlands policy of no site alteration – meaning no shopping centers, residences, parking lots on wetlands – has been in effect since 1992. It is far stronger than the protection of other natural habitats. These habitats include dry forests, non-PSW wetlands, thickets, alvars, prairies and savannas. Usually, these habitats essentially on a big scale are termed legally Provincially Significant Forests. In Niagara, like most upper tier or single tier, municipalities in Ontario, they are termed Environmental Conservation Areas (ECAs).
In contrast, protected wetland gets termed, Environmental Protection Areas, (EPA) on ECA lands development is permitted if guided through an Environmental Impact Study (EIS). This study is supposed to protect the ecological function of the forests where development takes place, in part by securing the establishment through field research, of additional EPA lands.
We can see the importance of the wetland policy in the current debate over the future of the Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls. Almost the entire 500 acre site is either provincially significant wetlands or forests.
A draft EIS, funded by the developer, has been prepared for the ECA lands. Not surprisingly, it does not recommend any more EPA lands be established.
Instead of urging that more lands be protected, the approach of the draft EIS is to support something it terms “translocation of species”. It suggests moving vernal pools from the non-PSW wetlands by excavating new pools within the protected areas. This risks spreading invasive species and cutting native trees and vegetation. It also comes up with the idea of protecting individual old growth trees, while developing around them.
What is so outrageous about the draft “Wetland Policy for Ontario” is that it proposes a fundamental weakening of wetland protections which have been in place for 23 years.
The proposed weakening measures in the draft policy are buried in the midst of a lot of pretty pictures, such as a wetland below the Midland Martyrs shrine. Alongside this holy image, we get a diabolical text that would open up now protected wetlands to developers. It reads:
“Some sites, features and habitat, such as provincially significant wetlands, may be ineligible for offsetting based on, for example, their biological and hydrological attributes, their vulnerability or irreplaceability etc.”
If the province were to endorse the principles of the draft policy, wetland protection in Niagara and across the rest of Ontario would be seriously gutted!
At the moment, at least, all provincially significant wetlands are “ineligible for offsetting.” (Such arrangements are permitted on non-PSW wetlands). If the draft wording now made public for our review and comment is approved and wetlands “may” become eligible for offsetting, then these lands – now protected from developers – could be destroyed by them.
When the draft wetland policy was released on August 8, 2016, it triggered a 100 day public consultation period, which ends on November 16, 2016. If you are one of a growing number of Niagara citizens expressing concern for saving what precious little is left of our wetlands in this region, I urge you to take advantage of this public consultation period to let the Ontario government know how you feel.
While comments can be made through the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry, the simplest way to comment is through the following government email address – ConservingWetlands@ontario.ca
You can also visit the Registry site yourself and review of the wording of the draft policy and proceed to the appropriate section of the site to comment to the government by clicking on – http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTI4NjQ2&statusId=MTk0NTUz&language=en
John Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario and is the Chair of Greening Niagara
For more on Greening Niagara click on – http://www.greeningniagara.ca/
Footnote from Niagara At Large publisher Doug Draper – If you would like more information on why destroying or “offsetting” wetlands for development is bad for the environmental health of our region, the following video produced months ago by Niagara native Owen Bjorgan who has been studying biodiversity at Guelph University is an excellent way to start. Click it on and share it with all of your online friends and associates.
NOW IT IS YOUR TURN. Niagara At Large encourages you to share your views on this post. A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who share their first and last name with them.
Visit Niagara At Large at www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news and commentary for and from the greater bi-national Niagara region.
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