A coalition of environmental groups is calling on the province to improve, monitor and implement policies to protect natural habitat in the Lake Simcoe watershed.
This follows the completion of a new regional analysis that reveals how well protected -- or not -- are the watershed landscape’s natural features
The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition is releasing a report on the analysis Nov. 28, 2019. Results of the report were scheduled for discussion with Simcoe County Councillors and staff at an event hosted by Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition Nov. 28 and later in the evening at a public event in Sharon.
“The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review provides an opportunity to “get it right” by protecting the natural cover that the ecosystem needs to be healthy for the long term. But it will not happen all by itself. The Province needs to put some muscle behind this and match the efforts of conservation organizations and municipalities,” says the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s Executive Director, Claire Malcolmson, who also authored the report.
The research and mapping were conducted to inform the Province’s review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, which is anticipated to start by the end of 2019.
The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition worked with cartographers from the University of Guelph to map the current policy protections that apply to natural areas in the watershed. They found that despite having a great deal of natural cover in the watershed, only 21 percent of the watershed’s land is protected by policies strong enough to provide assurance that those natural features will be well-protected from land use changes and development. Even in the areas included in the report’s “Best Environmental Policy Protection” category, lands can be developed if aggregate, (stone, sand and gravel) exist on the site, or for some infrastructure projects, such as the pending highway 400 – 404 connector.
In order to protect watershed health, and water quality, scientists recommend natural cover in the neighbourhood of 50 – 60 percent of a watershed. The Coalition’s report points out that achieving 50 percent natural cover in the future, including the 40 percent high quality natural cover target of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, requires that a plan be made to secure those protections for the long term. There are numbers of ways to work towards this as the report outlines. There are places for all levels of government to pitch in.
The project researchers analysed the strengths of the policies applied to natural features across the landscape, and made a distinction between places where land use changes would not be allowed, and where they would be allowed subject to specific criteria and conditions. The latter are included in the report’s “Moderate Environmental Policy Protection” category, which makes up 41 percent of the watershed. The report points out that those protections are weak. When challenged by landowners they can be overturned. This happens often enough that the authors point out that these areas are subject to a death by a thousand cuts, and are not necessarily protected for the long term.
Fully implementing the policies of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan is important, but policies are not the only solution. Permanent protection of ecologically sensitive lands through Land Trusts is an essential piece of the puzzle. Local land trusts, Couchiching Conservancy and Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust hone in on important natural features that they could purchase or protect, and particularly those next to areas that are well protected by policies.
The Couchiching Conservancy protects 14 properties, around 4, 406 acres, in or touching the Lake Simcoe watershed; the Nature Conservancy of Canada protects 3586 acres, and the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust currently protects 1531.5 acres in the Lake Simcoe Watershed. They recently expanded their land protection work into Simcoe County.
The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority also protects some properties and is encouraging municipalities to adopt their Natural Heritage System and Restoration Strategy. This would help achieve the goals discussed here and restore important linkages between protected features in the watershed.
The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s report is available for download at www.rescuelakesimcoe.org and https://www.simcoecountygreenbelt.ca/greenlands_report
About: The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition is a lake-wide member-based organization that provides leadership and inspires people to take action to protect Lake Simcoe. www.rescuelakesimcoe.org