To count towards the 17 percent target a protected area must:
Have a clear conservation purpose
Be protected for the long-term
Prioritize conservation over other objectives
Be effectively managed for conservation
Achieve conservation outcomes
Ontario falling short
In Ontario, we’re falling far short of that goal, with only about 11 percent currently protected.
We are doing especially poorly south of the Shield, one of the most biodiverse regions in the country, where only about three percent is adequately protected. One problem facing this region is that most of southern Ontario is in private hands, which makes it difficult to ensure that these biodiverse lands and waters are adequately protected.
We have a golden conservation opportunity in southern Ontario that cannot be ignored if we want to take meaningful steps toward meeting the 17 percent target. That opportunity lies within crown lands and our Provincial Wildlife Areas.
What are Provincial Wildlife Areas?
Provincial Wildlife Areas (PWAs) are Crown land sites designated under the Public Lands Act as areas managed specifically for wildlife and outdoor recreation, particularly for hunting and wildlife viewing. Management policies for individual PWAs are determined by local planning authorities and thus vary significantly from one PWA to the next.PWAs do not currently count towards the 17 percent target as they do not meet the standard of protection. Among other things, they are not permanently protected.
There are at least 18 PWAs in southern Ontario, from Aylmer to Cornwall, totalling over 18,000 hectares all with varying management policies, protections, and associated ecological values. These include several PWAs (Wye Marsh, Tiny Marsh and Brighton PWA) located within the ‘Bluebelt’ – a proposed expansion to the Greenbelt intended to protect wetlands, moraines, cold water streams and other critical water features.
Priority candidates for protection
Not surprisingly, in recent communications with community groups in the Simcoe and Peterborough areas, these and other PWAs have emerged as priority candidates for protection, given their important biodiversity values.
For instance, the 573-hectare Holland Marsh PWA, on the southern edge of Lake Simcoe, supports an array of wetland creatures and species at risk such as bank swallow, eastern wood-pewee and eastern prairie fringed orchid. It is an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest as well as a provincially significant wetland. But like other PWAs, it doesn’t meet the 17 percent standard for protection.
This gap, while regrettable, presents a potential opportunity. For example, with support and leadership from local First Nations, some PWAs could be eligible to become Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs), a designation that would provide long-term protection through Indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems. Or the Ontario government could regulate some PWAs as conservation reserves, which are permanently protected under the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act.
opportunities hold true not only for Holland Marsh, but for all PWAs
found across southern Ontario that are located on Crown land. Given the
scarcity of undeveloped land available for southern Ontario’s many rare
and at-risk species, elevating PWAs to IPCAs or conservation reserves
would be an important win for biodiversity and a significant step towards reaching our 17 percent target.
Anne Bell is Ontario Nature's Director of Conservation and Education.