Midhurst, July 11, 2017 – Late last week, the Province released regional plans for a Natural Heritage System and Agricultural System in the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH). The plans are an important step towards protecting and recovering biodiversity while supporting healthy, thriving communities. “We’re thrilled to see the Province step up,” says Joshua Wise of Ontario Nature, “the natural heritage and agricultural systems mapping will underpin Greenbelt expansion into Simcoe County, which we hope to see initiated in the coming weeks.”
The Natural Heritage System plan identifies a network of forests, rivers and wetlands that provide essential habitat for wildlife. “In Simcoe County, we’re blessed to have the Minesing wetland and the Nottawasaga River supporting diverse wildlife and making our community so special,” says Margaret Prophet, of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition. “We were disappointed to see that important natural habitat along stretches of the Nottawasaga River outside of Wasaga Beach and near Stayner are largely left off this map – it feels like an oversight to me.”
Across most of Simcoe County, the minimum size for core areas of habitat – which are the building blocks of natural habitat – was set at minimum of 500 hectares. This large minimum core size overlooks many smaller features that provide an important natural refuge for wildlife vulnerable to development. “This proposed mapping only protects 73% of the region’s cold water streams,” says Mark Bisset of the Couchiching Conservancy, “to truly protect this important fish habitat we need to make sure all our cold water streams receive provincial protection with adequate buffers on either side of either bank.”
In the Province’s proposed plan, there is no indication of how local expertise and data from municipalities and conservation authorities will be factored in to the draft maps. “Since the 1990s, the Conservation Authorities have led watershed-wide natural heritage planning and protection,” says Pamela Fulford of the Carden Field Naturalists. “It will be vital to include conservation authority expertise to ensure we develop a strong plan for our natural heritage system – without a good plan resulting in strong action, we shall be just like Nero, fiddling while Rome burns.”
The natural heritage system map was released with the Agricultural System plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Together, the two plans will bring Greenbelt-like protections to natural areas, farmland and farming activities across the GGH. “This agricultural system has the potential to support a viable farming economy throughout Simcoe County,” says Bernard Pope of Ontario Farmland Preservation. “Recognizing the importance of and protecting productive farmland as well as the agri-food network which ranges from distributors and grain elevators to mechanical services and feed supplies, will help support farmers across Simcoe County.”
The Province released the plans on the Environmental Registry for a 90-day public comment period, which concludes October 4, 2017 (Policy Proposal Notices: EBR 013-1014 and 013-0968).
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Ontario Nature protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement. Ontario Nature is a charitable organization representing more than 30,000 members and supporters, and 150 member groups across Ontario. www.ontarionature.org.
SCGC: The Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition is a diverse coalition of 30 organizations from across Simcoe County and the province calling on local and provincial leaders to expand the Greenbelt further into Simcoe County. The SCGC looks forward to engaging the public and stakeholders about the role an expanded Greenbelt would play in the future of Simcoe County www.simcoecountygreenbelt.ca.