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Make Rouge National Urban Park 10,000 acres larger, advocates urge Ottawa

CBC News,
June 16 2016

Supporters of Rouge National Urban Park are asking the federal government to add 10,000 more acres to the park by cancelling plans for a Pickering, Ont. airport.

Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker said Wednesday that supporters of the park, on the eastern edge of Toronto, would like to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss the move. He said park supporters include former Toronto mayor David Crombie.

“It has taken us decades to get to 20,000 acres. There’s one chunk of land left, where people are proposing to build the Pickering airport, and we’re asking the federal government to cancel the Pickering airport and to put all of all of the publicly owned lands into the national park to make a 30,000 acre park,” he said.

“To have Toronto surrounded by a sea of forests and a sea of farms is a dream of mine.”

De Baeremaeker said he supports planned changes to the park announced last week by the federal government.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the priority of the park will be ecological integrity under amendments to legislation that created the park. She also said the government will expand the park by roughly 17 square kilometres and allow longer term leases, of up to 30 years, for farms in the park.

“There’s a lot of inertia. But it’s a new government. It’s a new day,” he said.

Anne Bell, director of conservation at Ontario Nature, a charitable organization that works to protect wild species and spaces, says that the park is very important to the ecological health of Toronto.

“It’s absolutely vital. This river and this watershed are home to an incredible diversity of plants and animals. It connects the Oakridges Moraine with Lake Ontario. It provides these key natural features with a corridor running along the Rouge,” she said.

She said it has more than 700 plant species, more than 200 bird species, more than 50 fish species and 19 species of reptiles and amphibians.

“It’s absolutely astounding. When you think it’s in the most highly developed and heavily populated part of the province, and of the country frankly, and we managed to maintain this jewel of nature,” she said.

“As we see farmland and natural areas disappear across southern Ontario, we realize more and more the value of a place like this. We need places to go for our own health, physical health, mental health and spiritual health. We need places like this where we can reconnect with something that is bigger than ourselves.”

The federal government introduced amendments to park legislation last Thursday in Parliament.

“If the amendments go through, that priority will be nature. Ecological integrity will going the priority of this park and that will guide managers in all of their decisions,” Bell said.

Land east of the park has been set aside since the 1960s for the proposed Pickering airport.

For CBC News Toronto TV footage of the recent Rouge Park updates, follow this link: http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/706504259677 (@4m23s)