On April 1st, the Government of Ontario announced it would establish a working group to identify opportunities to protect and conserve more natural areas that would “enhance the province’s natural diversity and provide more recreational opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors.”
This was welcome news for conservation groups like ours. In January, we published a Story Map based on years of collaborative work with grassroots organizations and Indigenous communities across the province.
Protected areas provide immense environmental, social and economic benefits (e.g., 6,400 full-time jobs, $466 million contribution to provincial GDP), including the conservation of wildlife habitat, climate change resilience, as well as opportunities for outdoor learning and recreation. A significant barrier to permanently protecting special places in recent years, however, has been the lack of political will and coordination between the responsible ministries – the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.
The government’s failure to achieve the United Nations target of protecting at least 17 percent of our lands and inland waters by 2020 was very much at odds with the will of the people: 9 out of 10 Ontarians supported increasing protected places to reach this target. In response to our Story Map, we received many recommendations for additional candidate protected areas. Here are just a few examples, with strong local support:
Nabish Wetland Complex
This Provincially Significant Wetland complex, located near Dryden, harbours many breeding wetland birds including least bitterns, black terns, Le Conte’s sparrows, Virginia rails, red-necked grebes and trumpeter swans. This site is threatened by industrial logging.
Located at the headwaters of the Wabigoon and Turtle River systems near Ignace and in the heart of Treaty #3 territory, Revell Lake is part of Sunset Country, a tourism destination renowned for its pristine lakes, fish and wildlife. There are 31 species at risk identified in the area including, bald eagle, common nighthawk, eastern whip-poor-will, olive-sided flycatcher, short-eared owl and snapping turtle. This site is threatened by a proposal to move and bury highly radioactive nuclear waste which, if it goes forward, will put the Turtle River – Lake of the Woods and English – Wabigoon watersheds, and the people who live along the waterway, at risk.
Ojibway National Urban Park
In Windsor several remnant tallgrass prairie parcels currently under various forms of management and protection could be united into one National Urban Park of approximately 350 hectares. Ojibway Shores, 13 hectares of undeveloped shoreline, is the remaining piece to protecting this entire corridor. Tallgrass prairie is the most endangered ecosystem in Canada yet is also resilient to a warming climate. Over 160 provincially rare species have been identified in this hotspot.
Quarry Lake in Russell Township outside of Ottawa is the only lake in the South Nation River watershed and is a major migratory bird staging area. Located on a 70-hectare property, this diverse ecosystem supports at-risk bats, bobolink, chorus frog, snapping turtle and more. The historic quarry site contains groundwater in a regional aquifer as well as Queenston shale, a provincially significant geological formation. These values are threatened by a proposal to develop a residential complex.
Important places like these abound across Ontario, and merit protection. The provincial government should do its utmost to expand Ontario’s protected areas system and meet the new international targets: 25 percent by 2025 target, and 30 percent by 2030. The Province’s Protected Areas Working Group will deliver a report with recommendations to the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks at the end of May. This will be done, however, without any formal Indigenous or public consultation.
Ontario Nature and our partners are working together to open up the conversation with the provincial government so that everyone has an opportunity to nominate the places they love for protection. Please join us for a webinar later this month where we will unveil a new, collective Story Map of candidate protected areas across the province and discuss potential paths forward. Register here and join us on May 27 from 7:00 to 8:30 pm.
Julee Boan is Ontario Nature’s Boreal Program Manager. Based in our Thunder Bay office, she works collaboratively with local conservation groups, First Nations, and industry to seek environmentally responsible approaches to economic development in northern Ontario. She has a Ph.D. in forest sciences with research focused on mitigating the impact of industrial logging on woodland caribou.
Jackie Ho started with Ontario Nature in 2012 as a member of the Youth Council and rejoined in 2020 in her current role as Protected Places Coordinator. She graduated in 2019 with a B.A. in integrative biology from Harvard College. Growing up in Toronto, Jackie’s love for nature grew from frequent visits to the zoo and family road trips around Southern Ontario. Her hobbies include skating, baking and exploring trails.
Ontario Nature is a charity that has been protecting wild species and wild spaces through education, conservation and public engagement since 1931. We are there when nature needs us most.