On World Wetlands Day, the Ontario government deserves credit for significantly increasing the level of protection for wetlands from some of the highest threats that wetlands face across the Greenbelt, according to a new report from conservation groups.
Protecting Greenbelt Wetlands: How Effective is Policy? examines the Niagara Escarpment Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Greenbelt Plan and finds that those three plans are working well to protect wetlands from housing, commercial and other forms of land development.
“A previous study showed that Greenbelt wetlands provide $1.3-billion in economic value to the province every year for services such as water filtration, flood control, moderating the impacts of climate change, and recreation and tourism opportunities. And that price tag doesn’t include benefits that can’t be assigned a dollar value,” says Dr. Anastasia Lintner of Ecojustice. “If we don’t protect and restore our wetlands, higher future investments of public funds may be required to replicate these natural services, such as increased spending on expensive infrastructure like sewage treatment plants.”
Ducks Unlimited Canada, Earthroots, Ecojustice and Ontario Nature co-authored the report, which was made possible with the support of Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, Law Foundation of Ontario, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and J.P. Bickell Foundation.
The report also highlights areas for improvements, specifically to minimize on-going threats to wetlands such as infrastructure development, aggregate extraction, water-takings and peat extraction. Key recommendations put forward to the Province are to address: lack of on-the-ground monitoring of wetland impacts, under-resourced municipalities and conservation authorities, and better strategies to build landowner support for wetland conservation.
“We’re moving in the right direction right now and this report sketches out a game plan for how the province and municipalities can ensure Ontario’s Greenbelt achieves the goals of protection and restoration for our natural systems,” says Joshua Wise of Ontario Nature.
A 2011 report commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment found that for every dollar invested in protecting wetlands around the Great Lakes, we can expect $35 in return. “An investment in wetland conservation clearly pays dividends for all Ontarians”, says Jamie Fortune, Chief Executive Officer of Ducks Unlimited Canada.
“The need to protect and restore wetlands in southern Ontario is urgent,” says Josh Garfinkel of Earthroots. “We encourage the Province to continue to improve upon current protections for wetlands and thereby further minimize on-going threats and make the restoration of degraded wetlands a priority.”