Protecting Simcoe County wetlands proves to be a challenge
Biologists were trained to evaluate wetlands, writes Bob Bowles
Sunday, November 15, 2020
Wetlands are lands that are seasonally or permanently covered by shallow water or lands where the water table is close to the surface. These hydric soils are home to water-loving (hydrophytic) plants and other species that need wetlands for their survival.
Many of these are now species at risk in Ontario. Ontario is fortunate to have over 330,000 square kilometers of wetlands, 25 per cent of all the wetlands in Canada and 6 per cent of all the world’s wetlands. However, most of these are in Northern Ontario. The alarming rate of loss of wetlands in Southern Ontario and the great features they provide prompted the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to create an Ontario Wetland Evaluation System in 1982, revised in 1984, 1994 and 2002.
Southern Ontario had lost 72 per cent of its original pre-settlement wetlands to development by 2002. This placed Ontario in a unique position of responsibility to protect remaining wetlands for current and future generations.
Ontario’s strategy was to train biologists to evaluate the very best wetland in both southern and northern Ontario and protect those that scored the highest by designating them Provincially Significant Wetlands (PSW).
I realized by 1990, the important functions these sensitive ecosystems provide like flood mitigation, clean water purity, species at risk habitat, changing climate adaptation, human recreation, soil retention, carbon sequestration and species biodiversity. I took this course in the early 1990s and became a certified wetland evaluator.
Over the last 30 years, I have evaluated and scored many wetlands, acted as an expert witness against wetland development first in Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) and then Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) hearings. I am proud to say over those years, I protected several PSWs from development.
I look back at the government targets of the 2010 baseline: that by 2025, net loss of wetlands halted where loss has been the greatest and by 2030, net gain of wetland area and function in these areas with progress monitored and assessed on a five-year time frame. This included increasing knowledge and understanding of wetland ecosystems and raising awareness about the importance of wetlands. A wonderful Ontario plan to first stop the loss of wetlands and then restore wetlands where they have been lost by 2030.
But then came Premier Doug Ford and minister’s zoning orders (MZO) allowing developers to overrule previous environmental orders to protect PSWs.
Bob Bowles is an award-winning writer, artist, photographer and naturalist, and founder and co-ordinator of the Ontario master naturalist certificate program at Lakehead University.
Nov 16, 2020: This article has been edited from a previous version to include a longer version of Bowles' writing.