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North America's Wetlands Need Planning and Protection
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF) has a mandate to halt wetland loss in Ontario, and just released the first draft of a Wetland Conservation Strategy that is intended to fulfill this important commitment. However, the draft Wetland Conservation Strategy suffers from a number of critical weaknesses, and will not deliver on protecting wetlands in Ontario.
As it is currently written, some of the key shortcomings of the draft Wetland Conservation Strategy include weak overall targets that would allow wetland loss in Ontario to continue; actual weakening of current protection that is provided for Provincially Significant Wetlands; no protection for internationally important wetlands, such as the Southern James Bay Ramsar Site in Ontario’s Far North; and no financial investment in wetland protection and conservation, despite the enormous economic and carbon benefits that wetlands provide.
WCS Canada’s Ontario Northern Boreal scientists have provided general recommendations to address these issues, and recommend that special consideration needs to be given to the globally significant wetlands in Ontario’s Far North. Wetlands are some of the most valuable ecosystems on the planet. They serve as natural water filters and regulators, help improve water quality, reduce erosion, and provide flood control. Wetlands provide important habitat to all kinds of wildlife, as well as providing food, water, and recreation for people. If all of those benefits weren’t enough, peatlands – wetland habitats like bogs and fens – are some of the most significant storehouses for carbon on the planet. Ontario’s Far North is dominated by peatlands, and these immense wetlands are globally important for their role in absorbing carbon emissions.
One of the OMNRF's key proposed approaches to conserving wetlands in Ontario is a “no net loss” policy. This type of policy requires that if human activity damages or destroys a wetland, then the same amount of wetland needs to be created or restored somewhere else to offset the loss. In theory, this leads to “no net loss”. In practice, however, these approaches are failing because there is a lack of compliance and monitoring, wetland ecosystem services are undervalued, and we are often not able to recreate and restore all of the ecological functions of natural and intact wetlands. Fragile ecosystems like peatlands, which contain deep layers of organic soil accumulated over hundreds or thousands of years, are impossible to recreate if they are damaged or destroyed.
In the face of accelerating climate change, it is also important that Ontario’s wetland strategy considers the effects of climate change on wetlands. Ontario’s wetland strategy must also acknowledge the value of wetlands, particularly Ontario’s Far North peatlands, in reducing atmospheric carbon, and link the protection of wetlands to Ontario's efforts at addressing targets for carbon emissions.
To better ensure wetlands are effectively conserved across Ontario, WCS Canada has recommended to OMNRF that “no net loss” should be considered only as a component within a broader framework that focuses on proactive wetland evaluations and watershed-level planning; explicitly includes wetland protection; and considers climate change.
We all benefit from the ecosystem services that wetlands provide. WCS Canada’s recommended approach will help ensure that Ontario's wetlands continue to provide benefits for generations to come.
If you would like to help protect Ontario’s wetlands, you can comment on OMNRF’s draft Wetland Conservation Strategy on the Environmental Registry before November 16, 2016.
Read what WCS Canada and 16 other organizations concerned about wetland conservation in Ontario are recommending to the OMNRF.
Read what WCS Canada is recommending to the OMNRF on wetland conservation.
Laws devoted to the protection and recovery of species at risk are meant to provide added protection measures after regular management approaches have been insufficient to stave off extinction risk. Once a species is “listed” by government as at risk of extinction, it becomes eligible for additional protection measures, particularly those related to safeguarding affected habitats. Depending on how complex the threats are, the set of actions required to reverse or mitigate impacts can be multifaceted and challenging to implement. WCS Canada scientists, who have considerable field and policy experience with a number of Canadian species, have contributed comments on species at risk recovery strategies that were put out for public review in the last several months.
The 16th North American Caribou Workshop was held in May in Thunder Bay - the first time in 20 years it was hosted in Ontario. This year’s workshop theme is Connections: exploring the link between people, disciplines and ecosystems to further caribou conservation and management. More than 250 people from science, academia, indigenous communities, NGOs, government, and practitioners – drawn by their common interest in caribou – will assemble to share their knowledge, ideas, stories, and most recent discoveries. This conference will provide a discussion forum to confront these challenges and fill gaps in knowledge and understanding of this fascinating animal.
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