Currently, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) is seeking feedback on how it will develop a natural heritage system for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH). If we want clean air, clean water and a rich diversity of plant and animal life to sustain present and future generations, we need a strong natural heritage system that is created through thoughtful and meaningful community engagement.
Here are just a few examples of the knowledge and expertise that communities can contribute to the planning of a strong natural heritage system:
Community members are experts of their local environment. A diversity of perspectives and expertise will more accurately identify community values and help develop consensus around the vision, objectives and targets that should guide the development of the natural heritage system for the GGH.
Strong integration of community voices into natural heritage system planning helps to create a greater awareness about the system and its importance, which can spark greater ownership of the system. Engaged groups can also act as defenders for the natural heritage system, especially in circumstances where a municipality or conservation authority cannot.
Community members have a significant role in monitoring and stewarding the local natural heritage system. For example, local land trusts can strategically secure important lands that contribute to the system. Community members can also restore areas (e.g., tree planting and removing invasive species) and track activities that may be negatively impacting the local system (e.g., illegal tree removal or dumping of contaminated fill) that are often shielded from the public/municipal eye.
While the MNRF acknowledges stakeholder and community engagement as a vital component of natural heritage system design, their proposed design for the GGH does not reflect the values of the very people on the ground who actively steward and protect our natural features and their functions.
Please join the Oak Ridges Moraine Partnership in urging the Province to improve opportunities for community involvement and address other deficiencies now, before the plan is finalized.
Joyce Chau is the executive director at EcoSpark, a member of the Oak Ridges Moraine Partnership.