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Ontario Nature calls for a vote for nature!

Thursday October 9, 2014

By Dr. Anne Bell
King Weekly Sentinel

The upcoming municipal election represents an important opportunity to ensure that nature and the many benefits it provides are protected in your community. Why should this matter to you? For starters, nature is fundamental to your health and happiness. Studies around the world have shown, beyond a doubt, that spending time in natural environments results in greater resilience to stress, increased physical activity, better mental performance and improved immune system functioning. Add to this other demonstrated benefits such as more positive social interaction, more self-acceptance, more self-discipline and a greater sense of purpose in life, and the picture becomes much clearer: access to nature in our communities is vital to our well-being.

Nature is also good for the pocket book. Our woodlands, grasslands, wetlands and rivers play a critical role in purifying water, controlling floods, improving air quality, retaining soil, sequestering carbon and providing habitat for pollinators and other wildlife. These and other services are valued at over $84 billion per year in southern and eastern Ontario alone. And nature provides these services for free.

We can no longer afford to take nature’s benefits for granted, especially in the face of climate change. We have begun to witness the astronomical costs of flooding and extreme weather events in Ontario. But the problems have only just begun and we need to prepare ourselves. Part of that preparation should include protecting natural heritage systems – core natural areas and corridors. Robust natural heritage systems help to shield us against floods, droughts and biodiversity loss, all anticipated impacts of climate change. They make us more resilient and better able to adapt.

Identifying natural heritage systems is a provincial requirement, but it is at the municipal level where the rubber hits the road. Municipal councils determine what is included in natural heritage systems and how and where growth and ensuing development will be accommodated.

We need to elect members of council who understand the importance of protecting and restoring our natural assets. Before you go to the polls, find out who will stand up for nature in your community. Then make your vote count. Vote for a livable landscape and a healthy future where nature is truly valued as the foundation of our social and economic well-being.

Dr. Bell is director of conservation and education at Ontario Nature.

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