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Nature notes: Rouge Park protection problems

Monday February 2, 2015

By Adria Vasil
Now Magazine

The feds issued celebratory press releases last week heralding the passage of an act that would transform the Rouge into Canada's first national urban park. Except the province and a coalition of nature groups say transferring the land to the feds under this act would leave the 40-square-kilometre swath of forests and wetlands east of Toronto significantly under-protected.

Environmentalists first saw the concept of designating the Rouge to become a national park as a way to beef up ecosystem protection and put an end to poaching and dumping in North America's largest natural urban park. In a press release last week, federal environment minister Leona Aglukkaq promised as much, saying stiff fines and year-round patrols would be put in place to uphold a ban against hunting, mining, dumping, poaching and more.

The thing is, the province and a coalition of environmental groups including Environmental Defence, the Suzuki Foundation, Sierra Club and Ontario Nature aren't buying it, noting the feds' failure to establish nature conservation as the park's top priority. They say national park standards have been effectively watered down in the Rouge's case so that prioritizing ecological protection is more of a suggestion than an imperative. the wording loophole could leave room for questionable development in the future.

Ontario infrastructure minister Brad Duguid has sent the feds numerous letters threatening to stop the transfer of provincial ownership of the Rouge unless the act is strengthened to "meet or exceed" existing Greenbelt and Rouge Park Plan protections. Now that the act has passed in the House of Commons, Duguid has gone on record saying, "They've blown it."

The act is awaiting final approval in the Senate. If the feds go ahead without the province on board, Rouge National Park would be less than half its current size and wouldn't actually include the rouge valley system. activists say the rouge would be "a park in name only."

According to a new survey by the World Wildlife Fund and Mexico's National Commission of Protected Natural Areas, there has been a 69 per cent increase in the size of monarch butterflies' hibernating area in Mexico over the last year. Good news for nature lovers and the environment, although the WWF notes that "this is still the second-smallest area occupied by these butterflies in Mexican sanctuaries since 1993." The group warns that North America needs to stop the herbicide use and land conversion that are destroying the milkweed monarchs depend on for survival.

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