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Why spring is the perfect time to discover the Oak Ridges Moraine

Caledon Enterprise
May 19, 2015
Rob Messervey and Caroline Schultz


The living, breathing Oak Ridges Moraine is a landscape worth celebrating this spring. The moraine is the scenic backdrop to Canada’s most densely populated region.

Its rolling sand and gravel hills also act as the Greater Toronto Area’s rain barrel and provide habitat for increasingly rare wildlife. Fortunately the moraine’s fine natural features are still intact thanks to 13 years of protection under the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan.

But the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan is under the microscope. Together with its sister plans for the Greenbelt, Niagara Escarpment and Greater Golden Horseshoe, the government is debating the future of the moraine’s half million acres.

The government is required to undertake this provincial review – timely given changing pressures on the land. Ontario’s population growth has been dramatic, expanding from 11.4 million in 2001 to 13.7 million in 2014. Without these plans, sprawling development would have gobbled up farmlands, damaged water resources, and carved up our natural heritage and green spaces.

The Oak Ridges Moraine is the heart of the Greenbelt. It is an essential water recharge zone that directly supplies 250,000 Ontarians with clean drinking water and feeds over 80 rivers and streams. It is home to over 900 plant and animal species. Its forests – extensive by southern Ontario standards – produce clean air, mitigating climate change.

Over 13 years the Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation invested more than $14 million in land securement, stewardship and education, supporting the work of partners who themselves invested $22 million into conservation projects. We must look beyond keeping the moraine in its current state. We should help private landowners who care for close to 90 per cent of the moraine and whose land provides ecological goods and services for so many.

Protecting the moraine supports the Province’s commitment to effective water management. The Conservation Authorities Moraine Coalition’s 2015 report card on the health of the moraine and adjacent Greenbelt lands ranked surface water quality in almost half of the sub-watersheds as fair to poor, indicating ongoing effects of damaging land uses.

Dumping of fill is one such problem. Soil contaminated with toxic chemicals jeopardizes the safety of the moraine’s groundwater. A legal loophole not addressed by the current plan allowed the dumping of contaminated fill on the moraine.

We need to safeguard the moraine as a distinct entity. A sustainable future for the GTA and Ontario means an improved Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan that puts ecological restoration and enhancement at the forefront of future planning. We must grow the network of green spaces where nature thrives, water is protected and the public can explore all of the moraine’s features.

Get out onto the moraine this spring to enjoy a few of our favourite things – whether it’s hiking, cycling, birdwatching, visiting a farmers’ market, or marvelling at the wildflowers.

Kawartha Conservation’s Chief Administrative Officer, Rob Messervey, and Ontario Nature’s Executive Director, Caroline Schultz, are directors of the Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation.

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