Recent Media Coverage

City approves 68 new environmentally protected areas

Toronto Star,
Alex Ballingall,
November 22 2015

New sites scattered around the city entrench protections for rare animals and plants.

If you come from the verdant, stretching wild country of Ontario, land of rolling meadows, lakes and bogs favoured by moose and snowmobilers, you might think Toronto is one big hunk of concrete with condos rising from it.

You’d be wrong.

Yes, the sewers routinely belch putrid gas into the street, and yes, sometimes it feels like you’re trapped in a forest of glass towers. But there are nice things about Hogtown, too.

Just ask the city’s planning department.

Municipal officials commissioned a scientific study that identified 68 new “environmentally significant areas — ESAs” within municipal boundaries, and city council voted this month to insert them as protected zones in Toronto’s official conservation plan.

Jane Weninger, a senior environment planner with the city, explained that there were 18 ESAs in the old city of Toronto, but until now, there haven’t been any in the other former municipalities that were amalgamated in 1998. Most of these areas haven’t been identified by the province, she added, meaning it’s important for the city to officially acknowledge them.

“They’re important to us,” Weninger said. “If there are development applications or proposals that could impact them, we know where they are and we can protect them.”

The 68 new areas are scattered across the city. There’s the “Silverthorn area” that hugs Etobicoke Creek, a large swath of marshy land at the mouth of the Humber River, portions of the Rosedale valley and the Don Valley, the Leslie Street Spit, sections of Toronto Island and stretches of woods along the Rouge River.

Weninger said the natural hot spots were chosen because they feature large animal habitats or harbour high biological diversity. Some include unusual landforms — the Scarborough Bluffs, for example — and rare and threatened species, such as the Blanding’s turtle, which is found in wetlands that also serve as stopover points for migratory wildlife.

“It’s quite amazing that we have so many of these high-quality natural areas that still exist,” said Weninger.

“Torontonians should be really proud.”

Critters of the city

Eastern red-backed salamander

This small, slimy amphibian is naturally abundant in the province, but much harder to find in the city. The report on ESAs notes that this salamander — the only type of its species documented in Toronto — lurks underground for all but two weeks of the year, in early spring, when they crawl to the surface and lay eggs beneath rotten logs. It is listed as “specially protected” by the province, while the International Union for the Conservation of Nature says they’re a species of “least concern.”

Gray treefrog

About two inches long, the gray tree frog can change colours like a chameleon. The frog usually lives in forests near water, can be found hanging out near the tops of even the tallest trees, and slips under fallen leaves and snow to sleep through the winter. With a range that covers all of southern Ontario, the species is not considered to be in danger of disappearing any time soon.

Midland painted turtle

These turtles usually grow to a length of 12 to 14 centimetres, while their shell is dark with lighter “butterfly” markings in the middle. They live in marshes, swamps, lakes and slow-moving creeks, and contain a biological “antifreeze” the prevents their tissues from dying in temperatures as low as -9 degrees Celsius. They are the most common turtle species in Ontario.

Blanding’s turtle

Found in the protected wetlands of Toronto, this species of turtle can be recognized by the high arched dome of its shell, with its irregular flecks of yellow. The Blanding’s turtle travels large distances between nesting sites and spots for hibernation, and can live as long as 75 years. The turtle is listed as “threatened” under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.

Eastern milksnake

Listed as a species of “special concern,” the eastern milksnake lives in open habitats like rocky outcrops, fields and the edges of forests. According to Ontario Nature, a major threat to the snake is people, who often kill it on sight. It is named for the erroneous belief that it takes milk from cows in barns, where it routinely lives.


Several species of this majestic bird can be found in Toronto, including the great blue heron and yellow-crowned night heron. Typically characterized by their long necks and spindly legs, herons can be found along Toronto’s rivers and waterfront, where they forage for food in places like Tommy Thompson Park.


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