Growth Plan Loopholes Allow Sprawl in Rural Communities

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Photo courtesy of Bill Lishman 

Growth Plan Loopholes Allow Sprawl in Rural Communities

Media Release: Ontario Nature

Published March 9, 2017

A new Neptis Foundation report raises the alarm that major loopholes in the Government of Ontario’s proposed Growth Plan would make rural communities a focus of growth, wreaking havoc on the water, nature and communities across the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH). These changes would allow decades-old style of sprawl in over 400 rural towns, villages and hamlets – including many within the protected Greenbelt. Around 31,200 hectares of farmland, natural habitat and rural areas (equivalent in collective size to Mississauga) would come under threat from low-density, car-dependent development.

“This goes against the spirit and intent of the Province’s Growth Plan and its promotion of complete communities,” says Joyce Chau, Executive Director of EcoSpark. “These rural settlement areas were specifically excluded by the Province from the built boundary where growth should not occur because of a lack of servicing.”

The proposed Growth Plan creates a loophole where sprawling greenfield developments could be manipulated to count as intensification. The intent of the Growth Plan is to direct major growth to areas with existing roads, sewers and other major infrastructure in the GGH.

The more than 400 rural towns, villages and hamlets at risk are peppered across the Oak Ridges Moraine, Greenbelt and throughout the GGH. “The proposed Growth Plan, if not amended before its final release, will permanently transform the character of our rural countryside,” says Debbe Crandall, Policy Advisor for STORM. “This underlying development pressure threatens areas with vulnerable water sources and where we’ve asked the Province to grow the Greenbelt.”

Simcoe County has the largest portion of rural settlement areas under threat. The Neptis Foundation identified that 65% of the draft approved intensification in Simcoe Country are in greenfield areas with 83% for single-family detached housing. “These loopholes open the door to costly and unsustainable communities in need of major infrastructure services,” says Joshua Wise, Greenway Program Manager for Ontario Nature. “Pipes and roads will fragment important natural areas and pave over prime farmland.”

“The Province has chance now to close these loopholes,” says Margaret Prophet, Co-chair of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition. “It’s an opportunity to invest in creating complete communities that are cost-effective and better for our environment, farmland and families.”

The proposed Growth Plan permits an archaic formula for growth where few developers profit at the expense of our water, nature and communities in the GGH. EcoSpark, STORM, Ontario Nature and Earthroots are leading voices for natural areas protection in the GGH and growing the Greenbelt. The partnership wants the Province to close this loophole before finalizing the Growth Plan.

Read the full Neptis Foundation report.


 

For media inquiries and to arrange expert interviews, please contact: John Hassell, Ontario Nature, 416-786-2171

EcoSpark is an environmental charity whose mission is to empower communities to take an active role in protecting and sustaining their local environment. We do this by giving people the tools for education, monitoring and influencing positive change. We have directly worked with over 64,000 people in over 20 watersheds across Southern Ontario. For more information, visit www.ecospark.ca.

Ontario Nature protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement. Ontario Nature is a charitable organization representing more than 30,000 members and supporters, and 150 member groups across Ontario. For more information, visit www.ontarionature.org

Save the Oak Ridges Moraine Coalition (STORM) is focused on protecting the ecological integrity of the Oak Ridges Moraine. Since 1989, STORM has been working at the local and regional levels to ensure that municipalities make good planning decisions to protect its ecological and hydrological functions. For more information, visit www.stormcoalition.org

Earthroots is a grassroots conservation organization that works aggressively to protect wilderness, wildlife and watersheds in Ontario through research, education and action. We achieved effective protection of threatened ecosystems for over 20 years on behalf of our approximately 12,000 supporters in the province. For more information, visit www.earthroots.org.

The Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition (SCGC) consists of over 30 community groups from across Simcoe and the province that have agreed in principle that the Greenbelt needs to expand into Simcoe County to ensure our water, natural heritage and farmland is protected. With representation from farmers, naturalists, environmentalists and ratepayer organizations, the SCGC is a balanced voice that believes that the Greenbelt would create a stronger Simcoe County. For more information, visit www.simcoecountygreenbelt.ca.


Op-Ed in the Hamilton Spectator

Agriculture groups band together to save farming and farmland

By: Matt Setzkorn

Published November 17, 2016, in the Hamilton Spectator

Now is the time to protect at-risk farmland in Ontario for good.

Collectively, we in the agricultural sector call on the province to freeze all urban expansion and introduce firm, permanent municipal growth boundaries in the Greater Golden Horseshoe to prevent the region's remaining farmland from being paved over and additional farming communities from being displaced.

It's clear that more land for urban development in the region is not needed, with an excess of 25 years' worth of farmland already designated by municipalities to accommodate growth in both urban and rural settlement areas (Neptis Foundation, 2015). An area of prime farmland 1.5 times the size of the City of Toronto is in the process of being rapidly converted to housing subdivisions, warehouses and strip malls.

The proposed changes to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and Greenbelt Plan fail to protect the majority of our farmers and farmlands from ongoing and poorly-planned urban sprawl. Maintaining policy that enables status quo sprawl makes it difficult to see a future for local food and farming in the region, despite the great economic contributions of the Greater Golden Horseshoe's food and farming sector.

Not just home to the best farmland in Canada, the Greater Golden Horseshoe is home to one of North America's largest agricultural and agri-food industry clusters, with a unique diversity of primary farm production, food processing, food service, food distribution and retail that represents the fastest growing employment sector in Ontario and generates $12.3 billion in annual economic activity.

The Greenbelt protects some of Ontario's countryside, but there are hundreds of thousands of acres that continue to be at-risk and need protection now.

We are at a unique moment in history where there is an opportunity to enact meaningful limits on urban expansion, plan for healthier urban and rural communities, protect our irreplaceable agricultural land resources, and sustain a vibrant and prosperous agri-food economy in the Greater Golden Horseshoe for generations to come.

With an outpouring of public support for a larger provincial role in establishing firm urban boundaries and protecting agricultural land during the Coordinated Land Use Planning Review, now is the time for the province to demonstrate bold leadership to protect agricultural land and farming communities by implementing fixed, permanent urban boundaries on all urban and rural settlement areas in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

Let's work together to stop urban sprawl, protect farmland forever, support our farmers and create a secure future for farming in Ontario.

 

Matt Setzkorn is Manager, Land Programs and Policy, Ontario Farmland Trust. He wrote this commentary on behalf of:

Ontario Farmland Trust

Ontario Federation of Agriculture

Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario

National Farmers Union – Ontario

Golden Horseshoe Food & Farming Alliance

Sustain Ontario

Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario

Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society

Food & Water First

Farms at Work

FarmStart

Land over Landings

Langford Conservancy

Sustainable Brant

Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition

The original can be found here.


SCGC Comments on Draft Amendments - Coordinated Review

Our submission to the Co-ordinated Land Use Review.

You can download the submission, here: SCGC_Oct_31_submission.pdf 

COMMENTS ON DRAFT AMENDMENTS – COORDINATED REVIEW

Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition

Recommendations

The Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition (SCGC) is a not-for-profit organization that is comprised of close to 30 various organizations from across Simcoe County including naturalists, land conservancies, ratepayers, environmentalists, farmers and First Nations. The mandate of the SCGC is to promote and encourage expansion of the Greenbelt further into Simcoe County to balance the growth of our communities with water protection and land preservation. We applaud the government for undertaking such a thorough review and submit our recommendations for consideration.

Greenbelt Expansion

Considering the immense growth pressures on Simcoe County, large reliance on groundwater resources and pervasive nature of water systems throughout the county, the SCGC with its various member organizations, recommend that the Greenbelt be expanded to include all of Simcoe County and its supporting ecosystems. See Appendix 1 for source water mapping that we feel supports this call.

We also support calls to grow the Greenbelt in other key areas of the Greater Golden Horseshoe including but not limited to: 

  • Moraines and groundwater recharge areas in the Grand River watershed that provide clean drinking water to 80% of local residents. These moraines include the Paris-Galt, Waterloo and Orangeville Moraines. Significant headwaters features including the Luther Marsh, important headwater areas and source water protection areas in Brant County, as well as the Grand River as a key river valley connection between these important and vulnerable water supplies.
  • Headwaters of rivers that flow through Peel, York, Durham and Toronto and reduce flooding for millions of residents. This includes the Carruthers Creek, Duffins Creek, Rouge River, Don River and Humber River.
  •  The Lake Iroquois shoreline, which includes many features, that provides important groundwater functions and helps sustain groundwater baseflow.

Further, we would like the province to consider additional recommendations for Greenbelt expansion consultation: 

  • Ensure that areas identified to grow the Greenbelt are also included in the consideration of the water resources systems, natural heritage system and agricultural system.
  • Adhere to firm timelines in your process of identifying, mapping, consulting and finalizing areas to grow the Greenbelt. We believe a draft map should be presented publicly for consultation on the Environmental Registry by January 2017, with final mapping completed and final amendments integrated by late spring 2017.
  • Ensure transparency and full public involvement in local consultations regarding potential Greenbelt expansion. 

Strengthening the Greenbelt

Finally, in order to ensure the integrity of the Greenbelt as it is considered to be expanded, we offer the following recommendations to strengthen the Greenbelt:

  • Settlement area boundaries should be frozen in the Greenbelt. Infill development should be prioritized before greenfield development for Growth Plan areas.
  • Improvements and strengthening of aggregate and infrastructure policies within the Greenbelt including restricting aggregate in the Greenbelt and not allowing infrastructure exemptions in the Greenbelt. Further, commercial water taking (e.g. water bottling) should not be allowed in the Greenbelt.
  • Large scale fill operations should not be permitted in the Greenbelt.
  • To ensure long term integrity of the Greenbelt, a sunset clause for grandfathered development applications should be included.
  • Many times, the implementation of land use plans is where it is weakened. We strongly support the province taking a strong lead in enforcement and monitoring of various provincial plans. This would include data taking, creation of benchmarks and outlining metrics to determine best practices and what “successful implementation” looks like. Further, the province should consider financial incentives to encourage municipalities to adhere to provincial plans and efficient land use.
  • Better protection for alvars and savannahs.
  • Do not allow any land swaps or land removals from within the Greenbelt.
  • Do not allow settlement boundary considerations and applications every 5 years. This will become a death by a thousand cuts and threatens the very purpose of a permanently protected Greenbelt.

Growth Plan Recommendations

The implementation of the Growth Plan will have serious implications to the Greenbelt. With effective implementation and strong policies, the Greenbelt will be allowed to flourish for generations. Without this, the threat of killing the intent and spirit as well as function of the Greenbelt will be ever present. As such, we offer the following recommendations:

  • Update growth forecasts using 2016 census data. Accordingly, until this is done and mapping of agricultural systems and natural heritage systems is complete, we feel a moratorium on settlement area expansions is in order.
  • Density targets and intensification targets should be maintained as drafted. However, lower density and intensification targets for municipalities that do not have an urban growth centre should be eliminated. Best practices suggest that we need to use our land more efficiently – allowing a selected few to not meet this target weakens the integrity of the ask and makes the process inequitable.
  • Consider adopting policies of “net benefit” in order for applications to proceed. Further, consider the comparison of removing carbon sinks (e.g. pastures, wetlands, forests) with the construction of carbon emitters (e.g. increased traffic/cars, removal of recharge areas, increase of impermeable surfaces, factories etc.) in the approval process.

Other Important Recommendations 

  • Stronger incorporation and recognition of indigenous rights, traditional knowledge and ensuring informed and prior consent when it comes to land use, watershed protection and development applications. This includes stronger protection of ancestral lands from development as well as providing legal vehicles for indigenous communities to say no without fear of reprisal.
  • The Niagara Escarpment is a world recognized bio-sphere. This global treasure deserves the utmost protection. Therefore, we support calls to expand the Niagara Escarpment.
  • Reform the OMB so that local planning decision, assuming they fall within provincial policies and support community interests, are not all under the purview of the board. Municipalities need to be able to make important community decision without fear of reprisals via lawsuits or OMB.
  • Include policies that allow communities to deny applications based on areas where water resources are under threat or stressed. This would include PTTW, extractive industries, development and energy. Without this type of policy, we knowingly jeopardize our future.

We appreciate the opportunity to submit our comments for your consideration. We applaud the province on many of the proactive policies it has drafted that strengthen agriculture, water preservation and build stronger, smarter communities. Now is the time to ensure we are leaving a proud legacy. Now is the time to take bold actions that will ensure that legacy.

Sincerely,

Margaret Prophet

Sandy Agnew

Co-chairs, Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition


#GROWOURGREENBELT: MARGARET'S STORY

Margaret Prophet, Co-Chair of the SCGC, has been featured in a story by Erica Woods of Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation:


THE BEGINNING OF A MOVEMENT

In 2013, Midhurst resident and stay-at-home mom Margaret Prophet went to a community meeting about a proposed development. Margaret left the meeting shocked by the sense that the community was being run over roughshod by developers’ plans to increase a rural community from 3,500 residents to 30,000 residents and build on over 2,000 acres of prime farmland, and the message to residents was there was no way to say no.

"I couldn’t believe this was happening in our community. There has to be something else motivating our society other than just money,” says Margaret, recalling that meeting. So, Margaret decided to do something. She joined the Midhurst Ratepayers’ Association (MRA) and later co-founded the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition. After watching the Town Council ignore a petition with over 40,000 signatures asking for basics like a financial impact analysis of the proposed Midhurst Secondary Plan, Margaret and her neighbours worked tirelessly to get a new Mayor, Deputy Mayor and slate of councillors elected.

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Margaret Prophet, co-founded the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition to give citizens a voice in the future of Simcoe County.

GAINING MOMENTUM

We did the hard work of knocking on doors, sending out mailers, going to community events, and talking to our neighbours about the issues. In the end 4/5 of the slate of candidates the MRA endorsed were elected," says Margaret.

Now, Margaret is taking her talents to the goal of growing the Greenbelt to include Simcoe County. While she’s pleased with the Province’s plan to designate 21 Urban River Valleys as part of the Greenbelt, Margaret wants the Province to do more to protect Simcoe’s “treasure trove” of water resources and farmland.

A coalition of 30 organizations including naturalists, environmental groups, ratepayers associations, and agricultural groups has signed on to the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition. This grassroots movement is building community support to make sure the landscape that makes Simcoe a place to call home is protected for the next generation.

“I want a Simcoe County I can be proud to leave for my kids,” says Margaret. “That means natural areas they can go hiking in, beaches to go to without fear of E. coli, clean drinking water from their taps, walkable and lively communities in natural growth areas like Barrie, local produce to buy from thriving farms.”

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Right now, that future isn’t a sure bet. Systemic planning shortfalls have meant the loss of green spaces, wetlands, and farmlands. In the last 40 years, Barrie alone lost 154 km2 of natural space – roughly 26,000 football fields – to urban sprawl. Meanwhile, since 2006 Simcoe County has released more greenfield space for development than any other municipality in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Simcoe has seen more Level 1 droughts, more beach advisories and closures, and more traffic congestion than ever before. Farms are being segmented and the secondary businesses needed to support a vibrant agricultural community like tractor dealerships and abattoirs are closing their doors.

But Margaret is ever hopeful, and has seen firsthand what is possible when people get involved in their community.

We asked Margaret why she’s spending her free time becoming a citizen expert and reading about watersheds and secondary plans. She told us, “no matter what happens, I have to be able to say to my kids ‘you know what, I really tried’. We have to be accountable to future generations. If everyone stepped up and took a little more accountability, the world would be a better place.”


Local Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition calls for action on water protection


Press Release 

For immediate release

From The Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition

July 18 2016

Local  Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition calls for action on water protection

Dozens of organizations and activists join residents calling for a ‘Bluebelt’ to protect water sources for the health and prosperity of the region.

July 18, 2016 / Simcoe County/ Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition- The Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition (SCGC) is calling on the province and county to expand the Greenbelt into the County to protect our vulnerable and important water resources. This is as a direct result of The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority’s issuance of a level 1 low water response for its watershed and direction to residents and businesses to reduce water consumption. 

 “Simcoe County’s watersheds are routinely identified through the province’s low water monitoring system according to Conservation Ontario data. This is a warning that a business-as -usual approach is not working here.  We need aggressive measures to ensure that we can continue to provide water to our residents, farmers and industries going forward,” says SCGC co-chair Margaret Prophet. “Ensuring policies direct growth and development away from areas that threaten our water supply is a logical first step. We feel the Greenbelt can be a game changer for how Simcoe County approaches what we protect and how we develop our communities.”

The Greenbelt would overlay areas that directly supply residents’ drinking water such as the Oro Moraine as well as areas that allow precipitation to refill our groundwater reservoirs. Wetlands and greenspaces that filter our water and mitigate against flooding would also be protected under an expanded Greenbelt.

Local water advocate and environmental scientist, Connie Spek, agrees. “Why should water be political? Why are we dragging our feet when it comes to putting in best practices that have been shown to increase the health of wetlands and forests? Don’t the residents, businesses, farmers and environment of Simcoe County deserve the utmost level of protection and conservation? The Greenbelt is a good and necessary first step towards a brighter water future for Simcoe County.”

Founder of Ontario Farmland Preservation and OFA member, Bernard Pope, believes inaction due to lack of political will have far-reaching effects. “Many of the farmers in Holland Marsh are dealing with crop loss due to flooding and hail. Farmers in Brant County are dealing with drought conditions and many have already lost their crops for this season. Agriculture is the number one value-added sector in the province and we need water. Look at what has happened in California to farmers when water becomes scarce. If farmland continues to be turned over to houses and water continues to not be properly protected, I worry for the future of my industry and our region.”

The SCGC recently partnered with environmental advocates, agricultural organizations, and community members across the Greater Golden Horseshoe to expand the call for even greater protection of the GGH’s water resources.

The Province announced in May, as part of the coordinated land use planning review, a proposal to grow the Greenbelt into 21 urban river valleys and 7 coastal wetlands. The SCGC wants to go further and protect key areas in need of stronger protection, including locally the Oro Moraine, Minesing Wetlands, Nottawasaga Watershed and Wasaga Beach, wetlands of Ramara, and many other areas of hydrological significance.

The grassroots campaign is building momentum every day, with thousands of residents across the region taking action by writing to Minister for Municipal Affairs Bill Mauro to support the government’s recommendations and urge that the Province grow the Greenbelt in many parts of the province including Simcoe County and Brant County.

“We know that 9 out of 10 residents see the Greenbelt as the most significant environmental initiative in Ontario,” said Burkhard Mausberg, CEO of Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation. “The number one reason these residents give for supporting the Greenbelt is the protection of water resources. Growing the Greenbelt to protect our water resources is more of a good thing.”

Says Prophet, “It’s time we start listening to the science and the science is indicating that we should be concerned about our water. With people all over the region demanding change, the big question is whether the political will is there to take the bold and necessary steps and grow our Greenbelt and protect our water. We hope that there is. I can't imagine people 50 years from now will say we did too much to ensure our water is clean and plentiful.”

Supporters are encouraged to join the movement and visit www.growourgreenbelt.ca/action to add their voice to the growing chorus of residents championing growing the Greenbelt in their communities.

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About Grow Our GB The #GrowOurGB initiative is a coalition between organizations and associations representing more than 120 member groups, and 300,000 members across Ontario. Launched on June 21, the #GrowOurGB Primer, ‘Growing the Green, Protecting the Blue’ is a comprehensive guide to understanding how we can act now to protect water resources for our future. Visit www.growourgreenbelt.ca to learn more and take action. Backgrounder information is available, contact the writer below.

About SCGC The Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition is a diverse coalition of over 30 organizations from across Simcoe County and the province calling on local and provincial leaders to expand the Greenbelt into Simcoe County. The SCGC looks forward to engaging the public and stakeholders about the role an expanded Greenbelt would play in the future of Simcoe County. Visit www.simcoecountygreenbelt.ca to learn more and take action.

About the Greenbelt Ontario’s Greenbelt is the solution for fresh air, clean water, healthy local food, active outdoor recreation, and a thriving economy. At nearly two million acres, it’s the world’s largest permanently protected greenbelt, keeping our farmlands, forests, and wetlands safe and sustainable.

Contact:

Margaret Prophet, Co-Chair, SCGC, Cell 705-718-1383 , Email m_prophet[at]hotmail.com


June 6 Open House, Barrie

On June 6, in Barrie, Ontario, the province held an open house on proposed changes to the four provincial land use plans (Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and Niagara Escarpment Plan).

Find upcoming open house locations, including in Caledon, Mississauga, St. Catharines, and Hamilton, here: http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/Page14854.aspx


Press Release: Local Coalition Welcomes Provincial Policy to Grow the Greenbelt

Barrie, ON – The Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition (SCGC) is pleased with the government’s plan to potentially grow the Greenbelt further in Ontario.  The amendments released today in response to the Crombie panel’s report outline a change to policies that could see the Greenbelt grow outside of the GTA into areas such as Simcoe County.  This proposed policy would prioritize protecting areas of ecological and hydrological significance including vulnerable aquifers, moraines and significant wetlands.

“From Wasaga Beach to Lake Simcoe, Nottawasaga River to the Minesing Wetlands, Simcoe is a virtual treasure trove of unique and fragile water systems that are necessary to Simcoe’s residents and economy.  Since Simcoe County was largely passed over in the creation of the Greenbelt in 2002, despite our rich agricultural and natural heritage resources, we are pleased that there is an opportunity now for Simcoe County to be more fully included,” says SCGC co-chair Margaret Prophet.

With 30 organizations from across the county and province representing citizens as ratepayers, farmers, environmentalists and naturalists, and with Simcoe slated to expand to 667,000 people by 2031, the SCGC believes that an expanded Greenbelt is necessary to protect our water, agricultural,  and natural heritage resources.

 “Whether it’s a business, a farm or a home, we all need water.  With local source water protection plans showing concerns about the quantity and quality of our water, now is the time to act before it is too late.  Protecting our water resources with more stringent policies should not be a tough decision or a political game.  We don’t need to follow California’s water woes – we can begin to be better today.”

Local Ontario Federation of Agriculture member, and founder of Ontario Farmland Preservation, Bernard Pope, also sees today’s announcements as positive for the agricultural community: “I’m glad that the province is planning to put measures in place to better support agriculture – these are important steps to ensure long term viability of the number one value-added sector in the province.  I also welcome the discussion that will ensue in Simcoe County about growing the Greenbelt.  With high amounts of urban expansion occurring and being proposed around the County our farmland is continuously under threat.  An expanded Greenbelt would give farmers greater certainty about the future and stop the fragmentation and loss of Simcoe’s valuable farmland.”

Couchiching Conservancy’s Executive Director, Mark Bisset notes the importance of the Greenbelt to preserving natural heritage: “There are many places in Simcoe County that are vulnerable and need better protection, such as the Oro Moraine and the wetlands of Ramara.  These are the places we love and the green spaces we need. An Greenbelt expanded to Simcoe County is the next logical step to ensure these places get the protection they deserve.”

About the SCGC www.simcoecountygreenbelt.ca:  The Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition is a diverse coalition of 30 organizations from across Simcoe County and the province calling on local and provincial leaders to expand the Greenbelt further into Simcoe County.  The SCGC looks forward to engaging the public and stakeholders about the role an expanded Greenbelt would play in the future of Simcoe County.

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For media inquiries please contact:  Margaret Prophet, co-chair, SCGC, 705-730-1774, email: m_prophet@hotmail.com


Greenbelt expansion holds some of the answers

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Greenbelt expansion holds some of the answers

By Mark Bisset

This article was previously published in the May, 2016 edition of The Villager, Washago Community Newspaper.

I was standing on Young Street near Vaughan recently feeling rotten.

There was nothing wrong with me physically. It was Young Street that I was reacting to. It feels as if Toronto has crept up that venerable old road without restraint, gobbling up some of Ontario's best farmland, rolling woodlands and even wetland.

Had I stood there a decade earlier, I would probably been looking at a family farmstead; maybe a forest.

The only thing that will restrain this juggernaut is Lake Simcoe itself. And even then, the development only skips to the west and continues up Highways 400 and 11 toward Washago, like a flash flood in slow motion.

I realize this feeling puts me in a certain subset of the population. And maybe on another day I would have had a different reaction ("Cool, a Starbucks.") But I was on my way to a meeting of the Ontario Land Trust Alliance, which exists to protect a little bit of our province from this urban onslaught.

Across the decades, Ontario has done a very poor job when it comes to good planning that recognizes the importance of natural heritage and agricultural land. There are many reasons for that, from divided jurisdictions, to the honest desire its citizens feel to have a home of their own, to the relentless pursuit of growth to generate jobs and tax revenue.

But I think the biggest reason is abundance.

Read more

Greenbelt protection needs to be extended north

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By Bob Bowles

Previously published by AWARE Simcoe.

The Ganaraska Trail makes its way across Simcoe County as it runs from Port Hope on Lake Ontario to Glen Huron where it meets the Bruce Trail with side trails to Midland and Wasaga Beach. The forests in Simcoe County make up some of the nicest places to hike along the trail. The trail runs through places like Scout Valley in Orillia and then over the Oro Moraine through several Simcoe County Forests then through the 1780 ha. Copeland Forest Resource Management Area, the largest tract of crown land left in Southern Ontario.

This second-growth forest on the Oro Moraine is used by Nordic skiers (13 km of expert, 10.9 km of intermediate and 1.5 km of beginner trails in this area), all track-set with signs prohibiting pedestrians and dogs. It is also used by hikers, hunters, horseback riders, bird watchers, naturalists, recreational walkers, dog walkers, snowshoeing enthusiasts, and in recent years many mountain bikers. Add to that list dirt bikers, four-wheelers and even hummer tours and you have high usage of the lattice network of trails through this beautiful forest.

This is also true for all the Simcoe County Forests where mountain bikers have constructed many trails through the forests that zigzag back and forth over rocks and between trees to give them more distance as they ride their bikes over the forest floor compacting the earth and tearing the beautiful mosses and lichens from the rocks that they use as obstacles and jumps in their high energy recreation that has high impact on the forest ecology. Many new bike trails in the Simcoe County Forests are marked by large blotches of red paint on the bark of nearby trees giving the forest a very unnatural appearance. Add to this the heavy impact of logging of the red pine plantations by the county and you have a forest that is taking on a whole new appearance.

These forests on the Oro Moraine need to be protected, not for the many users and stakeholders mentioned above but because like other moraines, that were formed 13,000 years ago with the melting of the Wisconsin Glacier, they consist of limestone and sand deposits over aquifers that are the source of our freshwater. The Copeland Forests on the south edge of the Oro Moraine form the headwaters of the Sturgeon River, Coldwater River and Willow Creek watersheds. I first became aware of the great importance of these aquifers at the base of the moraine with my work to protect Mill Creek and Scout Valley with its freshwater seeps and springs at the north end of the Oro Moraine at Orillia. There are many other streams of watersheds along the Oro Moraine between these two locations like Burls Creeks, Hawkestone Creek, Bluffs Creek and Bass Lake (source of the North River) just to mention a few. These all provide cold, clean, fresh water to either the Lake Simcoe or Georgian Bay watersheds and protect the quality of our freshwater.

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