While governments and land use policies change, climate change impacts, water quality deterioration, and losses of forests and wetlands proceed across Southern Ontario.
This report is intended to demonstrate that we need to increase the amount of land that is well protected for the long term, now.
The province has an opportunity to do so for the Lake Simcoe watershed in the review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008, and Plan, 2009, and more broadly in the current consultation on proposed changes to the Provincial Policy Statement.
It is important to establish the understanding that protected lands are what we set aside as home, or habitat, for all other species. A robust protected lands policy should permanently protect the habitat for the collective sum of all of the other species in this world. This is necessary, morally and practically, to ensure a stable and vibrant planet.
The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s mapping project identifies levels of protection for our forests, wetlands and shorelines by analyzing the strength of policies covering them.
This analysis includes lands comprised of forests and wetlands and the buffers around them that make up Simcoe County's Natural Heritage System, or NHS.
This analysis covers the entirety of Simcoe County's landscape, excluding Barrie and Orillia.
What we found breaks down like this:
Level 1: Most Protected
Just 14% of Simcoe County's lands have a level of protection that makes it difficult to change them from their current status for most purposes.
However, 11% of these lands are potential resource extraction sites, specifically for aggregate. (See map below.)
Level 1 lands include features protected by provincial policies, namely:
- significant woodlots;
- Provincially Significant Wetlands (PSW's);
- Areas of Natural Scientific Interest (ANSI's);
- Lake Simcoe shoreline;
- natural areas abutting Lake Simcoe;
- Significant Wildlife Habitat;
- Provincial Parks and Natural Areas (such as lands covered by the Niagara Escarpment Plan);
- and Core Areas, such as those covered by the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan.
An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required for land-use changes.
Map: Level 1 Protected Areas and Aggregate Potential Overlay
Use the slider to see how aggregate extraction potential overlays protected areas.
Level 2: Somewhat Protected
At Level 2, lands have weaker protections than Level 1. For some activities no Environmental Impact Assessment is required, including for low footprint infrastructure for which there is no alternative, non-intrusive recreation, maintenance of existing infrastructure, fish, forest, and wildlife management, stewardship and conservation activities, flood or erosion control, and retrofits to stormwater facilities.
Level 2 protections inhibit rather than prevent most activities, and include:
- Setbacks and vegetation protection zones around protected features such as ANSI's, PSW's, permanent and intermittent streams and lakes;
- significant groundwater recharge areas and highly vulnerable aquifers;
- linkage areas (Oak Ridges Moraine);
- Simcoe County Greenlands linkage areas;
- and features adjacent to Level 1 features.
Level 3: Not Protected
Level 3 lands include farmland, roads, settlement and built-up areas.
These unprotected lands comprise just over 50,000 hectares.
To put this in context, the City of Toronto, home to nearly 3 million people (Simcoe County is expected to just push past 400,000 by 2031), covers an area of 63,000 hectares.