Ecojustice pushes for stronger wetlands policy, more independent conservation authorities
Whether it is a marsh, swamp, bog or fen, wetlands are some of the most important life support systems in the natural environment. Not only do they clean water, they also serve as important habitat for wildlife, help diminish climate change, and provide flood and drought protection to surrounding areas. Unfortunately, despite their many benefits, wetlands in Ontario are suffering severe degradation and loss due to a number of threats including land conversion, pollution, and invasive species.
Last month, Ecojustice attended consultations and reviewed Ontario’s proposal for a “no net loss” wetlands policy and amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act. Using the legal expertise of Ecojustice, and support from our friends at Environmental Defence, we argued for stronger, more independent conservation authorities and clear leadership and direction to protect Ontario’s wetlands from further degradation and loss.
Ontario has proposed a vague wetland replacement policy for wetlands. Southern Ontario’s wetlands are currently protected by strong laws and policies protecting wetlands from environmental harm, and setting a goal of restoration and protection. This means, existing requirements for protection are essentially “no impact” policies for most wetlands.
Unfortunately, the province’s proposals to reform Ontario’s Conservation Authorities Act and wetlands policies made no mention of strengthening the ability of the province and conservation authorities to implement and enforce these requirements. They also made no mention of ensuring that these protective policies are applied to all wetlands in the province. Instead, the province’s wetlands policy document spoke of implementing a “no net loss” plan that would allow Ontario’s wetlands to be further destroyed and degraded, with compensation and mitigation.
Creating new wetlands is not bad in itself, but these wetlands have not been demonstrated to truly replace natural wetlands. Restored and new wetlands also have uncertain environmental outcomes when they are used to replace healthy natural wetlands. Often, they do not replace what is lost in terms of biodiversity and other key functions compared to natural wetlands.
For example, other jurisdictions, such as Alberta and the United States, have no net loss replacement policies that have in some cases allowed replacement by creating, wetlands in entirely different habitats. Replacement-focused policies have also been shown to enable destruction of natural wetlands at a greater rate. Our understanding of Ontario’s wetlands and their ecological functions is too poor for Ontario to successfully implement replacement wetlands that serve similar ecological functions to their naturally occurring equivalent.
We believe that Ontario’s provincial government and its conservation authorities need to make wetland protection and restoration, not replacement, the clear priority.
What Ontario needs are strong, independent conservation authorities with robust evaluations and monitoring of wetlands and other watershed features. Our wetlands need to be protected, and the team here at Ecojustice is committed to doing our best to make sure that happens.