Canada comprises one-quarter of one percent of the country's land mass,
but is home to nearly one-quarter of Canada's population. Agricultural
land occupies 73% of the region, and expanding urban centers and rural
residential development covers much of the remainder.
The result has been a severe decline in the extent and integrity of natural
landscapes, with greatly reduced forest cover, wetlands, and other vegetation,
and the highest concentration of endangered species in the country. Overall,
less than 15% of Carolinian Canada still has natural vegetation cover,
with less than 5% in many urban or agricultural areas.
Some of the best remaining natural areas have been retained through public
ownership, public policy or private stewardship, but in total, less than
5% of the landscape is currently protected by ownership or provincial
policy. In the 1980s and 90s, the Carolinian Canada program carried out
extensive landowner contact and land acquisition within 38 significant
natural areas. However, habitats and species continue to be lost at an
In large part, these losses are related to the increasing fragmentation
and isolation of remnant habitats, causing loss of species requiring large
blocks of habitat. Carolinian Canada provides a textbook example of the
effects of fragmentation on wildlife, with 14 animals and 25 plants already
extirpated from the region, and many others on the brink.
The Big Picture project provides a framework to extend conservation
planning beyond existing "islands of green," to highlight the importance
of relatively large core habitats and of natural corridors linking together
these cores. This interconnected landscape should be better able to maintain
viable wildlife populations and perhaps even restore some species now
missing. Many of Ontario's top conservation scientists were involved in
the GIS-based analysis that produced the Big Picture mapping,
which provides a scientific context and rationale for local conservation
initiatives, and a source of information to coordinate future activities
To achieve the Big Picture vision, new incentives, new approaches,
and new resources will be needed. This paper examines a broad spectrum
of possible new tools, drawing from programs currently in place in Ontario
and in other jurisdictions. None of these tools has any official sanction
at this point, but they are presented to stimulate thinking and discussion
about the best bets for future progress. Potential tools are presented
within five broad categories.
A. Sharing the Vision
To be successful, the Big Picture vision needs to be broadly
accepted by government agencies, landowners, and residents as a road map
to ecological health. Embedding the vision into a range of plans, strategies,
and actions will hasten that acceptance.
§ Recognize the
distinctive nature and needs of Carolinian Canada in government policies
and programs. The Province with other partners could develop
a major regional conservation strategy including land use policies, education,
private land stewardship, incentives and land securement for all or parts
of Carolinian Canada. Special recognition could be given through the Province's
Smart Growth initiative. Alternatively, natural heritage policies under
the Planning Act could be modified to provide different and stronger
rules for this region. The Ministry of Natural Resources could also address
the special needs of this region within its Natural Heritage Strategy
for Southcentral Region.
§ Broaden the
focus of protection and recovery activities from species at risk to restoration
of landscapes supporting multiple rare species. Some progress
in this area is already evident in recovery plans underway for Pelee Island
and the Sydenham River, as well as in such organizations as Tallgrass
Ontario. The agencies involved in species conservation and recovery could
identify other habitat themes, such as forest interiors, wetlands or coldwater
streams, for recovery strategies involving multiple species.
§ Encourage the
use of planning tools that address landscape- and watershed-level issues,
building on existing programs such as watershed planning, natural heritage
strategies, and the Biosphere Reserve designations for the Niagara Escarpment
and Long Point areas. For example, municipalities and conservation authorities
have the mandate to develop watershed plans and comprehensive natural
heritage strategies within their jurisdictions, which can do much to protect
and restore habitat. Parks Canada and other agencies could further promote
and implement greater ecosystem planning concepts to provide links to
existing protected areas, as well as develop a marine conservation area
for Lake Erie. Programs to restore the Great Lakes, including the Lake
Erie LaMP process and six Remedial Action Plans within Carolinian Canada,
offer opportunities to restore habitats and biodiversity.
B. Strengthening Incentives
Most of Carolinian Canada is in private hands, and sharing responsibility
for the environment through economic incentives is a concept increasingly
being adopted, both in Ontario and in other jurisdictions.
§ Broaden the
application of water quality incentives, and link these more strongly
to biodiversity restoration, particularly through renewal and
expansion of rural water quality programs which also restore vegetated
corridors along streams.
§ Expand financial
incentives to encourage retirement of targeted rural lands to conservation,
for example by establishing a conservation reserve program for private
lands modeled after successful American programs. A Ducks Unlimited Canada
proposal for a national Conservation Cover Incentive Program, which is
currently under consideration, could be a major step forward. Increased
provincial incentives to encourage tree planting and to promote sustainable
forestry as an income source could also influence the management of private
§ Make property
tax incentive programs more effective, by broadening the Conservation
Lands Tax Incentive Program to include other categories of natural lands,
and by modifying the Managed Forests Tax Incentive Program to encourage
forest creation and greater landowner participation and to better incorporate
conservation objectives. The Farm Land Taxation Program could be revised
to offer a further incentive to farmers to retain natural habitats. A
comprehensive review to improve how the Conservation Lands, Managed Forests,
and Farmland tax incentive programs interact is also needed.
§ Provide incentives
to support First Nations in their protection of conservation lands,
through discussions about potential voluntary partnerships and ways to
support compatible economic activities such as ecotourism.
C. Informing and Educating
for Conservation and Restoration
To build a broad consensus about conservation priorities, it is necessary
to inform rural landowners, urban residents, adults and children.
§ Upgrade, simplify
and expand educational materials and technical advice for rural landowners,
through renewed private land stewardship programs provided by Stewardship
Councils, conservation authorities and others, and by improving conservation
information and financial support in programs of farm organizations, particularly
the Environmental Farm Plan program.
§ Raise awareness
of urban residents of the need for conservation and restoration of Carolinian
ecosystems, through distribution of educational materials for
schools and through community-based naturalization and conservation projects.
D. Funding Land Securement
Achieving the Big Picture vision requires a long-term investment
in securing and restoring key parts of the landscape.
§ Expand the existing
protected areas system by using the Big Picture strategy to help
establish land securement priorities and by acting on opportunities such
as St. Williams Forest.
financial commitments by public agencies to support land securement and
restoration, similar to the extensive federal and state funding
programs currently in place in the United States. For example, the Canadian
and Ontario governments could dedicate selected revenue sources to future
land securement, either through special allocations similar to the Great
Lakes Sustainability Fund or the Ontario Living Legacy Trust, or through
dedication of a particular revenue source, such as a portion of the Land
Transfer Tax. A charitable Carolinian Recovery Trust could also be created
to develop funding resources for recovery and restoration projects.
§ Use the power
of public-private partnerships to fuel land securement and restoration
projects, matching government programs and funding with volunteer
involvement and private donations to complete cooperative projects.
§ Improve tax
incentives to encourage full or partial donations of environmentally significant
lands, building on recent progress in the federal Ecogifts program
to consider provisions to allow bargain sales or to reduce capital gains
taxes for land sold to conservation organizations.
E. The Role of Land Use
Planning and Management
Most of the planning controls affecting private land are implemented
through the Official Plans and zoning bylaws of municipalities, but within
overall policy direction provided by the Provincial Policy Statement and
- Strengthen the Provincial Policy Statement and implementation
to require protection of key natural features, encourage restoration
and promote sound water management. This could include changes
to broaden application of "no development" policies to the full range
of natural heritage features, adding a requirement for natural heritage
system concepts and restoration policies, providing better guidance
on water resource protection and strengthening the wording to ensure
consistency in Official Plans. Limits could be placed on issues going
to Ontario Municipal Board hearings and on OMB changes to municipal
- Promote naturalization and increase tree cover in urban areas
by developing town and city forestry programs and enhancing
urban naturalization partnerships.
- Encourage municipalities to make better use of existing planning
and regulatory tools, particularly by going beyond Provincial
policy to incorporate natural heritage systems based on the Big
Picture concept within their Official Plans. More effective controls
on tree cutting could also be implemented through improved tree bylaws
or regulation of forestry contractors.
- Update the regulatory role
of conservation authorities, through enactment of a proposed
generic regulation approach for new flood, fill and alteration to waterways
No single tool is going to ensure the Big Picture vision becomes
a reality over the next several generations. Rather, a package of "carrots
and sticks" is needed, drawing from the possibilities outlined in this
report and involving all levels of government and non-government organizations.
At the national level, particular emphasis in the short term should be
- Improvements in tax policy on full and partial land donations;
- Renewed financial support for Environmental Farm Plans and their implementation;
- A new conservation cover incentive program;
- A marine conservation area for Lake Erie;
- Progress on Lakewide Management Plans;
- A multi-species approach to species at risk.
At the provincial level, short term priorities include:
- Improvements to property tax incentive programs;
- Renewed support for rural water quality incentives and tree-planting
- Improvements to the Provincial Policy Statement and its implementation;
- Strengthened conservation authority regulations and watershed planning;
- Coordination through a revised Southcentral Natural Heritage Strategy;
- Long-term investment in protection and restoration of natural areas.
At the local level, communities can:
- Develop natural heritage strategies, watershed plans and municipal
- Develop rural water quality programs
- Naturalize parkland, school yards and back yards in cities and towns
- Enact tree-cutting by-laws and / or forestry contractor regulation
- Secure and restore local Carolinian habitats
At the Carolinian Canada ecoregion level, the most promising option is
the development of a regional conservation strategy for Carolinian Canada,
perhaps through an advisory panel appointed by the Province using a similar
process as the Oak Ridges Moraine.
Ron Reid, Bobolink Enterprises
In collaboration with the Carolinian Canada Coalition