The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF) has a mandate to halt wetland loss in Ontario, and just released the first draft of a Wetland Conservation Strategy that is intended to fulfill this important commitment. However, the draft Wetland Conservation Strategy suffers from a number of critical weaknesses, and will not deliver on protecting wetlands in Ontario.
As it is currently written, some of the key shortcomings of the draft Wetland Conservation Strategy include weak overall targets that would allow wetland loss in Ontario to continue; actual weakening of current protection that is provided for Provincially Significant Wetlands; no protection for internationally important wetlands, such as the Southern James Bay Ramsar Site in Ontario’s Far North; and no financial investment in wetland protection and conservation, despite the enormous economic and carbon benefits that wetlands provide.
WCS Canada’s Ontario Northern Boreal scientists have provided general recommendations to address these issues, and recommend that special consideration needs to be given to the globally significant wetlands in Ontario’s Far North. Wetlands are some of the most valuable ecosystems on the planet. They serve as natural water filters and regulators, help improve water quality, reduce erosion, and provide flood control. Wetlands provide important habitat to all kinds of wildlife, as well as providing food, water, and recreation for people. If all of those benefits weren’t enough, peatlands – wetland habitats like bogs and fens – are some of the most significant storehouses for carbon on the planet. Ontario’s Far North is dominated by peatlands, and these immense wetlands are globally important for their role in absorbing carbon emissions.
One of the OMNRF's key proposed approaches to conserving wetlands in Ontario is a “no net loss” policy. This type of policy requires that if human activity damages or destroys a wetland, then the same amount of wetland needs to be created or restored somewhere else to offset the loss. In theory, this leads to “no net loss”. In practice, however, these approaches are failing because there is a lack of compliance and monitoring, wetland ecosystem services are undervalued, and we are often not able to recreate and restore all of the ecological functions of natural and intact wetlands. Fragile ecosystems like peatlands, which contain deep layers of organic soil accumulated over hundreds or thousands of years, are impossible to recreate if they are damaged or destroyed.
In the face of accelerating climate change, it is also important that Ontario’s wetland strategy considers the effects of climate change on wetlands. Ontario’s wetland strategy must also acknowledge the value of wetlands, particularly Ontario’s Far North peatlands, in reducing atmospheric carbon, and link the protection of wetlands to Ontario's efforts at addressing targets for carbon emissions.
To better ensure wetlands are effectively conserved across Ontario, WCS Canada has recommended to OMNRF that “no net loss” should be considered only as a component within a broader framework that focuses on proactive wetland evaluations and watershed-level planning; explicitly includes wetland protection; and considers climate change.
We all benefit from the ecosystem services that wetlands provide. WCS Canada’s recommended approach will help ensure that Ontario's wetlands continue to provide benefits for generations to come.
If you would like to help protect Ontario’s wetlands, you can comment on OMNRF’s draft Wetland Conservation Strategy on the Environmental Registry before November 16, 2016.
Read what WCS Canada and 16 other organizations concerned about wetland conservation in Ontario are recommending to the OMNRF.
Photo credits: Banner | William Halliday © WCS Canada