Level 1: Fully Protected

The main features in this category are:

  • Provincially Significant Wetlands that are not on the Canadian Shield;
  • Habitat of Endangered and Threatened Species that are not on the Canadian Shield;
  • features fully protected under the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan.

Provincially Significant Wetlands and Habitat of Endangered and Threatened Species

The only true consistency among the Official Plans of the municipalities located south and east of the Canadian Shield is that, at least on paper, they give full protection to the two features of provincial interest within which development is prohibited under the Provincial Policy Statement: Provincially Significant Wetlands and the significant portions of the Habitat of Endangered and Threatened Species.5 It is generally accepted by developers, environmentalists, and land use planners that these features are protected from "incompatible development."

Municipal Official Plans do not show the locations of Habitat of Endangered and Threatened Species on maps, for two reasons: 1) these areas are invariably far too small to depict, and 2) in order to protect these plants and animals, it is imperative that specific information regarding their habitat not be publicly divulged. Accordingly, Significant Habitat of Endangered and Threatened Species is not mapped on the figures that accompany this report.

Although Significant Wetlands receive Level 1 protection from development and site alteration under Section 2.3.1 of the PPS, infrastructure projects such as roads, sewers, pipelines, utility corridors are not considered "development." Since infrastructure is subject to legislation other than the Planning Act (e.g., the Environmental Assessment Act, the Ontario Energy Board Act, and the Ontario Water Resources Act), transportation and utility corridors may pass through Provincially Significant Wetlands, resulting in some permanent loss of the feature.6

Key Natural Heritage Features (KNHFs) or Hydrologically Sensitive Features (HSFs) protected by the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan

Many Level 1 features and areas are protected by the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (ORMCP), which offers a level of protection greater than that provided by the PPS or an Official Plan for similar features off the Moraine. Development and site alteration is prohibited for Key Natural Heritage Features (KNHFs) or Hydrologically Sensitive Features (HSFs) on the Moraine.

KNHFs include:

  • Wetlands;
  • Significant Portions of the Habitat of Endangered, Rare and Threatened Species;
  • Fish Habitat;
  • Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest (Life Science);
  • Significant Valleylands;
  • Significant Woodlands;
  • Significant Wildlife Habitat; and
  • Sand Barrens, Savannas and Tallgrass Prairies.

The ORMCP defines some of these features more broadly than the PPS. For example:

  • The PPS protects only Provincially Significant Wetlands (PSWs) that have been evaluated and classified in accordance with the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System. Under the ORMCP, any wetland greater than 0.5 ha, regardless of whether it has been evaluated or not, is deemed significant.
  • The PPS defines Significant Woodlands as areas that have been identified and designated by a municipality, using evaluation procedures established by the Ministry of Natural Resources. On the ORM, a Significant Woodland is any stand of trees (excluding stands of fruit and nut trees and Christmas tree plantations) greater than 0.5 ha located in a Natural Core or Natural Linkage Area, or greater than 4.0 ha if located in a Countryside or Settlement Area.
  • The ORMCP protects significant portions of the habitat of provincially rare species of plants and animals, whereas the PPS addresses only those considered Threatened or Endangered.
  • Regionally Significant ANSIs are given full protection under the ORMCP, whereas the PPS recognizes only Provincially Significant ANSIs.
  • Sand Barrens, Savannas and Tallgrass Prairies are three habitat types given full protection under the ORMCP, which are not even recognized by the PPS.

Hydrologically Sensitive Features (HSFs) on the Oak Ridges Moraine are defined as:

  • Permanent and Intermittent Streams;
  • Wetlands;
  • Kettle Lakes;7
  • Seepage Areas and Springs.

None of these HSFs, with the exception of wetlands, is specifically addressed by the PPS. Under the ORMCP, Significant Wetlands are defined as any wetlands greater than 0.5 ha, and not simply those that have been classified as PSWs. The only exceptions to the prohibition on development within these areas are forest, fish and wildlife management activities; low-intensity recreational uses; conservation, flood, and erosion control projects; roads, infrastructure, and utilities such as hydro lines.8

Kettle lakes may be included within provincially significant wetland complexes; however there are many that are not considered PSWs that nevertheless receive full protection under the ORMCP. The same is true of Seepage Areas and Springs that, although typically very small features, are scattered throughout the Moraine.

Not only are KNHFs and HSFs given full protection, but the ORMCP provides for minimum 30-metre-wide buffers (known as Vegetation Protection Zones) for these features, which are also fully protected from development. Any site alteration or development proposed within 120 metres of a KNHF or an HSF must be supported by a Natural Heritage Evaluation to demonstrate that the development will not have any adverse effects on the features and their ecological functions. The evaluation may conclude that a more generous buffer (greater than 30 metres wide) is needed to protect the feature from nearby development. Over time, therefore, considerably more land than that occupied by the actual KNHFs and HSFs will receive full protection. Level 1 (full) protection is given to all KNHFs and HSFs found within those portions of the Counties of Dufferin, Simcoe, Peterborough and Northumberland and the Regional Municipalities of Peel, York and Durham that fall within the Oak Ridges Moraine Plan Area.9

5. All the upper-tier Official Plans reviewed for this study provide full policy protection to Significant Wetlands. Although the Regional Municipality of Halton fails to recognize Significant Habitat of Endangered and Threatened Species as fully protected features, this is apparently just an oversight and not a reflection of Halton's lack of interest or lack of intent in protecting these areas.
6. This was the case with the northward extension of Highway 404 through the northern part of the Regional Municipality of York; it was impossible to route the highway corridor without encroaching upon portions of several large provincially significant wetlands.
7. Kettle Lakes, depressional areas formed by glacial action that hold water throughout the year, are characteristic physiographic features of the ORM.
8. Roads, infrastructure and utilities will only be considered if the need has been demonstrated and there is no "reasonable" alternative available.
9. Note that more land than that occupied by the specific Greenlands features is given full protection under both the Natural Core Area and Natural Linkage Area designations. For example, any existing agricultural lands within these designations are intended to remain in an undeveloped state.