Level 2: Generally Protected

Outside the Oak Ridges Moraine, most of the Greenlands in the study area receive Level 2 (general) protection. These include the following features:

  • Provincially Significant Wetlands on the Canadian Shield;
  • Fish Habitat;
  • Significant Valleylands;
  • Significant Woodlands;
  • Significant Wildlife Habitat;
  • Escarpment Natural Areas;
  • Provincial Parks and Conservation Areas;
  • Provincially Significant (Life Science) ANSIs.

We consider these features to be "generally protected" because most of the Official Plans adopt the same approach and wording as the PPS - "development and site alteration" may be permitted on or next to these features "if it has been demonstrated that there will be no negative impacts on the natural features or the ecological functions for which the area is identified."

The vehicle for demonstrating "no negative impact" is typically an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a study carried out by a qualified environmental consultant on behalf of a development proponent. The EIS is submitted for review and approval by the municipality, which may circulate the EIS to the local Conservation Authority for technical review. In areas where there are no Conservation Authorities, such as the northern portions of the Counties of Simcoe and Peterborough and the City of Kawartha Lakes, this technical review function may be performed by consultants hired by the municipality.

One possible outcome of an EIS is that the proponent is able to demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the municipality and other review agencies, that development or site alteration will not result in a negative impact on the features. When the municipality grants approval for the development to proceed, there may nonetheless be some physical loss of Greenlands or impairment of ecological function. For this reason, we consider these natural heritage features to be generally protected.

Provincially Significant Wetlands on the Canadian Shield

Provincially Significant Wetlands that lie on the Canadian Shield10 are not fully protected under the PPS to the same extent as those occurring south and east of the Shield and thus are not given Level 1 protection. The PPS permits development or site alteration in Provincially Significant Wetlands on the Canadian Shield, subject to the "no negative impacts" test. Therefore, Shield PSWs are also given Level 2 protection.

Fish Habitat

Fish Habitat is usually given Level 2 protection in the Official Plans we reviewed, because under the PPS "development and site alteration" may be permitted within this natural heritage feature. However, Fish Habitat is also governed by the federal Fisheries Act (1985). The test of the Fisheries Act is whether a proposed undertaking is likely to result in a "HADD" - the "Harmful Alteration, Disruption and Destruction" of fish habitat. Any activity is considered harmful if it reduces the productive capacity of the habitat, therefore the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has adopted a principle of "no net loss of productive capacity" (DFO 1986). If a HADD is expected, the proponent must demonstrate how the impact will be mitigated (e.g., through alterations to the design of the proposed development, etc.). If the HADD cannot be avoided or adequately mitigated, there is an opportunity to compensate for the loss of Fish Habitat through replacement or increasing Fish Habitat productivity. Ultimately, an authorization must be secured from DFO before an undertaking affecting Fish Habitat is allowed to proceed.

Significant Valleylands

Significant Valleylands are invariably given Level 2 protection in municipal Official Plans, in accordance with the PPS. As a general rule, however, development or site alteration is prohibited from occurring below the top-of-bank of all well-defined valleylands (not just those defined as "significant"). Flood and fill line regulations (enforced by Conservation Authorities) are typically imposed on sections of watercourses that drain an area greater than 125 ha. These regulations restrict development in areas subject to flooding or on steep, potentially unstable slopes. Valleylands are only "generally protected" because public policies allow for development subject to the findings of supporting geotechnical studies and an EIS. In reality, however, new development rarely occurs in valleylands.

Although the physical form of a valley receives policy protection, there is no guarantee that the quality and quantity of the water within the watercourse that occupies the valleyland will not deteriorate as a result of adjacent or upstream land use activities. Headwater areas are extremely important to an aquatic system and are most often at risk because they tend to be smaller, intermittent tributaries that are not typically associated with valley features and that do not always provide fish habitat. Furthermore, floodline mapping is not required for those watercourses whose upstream catchment area is less than 125 ha. In recognition of the vulnerability of these important headwater tributaries some Conservation Authorities and municipalities (e.g., the Town of Markham, a lower-tier municipality in the Region of York) have begun to develop specific policies to address the protection of these features.

Significant Woodlands and Significant Wildlife Habitat

Two types of natural heritage features addressed by the PPS have consistently "fallen through the cracks" in terms of environmental protection: Significant Woodlands and Significant Wildlife Habitat. We have classified both of these Greenlands types as having Level 2 (general) protection because virtually all 12 of the municipal Official Plans reviewed follow the policy direction of the PPS, namely that site alteration and development is permitted in Significant Woodland and Significant Wildlife Habitat subject to demonstration of no loss of feature or function.

Under the PPS, full responsibility for the identification of these features is given to the planning authority (i.e., the municipality). Despite the fact that the upper-tier municipalities of south-central Ontario mention these features in their Official Plans, to date none has completed the municipal-wide studies necessary to define these resources at a regional or County level. At the time of writing, the only examples of upper-tier municipalities which have embarked on an initiative to define Significant Woodlands at a regional level are the Regional Municipalities of Waterloo, Halton, and Niagara. The Province has produced technical "guidelines" to help identify Significant Wildlife Habitat (OMNR 2000), but has not yet done so for Significant Woodlands. These two Greenlands types, although technically Level 2 based on policy, therefore remain largely unrecognized, unmapped, and largely unprotected throughout much of the study area.

Escarpment Natural Areas

The Official Plans of the municipalities within the Niagara Escarpment Plan assign Level 2 protection to areas designated as Escarpment Natural Areas, which represent ecologically important lands, such as stream valleys, wetlands and forests that are either "relatively undisturbed" or in a "relatively natural state."

Conservation Areas and Provincial Parks

Conservation Areas and Provincial Parks are usually natural areas, at least in part, and some are also recognized as ANSIs and ESAs. Because one of the principal objectives of these public places is the protection of natural environments, it would not seem unreasonable to assume that these areas should be considered to have Level 1 policy protection. However, relatively few of the Provincial Parks found in the study area are classified as Natural Environment parks, where the principal management objective is natural heritage protection.11 Most are classified as Recreation parks and offer recreational opportunities for the public (e.g., camping, picnicking, hiking, nature appreciation, boating, etc.). Examples include Wasaga Beach and Earl Rowe (Simcoe), Bronte (Halton), Balsam Lake (Kawartha Lakes), and Emily (Peterborough) and Sibbald Point (York). Some facility or infrastructure development is required within Recreation parks in order to support these activities.

Furthermore, there is no guarantee that these Level 2 public lands will remain in public ownership or in a predominantly natural state in perpetuity. Several Conservation Authorities in south-central Ontario have sold off some of their landholdings to generate the revenue needed to support other conservation initiatives. For these reasons, Conservation Areas and Provincial Parks are examples of Greenlands with Level 2 protection.

10. This applies to portions of the Counties of Simcoe and Peterborough and the City of Kawartha Lakes.
11. Some notable examples of Natural Environment parks include Short Hills (Niagara), Awenda (Simcoe), Wolf Island (Peterborough), and Indian Point (Kawartha Lakes).