This study has arisen out of a need to better understand the extent and distribution of Greenlands in south-central Ontario and the factors influencing their loss, maintenance, and security. Security, in this context, means the likelihood that the Greenlands will persist in the future.
For the purposes of this study "Greenlands" are defined as natural heritage features such as woodlands, wetlands, valleys, watercourses, and waterbodies, as well as areas such as conservation areas, agricultural preserves, or Crown land. Agricultural areas that are recognized in municipal Official Plans as agricultural preserves or specialty croplands are also included, but only if protected by municipal policy.
South-central Ontario is the fastest-growing area in Canada, with an expected increase in population of about 3.5 million people by 2035 (Central Ontario Smart Growth Panel 2003). This growth is fuelling demand for developable land and exerting pressure on the natural heritage resources of the region. There is a widespread and growing concern among the public that the natural environment of the Central Ontario Zone is slowly being lost or degraded in the face of urban sprawl and scattered, unfocused development. This concern is reflected in one of the six goals of Ontario's Smart Growth initiative, announced in 2001:
Smart Growth will work to protect the quality of our air, our land and our water by steering growth pressures away from significant agricultural lands and natural areas.
The Province's Smart Growth Consultation Paper (released in fall 2001), recommended that Ontario "create permanent protection for significant natural areas." Recent initiatives such as the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan represent a step in this direction, but there is still a long way to go. This study is an attempt to survey the status of Greenlands that are currently designated as such in official documents.
The specific objectives of the study are:
- To complete an inventory of the Greenlands of the central Ontario Region, involving the compilation of the most current data available in a digital (i.e., GIS-compatible) format from a variety of sources, including provincial and municipal governments, Conservation Authorities, and non-governmental organizations;
- To develop a four-level hierarchy of Greenlands protection ranging from "Full protection" to "No protection" based on federal, provincial, and municipal natural heritage policies, including the Provincial Policy Statement, municipal Official Plans, and the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan;
- To apply these rankings to Greenlands in each of the 14 upper-tier municipalities that constitute the central Ontario study area in order to illustrate the relative level of protection assigned to each feature;
- To depict the spatial distribution of the Region's Greenlands using colour maps (one for each of the upper-tier municipalities that make up the study area);
- To comment on important issues related to the protection of Greenlands in the region.