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Letter to the Editor: Wetlands in danger if province strips protections

Five local residents express concerns about province's Bill 23
Letters to the editor

To the editor:

Very quietly in the last month the Ontario PC government has come up with a bold plan that puts the future of Ontario’s wetlands, climate change policy and environment at risk. The policy is couched in language about “building more houses faster”, but eliminates much of the protection conservation authorities were able to provide to Provincially Significant Wetlands. It eliminates the protection of species at risk in wetlands that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF) provided.

"Wetlands are critical to water filtration, flood retention, erosion control, carbon storage, nutrient cycling and groundwater recharge," according to Ontario Nature. "They also provide habitat for specialized wildlife communities. Over 20 percent of the province’s species at risk are directly dependent on wetland habitats."

The government is passing legislation that puts wetlands at risk while allowing developers to ride roughshod over protections for Provincially Significant Wetlands (Wetlands | Ontario Nature | Conservation (Nov, 2022)).

 Some of the key changes that threaten Ontario’s Wetlands include:

  • Wetland units that are part of a Provincially Significant Wetland complex can be re-evaluated individually. Those units can be removed from the Provincially Significant Wetland. This leaves it up to consultants, hired by developers, to recommend if wetlands should lose protected status.
  • Wetland boundaries can be remapped without having to re-evaluate the entire wetland.
  • OMNRF is removed from the process, leaving all decisions in the hands of local municipalities where there may be little or no wetland expertise.
  • Conservation Authorities (CA’s) will be prohibited from being contracted by municipalities to comment on Acts, including the Planning Act.  Therefore, the ability of conservation authorities to provide natural heritage comments to the City on planning applications may now be prohibited.
  • Endangered and Threatened species will no longer contribute to scoring as a Provincially Significant Wetland.
  • All Conservation Authorities (CA’s) must tell the government which lands they own that would be suitable for housing. Are we going to cover The Cascades in housing or Mission Marsh Conservation Area perhaps?
  • No permits are needed if Planning Act authorization obtained, and new tools are proposed for the government to force CA’s to issue permits whether or not development meets environmental policies and environmental best practices. 
  • Developers can carve pieces out of protected wetlands and flood other areas to “compensate” the damage.

Whether you love wetlands for the beautiful plants and flowers that grow there, or the birds and mammals that live there, you will want to protect wetlands. Wetlands are nature’s sponge and help to protect areas downstream (like the City of Thunder Bay) from flooding. Wetlands help to filter and improve water quality and they are critical as carbon sinks with their abundant vegetation. They remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it. If they are ditched and drained during development all that stored carbon dioxide and methane is released making climate change worse.

How can you help? This letter has been composed by members of The Thunder Bay Field Naturalists but is not intended to represent the opinion of the board. If you want to comment  as an Ontario resident and voter; you can post comments on the Environmental Registry of Ontario (ERO).

It is equally important that you should also direct your comments to your local MPP and local media. You must respond to the ERO post prior to Nov. 24, 2022. The government is only giving a very short and opportunity to respond, hoping the public won’t notice.

The only way to influence governmental legislation is for Ontarians to tell the government what they believe in. Ontario needs houses, but filling in the wetlands of Ontario is not the way to go, we are after all the second largest province in the country and have abundant upland areas to develop. Wetlands are not wastelands. 

This letter is signed by the following concerned citizens:

Gene Kent
John Walas
Sue Bryan 
Mike Bryan
Kyla Moore

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