By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
The new provincial changes to a series of growth plans may be making steps to combat urban sprawl, but according to environmental activists, it’s creating gaps in the protection of the areas most vulnerable plants and animals.
According to Josh Wise, the Greenway program manager with Ontario Nature, the most recent changes to a series of provincial growth and conservation plans, which most notably look to curb the sprawling growth of GTA cities, are a step forward.
“Certainly, we see the yardstick is moving in the right direction. We do see these changes as a positive progression as we look to promote smart growth in the province and protecting more natural lands,” he says. “But there was certainly some fairly major issues that we were quite disappointed to see.”
In particular, Ontario Nature states that particular safeguards for the habitat of endangered species were removed as part of the new plan, reducing municipal power to protect these lands.
This is a particular concern when it comes to certain reptile and amphibian species, Wise says.
“As our municipalities are expanding and industry is displacing more and more natural habitats, reptiles and amphibians are especially hurt by this type of habitat transformation,” he says.
The Blanding’s turtle, snapping turtles and the Jefferson’s salamander are only a few of the particularly vulnerable species within the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine that require protection, something the 2005 version of the plans included, along with providing buffers around these habitats.
“We were certainly asking for the province to keep that original policy in place, we felt it was effective,” Wise says. “It was helping maintain the habitats of species at risk on the Greenbelt and across the Oak Ridges Moraine and the change that they made essentially takes that protection away.”
However, the organization was pleased to note the addition of 21 Urban River Valleys and associated coastal wetlands along with five parcels of land in Niagara, Halton and Hamilton to the Greenbelt.
The recent changes to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan were put forward in May after a consultation process that began in 2015. Changes will come into effect on July 1.