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New wetlands strategy good news for second marsh

A new provincial wetlands strategy could mean more dollars for projects like the draw down at the Oshawa Second Marsh.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Oshawa’s Second Marsh has many friends, and all of them will be clapping their hands after the province announced a new strategy designed to protect and restore Ontario’s wetlands into the future.

The Ontario Wetland Conservation Strategy is the first of its kind in the province and lays out a number of strategic objectives and recommendations for how to reverse the disturbing destruction of valuable wetlands across Ontario between now and 2030.

The announcement and strategy to reverse the loss came along with a $1.9 million funding commitment for Ducks Unlimited Canada for wetland restoration in Southern Ontario.

It was welcome news for Brian Braiser, the executive director of the Friends of Second Marsh.

“Friends of Second Marsh is very pleased to see an excellent organization like Ducks Unlimited Canada receive these funds,” Brasier says. “Wetlands in southern Ontario are under a great deal of pressure and DUC is doing valuable work to conserve these important resources. We are grateful for the generous commitment of time, energy, and finances that DUC has already provided towards improving the health of Second Marsh.”

Since the 1800s, southern Ontario has lost approximately three-quarters of all the wetlands that had been around before the European settlers arrived, falling beneath the shovel and steady expansion of urban sprawl and development.

“That’s really what the strategy speaks to is that we need to stop the loss now, we need to turn the corner and start putting more back,” says Kevin Rich, the head of industry and government relations in Ontario for Ducks Unlimited Canada. “What it all comes down to is using those funds to do more to restore and manage wetlands and to do some more research into the services or benefits that wetlands provide to society,”

Those benefits include improved water quality, ground water recharge and flood mitigation, something that has been put into stark relief this summer as rainfalls and lake levels have hit record highs.

Numbers from the Ontario government estimate that acting as natural infrastructure, wetlands produce at least $14 billion in economic benefit each year.

As a coastal wetland, Oshawa’s Second Marsh is not only more significant but has been hit harder by the impacts of development over the last 200 years.  For that reason, it makes them both very difficult and very expensive to restore.

And while no dollars have been committed yet from the newly acquired $1.9 million, Rich says that the funds will be going toward similar restoration projects like those seen this past season in Second Marsh with the pumping system installed to carry out the draw down. The draw down process pulled water from the marsh in order to expose the bed of the wetland to the sun and encourage growth of dormant vegetation. The restoration also includes the management of invasive species like Asian carp and invasive phragmites.

In many cases, Rich sees the money going toward projects that have been in place for some time.

“That infrastructure has a lifespan so it has to be repaired and at certain points replaced, so we’re doing that across Southern Ontario for projects that we built 20 or 30 years ago,” he says.

In terms of the strategy itself, Rich says the document acts as an action plan and a “commitment to reversing wetland loss” on behalf of the province.

“Halting wetland loss requires coordinated efforts and a clear plan of action and that’s exactly what this strategy provides,” states Kathryn McGarry, Minster of Natural Resources and Forestry. “By partnering with Ducks Unlimited Canada we are creating a partnership that will allow us to leverage expert advice while achieving the targets and actions laid out in this strategy.”

And while Rich says Ducks Unlimited is supportive of all the main recommendations in the strategy, one potential change is perhaps the most promising.

The introduction of an offsetting policy across the province is currently being considered, and if implemented, could require developers who remove wetlands to restore or rebuild them elsewhere, perhaps on a two-to-one basis.

“Economic activity is going to continue,” Rich says. “We’re still going to be building highways and subdivisions and Wal-Marts and hospitals and in some cases, that’s going to impact wetlands. So, to make the best out of an unfortunate situation is to require this offsetting.”