Resident John Hirsch introduced a new co-operative venture to protect the county’s south shore last week and asked for council’s support of the concept.
During last Thursday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting, Hirsch asked councillors for a letter of municipal support for the South Shore Joint Initiative (SSJI) goal to protect the south shore’s public areas. Committee referred the request to staff for a report and recommendations.
Hirsch told councillors the purpose of the SSJI is to protect the biodiversity of the south shore’s marine and terrestrial ecosystems. He said that would include all the territory covered by the 26-square-kilometre, internationally recognized Important Bird Area (IBA), which also includes 65 square kilometres of nearshore waters. The IBA includes three areas of public lands: The Point Petre Wildlife Area, the Ostrander Point Crown Land Block, and the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area.
“The first step of our initiative is to have the public lands made into proper conservation areas,” said Hirsch. “Another one of our goals in the joint initiative is to work with methods with the private landowners to convince them that it’s a good idea to put conservation easements and those types of things on their properties which protect from development.”
He said while that tact may not be successful, another avenue could have been opened with the announcement of the federal budget last week. The budget includes $1.3 billion over five years to support biodiversity and expand protected areas. That could potentially open the door to some land acquisitions from willing landowners in the future.
Currently only the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area and the Miller Family Nature Reserve are protected. Hirsch said it’s important to expand that protection as the south shore’s biodiversity value is well documented.
“The south shore of Prince Edward County is essentially the last relatively undeveloped significant piece of shoreline on all of Lake Ontario,” he said. “The south shore is recognized as an important habitat for migrating birds, for bats, butterflies — including several species at risk.”
Unfortunately, Hirsch said, crown lands in Ontario are currently open to forestry, mining, and energy development. The SSJI proposes to expand protection across the south shore IBA using existing policies and legislation. The Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act of 2006 allows public lands to be made into conservation areas. Federal legislation also allows for the expansion of national wildlife areas and national marine conservation areas.
“By creating conservation areas we think this will provide huge opportunities for natural education, education of the public, and natural-related activities,” said Hirsch.
Hirsch said the protection the SSJI envisions for the south shore would be permanent and have control mechanisms in place to prevent unnatural development.
The initiative also aligns with the country’s international commitments. Canada is a party to the International Convention on Biological Diversity and has committed to protecting 17 per cent of its land by 2020.
“The current level of protection is around 10 per cent, so there’s a long way to go in just a couple of years,” Hirsch said. “We think the fairly simple thing of protecting the public areas of the south shore from development will help to reach this 17 per cent target since the government already owns the land and there’s no significant land acquisition cost to them.”
Organizers of the new organization came from the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists, the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory, the County Coalition for Safe and Appropriate Green Energy, and the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County. The SSJI was formed following a recommendation from a major conference held in the county in October 2017.
The organization has already received support from Ontario Nature, Nature Canada, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Hastings Prince Edward Land Trust, Bird Studies Canada, and the Point to Point PEC Foundation. Hirsch said the SSJI has already received a letter of support from Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis and an endorsement from Prince Edward-Hastings MPP Todd Smith is expected in the near future.
He said the SSJI isn’t seeking to change the current uses of the south shore, noting the areas have traditionally been used by ATVs and snowmobiles.
“The current uses are exactly what were trying to preserve and protect,” he said.
Councillor Steve Ferguson recognized the potential for some of the south shore’s biodiversity to be lost if it’s not protected.
“If the last five years or ten years has taught us anything, it’s that fragility and biodiversity of what exists on the south shore between the birds, the bats, the butterflies, and the alvar,” he said.
The report is anticipated to come back to council on March 13.