Council supports south shore conservation reserves

PRESERVING NATURE- The Nature Conservancy of Canada Hudgins-Rose property next to Ostrander Point Road in South Marysburgh. (Brian Coulson photo/NCC)





During the most recent Regular Council Meeting, council passed a motion to accept a report from the Development Services Department and an accompanying letter from the South Shore Joint Initiative (SSJI). Both expressed support for the designation of the Ostrander Point Crown Land Block and Point Petre Wildlife Area as conservation reserves.

Before passing the motion to approve the letter and accept the report, council passed a motion to amend the letter so as to emphasize the importance of continued permitted uses on that property, along with public consultation in the event a management plan for the area should be devised.

The report, put together by planning coordinator Cristal Laanstra, references a deputation made to council last month by Cheryl Anderson of SSJI. In her deputation, Anderson beseeched council to support the initiatives endeavour to designate both pieces of land as conservation reserves.

The SSJI has long fought to maintain and even increase the biodiversity of the county’s south shore. The area is home not only to ecologically important species, such as the rare Blandings Turtle, but also to controversy. In recent years, the SSJI was one of the main opponents to the wind turbines which were to be erected in that area.

In her deputation last month, Anderson stressed that while Southern Ontario is home to some of the country’s greatest loss of biodiversity, the south shore of the county is the last undeveloped shoreline on the north shore of Lake Ontario.

In her report, Laanstra explains the purpose of conservation reserves and how that pertains to the areas in question.

“Conservation reserves specifically protect significant natural and cultural features while providing opportunities for a variety of compatible traditional activities (e.g. Fishing, hunting, trapping)…this helps to provide an important contribution to biodiversity and mediate the effects of climate change, an important role of these areas,” wrote Laanstra.

Furthermore, designating these lands as conservation areas would allow for greater environmental monitoring.

Councillor Jamie Forrester spoke to the issue of continuing to allow recreational vehicles on both properties.

“It’s my understanding,” said Forrester, “this was not to limit the recreational vehicles on these lands…”

CAO Marcia Wallace iterated that it is ultimately up the province to set the rules for the land, though the municipality could have sway by way of amending the letter to make their desired uses more specific.

“First of all, they haven’t agreed to want to do any of this. This is a bit of an advocacy letter,” explained Wallace. “We have no indication the province would be interested in restricting recreational vehicles as they are permitted in other parts that the conservation authority may own.”

Despite this, as Wallace points out, the province does have the power to limit activity on both pieces of land.

“They do have the authority to limit it (recreational vehicle use), typically in areas of environmental sensitivity. It would be up to the province to set the rules. We’re just outlining the powers they have,” said Wallace.

Forrester further iterated he has gotten several calls from concerned residents opposing restrictions to use on those properties.

Councillor John Hirsch, who also sits on the board of directors of SSJI, pointed out the conservation reserve designation carries with it the ability to negotiate with the province as to what activities are permitted.

“One reason the SSJI has focused on this type of measure for protection as opposed to others is it allows for negotiation with the province as to what is allowed,” said Hirsch. “The intention of SSJI has been published since the beginning-not to restrict ATVs, snowmobiles etc.”

Hirsch explained that details of land use would be flushed out during the creation of a management plan, which won’t take place until the lands are officially designated as conservation reserves.

CAO Wallace noted that, should the province wish to move forward with such a designation, consultation on a management plan may not be mandatory. In that case, she suggested council include a clause to indicate they would like current land uses to be permitted and indicating they want wide public consultation to occur in the event of a management plan.