Public Consultation: Mapping Natural Heritage Systems, SDG & South Nation Conservation

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South Nation Conservation (SNC) held a public consultation meeting on February 9 for residents within the United Counties of Stormont Dundas & Glengarry to discuss the ongoing project of mapping the Natural Heritage Systems. A second public consultation meeting for the United Counties of Prescott Russel (UCPR) was held the following night. Both public consultation sessions were recorded and can be found on the South Nation Conservation’s YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/SouthNationCA. The project is a partner study that began when SDG and UCPR decided to work together to study the Natural Heritage Systems beyond their own boundaries, and then asked SNC to work with them. The SNC asked Raisin Region Conservation Authority to participate, as they have jurisdiction on parts of SDG. The final maps, and all the data collected through the process of mapping, will be used to help update the Official Plans and policies for the Counties. It is a provincial policy requirement that the Counties must undertake Natural Heritage Studies.

The meeting featured John Mesman, Team Lead for Communications and Outreach, and Alison McDonald, Team Lead for Approvals. The SNC is one of Ontario’s 36 Conservation Authorities, whose mandate includes community based watershed management. SNC encompass 16 municipalities, and covers 4441 km2 in Eastern Ontario.

Natural Heritage Systems planning recognises that all of the natural features, such as forests, rivers, or wetlands on our landscape are truly connected. They do not exist in isolation. There are two main components of a Natural Heritage System, the core natural area, and the linkage that connects those core natural areas. These linkages are essential to support the wildlife movement between core natural areas. This movement is essential to ensure genetic diversity of a population. In its broadest terms, the goals of the study include: identifying natural heritage features and supporting areas; recognising local linkages and wildlife corridors between these natural heritage features; improving environmental policies; providing a scientific basis for land and water stewardship activities; protecting and enhancing regional biodiversity, indigenous species, and ecosystems; helping to mitigate the effects of climate change such as flooding and drought by keeping wetlands and forests on the landscape, and conserving natural legacy for future generations.

They began by mapping as many potential core areas or corridors as possible. Not all of them will end up on the final map. Forests must be socially significant, and as big as possible, with existing protection. They looked for large areas that already contained large tracts of public land, so that these cores and corridors remain for future generations. They encourage people to reach out with what areas they think should be included. Even if an area doesn’t end up on the final maps, many regions already have policy to protect local forest or wetland, and this will continue. We need a strong green, resilient landscape. The draft maps are online.

Planning and development is a balancing exercise between people and nature, and economy and ecology. The advantage to looking at the entire region is that we can look at how the different parts interconnect. Habitat loss and fragmentation is the leading cause of species loss and decline in Ontario. Climate change is causing shifts in the range of our species. Roads make it difficult for species to travel. Urban sprawl can destroy wildlife habitat. Intense development can cause flooding. Intensification in urban areas can help reduce urban sprawl. Forest and wetlands help protect communities from some effects of climate change. Even small natural features, such as vernal pools or hedgerows on private property, can benefit species. Natural Heritage Systems also provide us with ecosystem services that sustain life or improve the quality of life, such as clean water, pollination, and flood reduction. Genetic diversity is only possible if genetic exchange is possible, when species can travel between different areas.

Moose and Fishers are considered keystone wildlife species because of the large range and specific habitat requirements of each of these species. Moose need large tracts of forest, not just a few trees. They rely on forests for food, protection from predators, and shelter. They require a variety of forests as well, including mature vegetation to offer a canopy of tree cover for protection against the weather in summer and weather. They also require forests with new growth for food. Moose populations are threatened when they cannot access both types of forest. If it makes sense to see moose as a keystone wildlife species for the fast tracks of different types of forests they require, it at first seems odd to realise that the other keystone species is the fisher. The fisher is a solitary member of the weasel family. It can be found in most of Canada. They are considered a keystone species because of their need for large interconnected areas of mature forest. These mature forests, and the corridors that previously connected them, are disappearing rapidly. It is one of the many reasons the counties and South Nation Conservation have undertaken to map the large areas and the corridors connecting them.

The South Nation Conservation is asking people to report sightings of the keystone wildlife. In addition to moose and fishers, they are also asking that you report sightings of beavers, turtles and honeybees.

Report keystone wildlife sightings using the Survey123app found at: survey123.arcgis.com
Or through the Story Map available at www.nation.on.ca

Forms for the public to provide feedback on the draft NHS maps are available on the South Nation Conservation website, at www.nation.on.ca

Stakeholders and special interest groups can provide additional feedback through scheduling private meetings with SNC staff in February. Forms to schedule these meetings are available on the South Nation Conservation website, at www.nation.on.ca

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