Fears for Ontario wetlands as province finalizes changes to evaluations — despite thousands of letters opposed
Critics say the changes will “completely undermine the protection of wetlands” while doing little for housing.
By Noor JavedStaff Reporter,Toronto Star Sat., Dec. 24, 2022 photo Hartley Woodside
The majority of sensitive wetlands in the Greater Toronto Area could lose environmental protection under the provincial government’s drastic overhaul of how wetlands are evaluated, leaving the lands open to development, critics say.
The province finalized its proposed changes to the “Ontario Wetland Evaluation System” (OWES) — a scoring method that determines if a wetland warrants provincial protection — on the eve of winter holidays. That’s despite nearly 15,000 comments from the “public, environmental and conservation organizations, academic/scientific community, Indigenous communities, and municipalities,” expressing “concern for changes that were perceived to be reducing wetland protection.”
Critics, who include the Auditor General of Ontario, said the changes will “completely undermine the protection of wetlands in Ontario” while doing little to fix the housing crisis. The changes the province is moving ahead with include: reducing government oversight in evaluating wetlands; evaluating smaller wetlands independently and not as part of a larger wetland complex, which would likely remove them from protection; and changing the scoring so the presence of an endangered species or species at risk would not automatically qualify the wetland for protection.
Conservation authorities in Toronto, Halton and the Niagara Peninsula, which are responsible for managing wetlands, said up to 95 per cent of provincially significant wetlands (PSW) in their jurisdictions could be “negatively impacted.”
“The complete overhaul of the OWES … will ensure that very few wetlands would be deemed provincially significant in the future and that many if not most existing PSWs could lose that designation,” according to a letter submitted to the province, signed by 70 environmental groups in Ontario including Ontario Nature, Birds Canada and the National Farmers Union. “As a result, very few of Ontario’s wetlands would benefit in the future from the protection that PSW designation currently provides.”
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