Skip to content

COLUMN: Forests and wetlands need immediate protection from MZOs, encroaching development

Huronia Land Conservancy is working hard to protect natural habitats in our area

The first few days of November brought a new group of initials to our attention – MZOs or Ministerial Zoning Orders.

Toronto was surprised to find three major developments had been approved by the provincial government without any consultation with council or even the city’s planning department.

Pickering awoke one day to find a 30-acre Provincially Significant Wetland was to become home for a giant warehouse.

Then, a letter to MidlandToday by Ontario Headwaters Institute executive director Andrew McCammon pointed out that these cases are part of a year-long explosion in such orders: Orders that override local councils’ authority and ignore all planning regulations.

They are being granted at ‘an alarming rate,’ he says, noting that 33 have been issued by this Conservative Government which is more than the Liberals did in the 15 years of their latest mandate.

Another media outlet reported that “new legislation by Doug Ford’s provincial government will override the powers of Ontario’s conservation authorities, limiting their ability to assess the environmental impact of developments across the Province.”

Conservation Ontario general manager Kim Gavine says the changes are extreme and will limit, if not eliminate, conservation authorities’ ability to work holistically.

Individual orders could have dangerous effects by being less effective when it comes to protecting water quality, monitoring water levels and mitigating possible flooding.

Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, says conservation authorities will still be allowed to give advice, but that developers don’t need to pay any attention.

“It’s all been taken away,” he says. “The developers are all in control.”

As I became more aware of the hazards of MZOs and the damage that will be inflicted on a precarious environment I referred back to previous issues of Midland Today.

On Oct. 4, we learned it was National Forests Week. Certainly, out of all the weeks and days and months we have to mark something, this is one that needs more awareness.

The manager of forests for the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority (NVCA) spoke about the effects of climate change and the ever-increasing problem of invasive species endangering one of our best defences against increasing temperatures.

Earlier in the year, there was a discussion of how forests offer solace – a walk in the woods refreshes and relaxes and gives a better perspective on our lives, not to mention providing life to thousands of species and a carbon sink as we continue to consume our way to catastrophe.

On November 9, there was a cheering story about the National Conservancy of Canada working with the NCVA to take under management 32 hectares of buffer habitat abutting the Minesing Wetlands, which are home to at least three species at risk.

The Wetlands are also a prime filter for the water that goes into the Nottawasaga River that feeds into Georgian Bay and a welcoming stop for migrating birds.

Every day, MidlandToday runs a weather report, which features a lovely photograph of part of our natural surroundings – recently a wetland with a turtle on a log, a dragonfly on a leaf, a bird on a wire. Not pictures of construction sites or suburban neighbourhoods, we note.

When we want to step back from our daily stress, we look to nature. When we hope to mitigate the effects of global warming, we look to forests.

It was reported recently that population pressure on areas outside the GTA will continue to grow, especially now that many people are looking at working from home as a permanent option.  North Simcoe is expecting increases in the range of 30% over the next decades.

We are lucky to have green space all around us and maybe we take it for granted, assuming it will always be there. But drive south and see the subdivisions creeping closer and it becomes apparent that unless we do something, it won’t.

One of the groups trying to stem the tide is the Huronia Land Conservancy, which about 10 years ago, began organizing to step into a gap in the Conservancy coverage of Simcoe County and surrounding areas.

The Couchiching Conservancy, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservancy and the Georgian Bay Land Trust are all well established and successful organizations actively protecting large properties.

The Huronia group has been playing catch up and a small group of dedicated volunteers has been working hard all those years to get incorporated, registered as a non-profit, and commence evaluating properties.

With a three-year Trillium grant they surveyed 208 properties for condition and habitat, identified dozens of bird species, including eight at risk, hundreds of floral species and provided information to landowners on effective management practices.

With this base of information and contacts they plan to continue outreach and education efforts, but more importantly, continue to explore the possibility of putting land under permanent stewardship.

With a management plan being implemented on their first property, they are in discussions regarding the acquisition of two others.

This is a complicated and expensive process requiring a survey of the prospective property, legal resolution and remediation if needed.

Fundraising is a major preoccupation at the moment. Their first effort at a program was intended to be a Paddle Fest Film Festival to be held at the MCC on April 9 and the response was very positive. But we all know what happened to that.

COVID has made it extremely difficult for small charities to raise funds at all and the Conservancy’s dedicated members and donors can only be asked for so much.

Please check out their website at and their Facebook page for more information, to donate or to become a member.

Bill Molesworth is a retired CEO and chief librarian of both the Midland and Fredericton public libraries.