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COLUMN: Huronia Land Conservancy essential under 'dangerous' Ford gov't

'If even the Greenbelt can be attacked by ill-informed cronyism, maybe we need to make a stronger effort to put environmentally valuable property in the care of independent managers who commit to protection in perpetuity,' writer says
A recent protest in downtown Midland decrying province's Greenbelt, homebuilding plans.

Doug Ford has taken a stick to another wasp’s nest.

Opposition to Bill 23 has spread across all sectors of the province and once again Ford is left flailing against objections that he or his supporters should have seen coming.

Telling the Madame Mayor of Mississauga to quit whining is a rhetorical cry of desperate defence, not to mention a piece of paternalistic sexism.

But it’s not like he hasn’t done this exact same thing before. Caught on camera saying there’s space in the Greenbelt in 2018 he was surprised by the response and backtracked and promised – PROMISED – to keep it intact.

Only four years later, and he surprises us all with a new revised and more dangerous plan to alter, swap out and build on the Greenbelt.

Does he and all his staff forget what he said? That would be frightening.  Or do they think we will forget?  That would be insulting.

The fact that media have been diligent in tracking the interesting real estate transactions that have taken place prior to Ford’s announcement brings it all to another level of doubt.

This threat to one of the major environmental successes in Ontario makes my commitment to the concept of Land Conservancies even stronger. If even the Greenbelt can be attacked by ill-informed cronyism, maybe we need to make a stronger effort to put environmentally valuable property in the care of independent managers who commit to protection in perpetuity.

And what could be more valuable than the unique geological, geomorphological and hydrological features found in North Simcoe? And when I say unique I mean One Of A Kind.

The longest sand beach complex in the world. Geomorphological features like the complex of moraines, serpentine sand hills and glacial melt-water features seen nowhere else in this size.

A land mass in the centre of a continent with a uniquely moderate climate due to the lakes that surround it and that makes our area home to an absolute jewel of biodiversity.

Natural Highways formed by those same lakes make our area a major migration route for birds, animals and plants.

A multiplicity of watersheds and dozens of rivers and streams feeding into those lakes and dozens of wetlands and swamps that are home to diverse wildlife.

I’ve lived here for 20 years and the above list, given to me by the past co-chair of the Huronia Land Conservancy, was a revelation and all of the above features deserve discussion but to pick one I note the moraines and sand hills.

To quote; “As this was the preeminent area in all of North America hosting the huge lakes of melt-water at the end of the last ice age, these geomorphological features are found nowhere else in this size and complexity.

“Each melt-water lake had a different depth so their ancient fossil shorelines occur at different altitudes on the sides of huge sand hills and bluffs. The Nipissing Bluff and the Algonquin Bluff complex stand just inland all along the Georgian Bay Shoreline from Severn Sound to south of Elmvale.

“They are very large continuous features – in places over one hundred metres high. They create important micro-climates – well drained dry upland areas on top and moist/wet lowland areas below. Numerous rare plants and animals inhabit these unique habitats.”

Of course the concept of sand and moraines brings to mind gravel pits and if these features haven’t already been built on or bulldozed, they are likely targets for excavation.

And I, for one, didn’t even know they existed.

There are several land conservancies in our part of the country.

Georgian Bay Land Trust, the Couchiching Conservancy, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservancy and the Huronia Land Conservancy (HLC).

About 12 years ago, a dedicated group of locals created the HLC after realizing none of the other three were working to put property under protection in Huronia.

A land trust or conservancy accepts properties still in a state of nature and considered worthy of protection.  A property can be donated with the donor receiving a tax receipt, or put under a conservation easement which is a permanent agreement that allows the owner to remain on the property while agreeing to keep it in its natural state.  As an ecological gift an easement can also qualify for a tax receipt.

Starting one of these from scratch is a lot of work and it took years to obtain recognition from the government, get charitable status and qualify for a Trillium Grant, which allowed these volunteers to embark on a professional survey of all likely properties in the area for geographical and hydrological features, for types of woodland and for species at risk.

With this information mapped and a strong familiarity with the region they have been able to accept responsibility for two properties. Others are being considered.

The Huronia Land Conservancy is not alone in having had difficulties raising funds and recruiting both members and individuals to serve on the board through the pandemic. Three members, who joined in 2019, have been making progress on raising funds through grant applications and contacts made several years ago through the Trillium Survey Project resulting in a land donation in 2022.

The scale of the problems of continuing development, a climate crisis and government mismanagement can make it seem there’s little an individual can do but check out the Huronia Land Conservancy’s website and facebook page, make a donation, offer some time and maybe another piece of property can be saved for future generations.

Bill Molesworth is a retired CEO and chief librarian of both the Midland and Fredericton public libraries.He also sits on the Huronia Land Conservancy's board of directors.