Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy lobbies province for restored funding

TORONTO—The Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy (EBC) is asking for public support in relating concerns to the Minister of Natural Resources (MNR) in regards to the provincial government having abandoned providing funding for land conservation.

A story published in the Niagara Escarpment Views Winter 2012-2013 edition notes, “land trusts attempt to continue to conserve nature reserves, despite the virtual stop of all such work by government and conservation authorities. The MNR has now stopped the Ontario Land Trust Assistance Program, their program of funding such expenses as appraisals and legal work to receive donated properties. This means a loss of one-third of the revenue for many conservancies like EBC. This will reduce the acquisition of sensitive lands that provide not just public access but ecological services like improved water and air quality.”

“We are hoping people who are interested and support our concerns will write to the minister of natural resources (Michael Gravelle) indicating their concerns and the need to reinstate funding,” stated Bob Barnett, of the EBC, in an interview with the Recorder on Tuesday. “A strategy had been put in place in the 1950s that provided for funding from the province for conservation of natural areas. The conservation authority provided 75 percent of funding for the acquisition for river valleys, for instance, to preserve areas where people should not be building. And the provincial parks system was built on the acquisition of parks-property for conservation purposes.”

Mr. Barnett explained, “in 1986 the government provided $5 million in funding to secure natural areas to preserve as parks, but in 2011 this ended and the funds were cut back to $125,000 to help with the cost of land acquisitions for such things as land appraisals and lawyer fees. But now this funding is at zero––there is no money being provided.”

Mr. Barnett further pointed out, “3.8 percent of Ontario south of the Canadian Shield is currently protected in title. This is a lot less than what the province had agreed to in the International Convention on Biodiversity which sets 12 percent as a minimum of parks and protected areas in each eco region, which includes, for instance, two ecological regions in southern Ontario, Great Lakes, and the tempered forest which includes Manitoulin Island.”

“It was the province that agreed to the target of 12 percent as a minimum for parks and protected areas in each eco region, but Ontario has just basically been sitting on its hands,” said Mr. Barnett. “And the environment commissioner very recently announced the provincial target has now been set at 17 percent, but they haven’t even reached the 12 percent mark, and now they have made this cut in funding.”

The story in the Niagara Escarpment Views states, “Ontario looks bad internationally. Despite agreeing to the International Convention on Biodiversity, which sets 12 percent as a minimum for parks and protected areas in each eco region, Ontario south of the Canadian Shield has never reached higher than 3.79 percent. Just as our (Ontario) environmental commissioner has drawn our attention to the international convention standard being raised to 17 percent, the provincial government makes this cut.”

“The Ontario government has made heavy cuts to the Ministry of Natural Resources,” the article notes. “From 1956 to 2011, MNR funded efforts to conserve lands. With its help, Mac Kirk, our recently deceased board member, was able to buy 19,000 acres for Grey Sauble Conservation Authority. Now, Ontario has ceased all funding for land acquisition, but increased funding for health and education.”

“I have sent a questionnaire to the seven leadership candidates for the Liberals as to what they are going to do with these concerns if they are elected in the next provincial election,” said Mr. Barnett. “The previous governments have done better than the current government, the Harris, Peterson and Rae governments did better than this government. We can all agree there are budget problems in the province that has to be considered, all the money is going to health and education which saw increases in funding in the last budget but the MNR, which makes up only 0.4 percent of the entire Ontario budget, saw a further four percent reduction in funds. This isn’t right.”

Tom Sasvari