The Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network maintains UNESCO’s mandate and designation of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere
The Niagara Escarpment Biosphere represents an extensive stretch of forested land in south-central Ontario which includes two major biomes, boreal needleleaf forests and temperate broadleaf forests. The Biosphere remains one of Ontario’s most scenic landscapes and offers a mix of both natural and urban environments. The main goals of the Biosphere are to preserve the region’s ecological diversity, to encourage stakeholders to use sustainable practices, and to uphold socio-cultural relationships through educational programs and tourism.
Proposed Bill 23’s erosion of the Greenbelt, which intersects the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere from Niagara to Tobermory, is effectively an attack on biodiversity and on the capacity of our natural areas and farmlands to provide ecosystem benefits, human physical and mental health benefits, and in this time of food insecurity, the ability to feed ourselves. If we learned one thing from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that the best prevention for future recurrence is biodiversity and people's ability to immerse themselves in open spaces.
Through UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme, biosphere regions are established to cover internationally designated areas that are “meant to demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature” and promote sustainable development. Biosphere regions contain three zones. These include Core Areas, which comprise strictly protected lands that conserve landscapes, ecosystems, and species and genetic variation; Buffer Zones, that surround Core Areas and are intended for activities compatible with sustainable ecological practice; and Transition Areas, that are intended to foster sustainable economic activities.
Ontario’s proposed Bill 23 presents a clear and present threat to the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere.
The partners in our network are diverse and include sectors ranging from conservation trusts, to environmental organizations, to conservation authorities, to colleges and universities, to municipalities, to Indigenous nations, organizations, and groups, to sustainable businesses, to non-governmental organizations, and more, representing populations within Ontario that possess credentialed knowledge and the healthy human empathy required to provide responsible solutions to housing needs. All seek to maintain their agency and voice and to be respectively heard in responding to the singular strategy that Bill 23 represents.
While several important sectors have been publicly muted, meaning some of the leading experts in conservation are being prevented from sharing their knowledge and insights, sitting in silence as the green and conservation lands previously believed to be protected are placed in jeopardy, numerous questions arise.
For example, what data or intel does the province have to suggest that allowing development in currently, and appropriately, protected lands is good public policy or good land use planning? Has the process included sound science including the traditional knowledge and perspectives of Indigenous peoples? Why does the legislation essentially eviscerate municipal, ie. community, authority over the manner and means by which local people define and shape their towns and quality of life? Has it assessed, for example, standing Indigenous land claims, treaty rights, and unceded territory recognition, or is the province leading development speculators and the public purse into protracted conflicts?
We agree that the provision of adequate and affordable housing is of vital importance. But destroying long-established conserved and protected lands in pursuit of that objective is neither a sensible, nor honourable, nor appropriate option. A thorough public process that allows for conscientious dialogue and consideration of creative options to protect biodiversity, and that provides adequate time for fulsome assessment and discourse, is one we would support.