On the 10-year anniversary of the protection plan for one of southern Ontario’s most treasured landscapes, Ontario Nature and fellow environmentalists concede that the fight for the moraine is not over yet.
By Peter Gorrie
This summer, the Oak Ridges Moraine marks a milestone: it’s 10 years since the Conservative provincial government of the day, to widespread surprise, took the first step toward saving this ecological treasure from development.
Advocates of conservation generally agree that the rules and regulations enacted in the Oak Ridges Moraine Protection Plan have done much of the job for which they were designed. But their comments convey more satisfaction than enthusiasm. “It was pretty darn good,” says David Burnett of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), which controls some moraine land. “On balance, I’d give it eight and a half out of 10.” Ontario Nature’s executive director Caroline Schultz awards the plan a B-plus. “The plan has done reasonably well in terms of protecting the moraine,” she says.
But all agree there is much room for improvement. With the preservation plan slated to undergo a mandatory review in 2015, many ideas are already being proposed, ranging from bureaucratic tinkering to major alterations to where development is permitted.
What is at stake is a hilly band of forests, wetlands, prairies, kettle lakes and waterways that meanders for 160 kilometres across southern Ontario. Although the area contains fast-growing towns and scattered pockets of development, and lies in the path of relentless urban expansion from Toronto, 40 kilometres to the south, the landscape retains much of its natural beauty and function.
The moraine is home to hundreds of species of trees, flowers, birds, fish, reptiles and mammals. Beneath its rolling surface are aquifers that store such vast quantities of water, filtered by the sand and gravel of the moraine to pristine purity, that it is known as the region’s rain barrel. For southern Ontario residents, the moraine provides a network of parks, horseback and hiking trails, fishing waters, golf courses and places to simply breathe in country air or be replenished by communion with the natural world.
That the Oak Ridges Moraine still offers these benefits is a testament to the many individuals and groups that fought to keep developers at bay. That it will continue largely intact seems more likely now than a decade ago. But this is far from guaranteed. Advocates say new protective measures are essential, as projects on and off the moraine threaten its water resources and increase the demand for highways and other infrastructure that would chop its natural areas into unsustainable chunks. So the same groups that battled for protection a decade ago have launched a new campaign, The Moraine for 2015, aimed at ensuring that the review strengthens the plan and to fend off any attempts to weaken it.