By Amber Cowie

In the countdown to the provincial election, the Green Prosperity Initiative, a coalition of 21 environmental organizations including Ontario Nature, released seven green priorities that the coalition believes are the most important provincial environmental concerns in 2011 (see “Seeing green,” Spring 2011, page 8).

One of these priorities is to “help farmers and landowners safeguard and expand habitat for Ontario’s endangered plants and animals.” Ontario Nature has been deeply involved in exploring ways in which we can best work with, and support, southern Ontario’s farming community and rural landowners. Most importantly, we believe in raising awareness about good stewardship practices already in action across the province. Numerous farmers and landowners are restoring rare ecosystems such as tallgrass prairie, creating pollinator hedgerows and rehabilitating wetlands. While many landowners and farmers possess extensive knowledge of their land, they often need help to understand the needs of particular species that inhabit it. As well, these efforts cost money and time, and landowners need the support of incentive programs that help share costs or labour.

The Green Prosperity Initiative has identified three key ways that the provincial government can best work with farmers and landowners in conservation efforts:

• Support innovative incentive programs, such as Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS), and product certification, such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, to reward good habitat management.

• Develop expert field support services that can offer practical assistance to landowners and managers looking to manage their lands sustainably.

• Develop a “safe harbour” mechanism so that farmers and landowners know they will retain control over the lands they are stewarding for endangered species.

Conservation organizations must continue to work closely with farmers and landowners who play a critical role in protecting Ontario’s increasingly imperilled web of biodiversity.