By Caroline Schultz

Hurray for polar bears! Hurray for old-growth forests! Hurray for beaver ponds! And yes, hurray even for the elegant stinkhorn (a fungus) and the flooded jellyskin (a threatened lichen). This year is the United Nations (UN) International Year of Biodiversity.

Eighteen years after 150 nations signed the International Convention on Biological Diversity at the Earth Summit in Rio, the UN is inviting us to reflect on the interconnectedness of all elements of the ecosphere and is asking us to raise awareness about how important nature is in the life of humans. The UN is challenging us to help halt the loss of biodiversity through personal action and public policy. But the UN is also asking that we celebrate the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world.

Biological diversity is life in all its forms. Its complexity is astounding, beautiful, inspiring and fun to explore. In Ontario, biodiversity includes the ocean, tundra and muskeg of the far north, the forests, lakes and wetlands of the boreal region, the deciduous woodlands, grasslands and wetlands of the south, and all the biological communities they contain. All these make up the web of life that sustains us.

Ontario Nature has been in the biodiversity business since 1931, leading the way to protect our province’s wild species and wild spaces. Since the Rio Summit in 1992, we have made significant strides. We were leaders in the campaign for the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act and Plan, which saved almost 195,000 hectares from urban development. We more than doubled the size of our nature reserve system to protect some of Ontario’s most important habitats. Our campaign with the Partnership for Public Lands protected 2.4 million hectares in 378 new parks and conservation reserves in northern and central Ontario. We ensured that mining activities are not permitted in hundreds of newly protected areas. We pushed for a new, stronger Endangered Species Act. And we published the second Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario with our partners and this year launched the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas project. We can reflect on these achievements in the International Year of Biodiversity. But our job is not done, and with climate change the threats to biodiversity continue to grow.

Our pledge is to achieve even greater conservation landmarks on behalf of biodiversity in 2010 and the coming decade. Ontario Nature will work to see that Premier McGuinty’s vision to protect at least half of the northern boreal forest is realized. We will ensure that the Endangered Species Act is enforced so that the habitat of endangered and threatened species, such as the woodland caribou, is protected. We will work to achieve a greater level of protection for our wetlands. We will spearhead the Greenway movement to protect interconnected systems of large habitat cores, reducing and reversing habitat fragmentation and helping species adapt to climate change. And we will do what naturalists do best – document the locations and habitats of some of our most sensitive species, especially reptiles and amphibians, to inform conservation action.

Let’s celebrate biodiversity and help protect it, one outing at a time. Let’s get our neighbours, colleagues, family and friends exploring biodiversity, learning firsthand why the planet’s well-being and ours are bound together. We can make this year and the coming decade a turning point for nature in Ontario and lead by example.

Over the coming year, ON Nature magazine will be celebrating the International Year of Biodiversity with stories that highlight Ontario’s incredible biodiversity. The magazine will take us to places and showcase species many of us know little about, in stories like Peter Christie’s on the rapids clubtail dragonfly, the first dragonfly to be listed as an endangered species in Ontario.

We can also make this a year where we commit to putting a smile on someone’s face with a refreshing, invigorating experience in nature.