On Aug. 16, the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks Jeff Yurek issued a memo directing conservation authorities to “wind down” programs outside of what the province has defined as their core mandate.
This should concern everyone in Ontario. Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities are unique community-based watershed management organizations dedicated to conserving, restoring and managing Ontario’s natural resources. They serve over 12 million people or 90 per cent of the residents of Ontario. Their programs and services are science-based and delivered by professionals like foresters, engineers, planners, teachers and biologists.
Conservation authorities (CAs) have developed programs that respond to local needs and issues. They have played a significant role in the management of Ontario’s natural resources for nearly 70 years. First and foremost is the work that they do in responding to the many threats associated with climate change.
Clearly responding to the risks associated with current and future increases in flooding is a primary focus of the CAs. Unfortunately, earlier this year the Ford government cut the limited funding they provide to CAs by 50%. However, with the support of the municipalities in their watershed, CAs will no doubt continue to address this key issue. But responding to climate change requires a multi-faceted approach. Beyond critical engineering related projects, such as flood plain mapping, the CAs also provide a number of programs that assist communities and nature adjust to a changing environment.
CAs provide essential input into the planning process in Ontario, assisting municipalities in their role in managing land use changes and helping to reduce future flood damages and potential losses of life. They are the primary tree planting agency in Ontario, having planted millions of trees across the province, all of which are capturing carbon. CAs monitor water quality and quantity on our many streams and rivers through a variety of programs that help communities respond to environmental issues before they become a crisis. They provide indoor and outdoor education to over 400,000 Ontario students in partnership with school boards across the province; helping to ensure that the leaders of tomorrow understand the environmental changes that are happening and providing them with the knowledge they need. They provide support to the agricultural and rural community through a variety of soil and water conservation programs helping these communities deal with challenges related to drought and water supply. The vast majority of these programs are not supported financially by the province.
Without these programs (both core and non-core) Ontario’s environment, our response to changing climate and our overall quality of life will suffer.