Federal government pledges $11.7 million to Ontario wetland, grassland, and forest conservation

Wetland Photo by Shutterstock/Wildnerdpix

Ontario’s conservation efforts are getting a major boost from the federal government.

Earlier this month, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, announced that his ministry would be providing more than $11.7 million to support the Ontario Land Trust Alliance’s (OLTA) efforts to conserve the province’s wetlands, grasslands, and forests.

“Canada—and Ontario—matter in the global fight to conserve and protect biodiversity. Our country is home to 24 per cent of the world’s wetlands, 25 per cent of temperate rainforest areas, and 28 per cent of remaining boreal forests. These ecosystems are globally significant as they absorb carbon, mitigate against the impacts of climate change, and protect biodiversity,” Guilbeault said in a statement.

The funding is provided through the ministry’s Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund (NSCSF). The goal of the fund is to reduce two to four megatons of greenhouse gas emissions per year by supporting projects that conserve, restore, and enhance wetlands, peatlands, and grasslands to store and capture carbon. The fund stands at $1.4 billion and will be doled out by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) over the next 10 years.

The ministry selected the OLTA as a funding recipient because of its advocacy work for groups committed to the long-term protection and conservation of natural and cultural heritage sites across the province. “We are really grateful to Environment and Climate Change Canada for this significant support. It’s the biggest funding program that we’ve received in our lifetime,” said Alison Howson, the executive director of the OLTA.

The alliance coordinates, educates, and provides grants to land trusts around Ontario. Land trusts are charitable groups that act as custodians of significant plots of land. The OLTA works with over 33 land trust members, including the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust, Couchiching Conservancy, and the Muskoka Conservancy.

The OLTA trains members on topics such as habitat restoration, species-at-risk conservation, and climate solutions. “We don’t have any land that we hold ourselves, but we provide a whole suite of different supports to the other organizations to do the activities on the ground,” Howson said.

The funding provided by the ECCC will go towards a new program that the OLTA has started. It’s working with 10 land trust members to secure high carbon lands across the province. “The key focus is on securing lands that have good carbon sequestration and storage,” Howson said, such as wetlands, peatlands, and grasslands. “But the lands will have other benefits as well. They will have high biodiversity value. And we’re focusing on restoration of habitat, so conserving land that can be restored for particular species at risk.”

Land trusts tend to be more flexible than the federal or provincial government and are better equipped to protect small parcels of significant land, especially in southern Ontario where the land tends to be fragmented. “The federal or provincial governments aren’t necessarily interested in or are able to leverage protection of smaller parcels for a protected area,” Howson said. “But we’re able to do that through working with private landowners who are interested in donating, or in some cases, selling their properties to land trust charities, and then the charities will hold those lands.”

Already the OLTA has secured parcels of significant land near the Ganaraska Forest, northwest of Oshawa, and Thunder Bay. “We’re protecting those types of projects from other use, such as logging operations,” Howson said. “They’re really significant wetland and forested swamp areas.”

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