Now snakes and tadpoles could restrict farmland use
Conflicts mean 13 ministries face off against each farmer
By Wendy Beswick
Ontario farmers are on a collision course with a biodiversity strategy that will affect every aspect of their lives. From an increased emphasis on eco-awareness in the classroom to more restrictions on their land, farmers will clash head-on with provincial policies aimed at greening the province.
The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is but one ministry that will be making changes broader than anything Ontario has seen before with an increased definition of significant wetland and an expanded list of protected species.
Butterflies, toads, salamanders, deer, red spruce, white oak, alvars, sand dunes, bogs, owls, geese, springs, bears, lichens, gulls, turtles, sandpipers, mink, wolves, ospreys, and Ďdancing groundsí of the sharp-tailed grouse will all receive special consideration under this strategy.
This is in addition to the already strict regulations found in Species at Risk and other legislation concerning significant wetlands and sensitive areas that restrict farmers from farming with no compensation.
Hundreds of types of plants, animals, and habitat could be designated as Significant Wildlife Habitat. As it stands, the significant wildlife habitat designation would include farm fields that flood in the spring if they are stopovers for 100 or more migrating geese or ducks; a single snapping turtle nest or a pond where five painted turtles spend the winter; any wetland with 20 or more frogs or tadpoles; a cliff with talus at its base; any hawk or owl nest in a forest; stands of trees with 10 per cent white oak in them; buffer zones around nests of Cooperís hawks, ring-billed gulls, or Canada geese; natural springs where groundwater comes to the surface; or even the wildlife corridor used by toads, deer, or salamanders.
The agricultural representatives on the Ontario Biodiversity Council are attempting to get payment for ecological goods and services included in the strategy, according to Don McCabe, vice-president of the OFA and its representative on the council.
"Just because somebody drew a line around my wetland and put it on the map, doesnít do me any good. What is necessary here is if somebody else thinks that it is significant and has value; then somebody else should be paying for that value as well. Because when biodiversity comes in the form of deer in my corn, the deer likes eating my corn!"
The MNR is not the only ministry in which these changes can be found.
This strategy has itsí tentacles in 13 provincial ministries, including the Ministry of Transportation and OMAFRA, guaranteeing duplication and the corresponding hit to taxpayersí pocketbooks.
"This strategy sends signals across all the ministries in Ontario, not just the MNR," said McCabe. "When you are a farmer beside a highway, all of a sudden the Ministry of Transportation has a say, MNR has a say, and OMAFRA has a say. But you are just one farmer."
With thirteen provincial ministries subject to the requirements of the Environmental Bill of Rights, farmers are getting lost in a maze of rules, regulations, and paperwork, making it nearly impossible to make changes to their farm, according to Laurie Scott, Conservative MPP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock.
"The government has created a bureaucratic nightmare for anyone thinking about going into agriculture," she said. "We are making them run away from it instead of trying to encourage them to get into it. We all want to protect and preserve land but is this the approach we want to take? They will say that agriculture was at the table but how much they were able to affect policy is questionable."
There is a list of 15 ambiguous targets listed in the biodiversity summary that are to be met within the next eight years. These targets, while they sound obscure, will cost the farmer and rural community in real terms.
One target demands that municipalities need to develop and implement "natural heritage systems plans and biodiversity strategies" by 2015 while at least 17 percent of "terrestrial and aquatic systems are conserved through well-connected networks of protected areas" by 2020 is another.
Farmers are problem solvers and need to be engaged in the biodiversity file if biodiversity is to grow in Ontario, according to Don McCabe.
"Letís be clear," he said. "Tell a farmer he canít do something and he will. Tell a farmer there isnít any and he will grow some. Turn it into a commodity and then you will have a ton of them."