Recently, The Brock Press published an online article related to biodiversity offsetting. Although the article highlighted some of the issues discussed at a Jan. 27 public information meeting, the author inserted significant editorial comment. We welcome the opportunity to provide the readers of The Brock Press an alternative view of the meeting associated with facts.
What is “Biodiversity Offsetting”?
On July 27, 2015, the Government of Ontario posted on the Environmental Registry a document entitled “Wetland Conservation in Ontario: A Discussion Paper”. Within this discussion paper, the province defined biodiversity offsetting as “There are many definitions of the concept of no net loss, sometimes also known as ‘biodiversity offsetting’. For wetlands, the term no net loss usually refers to the goal of balancing unavoidable wetland losses from development with wetland restoration so that there is no overall loss of wetland function on the landscape. Net gain is a similar concept however this approach ensures that the replacement ratio for wetlands lost and gained is greater than 1:1.” Within the posting, the province provided a three-month deadline and asked the public and stakeholders to provide a response to the Discussion Paper. The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) responded to the discussion paper – and in regards to biodiversity offsetting – included the following:
- The Provincial government should explore the concept of ‘no net loss’/’net gain’. Staff suggest that the Province consider ‘net gain’ because there are always losses of biodiversity, ecosystem complexity, maturity and function when a man-made wetland replaces a naturally formed wetland. Any policy change should focus on protecting existing wetlands and reserving the option of wetland compensation for unique situations that are in the public interest.
- Integrated Watershed Management Plans, Watershed Plans or Subwatershed Plans should be completed in advance of the consideration of wetland compensation in order to target areas suitable for wetland loss and compensation. Any wetland compensation policy should ensure a robust set of guidelines or regulations which will ensure that wetland creation provides meaningful results.
- Partnerships with the scientific community (colleges, universities, etc.) to ensure science-based targets/criteria/goals of wetland compensation.
As a brief summary, the NPCA responded that the concept of Biodiversity Offsetting could be implemented in the watershed allowing science (not emotion) to determine if such projects are viable in balancing the protection of wetlands and addressing the socio-economic needs of the community.
As watershed management agencies, conservation authorities are responsible for water and related land management in partnership with Ontario’s municipalities and the Province of Ontario. The mandate of Conservation Authorities is to ensure the conservation, restoration and responsible management of Ontario’s water, land and natural habitats through programs that balance human, environmental and economic needs.
NPCA is an open and transparent organization:
When some local environmental leaders requested a meeting with the NPCA to discuss Biodiversity Offsetting, the NPCA fully welcomed the opportunity. At this meeting, local environmental leaders suggested that they had several questions in regards to biodiversity offsetting and requested the NPCA provide more information. In response, the NPCA suggested it host a follow-up meeting to outline the “concept” of biodiversity offsetting and some of the science involved. By word of mouth and social media, the meeting transformed into a public information session.
At the information session, NPCA’s Special Projects engineer Jayme Campbell presented some of the science and data currently being collected by the NPCA related to groundwater. Understanding the behaviour of the ground water is important to comprehend the structure and classification of certain wetlands. Thereafter, NPCA’s Water Resources engineer Steve Miller spoke about the generally poor quality of surface water in the watershed. He outlined how the NPCA continuously monitors local groundwater and surface water in order to understand its impact on people and the environment – including wetlands. This presentation was followed by NPCA’s Manager of Restoration Jocelyn Baker who described how her team creates wetlands… Yes, the NPCA has built over 100 hectares of wetlands – primarily on private lands via willing landowners. (Note: The photo illustrates EC Brown Conservation Area – a private land transformed into an NPCA wetland). After this information, NPCA’s Supervisor of Watershed Biology, LeeAnn Hamilton presented a brief overview of the Province’s methodology for delineating and evaluating wetlands across Ontario, as well as some of the changes in the Niagara landscape over the last 80 years when her presentation was disrupted by individuals who wanted to shout out their opinions, rather than learn from the expert knowledge of staff on how the NPCA addresses wetlands in their watershed.
At the request of several audience members, NPCA revised the meeting format to allow for questions before completing the planned presentations. The consequence was not including a presentation on the legislative framework by NPCA’s Manager of Regulation and Reviews, Suzanne McInnes. The audience would also have heard NPCA’s Director of Watershed Management Peter Graham describe the process NPCA would follow in more detail.
The issue of biodiversity offsetting is complex. It is unfortunate that members of the audience could not contribute to a meaningful conversation rather than vilify and accuse NPCA of evil intentions. To view all presentations from the information session, click here.
How we manage wetlands:
There is sufficient scientific knowledge of the many benefits of wetlands, which include: fish and wildlife habitats, flood control and water quality improvement. Just over 12 per cent of NPCA’s watershed is wetlands. 80% of these wetlands are classified as swamps that are continuously encroached upon and threatened by other land uses.
NPCA is aware that re-creation of a slough forest is not easily or quickly achieved, likely taking on the order of centuries. NPCA is fully aware that the current policy framework allows for development around wetlands within a 30 m buffer (that at times, the buffer can be reduced with a proponent-led study). Development of lands surrounding wetlands can potentially “choke” the connectivity of the wetland complex and thereby destroy the wetland.
NPCA’s goal is to protect and increase the total area of wetlands and thereby improve the water quality within the watershed while providing habitat for species that are threatened or endangered. Biodiversity offsetting could assist in achieving this goal by connecting wetlands via corridors.
If the province affirms biodiversity offsetting as an option, NPCA will propose a “pilot project” to partner with local academic institutions (such as Niagara College and Brock University) in a study, and share the results with other jurisdictions. To reiterate the response to the province, the NPCA recommends “…Partnerships with the scientific community (colleges, universities, etc.) to ensure science-based targets/criteria/goals of wetland compensation”.
Finally, the NPCA welcomes the continued conversation on biodiversity offsetting. It has tuned-in the community on the issue of wetlands and how important they are to our cultural and environmental values. Establishing scientific evidence would be the best way for policy makers to implement informed decisions over the long term.