Working to Protect Ontario’s Headwaters, Natural Heritage, and Watersheds

Civic Engagement

To the OHI, “Civic Engagement” refers to program initiatives, such as to better preserve our natural heritage, provide improved protection for stressed landscapes, or to enhance Ontario’s framework approach to watershed management, in a collaborative manner.

Using the example of watershed management, Ontario has gone from having been a world leader in the establishment of conservation authorities to help protect our watersheds, while also helping to drive improved protection of the Great Lakes, to now occupying a landscape of gaps and contradictions in policies and their implementation, with inadequate funding, monitoring, reporting, and public engagement.

There is still a solid foundation upon which to build. This includes dedicated staff in progressive natural heritage agencies; the application of adaptive management and integrated watershed management in some agencies; commitments to ecological integrity, biodiversity, and natural capital; and new technologies, from GIS-based analysis to low impact development.

While the OHI independently articulates numerous suggested improvements to how we manage our watersheds, collective efforts include projects in the WaterScape file, delivered in a transparent manner in partnership with others. 

Sample OHI initiatives that we hold but to not foist on collaborative projects:

  • Ensuring the inclusion of watershed management in the Great Lakes Strategy;
  • Submitting the first set of targets under the Great Lakes Protection Act, suggesting a series of goals for natural heritage protection, based in part on the federal guideline How Much Habitat is Enough
  • Securing some of those targets in land use planning, particularly targets for natural heritage protection, wetland protection, and the percentage of riparian edge with 30 m in natural heritage along both sides of our watercourses;
  • Helping with needed shifts to both sustainable building development and sustainable agriculture; and
  • Obtaining more meaningful monitoring for watershed health across Ontario.

On the last bullet above, the OHI will continue to suggest that headwater health has to become an integral part of watershed monitoring, especially with respect to areas of Contiguous Upland Headwater Catchments. CUHCs (pronounced kooks), are an OHI construct consisting of only first and second order catchments that touch each other, and which the institute believes represent the best opportunity to protect the regional natural heritage and ecological integrity in both headwaters and throughout a watershed. CUHCs are described in our publication Protecting Ontario’s Headwaters, a digital copy of which can be found here.

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