Is a protected area still a protected area if it’s not protected?

Farmlands, wetlands...highways? We’re here to help you make sense of the goings-on around Southern Ontario’s Greenbelt

The thing about a protected area is … it’s supposed to be an area protected from development.

But that’s not how things are going just north of Toronto, where a regional council just voted in favour of a developer’s request to redesignate 1,400 acres of Greenbelt farmland.

While York Region’s chief planner says this will open up more possibilities for parkland development (think golf courses or hiking trails), one local councillor tells reporter Fatima Syed that this marks “the start of the infringement on the Greenbelt.” In other words, the amendment could open up the possibility of residential or other higher-intensity uses.

The final approval decision rests with the province, which has said it wants to increase the size of the two-million-acre Greenbelt even as it seeks to build a pair of highways that would cut through the protected area.

Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass — both the subjects of fanfare at Ford government press conferences this week — would damage more than 220 wetlands and disrupt the habitats of at least 10 species-at-risk. Reporter Emma McIntosh has all those details.

There’s no doubt: the Greenbelt is under pressure. That’s why we’re holding a very special event, on Nov. 25 at 6 p.m. ET, to help you make sense of the goings-on around what’s known as Southern Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe. This also happens to be your chance to meet all the stars in our brand new Ontario bureau. Go here to sign up for this free Zoom discussion — and pass the word on to your friends in the province.

It’s no secret that Canada needs to protect its forests if the country wants to meet its commitment to go carbon neutral by 2050 — a pledge reiterated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the ongoing COP26 conference in Glasgow.

The effort to fast-track development is just one way the Progressive Conservative government has sought to reshape Ontario’s environmental policy. Emma and Fatima have put together a running tally of Doug Ford’s not-so-great-for-the-environment moves, from dismantling the province’s cap-and-trade system to watering down endangered species laws. They’ll be adding to the piece regularly, so if there are policy changes you think should be on there, send us a note

You can expect our Ontario bureau to keep digging into the government’s track record as the province lurches toward a June 2022 election that could have big consequences for the Greenbelt and beyond.

Take care and don’t pave paradise to put up a parking lot,

Arik Ligeti
Director of audience

P.S. We only have a limited number of Zoom spots available for our Greenbelt event on Nov. 25! Make sure to RSVP now to guarantee your virtual seat.

P.P.S. The clock is ticking to join The Narwhal’s growing pod. We’re hiring a B.C. bureau chief and an art director — and the deadline to apply for both gigs is Nov. 25. Spread the word and send in those applications.

This week in The Narwhal

Could an Indigenous conservation area in Hudson Bay also be the key to saving carbon-rich peatlands?

Mushkegowuk, James Bay, peatlands, marine conservation

By Inori Roy

The Mushkegowuk Council has been pushing to protect the area in northern Ontario — a major carbon sink the size of Portugal — for decades. Read more.

How B.C.’s long-awaited forestry law updates leave gaps around protecting old-growth and Indigenous Rights

Sunbeams cascade through old-growth forest in Avatar Grove on Vancouver Island

By Zoë Yunker

While environmental advocates are cautiously optimistic about proposed amendments to B.C.’s 2004 Forest Ranges and Practices Act, many worry they lack clarity and don’t provide the protections the province’s oldest forests need. Read more.

DFO flags invasive species concerns as Baffinland seeks Mary River mine expansion

Baffinland mine

By Dustin Patar

Federal scientists say ships likely brought marine worms to the port of one of the world’s northernmost mines. Now vessel traffic could double as a result of a proposed expansion. Read more.

What we’re reading

Al Jazeera: Life and death on Canada's Highway of Tears
Globe and Mail: What lies beneath: Exploring Canada's invisible carbon storehouse

Kermit the frog playing the banjo

When you’re singing the praises of Greenbelt wetlands. Tell your banjo-playing pals to sign up for our newsletter.

Operation spotted turtle: how Ontario biologists fight wildlife traffickers

“Someone is coming up behind you,” species-at-risk biologist Scott Gillingwater says. We lower our voices and change the subject. The two of us look conspicuous;...

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