By Jan Ferrigan

Almost anyone who moves to this area has the same sentiment that basically translates to – “Now that I’ve moved here, it’s getting crowded.” Newcomers and long time residents all want to slow development and preserve the natural areas that make South Georgian Bay such a wonderful place to live. While we can’t figuratively close the gates and stop development, we can direct efforts towards ensuring preservation of some natural areas and developing wisely in others.

The Power of ‘Provincially Significant’

We are fortunate that local geography provides for some effective natural area protection. Anyone who has been out on the Georgian Trail and walked through local fields and forest knows we have an abundance of wetlands. Some of these wetlands are deemed “provincially significant” by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Section 2.1 of the Provincial Policy Statement, 2014, precludes development and site alteration within provincially significant wetlands (PSW). In considering any development applications, within or adjacent to a PSW, the approval authority is required to ensure that the PSW is appropriately protected.

Wetlands are identified and evaluated by criteria that include the presence of water and associated water-loving vegetation such as cattails and water tolerant trees such as black ash. Wetlands are not only important to wildlife and certain plant species, wetlands also provide significant benefits to humans with their recreational value for wildlife spotting and other outdoor activities. But wetlands also provide flood prevention, erosion control and water filtration leading to improved water quality. Wetlands help clean the water and reduce sediment that enters Georgian Bay.  That is valuable not just to wildlife and swimmers, but to all of us who source drinking water from the Bay and surrounding aquifers.

The Silver Creek Wetland, a coastal wetland that spans more than 300 hectares within the urban fabric of Collingwood extending to Craigleith, contains enough ecological diversity to rank as a Provincially Significant Wetland. The Collingwood Town Council and The Blue Mountains Council have both passed motions in support of a proposal to protect the wetland in perpetuity.

Watershed Trust’s “The Silver Creek Wetland – A  Vision for the Future” plan has been put forward to the Councils as well as the NVCA and the GSCA. The plan would transfer ownership and management of the Wetland and some adjacent lands—that by law must remain unaltered—to the municipality or a public authority like the NVCA.

The trick is putting protection into action. The Silver Creek Wetland is all in private ownership with six or seven landowners. This limits the effectiveness of authorities like Conservation Authorities and MNR, who are not permitted to go on the wetland property without an owner’s permission. Only when there’s a development application are landowners obliged to allow access to lands to evaluate the proposal.

From environmental impact statements relating to development adjacent to the Silver Creek Wetland, we know it’s habitat for rare plants, at least four species of turtle, seven species of frogs, two species of snakes, salamanders, egrets, trout and salmon, beaver, mink, muskrat, fox, coyote, many breeding birds and migrating birds.

What Can You Do?

Let local council candidates know just how important the Silver Creek Wetland is and ask them to support measures that provide stronger protections to our valued natural areas through both provincial and local rules. Current rules have proven inadequate, as indicated by the continued loss of biodiversity.

The Blue Mountain Watershed Trust monitors development proposals and is always ready to participate in appeal hearings to protect sensitive natural areas from development.

You can stay informed about developments affecting the Silver Creek Wetland and other important local natural areas by monitoring our website, and by becoming a member of the Trust.