Local Food AND Biodiversity Conservation, not Either/Or

by Joshua Wise, Ontario Nature

Local food and biodiversity conservation, not either/or. 

Ontario’s farmers play a unique dual role as both producers of our food as well as stewards of much of the province’s landscape. In order to strike a healthy balance for rural Ontario’s economic, cultural and conservation goals we need to make sure a system is in place to provide incentives for farmers trying to conserve our natural habitats.

The introduction of the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) created uncertainty within the farming community about the potential consequences of stewardship, and in particular the restoration of habitats such as wetlands and grasslands. What would happen if an endangered species were to move in once a habitat were restored? Would it limit a farmer’s ability to work their land? Would the hammer of the law descend? This uncertainty can create a disincentive for farmers who might otherwise want to initiate new conservation projects on unproductive portions of their land. With a large proportion of endangered species in southern Ontario found on private land, it is clear that the farming community is an important partner in implementing solutions for conservation.

Safe Harbour stewardship agreements under the ESA can help to address this concern. Safe Harbour agreements are voluntary, time-limited stewardship agreements which ensure that if a landowner restores habitat for an endangered species, they will retain the option of undoing those actions at a later date. These agreements also cover  “incidental take” (harm to a species) that may occur throughout the duration of the agreement. Safe Harbour agreements ensure that farmers who wish to create or restore natural features to their property can do so, and embrace the appearance of endangered species on their land, rather than fear it.

These agreements have yet to be implemented in Ontario. Recognizing the balance and flexibility provided by this type of agreements 15 groups, representing agricultural and conservation interests sent a letter to the government requesting their implementation earlier this month. (http://www.ontarionature.org/protect/campaigns/PDFs/Safe%20Harbour%20ltr%20Minister%20Jeffrey.pdf).

Looking towards the future of Ontario, we must make sure that sustainable food includes agricultural practices that sustain the rich web of life of which we are a part. To this end, we need to ensure these two interests  – sustainable local food and biodiversity conservation – are not placed at odds with one another, but rather coexist in harmony.

–        For more information on Safe Harbour agreements visit (http://www.ontarionature.org/protect/campaigns/safe_harbour.php)

If you’d like to see where the four major political parties stand on food and endangered species, check out:  http://www.greenprosperity.ca/platforms/

Ontario Nature is a charitable organization representing more than 30,000 members and supporters and 140 member groups across Ontario. We work closely with Ontario’s farming community to help create inclusive solutions that benefit both Ontario’s farming community and our wild species and wild spaces.





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