Current Protected Areas and Conservation in the Highlands Corridor
Our Strategy for Expanding Protected Areas
The Highlands Corridor offers a nature-based solution to building climate change resilience, protecting lands and waters, and maintaining biodiversity and natural connectivity.
The Highlands Corridor is comprised of unceded Crown land, municipal land and private land. Its long-term protection will require partnerships and collaboration among provincial and municipal governments, First Nations, non-government organizations and private landowners.
A strategy for protection requires a commitment to consultation, collaboration and action, as outlined below.
Under the authority of the Public Lands Act, the 60,551 ha of unceded Crown land in the Highlands Corridor are currently managed by the Ministry of Northern Development, Mining, Natural Resources and Forestry (NDMNRF). Through its land use planning processes, NDMNRF determines how Crown land can be used and assigns to a specific area a primary land use designation. Aggregate extraction and commercial forest harvesting are permitted on the unceded Crown land in the Highlands Corridor. There are currently six active aggregate sites and the Bancroft Minden Forest Company identifies ~10,000 ha that are to be commercially harvested during the 2021-2031 operating schedule.
Aggregate extraction and commercial forest harvesting on unceded Crown land may result in detrimental loss of climate change resilience and biodiversity as well as lost opportunity for protected lands and waters. Therefore, it is imperative that the Ontario Government do the following:
Apply interim protection measures that put a pause on industrial development within the Highlands Corridor while consultation about opportunities for protection is undertaken.
Provincial parks and conservation reserves are administered under the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP). The Haliburton Highlands Land Trust and Glenside Ecological Services Limited initiated consultation with an MECP biologist and the superintendents of Queen Elizabeth II and Kawartha Highlands Provincial Parks. Connectivity and biodiversity are important management considerations and staff at both parks recognize that a landscape conservation strategy, such as the Highlands Corridor, can enhance connectivity and protect biodiversity. It was recommended by the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park superintendent that a report on the Highlands Corridor be submitted directly to Minister Piccini (MECP) for dissemination to the appropriate departments for further assessment (Smith, 2021).
Through Crown land use planning it is possible to establish the land use intent to regulate areas as provincial parks or conservation reserves, or additions to provincial parks or conservation reserves. Such designations offer a high level of protection of natural heritage values suitable to the Highlands Corridor. Following a land use decision designating an area as a Recommended Provincial Park or Recommended Conservation Reserve, the policies applied during interim protection are replaced by the policies of the new designation. Once designated as a Recommended Provincial Park or Recommended Conservation Reserve the area can be regulated as a provincial park or conservation reserve under the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act (PPCRA). Precedents for this approach were the 58 new provincial parks and 268 new conservation reserves which were created under Ontario’s Living Legacy in 1999, with a total area protected of almost 2 million hectares.
Therefore, it is imperative that the Ontario Government do the following:
Initiate consultation with First Nations and the public regarding the designation of the 60,550 ha of unceded Crown land in the Highlands Corridor as a Recommended Conservation Reserve.
Protection of the Highlands Corridor will not be feasible without support at the municipal level. Lands within the Highlands Corridor include municipal parks and private lands. Snowdon Municipal Park is located in the Highlands Corridor and represents 190 ha of lands protected at the municipal level. Protection and conservation of the natural infrastructure will require a collaborative and local effort towards good stewardship. The Haliburton Highlands Land Trust delivered a delegation to the Haliburton County Council on June 23, 2021, to provide the members with an update on the work completed to date in the Highlands Corridor area. The delegation was well received, and Council recognized the need for better protection of unceded Crown land.
The Highlands Corridor is situated on the Anishinaabe lands covered by Treaty 20 Michi Saagiig territory and the traditional territory of the Michi Saagiig and Chippewa Nations, collectively known as the Williams Treaties First Nations, which include Curve Lake, Hiawatha, Alderville, Scugog Island, Rama, Beausoleil and Georgina Island First Nations.
The Haliburton Highlands Land Trust and Glenside Ecological Services acknowledge and affirm the inherent right of the Williams Treaties First Nations to make decisions about activities within their ancestral and treaty lands, including the protection of the Highlands Corridor.
Both Canada and Ontario have committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). A key principle of UNDRIP is the right to free, prior and informed consent regarding land and resource use within Indigenous ancestral territories. Affirmation of Indigenous rights and responsibilities requires that affected Indigenous Nations be able to provide free, prior and informed consent before any protected areas which affect them are established through legislation. Consultation must occur on a government-to-government basis and, therefore, the duty to consult can be legally satisfied only by the Crown.
The Haliburton Highlands Land Trust and Glenside Ecological Services are committed to respectfully engaging with the Williams Treaties First Nations, according to community protocols, to discuss the protection of the Highlands Corridor in the spirit and practice of reconciliation.
Another model for protection is Indigenous Protected Conservation Areas (IPCA), where Indigenous governments have the primary role in protecting and conserving ecosystems through Indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems. The Government of Ontario, along with Canada’s federal, territorial and provincial governments, has agreed to recognize the concept of IPCAs and is committed to “promoting greater recognition and support for existing Indigenous rights, responsibilities and priorities in conservation,” and specifically to supporting “the realization of IPCAs in different contexts, including through legislative and policy options, capacity development, and community-based initiatives such as Indigenous Guardians and on-the-land programs” (Government of Canada, 2018).
Consultation is required with affected First Nations to determine if an IPCA is suitable for the protection of the Highlands Corridor. Therefore, it is imperative that the Ontario Government do the following:
Initiate consultation with affected First Nations to determine if an IPCA is an alternative means of protection for the Highlands Corridor.
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)
Non-government organizations have a critical role in the protection of the Highlands Corridor. This includes research, communications, dialogue with First Nations, public engagement, landowner engagement and securement of private properties for conservation.
Although unceded Crown Land represents 60% of the Highlands Corridor, private landowners with an interest in landscape conservation and good stewardship will have an important role in bridging gaps between the protected lands of the Highlands Corridor. The HHLT analyzed landscape connectivity and wildlife movement in the Highlands Corridor. Through this analysis, the HHLT was able to identify private properties in the Highlands Corridor that maintain connectivity, biodiversity and build climate change resilience. HHLT reached out to these private landowners to inform them about the Highlands Corridor and twelve landowners became HHLT Partners in Conservation. HHLT worked with these landowners to develop and implement property management plans with actions targeting the protection and restoration of another 1578 ha.