The destruction of fish habitat is something that comes up when bridges are being repaired, drain work is being done or subdivisions are being planned. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is top of mind when works such as these are about to be undertaken.The onus is not on municipal authorities, who do not have fisheries experts on staff. And that makes sense. The Fisheries Act is federal legislation that protects Canada’s fisheries resources.

Similarly, in most areas, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry legislates the Aggregates Resources Act; this means overseeing the rules governing aggregate management, issuing licenses, permits and changes to existing approvals, inspecting aggregate operations and responding to complaints, enforcing compliance and ensuring rehabilitation is carried out on sites. Most of Ontario’s pits and quarries are regulated under the Aggregate Resources Act.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment oversees landfills and the related legislation, licenses new landfills, and sets out regulations for our drinking water system, along with inspections of the operators and systems.

Provincial building codes, however, are enforced and regulated by municipal authorities, as are zoning regulations, which intersect with regional plans when it comes to land-planning.

Teams of experts are making sure fish are protected, are monitoring aggregate resources and landfills and are ensuring that buildings are built according to rules.

But it seems that some things are not part of any provincially-dictated legislation, other than the province has allowed or encourages municipalities to create regulations.

In fact, the nebulous distribution of responsibility for trees, natural vegetation and topsoil is a far cry from certain carefully-defined legislation.

An example of this would be the recent changes to the Ontario Municipal Act which told municipalities to set out a policy regarding the manner in which the municipality will protect and enhance the tree canopy and natural vegetation in the municipality.
This is clearly the province handing off that responsibility to municipalities. But local municipalities, who had to set out their policies by March of this year, have virtually adopted the same “policy” as that contained within the United Counties of Prescott and Russell official plan. The excerpt from the counties’ official plan is handily included in the one-page resolution from The Nation Municipality, Alfred-Plantagenet, Clarence-Rockland, Champlain Township and the Township of East Hawkesbury. The bylaws are virtually identical and municipalities state that the policies set out in the counties official plan constitute the policy required by the Ontario Municipal Act and in effect, provide “protection” for tree cover in their respective municipalities.

It is unfortunate that no one informed the provincial government it was all so simple. Section 5.5.6 of the counties’ official plan outlines the benefits of significant woodlands and vegetation cover and does state that the counties council recognizes the importance of protecting an adequate forest cover for the region.

But the protection element is limited; the official plan states that counties council may adopt appropriate by-laws to prohibit or regulate the placing, dumping, removal or grading of topsoil or fill, and the destruction of trees. But right before that, it states that property owners have the right to harvest forest resources on their lands. The plan encourages forestry management in accordance with the Eastern Ontario Model Forest Code of Forestry Practice.

Perhaps support, encouragement and listing the benefit of tree cover and natural vegetation is a start. But it is a small start.
If we can protect minnows and fish, and can legislate protection for aggregates and our drinking water, can we not find a practical way to protect forest cover, natural vegetation and topsoil?

Perhaps the province is not looking. Or listening. But if it is, here is a tip: the job is not done yet. At least, not here in Prescott-Russell.