Dundas ecological corridor singled out in Parks Canada announcement
It’s unclear what impact a Parks Canada project identifying key ecological corridors across the country might have on the Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark system in Dundas, and what federal protection and funding might mean for controversial proposals within the EcoPark, including a private school application to Columbia International College.
In an April 21 press release, Parks Canada announced a national program for ecological corridors that specifically referred to the area stretching from Cootes Paradise to the Niagara Escarpment, which includes much of eastern Dundas, including the Pleasant View area.
According to the release, an investment of $60.6 million over five years will help organizations develop better ecological connections between protected areas to conserve nature, combat biodiversity loss and combat climate change.
It is unclear whether federal funding could be used to acquire more properties for conservation purposes. The property of Columbia International College, the former convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph at 574 Northcliffe Avenue, is in the Cootes Paradise Corridor at the Niagara Escarpment. Columbia’s property adjoins Conservation Halton’s Hopkins plot.
“Ecological corridors are an integral part of effective nature protection as they support the movement of species between conserved areas, allowing them to interact and find habitat,” the statement said. “They also allow other natural processes, like pollination, to occur in the wider landscape.”
The project involves working with other governments and organizations to develop criteria and map areas where corridors would have the greatest positive effects for biodiversity conservation.
“Many excellent examples of ecological corridors already exist across Canada,” the statement said. “The Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System provides critical connectivity near Ontario’s urban centers and protects species such as Blanding’s Turtles, Monarch Butterflies and Wood Voles.
The Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System is an informal collaboration between ten local governments and organizations in the Burlington-Hamilton area, which own or manage 1,900 hectares (4,700 acres) of public land between Cootes Paradise and the Niagara Escarpment.
The group includes the Royal Botanical Gardens, Hamilton Conservation Authority, Conservation Halton, Bruce Trial Conservancy, City of Hamilton, McMaster University and the Hamilton Naturalists Club.
The specific reference to the area seems to indicate the federal government’s recognition of its national significance.
According to EcoParc websiteit is one of Canada’s most biologically rich regions, home to nearly a quarter of the country’s wild plants and more than 50 species at risk, and the last intact ecological link between Lake Ontario wetlands and the Niagara Escarpment.
Tom Wiercioch, Cootes To Escarpment EcoPark coordinator at the Royal Botanic Gardens, was unsure what the project might mean locally.
“We don’t have any more information than what has been announced by Parks Canada,” Wiercioch said. “It was really a ‘stay tuned for more’ type announcement. We’re waiting to hear more too.
Environment Canada spokeswoman Kaitlin Power said work had just begun to develop national criteria for ecological corridors.
“This first step will identify priority areas and candidate sites where ecological corridors could be created or supported under the National Ecological Corridors Program,” Power said. “As such, no candidate sites have yet been identified. The experiences and feedback of organizations involved in site management, such as the Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark system, will help Parks Canada ensure that the program reflects and supports needs and actions on the ground.
Power said Parks Canada will release more information once the program criteria are formalized.
At an April 27 public meeting about Columbia’s bid for a 1,000-student, 80-staff school in the former Sisters of St. Joseph convent, several people spoke about potential impacts on the corridor of national importance.
“Any disruption to this corridor that runs from Cootes to the escarpment is significant,” said Pleasant View resident Caroline Thomson.
Last summer, Parks Canada announced a $160 million National Urban Parks Program to create a national system of urban parks accessible to residents of urban centres. The National Ecological Corridors Program should “complement” the National Urban Parks Program.