On July 27, 2021, the Southern Ontario Nature Coalition (SONC) held a digital information session to highlight recommendations from its new report: Near Urban Nature Network: A Solution to Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss. The report, which is two years in the making and released on July 22, 2021, is the final report for SONC’s innovative near-urban nature project.
Throughout the information session, the speakers discussed key findings and recommendations from the report, and how to move forward in protecting near-urban nature.
SONC is a coalition of organizations dedicated to conservation. The members of the coalition are the Greenbelt Foundation, Wildlands League, Ontario Farmland Trust, Carolinian Canada, Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System, Ontario Nature, Ontario Land Trust Alliance, and Cambium Indigenous Professional Services.
SONC’s near-urban nature project has been supported by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Canada and supports the government’s conservation target of protecting 25 per cent of lands and waters by 2025. This work, while focused in southern Ontario, is applicable to urban regions across Canada and can be implemented anywhere nature intersects with our urban communities.
Speakers at the information session were Shelley Petrie, Program Director, Greenbelt Foundation; Janet Sumner, Executive Director, Wildlands League; Dr. Anne Bell, Director of Conservation and Education, Ontario Nature; Kerry-Ann Charles, Environmental Partnership Coordinator, Cambium Indigenous Professional Services. The session was moderated by Greenbelt Foundation CEO Edward McDonnell.
Dr. Anne Bell, Ontario Nature; Edward McDonnell, Greenbelt Foundation; and Shelley Petrie, Greenbelt Foundation,
discuss ecological connectivity at the information session.
Throughout the information session, the speakers discussed key findings and recommendations from the report, and how to move forward in protecting near-urban nature in a way that address federal biodiversity and climate targets, while making communities more climate-resilient. The speakers also discussed the importance of ecological connectivity, opportunities for new protected and conserved areas in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region, and how to engage interested Indigenous Communities in protecting near-urban nature through the creation of ethical space.
“Conservation is the very definition of a grassroots movement. It starts by thousands of people saying they want to protect Cootes to Escarpment, Rouge National Urban Park, or places like them,” says Janet Sumner. “And now we’re learning that its easier, cheaper, and more effective to protect these spaces and create green infrastructure, than it is to pay insurance after each extreme heat event or flood.”
Key recommendations from the full report were also shared during the information session. Specifically, Shelley Petrie highlighted the importance of Federal and Provincial coordination and leadership, the need to address climate change adaptation and resilience for urban communities through the two billion trees commitment, and recognize the rights, leadership, and knowledge of Indigenous Communities by funding and working with them to develop biodiversity and climate change adaption policies that support the Truth and Reconciliation Calls-to-Action.
“Not just organizations need to do this work; everybody in Canada needs to have this understanding of truth and reconciliation,” says Kerry-Ann Charles. “Conservation and preservation of nature is often different from Indigenous perspectives. There is a relationship between the people and the land that needs to be heard and understood.”
The information session was attended by various stakeholders in conservation, municipal politics and planning, academia, as well as politicians for various levels of government, such as Minister Deb Schulte and MPP Lucille Collard. The information session was attended by 78 people in total.
“I am delighted to be hearing this presentation today. The federal government is here as a partner and we understand how important this work is,” says Minister Deb Schulte. “I know that Minister Wilkinson is very committed to continuing this work.”
The information session concluded with a question-and-answer period which gave the speakers an opportunity to address next steps for the near-urban nature project. Attendees to the session were highly engaged and asked the panelists questions about next steps, how people can get involved at the local community level, pollination, wildlife connectivity and more.
To learn more and see future updates from the coalition, you can follow the Greenbelt Foundation on Twitter @greenbeltca.
SONC also encourages residents to engage with local officials and conservation organizations about nature that needs protection in their own communities. Private landowners who are interested in protecting some or all of their properties can reach out to a group like the Ontario Land Trust Alliance to learn more.
The Greenbelt Foundation and all of the Southern Ontario Nature Coalition would like to thank all those who have supported the near-urban nature project, as well as those who attended the information session.
Click HERE to read the SONC Info Session Summary.
Click HERE to see a replay of the full information session.
Click HERE to read the full report.