Expressing concern about the need for affordable housing in the Highlands, County council passed a watered-down resolution of support for the Highlands Corridor at its Feb. 22 council meeting.
Shelley Hunt of the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust and Paul Heaven of Glenside Ecological Services Limited made a delegation to council about the corridor. The 100,000-hectare swathe of land connects Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincal Park, Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park and Silent Lake Provincial Park.
Heaven said the natural environment in the corridor provides critical services required for building climate change resilience.
“We know we’ve experienced serious flooding in 2013, 2016, 2017 and 2019, at which point we’ve had declarations of emergency in three of those years,” Heaven said. “Wetlands have the ability to soak up water, absorb them during times of high water, and then slowly release that water as the landscape dries.” He said they had mapped wetlands in Snowdon, Lutterworth and Glamorgan and discovered the corridor is 17.9 per cent wetlands. He said any further loss of wetlands would only exacerbate the flooding situation.
He said there is also high carbon storage, due to fens and bogs. Heaven added 71 per cent of the corridor is forested, with 75 per cent being mature, including the largest stand of old growth Hemlock in Ontario.
Heaven said wildlife is under stress due to disease, insect infestations, droughts and flooding and species can only survive if they can move, so connectivity between the parks is key.
The Highlands Corridor is also home to 39 federal and provincial species at risk, 25 provincially-significant species, and 42 regionally or locally significant. To that end, Heaven said a three-year project, with 5,500 volunteer hours, was dedicated to a turtle barrier wall and underpass on Gelert Road.
Hunt and Heaven said maintaining that biodiversity is critical to keeping healthy ecosystems. In the end, they added the local economy needs healthy lakes and ecosystems to sustain itself.
Their strategy for building the corridor includes seeking protection of unceded Crown Land as a conservation reserve. They want to build partnerships with private landowners to promote good stewardship and enhance connectivity. They also plan to liaise with other stakeholders, including government and First Nations, as well as continue their ecological research.
In their delegation, they wanted the County to pass a resolution and letter of support of their efforts to better protect the Crown lands and waters in the corridor.
Coun. Cec Ryall said he thought the work the Land Trust and Heaven are doing is “unbelievable.” However, he said Highlands East is entirely in the corridor, and there may be land suitable for affordable housing.
“If we support this particular resolution … is that going to restrict what we’re capable of doing, or lobbying the Crown for that kind of property to be used for affordable (housing)?” he asked.
Hunt said they understand the need for housing and could look at establishing a reserve in key parts of the corridor, not all of it. “I think there’s room for side-by-side conservation and room for people and room for smart development within the corridor as well.” Heaven added they are aware there are forestry and mining claims. “So, there’s lots of discussion to move forward and it’s going to be a long process.”
Council passed a revised resolution of support in principle and that the Land Trust and Heaven consult with the County as corridor boundaries are further refined, and Crown lands to be protected as a conservation reserve be identified.
Hunt said they will be holding a reception at Queen’s Park May 4, hosted by MPP Laurie Scott, and will be having a local event this Friday, March 3 at 7 p.m. at the fish hatchery. Scott will be in attendance. Admission is free. Register at haliburtonlandtrust.ca or call 705-457-3700.