Rouge Park is Canada’s first National Urban Park and until recently the ecological integrity of the park was not guaranteed. But there’s great news! That changed on June 9th when the federal government introduced an amended Rouge National Urban Park Act to the House of Commons. It will ensure strong ecological protection for the park’s sensitive landscapes and wildlife and enshrine a requirement to manage the park to maintain its ecological integrity.
The amended Act, that now places importance on ecological integrity, ensures the inclusion into the park of Ontario’s provincial land holdings, which were held back until the legislation was improved. The provincial lands will increase the size of the park area to 79 km2, which is 22 times larger than New York’s Central Park. The federal government also promised significant resources to manage the new park and its 1,700 species of plants and animals, including 27 species-at-risk, making the Rouge Park – a rare Carolinian forest ecosystem – a truly remarkable treasure all Canadians can enjoy.
For Environmental Defence and its partners who worked hard to get the Act amended, this new legislation marks a happy ending to years of effort to ensure that Rouge Park will be managed to the highest international standards. It also marks an important first whereby agriculture will be an essential part of a national park’s future. We wholly support this move as it offers a chance to integrate local food production and land stewardship by the farm community into a publicly owned national treasure. Fittingly, the one-year leases that farmers currently have on the land will be extended to 30 years, giving them greater certainty and allowing investment in the types of farm activities that will be best suited to the growing needs of local markets and the ecological values of the park.
We also look forward to working with our partners in government, ENGOs and the agriculture community to finish the management plan for Rouge Park. Together, we will work out the details of how we can best protect and restore nature, welcome visitors and facilitate farming. It will be an exciting opportunity to ensure Canada’s first National Urban Park is a protected land, forest and river corridor from Lake Ontario all the way to the Oak Ridges Moraine.
There’s another great opportunity on the horizon to make Rouge Park even bigger. In the 1970s, land east of the Rouge River in Pickering was expropriated for a possible international airport. We understand that the federal government is currently undertaking consideration of air travel needs in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. We are hopeful that this work will conclude that enhancing the existing facilities at Hamilton and Kitchener-Waterloo airports, instead of building a new airport in Pickering, makes the most economic sense. This will free up lands currently on hold to be added to the Rouge National Urban Park to grow it from 79 km2 to over 121 km2! Stay tuned for news on this great opportunity. The wild really can come back to southern Ontario!