Toronto—Calling it the finest example of agricultural preservation and urban boundary protection planning in North America, the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance is marking today the 25 th  Anniversary of approval of the Niagara Escarpment Plan.
 
The Niagara Escarpment, an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, covers 194,000 ha (480,000 acres), an area almost ¾ the size of Prince Edward Island.  Environmental groups will be looking back fondly on this accomplishment next week by celebrating with The Hon William Davis, the Premier at the time of the Plan’s development.
“All Ontarians can celebrate protection of the Niagara Escarpment, a landform that is so rich in biodiversity,” said Caroline Schultz, Executive Director of Ontario Nature. “The Niagara Escarpment Plan was a landmark decision in our environmental history to conserve one of southern Ontario’s greatest ecological treasures.”
 
Although revolutionary in its day, environmental protection designations in the Niagara Escarpment Plan, first formulated in 1983, have not changed in the intervening years.
 
“Growing up on the Escarpment was special for us, just to be able to drink some of the purest water on earth or watch sprawl creep closer and closer to the brow without ever coming up here,” said Sarah Harmer, co-founder of Protecting Escarpment Rural Land (PERL).  Harmer’s song ‘Escarpment Blues’ is considered the unofficial anthem for the Escarpment. “Future enlightened decision making on the Escarpment needs all our help, but the job of updating the environmental designations is long over-due from the McGuinty government.” PERL faces a nine month Ontario Municipal Board hearing starting in October 2010 to stop a large aggregate quarry on Mt Nemo in Burlington.  
 
“It’s hard to believe this happened when I was in high school. To think Ontario was so far advanced in its thinking around concepts like curbing urban sprawl and guaranteeing foodland security,” said Dr. Rick Smith, Executive Director, Environmental Defence.
 
“It was one of the great joys of my career to be able to strengthen the Plan and roll back some of the development that was starting to creep into too many places on the Escarpment,” said Ruth Grier, Escarpment activist and Ontario cabinet Minister who helped strengthen the Plan by getting formal acknowledgment in the Plan of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation and by drafting a section clearly setting out what was required to justify a Plan Amendment Application. “Twenty-five years of protection is a wonderful accomplishment and a testament to its wisdom and staying power, but we can’t rest until the Escarpment boundary is changed to reflect the true breadth of this magnificent area and by stopping unnecessary new quarries.”
 
After much debate, the Niagara Escarpment Plan covered only a portion of the true Escarpment, leaving out major Escarpment areas in places like Grey-Bruce County and in Niagara.  The Greenbelt, created in 2005, added some of these lands into protected status, but left many places outside the Plan boundary.
The Escarpment soars 510 metres (1,675 ft.) at its highest point, even higher than the Space Pod observation deck of the CN Tower (1,465 ft.).  It stretches 725 km (450 miles) from Niagara to Tobermory.   
Its forests, farms, scenic cliffs, streams, wetlands and rolling hills are home to more than 300 bird species, 53 mammals, 36 reptiles and amphibians, 90 fish and 100 varieties of special interest flora including 37 types of wild orchids.   
The Escarpment is home to Canada’s longest footpath, the Bruce Trail, established in 1967.  Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment contributes an estimated $100 million to local and regional economies through tourism.
“We are all very grateful to the generation that had the forethought to secure this internationally significant landscape,” said David Donnelly, counsel to Environmental Defence.  “It’s our turn to leave our mark by finishing the job of protecting the whole of the Escarpment.”
 
About the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance ( www.greenbeltalliance.ca ): The Ontario Greenbelt Alliance is a diverse multi-stakeholder coalition of more than 80 organizations who share a common vision for protecting and expanding the Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt. Environmental Defence is the coordinator of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance .
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For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Jennifer Foulds, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521 ext. 232; (647) 280-9521 (cell)
Victoria Foote, Ontario Nature, (416) 444-8419 ext.238; (647) 290-9384 (cell)