There are few natural spaces left in the city. Rouge Park is the largest natural park in Toronto. It’s the perfect place for a nature walk or to explore by kayak.
For 35 years, groups such as Friends of the Rouge Watershed, residents, landowners and politicians have worked together to protect nature in the Rouge River valley – one of the last intact corridors for wildlife in southern Ontario.
But the park is at risk. New proposed federal legislation, the Rouge National Urban Park Act, is weaker than the existing National Parks Act. It’s missing the key term, ecological health – the essence of protecting a natural area. An area is said to have ecological health when the ecosystem is healthy in both biodiversity and habitat. A healthy habitat enables animals to reproduce, protect and feed their young, to thrive long term. But it’s precisely this term – ecological health – that is absent from the federal legislation.
According to experts in conservation law and conservation science, the proposed federal legislation isn’t as strong as existing provincial protection. The Rouge is part of Ontario’s Greenbelt, which protects natural areas, farmlands and water systems, essential to a healthy ecosystem.
A healthy natural area provides clean water for animals to drink, plants under the trees that serve as food and shelter, forest cover for cooling the water and protecting the soil from erosion. An ecosystem is a complex natural system that requires care and stewardship based in science, and policy protection based in strong conservation law. Without strong legal direction, a robust management plan and ongoing stewardship to protect a healthy Rouge ecosystem, we risk losing the nature we’ve been protecting and nurturing for 30 years.
Why should Ontario hand over our provincial park to the federal government if Ottawa won’t provide the same protection as the park now receives? As it stands, the proposed law fails to provide the direction that is needed to bring the vision of the park, a protected ecosystem within the national park, into reality.
Rouge Park will be Canada’s first national urban park, a treasure in Ontario’s Greenbelt and one of the last remaining natural areas in Toronto.
You can help ensure Rouge Park is protected for today and future generations. Attend a public consultation this fall. Public consultations are scheduled for September 9th in Markham, September 10th in Scarborough, September 16th in Pickering and September 18th in Toronto. If you care about the future of our first National Urban park, come to a public consultation and make your voice heard.