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Oak Ridges Moraine and conservation authority subwatershed boundaries

Oak Ridges Map

The watershed boundaries of the nine independent conservation authorities - CENTRAL LAKE ONTARIO, CREDIT VALLEY, GANARASKA, KAWARTHA, LAKE SIMCOE REGION, LOWER TRENT, NOTTAWASAGA VALLEY, OTONABEE, TORONTO AND REGION - collectively cover the entire moraine. Together, as of 2012, the conservation authorities own more than 14,000 hectares of public lands on the Moraine. This makes them responsible for the management of the largest and most strategically located tracts of land protecting the headwaters of the 65 river systems originating on the Moraine. These lands include both environmentally significant and publicly accessible recreational lands such as the Ganaraska Forest Centre, Fleetwood Creek Natural Area and Purple Woods, Thornton Bales and Albion Hills conservation areas.

Report Card on the Environmental Health of the Oak Ridges Moraine and Adjacent Greenbelt Lands

Purpose of the Report Card

  • To provide science-based monitoring data and analysis to help inform the 10-year review of the Provincial land use plans for the Oak Ridges Moraine (ORM) and Greenbelt.
  • To report on the environmental health of the Oak Ridges Moraine and adjacent Greenbelt lands (i.e. the study area).
  • To recommend on-the-ground actions and additional tools needed to maintain, improve or restore the environmental health of these important lands.

Key Findings

The Report Card reveals that efforts to protect the Oak Ridges Moraine (ORM) have been successful in safeguarding existing forests, aquatic habitat, and groundwater the region’s residents rely on. However, the report also identifies that further work is vital to ensure the preservation of this significant natural heritage landscape.

  • Large amounts of forest cover in critical areas of the ORM are being maintained. However, few large patches of undisturbed forest exist outside the Core Areas, and long stretches of stream bank lack sufficient forest cover. In addition, good data on “forest quality,” such as the extent of invasive species, is lacking.
  • Groundwater quality is considered generally good across the study area, although chloride levels in some shallow wells along roadsides and in urban areas is trending upward. Ongoing groundwater quality monitoring is needed.
  • Coldwater fish communities and coldwater temperatures are evenly distributed across the ORM and adjacent Greenbelt lands, representing good quality aquatic habitat. While some sites represent marginal habitats, land use mitigation and restoration efforts may prevent future deterioration.
  • Surface water quality in almost half of the subwatersheds assessed was assigned grades of “fair,” “poor” or “very poor.” Those subwatersheds with higher scores had greater forest and streambank cover and were located in more protected areas. Again, there was a lack of data for some areas.

Key Recommendations

The Report Card recommends a number of stewardship and other activities that the province, Conservation Authorities, municipalities, environmental groups and local farmers, business and residents should undertake. Based on the detailed scientific data in the Report Card, together with the watershed plans developed by individual Conservation Authorities, CAMC and its partners can target where this restoration work should be done to be most effective and get the ‘biggest bang for the buck.’

  • Strategic planting of trees, shrubs and other native vegetation is needed to expand and connect forest patches and other habitats, control invasive species, and protect coldwater streams.
  • Marginal farmlands and areas along the banks of rivers and streams should be re-naturalized to improve water quality and moderate stream flows.
  • All new development, site alteration and infrastructure projects on the ORM should meet strict standards to control erosion, ensure the use of uncontaminated fill and minimize the release of sediment into streams. In addition, tree cutting and fill by-laws should be vigorously enforced.
  • Municipalities and/or provincial agencies should implement Source Protection Plan policies as soon as possible to better manage road salt, commercial fertilizers and livestock manure.
  • Stable funding to encourage greater uptake of Environmental Farm Plans and private land stewardship initiatives would reduce environmental pressures and help achieve restoration objectives.
  • Ongoing monitoring of environmental conditions should be expanded in order to fill gaps in the data, reveal developing problems, and gauge whether restoration activities have been successful.

The Conservation Authorities Moraine Coalition believes that planned developments, new roads and other infrastructure projects, along with the potential impacts of climate change, will place increasing pressure on the environmental health of the ORM in the years ahead. Additional restoration and enhancement work must begin almost immediately if we are to preserve the progress made to date and sustain a natural environment that is resilient to the pressures of growth and climate change.

The overriding conclusion of this report card is that the implementation of the Greenbelt Plan and Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, through Planning Act applications, is generally satisfactory to maintain existing conditions, but is NOT sufficient to achieve the Plans’ other goals and objectives to restore, improve and enhance the environmental health and ecological integrity of these environmentally significant lands. Other tools are needed.

For More Information

For further information on the Conservation Authorities Moraine Coalition contact:

David Burnett, CAMC Coordinator
Tel: 416-661-6600, ext. 5361
e-mail: dburnett@trca.on.ca