Ontario Incentives For Improving Shoreline/Riparian Habitats

Ontario Incentives For Improving Shoreline/Riparian Habitats

By Cherish Elwell, Niagara Restoration Council

It is an environmental issue threatening all of Ontario’s watersheds draining into the Lake Erie basin. Specifically, it is a lack of “it” that is the issue. “It” is an area of vegetation that occurs where landmeets water (commonly known as riparian buffers), and includes streamside or riverbank grasslands, forests or wetland areas.

As the Niagara region developed with agriculture, cottages, and urban areas – vegetation adjacent was removed for access to the water and views of the water without concern for environmental sustainability.

You would be hard pressed to find a remedial action plan or watershed strategy for watersheds draining into Lake Erie that does not mention the lack of riparian buffer zones contributing to poor water quality, erosion and sedimentation, nutrient loading, poor wildlife habitat, and increased human health risks.

The benefits of riparian buffers, thanks to numerous conservation and restoration initiatives and organizations, have been widely publicized and taught in the past two decades. These benefits include, but are not limited to the following.

  • Submerged, aquatic and emergent plants along waterways have extensive root systems that help hold sediment in place, thus decreasing erosion.
  • Woody stems from trees and shrubs help trap sediment before it can enter the watercourse.
  • Streams with natural shoreline vegetation provides more in-stream habitat for fish and invertebrates.
  • Riparian vegetation shades the waterway,moderating in-stream temperatures and providing fish,molluscs and invertebrates cover from airborne predators.
  • Through biological processes,many species of plants help to fix excessive nutrients present in run-off, helping to decrease nutrient pollution.
  • Riparian zones provide food for all trophic levels of the food chain.
  • Riparian vegetation helps to slow the flow velocity of the stream, and control floods by soaking up excess water through root systems.

In June of 2002, the Nutrient Management Act was passed. Administered by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), the purpose of the act is to “provide for the management of materials containing nutrients in ways that will enhance protection of the natural environment and provide a sustainable future for agricultural operations and rural development.” Under the Act, a three-meter vegetated buffer strip is required where agricultural nutrient spreading is occurring, and for those properties that fall under the Nutrient Management Act.

In response to this Act and the issue of the lack of riparian buffers, a number of funding initiatives were created to help stewards and private landowners create riparian buffer areas on public and private properties.While the following does not represent a complete list of currently available initiatives, they represent some of themost common and accessible initiatives to private landowners along Ontario’s Lake Erie shore. If you are a landowner whose property features, or is adjacent to a waterway, the following programs may be of interest.

Ontario Environmental Farm Plans (OEFP)
www.ontario soilcrop.org, 1-800-265-9751

Community Fisheries and Wildlife Involvement Program (CFWIP)
www.mnr.gov.on.ca/fishing/cfwip.html, 1-800-667-1940

Conservation Ontario
www.conservation-ontario.on.ca/, (905) 895-0716

For more information of the Natural Heritage Inventory,
please contact: Brianne Wilson,
Project Coordinator (905) 788-3135, Ext. 237,
bwilson@conservation-niagara.on.ca.

 

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
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