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.
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.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,