Natural Spaces Program
The McGuinty government recognizes the need to restore and protect natural areas across southern Ontario. The government is committed to ensuring that future generations have the benefits of a healthy natural environment and greenspace to enjoy close to urban and suburban centres.
Reducing loss of greenspace in southern Ontario will contribute to a cleaner, healthier environment, protect habitat for wildlife and create more opportunities for outdoor recreation. The Ontario government's voluntary Natural Spaces Program will provide tools and incentives to encourage and help southern Ontario landowners conserve and restore natural areas on their property.
The Natural Spaces Program will cover all of southern Ontario -- an area south of a line from Midland through Peterborough to Ottawa. In this area, 90 per cent of the land is privately owned. Protecting and restoring natural areas and conserving greenspace can only be achieved with the willing participation of landowners.
Land securement and acquisition: The Ministry of Natural Resources will work with the Ontario Heritage Trust, in partnership with the Ministry of Culture, to acquire and permanently secure significant natural heritage properties across southern Ontario. The Heritage Trust has received a $6-million grant for the securement and stewardship of natural heritage lands. The province will work cooperatively with municipalities, conservation authorities, landowners and other organizations to maximize the use of these funds.
Native tree seed program: The program will help restore the lands and forests of southern Ontario through a partnership with the Trees Ontario Foundation to promote tree planting and native tree seed collection. This includes a $2-million grant to Trees Ontario to increase the future availability of native tree seedlings . Trees Ontario will work with partners across Ontario to monitor and predict demand for tree species and encourage greater tree planting.
Tax incentives: Existing voluntary land tax incentive programs include the Conservation Land Tax Incentive Program and the Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program. Both programs are designed to encourage conservation and stewardship by providing lower property taxes to eligible landowners who agree to manage and conserve their woodlots and natural heritage lands.
Natural Spaces Leadership Alliance: A stakeholder group will work with the ministry to develop a comprehensive and coordinated approach to identifying, restoring and conserving a natural heritage system across southern Ontario. This is the first time a comprehensive approach will be applied to identifying and protecting a natural heritage system in southern Ontario.
Identifying natural heritage systems: Identifying and conserving natural heritage systems helps to sustain healthy and diverse ecosystems over the long term. Working with conservation and municipal partners, the Ministry of Natural Resources will identify important natural areas and develop a strategic approach to protecting natural heritage systems in southern Ontario.
Southern Ontario Land Resource Information System (SOLRIS): SOLRIS accurately maps land cover such as forests, wetlands and urban areas, and allows for the tracking of changes in land cover and land use over time. The progressive mapping process uses remote sensing to make digital maps of the landscape. SOLRIS is one of the tools that will help the Ministry of Natural Resources identify conservation priorities and focus on forestation and restoration efforts.
Stewardship: The Natural Spaces Leadership Alliance will support private landowners and organizations to coordinate and carry out land stewardship activities across southern Ontario for maximum social, economic and environmental benefits.
Natural Spaces Report Card: The Natural Spaces Leadership Alliance will advise on a method to monitor and measure the effectiveness of the Natural Spaces Program.
Other Provincial Initiatives
The Natural Spaces Program complements other provincial initiatives to ensure a clean and healthy natural environment. These include the Greenbelt Plan, Places to Grow, Ontario's Biodiversity Strategy and source water protection programs. In February 2005, the government passed the Greenbelt Act, permanently protecting more than 1.8 million acres of environmentally sensitive and agricultural land in the Golden Horseshoe from urban sprawl.