Government releases plan for Rouge National Urban Park

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Environment Canada released the first management plan for the Rouge National Urban Park project on Thursday, promising new learning facilities for visitors, an extensive trail system and improved shuttle service for residents of the Greater Montreal area. Toronto.

But the region’s watershed protection group said it had not been briefed on the comprehensive planning document and accused Trudeau’s Liberals of ignoring decades of local guidelines on park management.

Jim Robb, chief executive of the Friends of the Rouge Watershed (FRW), said he was unaware the plan had been tabled in parliament until he was contacted by iPolitics on Thursday morning.

“It’s not a good sign,” he said. “We have been heavily involved in this (park management) for the past 40 years. “

He said the Liberals failed to deliver on commitments outlined in previous provincial management plans, despite campaign promises to improve the park’s environmental protection. Specifically, Robb wants the Trudeau government to implement Environment Canada’s recommendations in 2013 to restore forest and wetland cover and preserve “water quality and natural biodiversity”.

Parks Canada spokesperson Jeffery Sinibaldi, however, told iPolitics that the agency has worked closely with the RWF on “all aspects of the management plan for many years.” The plan, he said, recognizes the group’s contributions, and Parks Canada “appreciates its support in strengthening and improving the plan, keeping ecological integrity as the top priority in park management.”

“Major stakeholders, including FRW, knew that the final management plan announcement was imminent and were made aware of the filing within the last day,” he said in a statement.

The proposed park, which straddles the eastern border of Toronto, combines Rouge Provincial Park with neighboring federal and municipal properties. Parks Canada directly manages, or owns an interest in, over 80 percent of the land set aside for the park, and the remaining land is expected to be transferred from local municipalities in the coming months.

The country’s first national urban park, it will cover 7,910 hectares, connecting the Oak Ridges Moraine to Lake Ontario. It stretches from Uxbridge and Whitchurch-Stoufville in the north, passing through Markham and Pickering to the waterfront in eastern Toronto.

A map of Rouge National Urban Park as it appears in the park management plan.

Parks Canada said the management plan, tabled by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, prioritizes “ecological integrity,” with a focus on species at risk and local ecosystem restoration programs. . It will also provide long-term protection for farms located in the park – some of the last in the GTA – and add dozens of new hiking trails, according to the federal agency.

The plan says the park’s programming will provide GTA residents with opportunities to learn to camp, paddle, hike and grow their own food, while new reception areas and facilities for visitors and l The apprenticeships will be implemented in Toronto, Markham, Pickering, Whitchurch-Stouffville and the Uxbridge areas.

Almost 900 hectares of public and private land within the outer boundaries of the park will remain excluded and will not be subject to the management plan, including much of the hamlets of Cedar Grove and Locust Hill, private land and roads, railways and hydroelectric transmission corridors. The park’s enabling legislation allows for the transfer of up to 200 hectares of land to a federal, provincial or municipal authority for public infrastructure purposes.

The Rouge National Urban Park Act became law in 2015, and the Liberals successfully passed changes to the law two years later.

Robb said the management plan requires substantial changes to reflect promises made by local Liberal candidates in the 2015 election to ensure “ecological integrity” and to support provincial management and conservation plans for use. lands.

He said failure to implement Environment Canada’s biodiversity recommendations would cost GTA taxpayers $ 100 million each year due to “uninterrupted” pollution, extreme temperatures and flooding. and erosion induced by climate change.

Robb criticized the management plan for restricting public access to large areas of the park to allow farming operations. He said the FRW supported agriculture as a “continuing activity” in about a third of the park, and not the roughly 50 percent allocated in the management plan, adding that the leases for the park’s farmland would go 60 to 75 percent below. “Fair market value”.

Sinibaldi said Parks Canada consulted over 20,000 Canadians and over 200 organizations on the management plan and incorporated “significant content from previous regional and provincial plans.”

The final plan – along with the 2017 amendments to the Rouge National Urban Park Act that ensure ecological integrity is the top priority when managing the park – provides Rouge with the strongest protections for these. land, he said.

Sinibaldi added that Parks Canada has “initiated and completed” 52 ecological restoration and farmland improvement projects in the park since 2015, and has partnered with local conservation authorities, indigenous groups, park farmers. , municipalities, schools and volunteers to restore more than 60 hectares of wetlands, streams and banks, and more than 26 hectares of forest.

This story has been updated to clarify Jim Robb’s comments regarding the park’s previous management plans and the value of farmland leases.

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