August 15, 2005

Natural Spaces program helps private landowners preserve, restore greenspace

Ontario's new Natural Spaces program, recently announced by Premier Dalton McGuinty, will target private owners of environmentally significant lands, supporting their efforts to preserve and restore natural areas on their property.

The Natural Spaces program will cover an area south of a line from Midland through Peterborough to Ottawa, which is home to the province's greatest diversity of plants and animals. Because 90% of land in this area is privately owned, the program will provide tools and resources to encourage landowners to contribute voluntarily to the good stewardship of Ontario's rich natural heritage. The program's main components are outlined as follows.

Land acquisition and securement: 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 co-operatively with municipalities, conservation authorities, landowners and other organizations to maximize the use of these funds.

Native tree seed program: The program will support restoration of 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: The program will take advantage of existing voluntary land tax incentive programs such as the Conservation Land Tax Incentive and the Managed Forest Tax Incentive. Both these schemes aim 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 heritage systems inventory: Working with conservation and municipal partners, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) will develop an inventory of important natural areas and develop a strategic approach to protecting natural heritage systems in southern Ontario. In carrying out this task, MNR will make use of a number of tools, among them the Southern Ontario Land Resource Information System (SOLRIS), which accurately maps land cover such as forests, wetlands and urban areas and allows changes in land cover and land use to be tracked over time. The progressive mapping process uses remote sensing to make digital maps of the landscape.

The Natural Spaces Leadership Alliance, a stakeholder working group representing conservation and resource industry-related organizations, will play a key advisory role in the development and implementation of the program. It will work with MNR to develop, for the first time in southern Ontario, a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach to defining, restoring and conserving a natural heritage system across the region.

This Alliance will also support private landowners and organizations to co-ordinate and carry out land stewardship activities across southern Ontario for maximum environmental, economic and social benefits. Additionally, it will advise on a method, such as a Natural Spaces Report Card, to monitor and measure the effectiveness of the Natural Spaces program.

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