The majority of Ontario's wetlands in southern Ontario are located on farms. So when the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry recently launched a review of the Conservation Authorities Act, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) compiled a response outlining the important role agriculture and farmers have in environmental and ecological protection and preservation.
Ontario's Conservation Authorities Act is designed to ensure the conservation, restoration and responsible management of water, land and natural habitat through programs that balance the human, environmental and economic needs. The act also authorizes the formation of conservation authorities with roles and responsibilities that directly impact land that Ontario farmers own and farm.
OFA has identified a number of areas where the Conservation Authorities Act can be improved and will be submitting a formal response through the government's review and consultation process which closes October 19. The two most important areas that affect Ontario farmers are building a better relationship between farmers and regional conservation authorities, and addressing funding imbalances between conservation authorities.
Many OFA members have working relationships with their local conservation authorities, with varying levels of success and respect. In our review submission OFA is asking for more effective, consistent representation for agriculture and farmers on conservation authority boards. OFA wants a dedicated farmer representative on each board to reflect the fact that Ontario farmers own and manage most of the lands under the conservation authority jurisdiction. With 36 conservation authorities across Ontario, OFA members report a wide variance in the delivery of services and treatment of farmers. While many are respectful and work collaboratively with farmers, others have been hostile and dictatorial. OFA wants to see changes made to the act to ensure conservation authority staff treat farmers and property owners respectfully and work together to manage and improve our wetlands and natural habitats.
In Ontario, conservation authorities are funded primarily through municipal levies. This creates funding disparity across the province. OFA is asking the government to ensure all conservation authorities, regardless of population base or geographic area, are equally funded to deliver core programs and services.
Ontario farmland plays a huge role in the health of our environment and ecology through wildlife habitat, water cycling like purification and ground water recharge, biodiversity, soil erosion control and the general aesthetics of our beautiful province. OFA will be submitting our review of the Conservation Authorities Act to ensure farmers have a voice in this regulation that affects so much of our valuable farmland. It's never been more important that we establish a balance between agriculture and conservation resources to protect and preserve Ontario's environment.
Peter Lambrick is a board member for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.