HUNTSVILLE – Biodiversity is an economic and environmental treasure that needs to be protected, says Mary McCulley.
McCulley, former chair of Huntsville’s Unity Plan environmental protection working group, gave a presentation to the town’s planning committee earlier this month to highlight the importance of natural areas in the region.
McCulley told the Huntsville Forester that natural heritage areas, preservation and connecting corridors need to be taken seriously in order to maintain the biodiversity that makes Huntsville and Muskoka so desirable.
“With the damage that climate change will wreak on ecosystems, the more we can protect them, the less chance there is of losing this source of biodiversity,” said McCulley. “We’ve done a bit of research in looking into the problem and the larger the (natural) areas are that are kept together intact without encroachment, the more biodiverse they are.”
Ecosystems along with the plant and animal species in them keep our water clean, air clear and soil fertile, she said.
“Without them working well together, we do have damages to the ability of nature to be able to repair itself,” said McCulley.
The presentation she made is a precursor to a future presentation in which she and other community members will make recommendations to the town. Those recommendations will likely include the creation of a conservation advisory committee and official plan zoning amendments to protect natural heritage areas.
The advisory committee would further examine natural heritage areas in Huntsville already identified in broader, Muskoka-wide studies and determine which require more stringent protection by the municipality. It would also investigate the protection of natural corridors that link the natural heritage areas together.
McCulley mentioned in her presentation that the Provincial Policy Statement states the biodiversity and connectivity of natural features in an area and the long term ecological function and biodiversity of natural heritage systems should be maintained, restored or, where possible, improved, recognizing linkages between and among natural heritage features and areas, surface water features and ground water features.
“It’s not hugely helpful if you have one discrete area not linked to any others,” she said. “Normally, natural ecosystem components move along corridors, from one area to another. It’s those connecting corridors that also have to be protected from incursion by us.”
She said natural heritage areas are at risk everywhere as development continues.
“We have a fair amount of large, natural areas left, but it won’t get any easier as time goes on,” said McCulley. “Biodiversity means we have beautiful green forests and clean air to breath and sparkling, pristine lakes. If we didn’t have a good ecosystem here to support that, then we would lose one or all of them. We wouldn’t have the environment that draws people to Muskoka.”
It appears that Muskoka has a healthy ecosystem, though science is continually showing that time is ticking, said McCulley. Protection therefore needs to be put in place. But it does not mean it has to be protected at the expense of industry.
“We do need industry, we do need jobs, so it’s a careful weighing of the environment versus the economic needs,” she said, noting the environment produces jobs in the region along with industry. “All of these things have to be very carefully weighed.”