Province deals a blow to well-being of watersheds

Saugeen Conservation is extremely disappointed and dismayed with the news release, recently issued by the Province of Ontario that “moves to constrain” programs and services provided by conservation authorities.

‘This is a real blow to the health and well-being of our local watersheds where we live, work and play” stated Wayne Brohman, General Manager of Saugeen Conservation. “Conservation programming is, by its very nature, a long-term commitment to the health of our natural environment and saving thousands, if not millions of dollars in preventative measures, such as water quality monitoring and assessments, reforestation projects that protect sensitive headwater areas of our rivers and streams, the protection of significant woodlands and wetlands, flood preventative measures, and more.”

“It’s yet another setback for conservation authorities” explained Brohman. The Province cut funding to conservation authorities in the 1990’s, resulting in a 70% cut to Saugeen Conservation alone. “It was a real blow” he exclaimed.

In order to see valuable conservation efforts, continue, many conservation authorities instituted ‘fee for service’ measures. “As it is, the province contributes only 4% to our overall budget and that was cut by 50% earlier this year. In addition, programs such as tree planting, soil conservation measures, conservation education programming, stewardship services, etc. are paid for by user fees, grants, our municipal partners, donations and the private sector” he stated.

It begs the question as to where the province’s commitment is with respect to the future health of our natural resources”, said Brohman.

“As well, the Province’s claim that they will be saving tax payers dollars is false” continued Brohman. Andrew Buttigeig, spokesperson for the Honourable Jeff Yurek, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, stated that “the Ford government is working to improve public transparency and consistency. “We already report to a Board of Directors comprised of municipal representatives, on a regular basis with regard to all of our programs, finances, etc. Transparency has been met and then some,” reported Brohman.

Buttigeig also stated that “conservation authorities have expanded past their core mandate into activities such as ziplining, maple syrup festivals and wedding permits.” “Yes, he is correct. Conservation authorities, including ourselves, have had to get very creative in order to meet funding shortfalls and to continue valuable conservation efforts”, said Brohman. “Our own events are organized by the Saugeen Valley Conservation Foundation, the fundraising arm of Saugeen Conservation, and continue to meet a number of objectives, which include conservation awareness of our programs, services and lands, as well as serving as major tourism attractions for the local area, assisting the local economy and bringing in much needed funding for conservation projects not covered through other sources”, reported Brohman.

As Kim Gavine, Chair of Conservation Ontario stated in her recent press release, “we are the boots on the ground to preserve, restore and protect the natural environment in Ontario, a mandate long embraced since the 1940’s”.

In that light, are Conservation Authorities ‘open for business’? “We certainly hope so”, said Brohman. “Foresight and prudence with respect to the continued respect and well-being of our natural environment would be a refreshing change!”