Ontario is home to the world’s largest permanently protected greenbelt, consisting of over 720,000 hectares of agriculturally and environmentally significant land from Rice Lake in Northumberland County west to the Niagara River. The belt forms a semicircle around the Golden Horseshoe – Canada’s most populated area and one that is rapidly growing. Recognizing the need to protect farms and natural areas from the ever-increasing threat of urban sprawl, the provincial government passed the Greenbelt Act in 2005. The overarching goals were to:
- “Protect against the loss and fragmentation of the agricultural land base and supports agriculture as the predominant land use;
- Give permanent protection to the natural heritage and water resource systems that sustain ecological and human health and that form the environmental framework around which major urbanization in south-central Ontario will be organized; and
- Provide for a diverse range of economic and social activities associated with rural communities, agriculture, tourism, recreation and resource uses.” (Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, 2005)
Today, Ontario’s Greenbelt protects over 216,000 acres of forest, lakes, wetlands, and river valleys that 78 provincially listed species-at-risk call home. It helps keep our water safe by requiring buffers around wetlands and the headwaters of all major rivers that feed the Greater Toronto Area. It provides a worthy example of system-based conservation planning, where emphasis is placed on protecting the connectedness of natural features across the diverse ecozones of the Niagara escarpment and Oak Ridges Moraine instead of selecting just one or a few areas of interest. Finally, the Greenbelt provides unique recreational opportunities so close to the city, with over 10,000 km of natural trails to explore.
On February 28th, the Greenbelt will turn 10 years old, and later this year the Greenbelt Plan will be up for review. To learn more about the Greenbelt and the possible threats it faces in the coming years visit: