The Ecological Land Acquisition Program
Protecting natural areas and wildlife habitats through land acquisition has the potential to be one of the most effective strategies for natural heritage protection in Ontario. In this reporting year the Ministry of Natural Resources finalized its Ecological Land Acquisition Program (ELAP).
ELAP is now the primary program through which MNR funds the acquisition of natural spaces for conservation purposes in Ontario. (See also [[A Natural Heritage Strategy for the MNR’s Southcentral Region]].) Formerly, MNR operated several programs with varying objectives, the most notable of which was the Natural Areas Protection Program. These programs were combined into ELAP, with a budget of $10 million for a two-year period, 2002/2003 and 2003/2004. MNR describes ELAP as a partnership-oriented program – participants such as Conservation Authorities will be expected to match funding received from MNR through the program, and are usually responsible for any subsequent property management, maintenance and costs.
Although land acquisition is an effective approach to protecting natural heritage, the total value of funding dedicated to this program is small compared to the value of potential sites that exist in Ontario. Many worthy sites exist across the province, both large and small. Those in southern Ontario, where the percentage of protected space is the lowest in the province, are often costliest because of the value of privately held real estate. They are also the most threatened by development. Below are some examples of properties that have been acquired or are the subject of acquisition efforts for conservation purposes:
|Property Name||Brief Description||Area||Approximate Value|
|Marcy’s Woods||Carolinian Forest remnant on the shores of Lake Erie. North America’s last remaining stand of old growth black maple.||115 ha||$ 2.85 million|
|Alfred’s Bog||Southern Ontario’s largest bog and a habitat for rare plants and animals. Located about 70 km east of Ottawa.||1200 ha||$ 2.5 million|
|Delphi Point annex||Fossil zone / shoreline property on Georgian Bay near Delphi Point and the Georgian Trail.||3.8 ha||$ 0.9 million|
These examples show how most of ELAP’s current yearly budget (on a pro-rated basis) could be consumed by the acquisition of just a handful of expensive properties. Since ELAP funding is provided on a matching basis, the program can effectively finance approximately $10 million in acquisitions per year. The ability of the program to extend its purchasing power is contingent on the capacity of a nongovernmental organization to raise funds to finance half the purchase value. In some locations this has proved difficult. It should also be noted that the size of most of the sites being acquired in southern Ontario are comparable to or smaller than a family farm and would not compare, for example, to the scale of most provincial parks. This would suggest that greater funding would be required in order for ELAP to create any major new ecological reserves in southern Ontario or amass enough property to connect fragmented ecosystems. Although the ministry agrees that land acquisition is important, MNR slightly reduced overall annual land acquisition funding by about $0.8-1.1 million (from a high of $6.1 million/year to the current $5 million/year). As a result, natural heritage protection goals in southern Ontario may not be reached — or will take longer to achieve.
ELAP’s likely geographic extent and ecological targets are difficult to predict, since the MNR guidelines that govern this program were written in a very flexible, open-ended manner. For example, ELAP’s precise geographic coverage, boundaries and priorities are not specified. Under its broad criteria, seemingly any property within an approved plan, strategy or agreement could qualify. To strengthen the program’s focus, MNR could look at the gaps in overall biodiversity protection in the province. (See Creating a Biodiversity Framework for Ontario.) This could help in the acquisition decision-making process when assessing whether to purchase a property outright or to protect it by other means, such as through a conservation easement. The degree of threat to a species or habitat could help determine the degree of protection afforded a property. The ECO appreciates that MNR amalgamated all of its pre-existing land acquisition programs into a single program, which could reduce administrative overlap and improve program delivery and efficiency. However, accountability and transparency of decision-making could also be reduced, since so far there are fewer clear objectives and criteria in the new program guidelines than in earlier programs. The ECO hopes this is MNR’s first step toward developing a stronger long-term Ecological Land Acquisition Program.
The ECO recommends that the Ministry of Natural Resources review whether funding for the Ecological Land Acquisition Program is adequate, given the acquisition opportunities and need for ecosystem protection in Ontario.
|This is an article from the 2002/03 Annual Report to the Legislature from the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.|
Citing This Article
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 2003. "The Ecological Land Acquisition Program." Thinking Beyond the Near and Now, ECO Annual Report, 2002-03. Toronto, ON : Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 96-97.