Thursday, March 1, 2012

Biodiversity, Habitats and Ecosystem Health (Ottawa)

Ottawa's "Choosing Our Future" initiative is an ongoing process to help shape the national capital region's long term sustainability principals and goals. It is a joint initiative between the two cities and the NCC that was commenced in 2009 with foundation papers written on eleven different components. Since then they have consulted with the public through charettes, online media and workshops organized by the Canadian Biodiversity Institute. Along with the public input there are also baseline reports, green papers on sustainability, long-term reports from the city's committees and risk assessment reports.

One of the areas that is being discussed is biodiversity, habitats and ecosystem health. You can read that foundation paper prepared by HB Lanarc here: Choosing Our Future website. This paper discusses the current status, issues and trends, potential impacts, current responses, and indicators and best practices. My one issue with this report is that while it recognizes the importance of being within walking distance of some green space (park, pathway, etc.) and in Ottawa most people are within a 5-10 minute walk (something that other cities are trying to achieve) the report focuses mainly on the larger systems - the greenbelt, the Gatineau Park, etc.

My hope for urban biodiversity is that every corner, square and alley is seen as an opportunity to increase biodiversity. Montreal has introduced green alleys into the city, Paris considers every building front in terms of its potential for nesting habitat and Washington D.C. is renown for its urban green roof habitat (which is a haven for migrating birds). The City of Toronto is fortunate to have the FLAP program in its city, while London is hoping to plant a million more trees in the next 10 years and Vancouver is creating habitat for mason bees. These are the types of actions that create a strong, healthy biodiversive system in a city. It's not just about increasing green space.

Did you know that the City of Ottawa has done an Urban Natural Areas Environmental Evaluation Study? It was completed in 2006 and it "identified natural features in the urban area regardless of planning status, ownership or landowner intentions. A total of 192 natural areas, including woodlands, wetlands and valleylands, were identified in the urban area for study. Field investigations were carried out in 2003 and 2005 at 177 of these natural areas." This is great baseline data for the City and should help in determining key areas to save, protect and/or enhance. Even city parks and bike paths should be looked at in terms of what biodiversity it supports (I haven't reviewed the study to see what spaces they surveyed.) And to create a truly healthy network, both green spaces and corridors that link the spaces are key.

As a next step in the Choosing Our Future initiative, a report was presented to Council on February 14th and can be found here: Report to City of Ottawa Environmental Committee and Council. This report was divided into three long-range plans which "are designed to help ensure that the City of Ottawa and Canada’s Capital Region remain prosperous and that its residents enjoy a high quality of life for generations to come. (The) report highlights a number of significant project milestones achieved since 2009, key reference materials developed, including the 2011 Sustainability Baseline that provides a current snapshot of our sustainability as a region, and the consultation and engagement activities that have been used to inform and finalize these plans. The plans are proposed to be put into practice through various means described in the implementation section of this report. For the City of Ottawa, this includes activities related to the Corporate Planning Framework, strategic planning, near-term actions, catalysts projects, risk prevention and mitigation, sustainability self assessment, sustainability at the neighbourhood level, and reporting on progress."

People are questioning how the recommendations in this report will be put into action. It has some broad reaching goals but no teeth behind them such as : supporter new farmers and celebrate food. It's like a dream wish without any feet firmly planted in the ground.

Here's some of what they have for Water, Green and Natural Systems

· Improve the resiliency of urban watersheds;

· Continue to conserve large natural areas and strengthen connections between them;

· Continue to build a greenspace network in villages and urban areas;

· Promote habitat restoration and species recovery; and

· Control the spread of invasive species.

It'll be interesting to see what comes forth after this, from all three governing bodies. For the City, directions for next steps will come after City Council's approval and then staff can start working on actual plans. Stay tuned!

2014 Update: This project ended up "on the shelf".  I spoke with one of the city's employees and she told me that nothing ended up being incorporated into any of the city's practices or programs.  Such an unfortunate thing!

P.S.  Check out my latest "urban wild" nature blog: Wild. Here.(2016 update)

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