A Natural Heritage System Concept Plan for Mississippi Mills
On May 20, 2014, Tineke Kuiper, of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, presented a Concept Plan for a Natural Heritage System (NHS) for the Town of Mississippi Mills to Council’s Committee of the Whole and a large group of interested observers in the gallery.
A Natural Heritage System is a network of identified Core natural areas (e.g., woodlands and wetlands), connected by linkages. In the case of our municipality, the linkage, Kuiper explained, is often water. Within such a system of interconnected core natural areas, the ecosystems involved are more resilient to change and diversity is enhanced. The system, thus becomes functionally more than the sum of its parts. Most of the larger municipalities in southern and southeastern Ontario have developed an NHS, and the new Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) under the Planning Act makes the development of an NHS mandatory for many smaller municipalities, including Mississippi Mills.
In his introduction to Council members, Town of Mississippi Mills Planner Stephen Stirling, thanked Dr.Tineke Kuiper, local biologist and chair of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ Natural Heritage Design Committee for her work in developing the concept plan. He noted the vital collaboration which had taken place with the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority, especially with regard to Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping done by Alex Broadbent. The NHS Design Committee is comprised of a group of experts including ecologists, Cathy Keddy, MSc and Paul Smith, PhD, as well as Tom Coleman, Eng. Credit was also given to the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust, for providing mapping assistance during the early phase of the project.
Kuiper gave several reasons for the importance of identifying Natural Heritage Systems. First, there are the benefits and services provided by Nature, such as maintaining biodiversity, flood control, regulation of greenhouses gases, recreation, and the provision of personal feelings of well-being. She then explained that fragmentation (the breaking up of natural landscapes into disconnected, small pieces through human activities) and the reduced landscape connectivity which results, is detrimental to the survival of many wildlife species. Lastly, she indicated that a NHS could act as a bulwark to cope with events such as climatic extremes (droughts and floods), which may lead to crop failures and associated food toxicants.
Steps in the design and identification of a Natural Heritage System for Mississippi Mills
The unique location of Mississippi Mills, at the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, results in a wonderfully rich biodiversity in our area, and the NHS Design Committee recommended that an NHS be identified for the municipality as a whole.
In designing and identifying the concept plan for the NHS for Mississippi Mills, Kuiper showed Council how they began by identifying Core areas, based on natural heritage features already designated by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), such as Provincially Significant Wetlands, Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest, and associated or nearby MNR-identified Significant Woodlands.
Using detailed maps, Kuiper showed the process used for characterization and prioritization of MNR-identified Significant Woodlands. The focus was on larger woodlands with an interior forest habitat (i.e. forest further than 100 or 200 m from an edge; essential for many species of breeding birds and other animals), as well as woodlands with potential old growth (older than 80-100 years), or those with uncommon species of trees. Any such prioritized woodlands that were outside previously identified natural Core areas were then designated as Rural Natural Area. Many of these designated Rural Natural Areas are some distance from the areas with greater development pressure.
Next, using the maps, Kuiper showed how our rivers and creeks, with a 30 m buffer on each side (as required under the PPS), could provide natural linkages, so that all areas can work together ecologically as a System. In addition, some Significant Woodlands adjacent to rivers were included as stopover or shelter areas for wildlife. Once these natural linkages were incorporated into the municipal NHS, it was found that few additional areas would be required for linking the Core areas, i.e. probably less than 1% of the total area of the municipality.
The town of Almonte itself includes a stretch of the Mississippi River, part of the Wolf Grove creek, and several important natural areas, one of which is Gemmill Park. It is important to protect the river edge and include these natural areas in a Natural Heritage System. Such areas have been designated as Urban Natural Area.
In summary, the following four Core natural area designations were recommended for inclusion in the NHS: Natural Heritage Area (Pakenham and Wolf Grove wetland complexes, Appleton Wetlands, Burnt Lands and Panmure alvars);Wetlands (White Lake, Clayton –Taylor Lake, Mississippi Lake); Rural Natural Area (some of the Significant Woodlands); and Urban Natural Area (e.g., Gemmill Park). The rivers and creeks within Mississippi Mills, and in the region, will provide most of the connectivity between the various core components within the NHS.
Tineke Kuiper concluded that because the Town of Mississippi Mill’s Community Official Plan is currently in the process of being revised, this NHS Concept Plan could easily be incorporated. Peer review of the NHS Concept Plan and public consultation could take place with the purpose of amending the COP in the future (target date 2015).
Many Councillors thanked Tineke Kuiper and the Committee for their thorough and excellent work. Having this work done by local experts represents enormous savings for the Town, noted Councillor Edwards, and provides the opportunity to balance conservation with sustainable development.