Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Upcoming Council Vote on the Adoption of the Natural Heritage System Concept Plan

Article by Tineke Kuiper, published in The Millstone:

Upcoming Council Vote on the Adoption of the Natural Heritage System Concept Plan

Lily-Pad by Tineke Kuiper















by Tineke Kuiper

To all of you who enjoy the natural beauty of the flora and fauna of Mississippi Mills and would like to protect it for future generations, an important vote will take place this Tuesday (September 16, 2014) at the municipal building, 3131 Old Perth Rd, at 6:15 PM. The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists have worked closely with the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority and Town staff to develop a Natural Heritage System (NHS) that is appropriate for our municipality, based on additional guidance from the Ministry of Natural Resources and other sources. In addition to the protection of provincially significant wetlands and ANSIs, such as the Burnt Lands and Appleton Wetlands, current legislation also requires the identification and protection of significant woodlands and the identification of an NHS for the municipality of Mississippi Mills. A preliminary draft NHS was provided to Staff on July 2013, and a concept plan for an NHS was presented to Council on May 20, 2014, along with background documentation.

An NHS consists of connected Natural Heritage areas (Core areas), whereby all the individual parts are linked, often through rivers and creeks, and work together as a system to maintain biological and geological diversity, ecological functions, and viable populations of native species. An ecologically based NHS is an important (municipal) planning approach that allows us to look at the overall landscape level — the bigger picture — and counteract fragmentation of the landscape, the process by which large interconnected natural areas are converted into a series of smaller, often isolated natural areas that no longer function ecologically as they did prior to fragmentation, principally due to ‘edge effects,’ and to the inability of small areas to support viable populations of species that have large territories or home ranges. A piecemeal approach to development contributes to the problem. Thus, an NHS is more effective for natural heritage conservation, and it helps in directing proposed development to areas where there will be the least impact on our Natural Heritage areas.

If you value the many plant and animal species that Mississippi Mills is still fortunate to have, please show your support for adopting an NHS by attending the Council of the Whole meeting, which is open to the public, on Tuesday, September 16. Let’s make our Town one that sets an example for others to follow.


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A Natural Heritage System Concept Plan for Mississippi Mills

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.


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Best Practices Guide to Natural Heritage Systems Planning

Nature Network News: Best Practices Guide to Natural Heritage Systems Planning:

Ontario Nature’s Best Practices Guide to Natural Heritage Systems Planning is now available for download from the Ontario Nature website. Or download pdf here: nhs-guide-web.  While provincial regulation promotes the planning of natural heritage systems – and even mandates it in areas like the Greenbelt – many municipalities are failing to do so. In these jurisdictions, natural areas are fragmented to the detriment of biodiversity. Ontario Nature’s new guide is designed to remedy this situation by identifying the best planning examples and providing insightful analysis from which other municipalities can learn. For more information about the guide, contact Josh Wise at . “

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Natural Heritage System Presentation to Town of Mississippi Mills Council

On Tuesday May 20, 2014 (6:30 pm,  Town of Mississippi Mills, Council Chambers,  Municipal Office, 3131 Old Perth Road, Almonte)  there will be a presentation by Tineke Kuiper and MVFN’s Natural Heritage Design Committee  of a Concept Plan for a Natural Heritage System  for Mississippi Mills. In a short presentation, Tineke will outline the process involved in designing a Natural Heritage System. It is important for our Rural and Urban communities, as the NHS will include both. Extensive mapping for this project was provided by the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority, as well as the Mississippi Madawaska Land Turst Conservancy.  Once the Concept plan is approved,  it is expected there will be public consultation by the town.

Come early to get a seat. Learn about this important milestone.

A Natural Heritage System (NHS),  which is made up of core natural areas that are linked together ecologically—mainly through rivers and creeks, should help the municipality in making appropriate decisions for sustainable development. Since the components of an NHS work together as a system (the whole is more than the sum of its parts), an NHS is ecologically more robust and resilient to change. This benefits both us and the wildlife that lives within it.

Are you concerned about Natural Heritage in Mississippi Mills? The landscape is certainly not what it was 200 years ago, when settlers first started to arrive here and began homesteading. Since then many of the original forests have been lost, but some of the areas not suitable for farming are now growing back. Some areas were never farmed. With new concerns on the horizon, such as climate change, it is important that we tread carefully and make sure that future rural development is sustainable. In this way, if we take care of nature, we will be able to continue to reap the benefits that nature offers us. While we certainly cannot set the clock back to the early 1800s, we can create a well-functioning facsimile—a Natural Heritage System (NHS), which although not as extensive as before, should serve us and the wildlife around us well into the future. In fact, the Province as of April 30, 2014 has made it obligatory for municipalities in our region to identify an NHS.

For an informative guide to NHS’s please see Ontario Nature’s recently released publication:  nhs-guide-web

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How will Mississippi Mills grow over the next 20 years?

Excerpt of Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists Press Release February 23, 2014

 by Tineke Kuiper

How will Mississippi Mills grow over the next 20 years?

This is usually a question that Town Planners ponder while they develop well-integrated approaches for future growth, yet it should really be of interest to all of us. In 2005, leaders and volunteers in our community came together and created our first Community Official Plan (COP). The COP is a legal document containing the goals, objectives and policies that will guide the development, growth and change of the Town of Mississippi Mills over a 20-year period. The vision adopted by Town Council at the time was and still is:

“Mississippi Mills is an outstanding urban and rural community that is recognized for its natural and architectural beauty, high quality of life and respect for its heritage and environment. In its vision of the future, the community will be seen to promote and manage balanced economic growth.”

Every five years the COP is reviewed and updated to take into account changes in the community and provincial policy requirements. The Plan builds on the tradition of responsible stewardship of the resources and assets of the community.

 Mississippi Mills

The Town of Almonte (population ~5200) is located about 50 km from the centre of Ottawa, and as such it is an exurban town rather, than a suburb of Ottawa. The profile of our town is gradually changing from that of a rural mill town in an agricultural setting in the late fifties, to a self-sufficient, up to date and lively place with fine community spirit and cultural aspirations. It has gained a reputation as a good place to live and so, it also appeals as an exurban bedroom community for Ottawa and a retirement community. Both longtime residents and many newcomers alike share a strong sense of history, and optimism about the future of the community. Over the next 20 years, the municipality is expected to grow at a moderate annualized rate of 2.0%.

There are several villages, hamlets and settlement areas in the rural areas, and growth has varied. Between 1981-2001 annualized growth in Ramsay ward accelerated to 4.67% (with most dwellings on private services) compared to 2.45% in Pakenham ward and 1.03% in Almonte ward. The haphazard growth during that period dramatically changed the rural character and physical landscape of Ramsay. There were increased concerns about the loss of natural areas and the health of the environment, loss of farmland and noticeable impacts on the local agricultural industry. Most noticeable was the visual impact of scattered rural residences and country estate lot subdivisions. There were also concerns about cost and economies of scale of providing services to a dispersed population and urban sprawl.


Subdivisions often cut through natural areas. This breaks the natural area into two pieces, or fragments, thereby fragmenting wildlife habitat and altering wildlife movement patterns. The fragmentation of a large forest and wetland habitat into smaller patches disrupts ecological processes and reduces the availability of habitat for some species. It is the greatest threat to native biodiversity. Some forest fragments are too small to maintain viable breeding populations of certain wildlife species, especially bird species that require forest interior habitat (i.e., habitat that is in the interior of a forest, a long way from the forest edge). Ecological changes resulting from fragmentation include the introduction of invasive, exotic (non-native) species and increased predation and parasitism. Creating small, isolated forest patches can also interfere with pollination, seed dispersal, wildlife migration and breeding. Ultimately, these changes can result in the local loss of species.

While at first glance some may look nice, country estate lot subdivisions contribute strongly to fragmentation, much more so than normal severances (Figure 1). They directly impact biodiversity, through the direct removal of habitat, through the loss of interior habitat, through the introduction of non-native plants, and through predation/harassment by domestic animals, especially housecats. These effects are well documented in the scientific literature. Country estates lot subdivisions are also detrimental to the sustainability of villages, as residents of such subdivisions do not appear to support village services and amenities, but tend to commute to suburban areas, strip malls, etc., to conduct their business and shopping. As a result, many municipalities, such as Ottawa and Kingston, have now banned country estate lot subdivisions.

 Urban Sprawl

In a recent article in The Millstone (February 3, 2014), Brian Barth paints a picture of how urban sprawl in the USA, in the form of rural subdivisions and strip malls, has consumed many small rural towns, which prior to this had an unequivocally rural mentality and identity, like Mississippi Mills. This is a picture that is also being played out in Canada. He suggested that Ottawa is certainly not growing at the rate of cities like Atlanta, but its sprawl will eventually consume the communities around it. If the footprint of the Greater Toronto Area were to be transplanted to Ottawa, half of Lanark County would already be in it, he said. Urban sprawl consumes agricultural lands, natural areas such as wetlands and forested lands, adding impervious cover in its place.

 Smart Growth instead of Urban Sprawl

One of the alternative development strategies to counteract urban sprawl is the concept of Smart Growth, an idea developed in the early nineties, and a strategy adopted in our 2005 COP, and promoted by the Province. Smart Growth is about reducing sprawl, it’s about growth management, it’s about creating livable communities, it’s about economic growth, it’s about protecting the environment, it’s about efficient government – it’s about all of these things! Communities across the country are using creative strategies to develop in ways that preserve natural lands and critical environmental areas, protect water and air quality, and reuse already-developed land. They conserve resources by reinvesting in existing infrastructure and reclaiming historic buildings. By designing neighborhoods that have shops, offices, schools, churches, parks, and other amenities near homes, communities are giving their residents and visitors the option of walking, bicycling, taking public transportation, or driving as they go about their business. Through smart growth approaches that enhance neighborhoods and involve local residents in development decisions, these communities are creating vibrant places to live, work, and play. The high quality of life in these communities makes them economically competitive, creates business opportunities, and improves the local tax base.

 Smart Growth Principles

Based on the experience of communities that have used smart growth approaches to create and maintain great neighborhoods, the Smart Growth Network developed a set of ten basic principles:

1. Mix land uses

2. Take advantage of compact building design

3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices

4. Create walkable neighborhoods

5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place

6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas

7. Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities

8. Provide a variety of transportation choices

9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective

10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions

Preserve important Natural Heritage Areas

One of the principles of smart growth is to ensure that important natural areas are protected from development, so that critical habitat is preserved, and nature is able to run its course, providing fresh air and clean water. . . [the first step is . . . identifying and characterizing the most important areas and in developing a system of interconnected Core natural areas that will greatly benefit the community.] Based on mapped data, provided by OMNR, on provincially significant wetlands, significant woodlands, areas of natural and scientific interest, wildlife and other features, the first phase has been completed and several important Natural Heritage Core areas, such as the Wolf Grove and Pakenham wetland complexes, the Appleton wetlands, and the Burnt Lands Alvar, can now be designated. This information is important, as it allows for planning decisions on the appropriate location of development, as well as set an appropriate level of protection for individual Core areas. The next phase of this project will be completed within the next few years.

Difficult decisions ahead for Council

The current COP is not saying no to development, but rather provides direction on how to develop in a way residents have said they hope to see their community progress. Council is grappling with the question of how much development is appropriate and how we should go about doing it without losing the small town and rural character and natural heritage areas that we all highly prize and that our COP tries to help maintain. Thus, Councillors face some tough decisions. Your input is important at this time. A public meeting is being planned. Stay tuned.


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