Is that an endangered species in my backyard?
As someone who just moved to the Big Smoke (aka Toronto), I am constantly searching for nature in the city and surrounding landscape. I am truly fascinated by the resilience of many of the creatures that manage to eke out an existence in the highly urban and fragmented landscape of southern Ontario.
The survival of many of these species is greatly aided by the Ontario Greenbelt, which hugs the outskirts of Toronto and stretches north to the Bruce Peninsula, including the Oak Ridges Moraine, Niagara Escarpment and lush Carolinian woodlands.
The Greenbelt is home to 78 species-at-risk — almost 40% of Ontario’s provincially listed species. The survival of these species is supported by the habitat-protecting policies of the Greenbelt. Set amidst the never-ceasing pressure to build more shopping malls and sprawling sub-divisions, these policies prohibit the paving over of the area’s remaining farmlands and woodlots.
Many folks would likely be surprised to learn how species in the Greenbelt have adapted to being thrust into an urban lifestyle. One of the most amazing is the industrious Jefferson salamander, which has been found crawling through the basements of homes built directly in the path to its breeding grounds. Another is the snapping turtle, which roamed the earth 200 million years ago with the dinosaurs, yet has managed to outlive their prehistoric brethren by millennia.
The future of these critters in Ontario is uncertain. Some populations of Jefferson Salamander, such as the York Region population, are deemed unlikely to survive by Ontario’s Natural Heritage Information Center. Remarkably, anyone in the province with a standard fishing licence can still hunt for snapping turtles, despite it being listed as a species at risk — something Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner highlighted in his most recent report.
Without a doubt, the presence of the Greenbelt and its habitat protection policies are giving species at risk a leg up. But, as DSF and Ontario Nature’s recently released report Biodiversity in Ontario’s Greenbelt illustrates, the Greenbelt also faces ongoing threats to its integrity, from loopholes that allow for road development and aggregate extraction.
The Greenbelt must be supported, and grown, and its policies must be improved to reduce ongoing threats to the habitat of species at risk.