Stan Taylor, Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA)
Protection of habitats on the Canadian side of the Detroit River and its watersheds is being achieved through various programs. ERCA is playing a lead role in coordinating and implementing programs with many community partners. An effective program to ensure the protection of habitats has several essential components including:
Inventories and Habitat Mapping
ERCA biologists, in conjunction with others, have completed several key studies that have resulted in the detailed mapping, evaluation and documentation of significant natural heritage features and habitats, based on scientifically-defensible criteria. Examples of these studies in the Detroit River watershed include:
Inventories and Habitat Identification
The identification of significant natural heritage and habitats in municipal planning documents is essential for the protection of these features. ERCA has worked closely with the municipalities in the Detroit River area to achieve success. These successful planning initiatives have been based on the scientifically-sound evaluation of significant sites, in conjunction with extensive landowner contact programs, as well as special planning studies initiated by municipalities, and other technical studies. The successes have also been due to the broad-based community acknowledgment of the importance of natural heritage, largely fostered by the publicity efforts of municipalities in conjunction with ERCA. The following are some examples of Planning Documents and related studies which have assisted in Detroit River area habitat protection in recent years:
Many significant natural areas, particularly in the Turkey Creek, Detroit River watershed in Windsor and La Salle, have been previously approved for development through zoning and/or plans of subdivision. These areas are extremely threatened by development. In such cases it is necessary to have acquisition plans in place using mechanisms such as land exchange, tax relief or other incentives.
In some cases it is necessary to directly purchase lands that are to be conserved. This requires full community support and commitment at all levels of government. A recent successful example is the fund-raising campaign It's Our Nature. Community partners were organized by the Essex Region Conservation Foundation, which has targeted several key sites for protection through purchase, including the La Salle Woods ESA in the Turkey Creek Watershed, where acquisition has already begun in conjunction with the Town of La Salle. The Springarden Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI ) in Windsor is being considered for a similar program. Once acquired, the sites are fully protected and also provide important recreation and research opportunities.
Controls on Wetland Filling
ERCA has had regulations in place along tributary waterways since the mid 1980s and along the Detroit River since the early 1990s, requiring permits for placing fill in floodplains or for works in and around water. These regulations encompass all significant wetlands and are effective at preventing filling, which would otherwise be very difficult to control.
Since 1993, ERCA has had an agreement with OMNR whereby ERCA is the sole provider of permits for work in and around water. This provides effective protection of fish habitat, in consultation with OMNR/Department of Fisheries and Oceans where needed. In addition, as an extension of this "one window" service for approvals of developments near habitat areas, ERCA works closely with developers to implement habitat enhancement and protection measures as a part of the development. The Crystal Harbour Dockominium site in La Salle is one excellent example where fish habitat and wetland enhancements were implemented, resulting in a better quality development.
Effectiveness and Further Steps
An effective habitat protection program must be well coordinated, watershed-based, and must have the active participation and support of key community partners. Canadian habitat protection programs in place on the Detroit River and its watershed (which ERCA plays a lead role in coordinating and implementing) have been relatively successful in protecting significant natural heritage and habitats. To ensure continued success of the overall Detroit River habitat protection and restoration, it is essential that these protection programs be continued and strengthened in conjunction with habitat restoration strategies and implementation projects.