Ontario gets new conservation reserve after years of advocacy
Monarch Point Conservation Reserve will protect 1,600 hectares along south shore of Prince Edward County
The fight for Canada's last undeveloped Lake Ontario shoreline ended this week as the Ontario government designated a new protected area dubbed the Monarch Point Conservation Reserve.
The area on the south shore of Prince Edward County — located east of Toronto and south of Belleville, Ont. — is about 1,600 hectares, or slightly bigger than the town of Arnprior.
It holds an international monarch butterfly reserve and encompasses Ostrander Point Crown Land Block and Point Petre Provincial Wildlife Area.
The preservation will protect the shoreline, rare geology, migratory bird flyways and at-risk species, according to John Hirsch, president of the South Shore Joint Initiative.
His group has spent more than five years leading local efforts for the permanent protection of the lands and waters.
"It's really Canada's largest and last undeveloped Lake Ontario natural landscape and shoreline," Hirsch said on Ontario Morning Wednesday.
"We're proud to have participated in the consultation process."
The reserve will protect the habitat of 39 rare and at-risk species such as Blanding's turtles, dozens of migrating bird species, as well as monarch butterflies, according to the initiative.
A long fight
In 2012, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change authorized the building of nine wind turbines on Ostrander Point, which would have required the construction of more than five kilometres of access roads and gates.
The project was opposed by environmental groups and locals, who cited threats to bird migration patterns.
The project was officially blocked in 2016 by an Environmental Review Tribunal, which said installing gates on access roads wouldn't adequately protect the wildlife, specifically Blanding's turtles.
It was the first wind turbine project to be denied in Ontario, according to Hirsch.
"After the turbine battles, we got together and decided we needed some kind of permanent ecological protection for these lands," he said.
A coalition of local, provincial and national organizations started the process in 2018, undertaking a huge letter writing and social media campaign.
The province responded by declaring their intention to create this reserve in September 2020, through regulation under the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act.
"It takes a long time," he said. "All the while you're wondering if politics is going to interfere."
"We're relieved and tremendously excited.".
Recreation in the area
The Environment Bill of Rights decision on June 16 cements the status of the area, but Hirsch wants to make clear all the current recreational activities will still be available to the public.
"Human beings are part of biodiversity, so recreational use will go hand in hand with maintaining the ecological value," he said.
The community can still enjoy the area's natural beauty including hiking, bird watching and hunting. Even ATV use will continue to be permitted.
If any of the area's ecological values are affected, however, management will consider potential restrictions, according to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.
David Piccini, minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, is expected to make a public announcement in the county shortly, according to Hirsch's group.
The lands will be under the supervision of Sandbanks Provincial Park.
A management plan will be developed with public consultation to determine allowable activities, trail locations, parking and other restrictions, Hirsch said.
The group has big plans, including a footpath along the whole south shore, 26 kilometres in total.
"I'd love for folks to come out and see it, but of course not overuse it," he said, laughing.
With files from Ontario Morning