Some witnesses to the devastation of headwater areas through the province recognized the need for conservation and began speaking out for management and planning that showed more respect for ecological processes. Biologist A. H. Richardson, wrote of the Oak Ridges Moraine in 1941, "A great part of the headwaters today is a barren waste. Its prosperous days of lumbering, settlement and substantial contribution to Canada's wealth are merely history, although history that is all too recent in terms of the exploitation and exhaustion of resources." Richardson's study "A Report on the Ganaraska Watershed" led to the creation of the Conservation Authority movement in Ontario.
Land restoration activity through and with County forests and Conservation Authorities expanded, supplemented by purchase of sensitive and threatened lands in many locations, resulting in pockets of publically owned properties managed as conservation areas. One such property, now known as Richardson's Lookout, provides a magnificent view of the Oak Ridges Moraine, looking north, west and east to the Ganaraska Forest, and south to Lake Ontario where so many of the moraine's watercourses flow.
Conservation Authorities and county/regional interests increased their efforts to restore and protect sensitive areas related to land and water management through the 1950's 60's and 70's. Up until the 1980's, little concern had been raised about the lack of provincial legislation to guide the growth of the more than 30 municipalities across the moraine. It was becoming apparent to many that unchecked and piecemeal development from one municipality to another was having a negative effect on the health of the Oak Ridges Moraine's ecosystems.
In 1989, Save the Oak Ridges Moraine (STORM) Coalition was founded, uniting 25 citizen's groups who had been working independently on conservation issues and concerns on or near the moraine. In 1990, Ron Kanters issued a report, "Space for All: Options for a Greater Toronto Area", a Greenlands strategy that recommended long-term protection for the moraine.
In 1992, former Toronto Mayor David Crombie, issued a report "Regeneration" that warned about the ongoing and potential future harm to natural heritage features by fragmentation and destruction due to the uncontrolled urbanization of the Greater Toronto Area. The report strongly reinforced the need for protection of interconnected green spaces, including the Oak Ridges Moraine.
In the summer of 1994, the ORM Technical Working Committee, comprised of representatives from key stakeholder groups, and who had been studying this issue for 3 years, issued a draft planning study for the moraine for public discussion. That fall, several public meetings were held to get public input on the study. By Christmas, the final Oak Ridges Moraine strategy was presented to the Minister of Natural Resources, and became formal provincial policy.
In 1995, the newly elected government set aside the Moraine Strategy and many other initiatives in order to focus on debt reduction. This government favoured the revised Planning Act and Provincial Policy Statement that put local government back in charge of managing development on the Oak Ridges Moraine. For the next 5 years, development continued to explode across the Moraine creating deepening concern among environmental groups and drawing the attention of the public.
Finally, Some Action
Pressure to legislate the conservation of the moraine continued to mount in 2001, and Municipal Affairs Minister Chris Hodgson tabled a bill requesting a development freeze on the moraine. The Legislature passed the Bill, imposing a six-month moratorium on development: The Oak Ridges Moraine Protection Act. The minister then appointed an Advisory Panel of 13 members drawn from key stakeholder groups, plus a Chair, to advise him on a plan for the future of the Moraine. An Inter-Ministerial Team of senior Ontario government officials was also established to work along with the Advisory Panel.
During July 2001, the Advisory Panel met and developed a series of recommendations that were incorporated in a public consultation document - Share Your Vision for the Oak Ridges Moraine - which the Minister released in August. Over 1,000 people attended four public meetings hosted by the Province on the Moraine advisory panel's draft proposals. After this series of stakeholder and public consultation meetings, the Advisory Panel and the Inter-Ministerial Team met to finalize their findings and recommendations, which formed the basis of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan.
Provincial Legislation Achieved!
The outcome of the hard work of the Advisory Panel and the broad consultation was a package of strategies, including legislation, regulation, and the creation of the Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation. The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, which received all party support, was passed on December 13, 2001 and the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan was released in April 2002.
The work is not finished yet. Legislation is only one tool in conservation and protection of ecological processes and it can be changed. Many groups, including the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust continue to champion protection of the moraine's natural features and services in other ways. The moraine has been shaped by the forces of nature and the forces of human occupation. What happens in the future will depend on understanding the past and by acting now to find a course of continued sustainability.