It was a big day for the County.
Under a brilliant sky and surrounded by butterflies — they really are everywhere here — 4000 acres along the County’s south shore officially became the Monarch Point Conservation Reserve this Monday morning.
The reserve, which covers an area as large as Sandbanks, is now permanently protected, a haven for at least 39 endangered and at-risk species, including little brown bats, turtles, and butterflies, far into the future.
The momentous achievement was marked in the magnificent setting itself by a beachside gathering that included Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks David Piccini; MPP Todd Smith, Mayor Steve Ferguson, Councillor John Hirsch, who is President of the South Shore Joint Initiative; and Mike Stabb for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
“Today SSJI’s vision of a permanently protected South Shore where together biodiversity and people thrive is one step closer to reality — a big step,” said Councillor Hirsch.
“I speak not just for the County but all Ontarians when I say that we need more good actions like this,” said the Councillor. “We hope that, as the government continues to work on regulations coming out of Bill 23 and others, you listen to the many comments and suggestions from the public — particularly in respect to wetlands protections.”
Councillor Hirsch noted the reserve was the work of a decade and of hundreds of people representing myriad conservation groups, including the NCC and the Hastings Prince Edward Land Trust, as well as birdwatchers, field naturalists, scientists, and charitable foundations including Consecon, the Shad, the Gosling, and the County Foundation, as well as local Indigenous peoples.
“This area is provincially, nationally, and globally significant,” said Mark Stabb of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. “It is now part of a network of conservation lands on the south shore of the County, closely connected to Sandbanks on the one hand and the Ostrander Point Bird Observatory on the other.”
Mr. Stabb noted that Main Duck Island is protected land; it was transferred from NCC stewardship to Parks Canada. There is also a network of crown lands in and around Ostrander Point. Ontario has invested $38 million dollars since 2020, to protect over half a million acres on the south shore.
Monarch Point is the first Conservation Reserve created in Ontario in ten years. The designation comes at a time when naturalist and conservation groups are flagging the current provincial government’s dismantling of key environmental as well as natural heritage protections. Some in the audience wondered if the reserve were any safer than the Greenbelt from incursions of Ford’s developers.
According to Minister Piccini, however, there are six classes of parks in the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act of 2006, and the new Monarch Point Conservation Reserve will merit the strongest level of protection that is possible. Both Sandbanks and Algonquin Provincial Parks, by way of comparison, are Natural Environment Class Parks. A conservation reserve gets stronger protections. Motorized vehicles, for example, will not have significant access.
Now, the task is the creation of site-specific management policies for the stewardship of the reserve into the future. Permitted uses may be limited to hiking, birdwatching, and fishing.