There are several ways to be effective in conserving natural heritage.
Closest to home and the easiest for all homeowners involves the stewardship of your own property. Even a city backyard lot can become a haven for wildlife and native plant species. Converting a lawn into a small ecosystem is rewarding and contributes in a small way to maintaining biodiversity in urban areas.
There are many non-profit groups such as the Ontario Nature and Evergreen that can help you with such a project. They provide online resources that describe options for backyard habitat. Ontario Nature also offers a handbook entitled A Smart Future for Ontario explaining how to protect nature and curb urban sprawl. (Check their website under Shop, Conservation resources Code: CONS-017.)
Stewardship means caring for the land. In Ontario, stewardship activities are supported by the Stewardship Network of Ontario (SNO), a collaborative of non-government and government stewardship organizations. The support and active participation of private landowners, communities, industry and businesses in biodiversity conservation and environmental health is fostered by SNO. An online Stewardship Directory hosted by the Land Stewardship Centre helps community stewardship groups, organizations, businesses and governments connect with each other to share their experiences and lessons learned in stewardship and natural resource management.
Municipalities are required, under the Planning Act, to develop, in consultation with the public, Official Plans that contain a vision for the community and how its natural heritage will be protected. As these plans are developed, municipalities must ensure that strong policies are in place to protect the environmentally sensitive features of your community and that the lands are designated as protected in the Official Plan. As plans are open to amendment, you can monitor how your council handles development applications and remind them that these lands are to be protected for the health and safety of future residents of the municipality.
Yes, the Trust is a non-profit agency of the Government of Ontario and holds land in trust for the people of Ontario. It protects, in perpetuity, important natural heritage features by receiving donations of ecologically sensitive land ("Trust Properties") and easements that protect ecological features while the land remains in private ownership. The Trust also welcomes donations of funds that can be used in the acquisition and stewardship of natural heritage sites.
Involvement in a local conservation land trust is a satisfying experience as it bands together those people working to save natural heritage features in perpetuity through the mechanism of a private, non-profit charitable land trust. Most of southern Ontario has functioning local land trusts that are able to receive donations of land and easements and are mandated to protect these sites in perpetuity. Land Trusts abide by a Code of Standards and Practices and are members of the Ontario Land Trust Alliance (OLTA). As non-profit incorporated charities, these organizations are able to raise funds to purchase land or restrictive covenants (also known as easements) that protect the ecological features of your property. The Ontario Nature also provides an excellent handbook on land trusts entitled Creative Conservation. A Handbook for Ontario Land Trusts.
If you have questions about your natural heritage property, contact the Trust's Natural Heritage Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Trust will assist you in determining whether your site has important natural heritage features and how to protect them in a way that meets your interests. Documented heritage values of interest to the Trust include the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNR) Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) classification system, MNR's provincially significant wetland system, municipally designated Environmentally Significant/Sensitive Areas (ESAs) and endangered, threatened, vulnerable and rare species.
Ensuring long-term protection for natural heritage features is only possible by federal, provincial or municipal "Park" status or having the lands protected in some way by a conservation land trust such as the Ontario Heritage Trust, local Conservation Authority Foundations or your regional member of the Ontario Land Trust Alliance. These organizations are qualified to offer you under the federal Income Tax Act certain "Ecogift Program" tax benefits if the land or a protective covenant/easement is donated to them. There are many ways to protect your property so that you can enjoy it during your lifetime, and for others to continue enjoying it in the future.