The Bark Creek Wetland Complex has been deemed provincially significant by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
Municipal planner Chris Jones told councillors at a Jan. 14 meeting of Highlands East council that he had received notice of the evaluation and confirmation on Nov. 20 last year.
An area identified as provincially significant has a heightened level of protection from a policy perspective said Jones noting that development and site alteration cannot be permitted in significant wetlands in Ecoregion 5E where Haliburton County is located. The collection of wetlands which Jones said are “just shy of 1500 hectares” stretch throughout an area that includes Bark Lake Drive near Bark Lake Leadership and Conference Centre.
“The most notable existing development in this area is the Bark Lake Leadership Centre and further analysis will be undertaken to confirm if the PSW [provincially significant wetland] impacts the existing Bark Lake facility or the draft approved development that has been in place for some time” said Jones. “A cursory review suggests there is no impact given that the Bark Lake facility is located on the south shore of Bark Lake and no PSW wetland features have been identified in this area according to [the figure provided].”
The MNRF uses the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System or OWES provincial framework in determining the significance of wetlands. According to the MNRF website “Wetlands are assessed based on the perceived values of characteristics activities or expressions of the wetland or its parts that act to maintain ecosystem processes (ecosystem values) or have some utility or amenity value to a segment of society (human utility values).” The site says “examples of ecosystem values include primary production watershed protection conservation of biological diversity and maintenance of natural bio-geochemical cycles while human utility values include food attenuation recreation production of harvestable products water quality improvements and research and education.”
The Bark Creek Wetland Complex was evaluated under the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System by a qualified evaluator external to MNRF and then confirmed by MNRF in the fall of 2019 according to Jolanta Kowalski senior media relations officer with the MNRF.
“The evaluation of wetlands in Ontario is undertaken and/or authorized by the MNRF and its purpose is to identify and categorize wetlands exhibiting characteristics which make them more important or valuable from a natural heritage perspective” said Jones in his report to council.
Wetlands are scored under the following categories: biological component social component hydrological component and special features component.
Jones said “the primary implication of the Bark Creek PSW confirmation is that the lands identified … cannot be developed or altered in the context of a Planning Act approval.”
“This is not to suggest that these lands were ‘at risk’ under the current Official Plan and Zoning Bylaw as these lands were for the most part designated and zoned for environmental protection on the basis that they were known wetland features” he said in his report. He noted the municipality’s official plan and zoning bylaw would “be updated to reflect the new spatial information and policy protection afforded to the complex.”
“Provincially Significant Wetlands are afforded protection under the Provincial Policy Statement” Kowalski told the Echo. “Municipalities are the primary implementers of the PPS and must ensure municipal planning documents (e.g. official plans zoning bylaws) include protection policies for natural heritage features including PSWs to ensure Planning Act decisions are consistent with the PPS.”
Kowalski said other wetlands in Highlands East that have been evaluated and determined to be provincially significant are the Moxley Lake Wetland the Milburn Wetland Complex the Esson Lake Wetland Complex and the following wetlands surrounding Paudash Lake: Joe Bay – Paudash Lake Wetland Central Paudash Lake Wetland and Inlet Bay – Eastern Paudash Lake Wetland.