The Escarpment Corridor Alliance Looks Ahead To Year Two

Two critical events occurred in November 2022 that make the Escarpment Corridor Alliance’s work and plans for 2023/2024 so essential for the future of Ontario’s environment.

First, Conservative Premier Doug Ford announced the removal of 7,400 acres from Ontario’s Greenbelt. This announcement led to an immediate and immense public outcry from just about every stakeholder group, save the developers who stand to benefit.

Second, and with almost no fanfare, the Auditor General of Ontario released her “Value for Money Audit: Conserving the Niagara Escarpment.” It is a scathing indictment of neglect and lack of oversight of one of our provincial treasures and a globally significant UNESCO World Biosphere.

The connection is very important. Many people do not realize that the Niagara Escarpment formed the original part of the Ontario Greenbelt and, to this day, makes up 25% of the total Greenbelt area. In fact, Castle Glen (the proposed site of a Blue Mountains mega-development) was listed as one of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance’s Top 10 Hotspots in its 2005 report card – FYI, it scored an ‘F’. The other common link is that The Greenbelt Act (2005) and the Niagara Escarpment Planning & Development Act (1973) are just that … Acts. They are pieces of paper and, as we have seen, subject to arbitrary change at the drop of a hat.

So, on to the year ahead.

Events & Awareness – Ed Burtynsky Partnership

An explicit goal for the ECA in the coming year is to make sure everyone who treasures the Niagara Escarpment explicitly understands that we can no longer count on the protection of an Act or the Niagara Escarpment Commission to keep our escarpment green and intact for future generations. Proposed developments threaten to behead the escarpment in two of its most iconic and sensitive locations – Castle Glen in The Blue Mountains and Talisman in the Beaver Valley. To protect these areas, these stories need to be told across the province.

To help build that awareness, the ECA is excited to announce that world renowned landscape photographer and filmmaker, Edward Burtunsky, ( is partnering with the ECA on a weekend of environmental leadership, arts, and educational events in Collingwood (Sept. 22nd/23rd). I will write more about this in an upcoming blog, but we look forward to using this partnership to raise the ECA’s profile and our fundraising reach across the province.

Data Driven Dialogue

The ECA recently engaged RCMG Inc., a top regional survey firm, to conduct a widespread analysis of how residents and visitors work, live, and play across the escarpment of Southern Georgian Bay as well as examine their attitudes towards specific proposed developments like Castle Glen, Talisman, and Silver Creek Wetlands. We are pleased to report that this survey generated over 3,000 responses following promotion by radio, direct mail, a poster campaign, social media, and other channels. This response rate far exceeds other surveys that have been done at the municipal and/or organizational level in our region and gives the ECA the data required to engage our local, regional, and provincial governments and agencies with an even stronger, and more legitimate, voice. Expect the data to be released in early May.

Political Collaboration

Working across multiple local and regional governments is critical if we want our environment to be protected – and it can be very complex and challenging. In my last blog, I discussed a motion recently passed unanimously by The Blue Mountains council that called for the protection of greenspace and the creation of natural corridors in Southern Georgian Bay. We are delighted to see the second half of this motion begin to take shape starting in May when the Chief Administrative Officers from adjoining municipalities will meet with the ECA and other stakeholders in order to determine how we can extend this vision for protected natural corridors across Southern Georgian Bay.

Environmental, Legal, Planning, and Economic Work

The ECA is embarking on significant projects with multiple professionals in 2023 as we build the case for land conservation, not just in our hotspots, but also across our broader region. At the scientific level, wetland and watershed evaluations, species at risk analysis, GIS and constraints mapping, and much more work is underway or being initiated to support our advocacy with governments. Legal and planning projects continue to focus on understanding how today’s legislation is best applied to overturn 50-year-old legacy planning mistakes that almost nobody believes serve the public interest nor our environment. Finally, we have several projects focused on building the case for a Conservation Economy approach to how we manage and profit from our natural assets for generations to come.

From Grassroots to Professional Organization

From the onset, our Board of Directors have been fully aligned to our mission of keeping the escarpment across Southern Georgian Bay green and free of inappropriate and unnecessary development. We were also in agreement that, to do so, we would need to supplement our cherished grassroots approach. We would need professional elements in our organization who will make sure the volunteers, who will continue to be the lifeblood of the ECA, are more effective.

The person who will help the ECA to move to the next level is Jarvis Strong, who we are delighted to have hired as our first Executive Director. Jarvis will initially be working on a part-time basis out of our new HQ at The Foundry in Collingwood. His background as an accomplished ED along with his fundraising experience, energy, and passion for outdoor education make him a perfect fit for the ECA. Under Jarvis, the ECA will build out the systems and governance required to achieve maximum impact across our community.

Our escarpment, the Giant’s Rib, that stretches across our regional landscape represents something essential, something that we passionately believe is worth fighting for. We hope that you feel the same and that we can count on you for your support in the year ahead.

Bruce Harbinson

President, ECA

How to Build a Conservation Economy: A Lesson from BC’s Great Bear Rainforest

First Nations have created a strong conservation economy in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest intact old-growth temperate rainforests left in the world. The conservation economy has been developed through sound investments in sustainable development and environmental stewardship projects that link the health of nature to the wellbeing of the 27 coastal First Nation communities.

A conservation economy marries conservation and development. Biosphere Reserves, like the Niagara Escarpment, are designated as internationally significant learning places for sustainable development and management of biodiversity – the perfect place to implement a conservation economy.

A conservation economy is essentially an economy that sustains itself on income earned from activities that conserve and restore rather than deplete the natural capital of the region (geology, soils, air, water, and all living organisms). In a conservation economy, local communities take over stewardship of natural resources and ecosystems for the benefit of future generations, and help to stimulate new local employment/business opportunities, where the benefits stay in the local economy. A few examples of conservation economy initiatives:

  • Responsible tourism – ecotourism and regenerative tourism
  • Wellness communities and initiatives
  • Wild harvesting and foraging
  • Local cuisine
  • Sustainable forestry
  • Outdoor schools and education
  • Open air fitness gyms
  • Indigenous cultural tourism
  • Impact tourism with a philanthropic element
  • Regenerative agriculture

In 2016 the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements (signed by industry, governments, and local communities) established ecosystem-wide management of the temperate rainforests that stretch across 6.4 million hectares of the remote British Columbia coastline and Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, an archipelago off British Columbia’s west coast. Today more than 85 percent of the Great Bear Rainforest is permanently off-limits to industrial logging and provides First Nations with decision-making powers within their traditional territories.

First Nations in the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii, in developing a resilient economy, have invested in a diverse array of economic sectors from sustainable forestry and energy to manufacturing and real estate. Ecotourism, in particular, has become an important and growing part of many First Nations’ economies. Good examples include:

  • Spirit Bear Lodge in Klemtu, a cultural ecolodge and tour business
  • Nawalakw Healing Centre & Ecotourism Resort, a social venture and charitable enterprise in Kwakwaka’wakw territory
  • Hiellen Longhouse Village in Old Masset on Haida Gwaii
  • Homalco Wildlife Tours out of Campbell River, a world-class wildlife viewing and cultural experience tour provider
  • Knight Inlet Lodge, a world-class wildlife viewing operation

Here, in the southern Georgian Bay region, we must together work to protect the most critical economic and recreation asset we have in the Collingwood/Blue Mountains and Beaver Valley areas. We can grow a robust conservation economy that supports the protection of one of the richest ecological networks along the length of the Niagara Escarpment, for the sustainable benefit of future generations of both residents and visitors. We must live up to the UNESCO Biosphere commitment for a fully connected corridor supporting sustainable development and management of biodiversity.

Conservation is a responsibility, not an option.

In our region, we must protect the natural lands on the Escarpment and grow a conservation economy. Help ECA send this message to our politicians by:

Mike Robbins is a Board member with the Escarpment Corridor Alliance and an ecotourism consultant.