Is sustaining the environment really important in Muskoka?
By Dr. Peter Sale.
Our municipalities state that conserving and sustaining our iconic environment is a key objective in their Official Plans. Candidates for municipal councils almost universally include the preservation of the environment as a key plank in their platforms. Across the community there is widespread recognition that our wonderful natural environment sustains our economy and our quality of life. Many of us choose to live here because of the environment and Muskoka is recognized worldwide as an environmental jewel. So of course sustaining our environment is important in Muskoka!
But Muskoka Watershed Council (MWC), in our 2023 Muskoka Watershed Report Card, has identified several long-term deteriorating trends in environmental condition, and has stated that existing management policies and procedures appear inadequate to counteract these trends. Our environment is not currently being sustained and continuing downward trends will leave a mark. Our environment will become substantially lower in quality than it was and future generations will live with a new, more degraded baseline of what is considered normal. We need a better form of environmental management if we want to sustain the environment we love.
The 2023 Report Card has received wide attention in the media. Now is the time to take the first steps to improve our management and planning approaches so we can address these trends. Some, such as the growing concentrations of salt in our lakes, have technically simple, though politically difficult, solutions. Others, such as the increasing incidence of blue-green algal blooms, reveal complex alterations to the ways in which our environment behaves. These will require targeted scientific study to identify causes and possible management solutions. Others, notably climate change, cannot be managed by local action alone although local adaptation is definitely needed.
These first steps need to be taken carefully, prudently, and by those governmental bodies, such as municipalities and provincial ministries that have regulatory responsibility for the environment. It will not be possible to solve problems one at a time or in different parts of the watershed; a more integrated approach is needed. MWC is therefore working with the 17 municipalities within the Muskoka River Watershed and with our Community Roundtable to propose and build understanding of an approach called Integrated Watershed Management or IWM. We will also host a one-day conference on Feb. 9, bringing municipal councillors and staff together to begin the work of building this new way of caring for our environment.
This is the first in a series of articles that Muskoka Watershed Council will be publishing over the next couple of months. They will reinforce the messages in the 2023 Report Card, clarify meaning, explore consequences, and look toward solutions including IWM. These articles will be written by the individuals who have authored the various parts of the Report Card and its 150-plus page Background Report. The next article in this series will expand on the IWM concept and explain how it works.
We hope that our community will follow our series and better understand our threatened environment and how we might improve our stewardship through Integrated Watershed Management.
This is the first in a series of articles from Muskoka Watershed Council on “The State of Our Watershed”. Each will explore aspects of our environment revealed in our 2023 Muskoka Watershed Report Card and identify new management challenges. This week’s contributor and series editor is Dr. Peter Sale, a marine ecologist, resident in Muskoka since 2006, and current chair of MWC.