The state of our environment: MWC responds to the challenge.

It is not all bad news and, for the most part, we know what sorts of action we need to take to make things better.

By Peter Sale.

Photo of Muskoka taken from a plane.
Muskoka is mostly a place of rocks and trees and water. Our challenge is to live here and play here while sustaining its health far into the future. Photo by Peter Sale.

“Your health is pretty good now, but there are signs it is getting worse,” is the diagnosis the Muskoka Watershed Council (MWC) provided for our environment in its 2023 Muskoka Watershed Report Card. While it’s better than a diagnosis of serious disease, it is not the diagnosis one wants to hear from the family doctor. How do we respond to this diagnosis and find a way to maintain or improve environmental health?

Over a series of 16 articles, the Muskoka Watershed Council has provided detail around that diagnosis.

I hope we have helped you become better informed about the state of our watershed. It is not all bad news and, for the most part, we know what sorts of action we need to take to make things better.

I hope, too, that our articles have encouraged you to delve more deeply into the information we compiled in putting the Report Card together. The Background Report provides substantial information for those who care to read it.

Articles in this series have dealt with some of the concerning trends such as increased road salt pollution, loss of calcium in our lakes and forests and the increasing frequency of algal blooms in our lakes.

We also identified aspects of our watershed for which we lack sufficient information to judge condition; we need to collect new kinds of data.

Articles also explored what the phrase “watershed health” means, why we need to be concerned about signs that our environment is deteriorating and how we might tackle existing problems with a more robust and integrated form of environmental management. Several articles also told the good news, because there are many bright spots across our watershed’s health report.

Still, the diagnosis remains: good condition now, but several signs of slow deterioration which are not being addressed by current forms of management. What will our environment look like in 2028 when MWC produces its next Report Card?

That is just five years away — too soon to put improved management in place and have all the problems resolved, but also too soon to see a lot more deterioration if we do nothing.

This is one of the difficulties of environmental management — the time frames over which management actions solve problems or untreated issues worsen are long, making it difficult to sustain attention or even to recognize that things are indeed worsening.

This is the reason why, from its first formation, MWC has committed to a continuing series of Report Cards, now every five years.

These are our environment’s “health checkup” and a way to help us keep our eye on the ball. But monitoring alone, even with regular five-yearly reports, is not enough.

That would be like going to your doctor for a checkup but doing nothing to treat the high blood pressure or incipient diabetes she uncovers. We have got to modify our management procedures if we seek to retain the iconic environment we all treasure — that is our challenge.

And that point brings me to the next series of articles MWC is preparing. We have been working closely with municipalities and with the wider community to build consensus that environmental management in this region is going to have to change.

Our next series will tell you about what has been accomplished so far and what we will be attempting to accomplish, with the engagement and collaboration of many other groups, over the next several years.

Because this community cannot afford to let our natural environment degrade — a healthy, natural environment is part of who we are, is vital to the health of our economy and is central to our quality of life.

Peter F Sale
Peter Sale, Past Chair

This is the last of a series of 16 articles from the Muskoka Watershed Council on “The State of Our Watershed” published on Each has explored aspects of our environment revealed in our 2023 Muskoka Watershed Report Card and identified new management challenges. This week’s contributor and series editor is Dr. Peter Sale, an environmental scientist, resident in Muskoka since 2006, and director and past chair of MWC.