Environmental groups outraged as province continues to push through Pickering development

Environmental groups are outraged as the Ontario government continues to push through orders that could see a warehouse built on wetlands.

The area in question is said to be provincially significant wetlands — and now the threat of clear-cutting brush without proper review has environmentalists raising the alarm.

“If we don’t stop them now, when are we going to stop them?” asks Emma Cunningham, part of an en environmental group called ‘Environmental Action Now Ajax-Pickering.

Cunningham is one of hundreds of residents who, along with environmental groups, oppose the development happening near Bayly Street and Squires Beach Road in Pickering. It’s one of several buildings planned as part of Durham Live, an entertainment destination that includes the new Pickering Casino.

Over the past few weeks, dozens of people have shown up at the warehouse site in opposition to the plan. And perhaps most angering, they say, is the issuing of an order for the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority to approve a permit that would allow clear-cutting of brush for the next steps in the development — without proper consultation.

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The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources issued the order Friday, advising the TRCA to “grant the permission on or before March 12, 2021” for the development to proceed.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” says Dr. Andrea Kirkwood, a freshwater ecologist at Ontario Tech. In a letter written to the TRCA, the scientist along with a group of biologists requested the process to be delayed so they could have ample time to review a compensation plan, as they say it could have effects on nearby Duffins Creek. And with the sudden order, she’s shocked to see how they are going about it.

“I just see them ramming through, changing, contorting laws to allow development now,” says Kirkwood. “With no regard for how this will impact future generations.”

Read more:
Advocates, opposition slam Ontario government’s move to strengthen minister’s zoning power

Moreover, new legislation, appearing to be hidden in another bill could challenge legal disputes around the development as well. One is currently being brought by Environmental Defence Canada.

“It really is a mystery to everyone why a government would take such egregious measures,” says Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence Canada.

The proposed legal change was contained in Bill 257, which mainly deals with initiatives aimed at making it easier to expand broadband internet access through changes to different approvals.

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It’s a move being slammed by the opposition as well. The Ontario NDP says it “retroactively rewrites planning laws,” that could give “unchecked power” and “benefit developers.”

As for the warehouse application, in a statement released on the TRCA’s website March 5, the conservation authority says they were being forced to interfere with the wetlands.

“TRCA’s Board of Directors and staff, using a science-based approach to decision making and TRCA’s living city policies, would ordinarily decline permission of such a permit,” the statement said.

“TRCA’s Board of Directors must now, under duress, adhere to the Province’s legally mandated directive which conflicts with TRCA’s mandate to further the conservation, development, and management of natural resources in watersheds within our jurisdiction.”

Dr. Kirkwood says it’s unprecedented to see a government take action like this. She says the lands are important for water filtration and supporting other parts of the ecosystem as well. Even though there may not be anything on the surface — it is critical to the ecosystem for the wetlands to remain intact.

Read more:
Minister’s zoning order could impact large swath of provincially significant wetlands

“When we think about habitats that support migrating birds. Of course any green space that we still have remaining is providing habitat to a whole array of organisms,” says Kirkwood.

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The City of Pickering voted to request a minister’s zoning order last year to push through the development of the warehouse by local developer Triple Properties. The order avoids appeals and public consultations –allowing them to cut through red tape.

But some councillors, including Maurice Brenner, now question how it all played out.

“I didn’t know that the government of Ontario was going to strip away the rights and the votes of the gatekeeper, the TRCA,” says Brenner. “The way I voted and the way I spoke, would have been very very different,” he said.

“I would ask for a pause now, because there is too much conflicting information that needs to be sorted out.”

City officials and the provincial government both say it came down to jobs in the decision. In a statement to Global News, Mayor Dave Ryan says the developer will be replacing the lands lost.

“Pickering requested the MZO (ministers zoning order) with the assurance that the wetlands would be properly compensated at a 1:1 ratio,” says Ryan.

“We acknowledge that recreating wetlands is not commonplace, but it is being done.”

The Pickering mayor also says when they were faced with major job loss as a result of COVID-19, they had to make a move. “We requested this to help bring over 10,000 jobs to the city,” he says.

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It was issued after the developer commissioned an ecological study on the grounds, conducted by Beacon Environmental. Pickering officials say they haven’t seen it, but were told by the company that the grounds provide stormwater control, but there is limited ecological functions for flora, fish and wildlife.

Experts say there should be more study.

Click to play video 'Court challenge to halt provincial demolition of Toronto heritage site faces uphill legal battle'

Court challenge to halt provincial demolition of Toronto heritage site faces uphill legal battle

Court challenge to halt provincial demolition of Toronto heritage site faces uphill legal battle – Jan 26, 2021

Although the TRCA and the developer Triple Properties will work on a compensation plan, Kirkwood says it’s the effects on the current land that will be harder to replace.

“When you take away natural cover — especially wetland which serves as filtration and absorption of floodwaters — if you remove that and replace it with pavement, you are absolutely going to have an affect on water quality.”

The only move left for Toronto Regional Conservation Authority now is to add conditions to the permit to lessen the impact on the grounds. But they do encourage residents to reach out with their concerns for their board director meeting taking place on March 12th. Local environmental groups are also planning a march on Saturday to protest the development.

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“We’re ramping up. We’re trying to get more involved and we’re trying to have more action so that this doesn’t work out for them,” says Cunningham.

–With files from Nick Westoll

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Great apes at San Diego Zoo become first non-humans to receive COVID-19 vaccine

Several orangutans and bonobos at the San Diego Zoo have received an experimental COVID-19 vaccine developed specifically for animals. 

Over the last two months, several great apes at the zoo “that are most at risk and can be easily vaccinated” received two doses each of the vaccine, which was developed by the veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis, about three weeks apart, a spokesperson for the zoo told CBS News. 

They mark the first known non-human primates to get the shot. 

“This isn’t the norm. In my career, I haven’t had access to an experimental vaccine this early in the process and haven’t had such an overwhelming desire to want to use one,” Nadine Lamberski, chief conservation and wildlife health officer at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, told National Geographic

Frank, a 12-year-old gorilla at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, is pictured after recovering from the coronavirus. After his troop of eight western lowland gorillas got sick in January, zoo staff received experimental COVID-19 vaccines from veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis to give to other great apes in their care, including bonobos and orangutans.

Brent Stirton, Getty Images for National Geographic

In January, eight gorillas at the zoo became the first great apes in the world to test positive for coronavirus

“The gorilla troop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are doing well and appear to be on their way to a full recovery,” the zoo said. 

Infections have also been confirmed in dogs, cats, mink, tigers, lions and several other animals around the world. However, great apes are a particular concern among conservationists.

All species of gorillas are listed as endangered or critically-endangered on the IUCN Red List, with “susceptibility to disease” as one of the main threats. Infections spread rapidly among the animals, which live in close familial groups. 

COVID-19 has the potential to wipe out populations of gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and bonobos if humans don’t take steps to prevent its spread, experts have warned

Zoetis started development on a COVID-19 vaccine for dogs and cats after the first dog tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong over a year ago, a spokesperson told CBS News. It was deemed safe and effective eight months later — but testing had only been done in dogs and cats. 

“Now more than ever before, we can all see the important connection between animal health and human health,” the spokesperson said. “While thankfully a COVID vaccine is not needed for cats and dogs at this time, we have applied our early development work to help the Great Apes at the San Diego Zoo and in other species on an experimental basis for emergency uses.” 

The vaccinated animals are doing well and we have seen no adverse reactions from the vaccine, the zoo said. They are being closely monitored. 

Healthy again and back on public display, two members of the gorilla troop relax in their habitat. Lamberski’s team plans to give them the experimental vaccine later this spring.

Brent Stirton, Getty Images for National Geographic

“It’s not like we randomly grab a vaccine and give it to a novel species,” she said. “A lot of thought and research goes into it—what’s the risk of doing it and what’s the risk of not doing it. Our motto is, above all, to do no harm.”

Lamberski said that, because vaccines are made for a specific pathogen and not a specific species, it’s common to give a vaccine meant for one species to another. Apes at the zoo get flu and measles vaccines developed for humans.

A spokesperson for Zoetis told National Geographic that other U.S. zoos have requested doses of the vaccine for their own great apes. The company expects more to be available in June. 

Additionally, the company is currently conducting trials of the vaccine in mink — tens of thousands of which have due to of COVID-19

COVID transmission between humans & animals


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Cambodia’s royal turtle lays eggs in captivity for first time

PHNOM PENH: An endangered turtle bred in captivity laid eggs for the first time in Cambodia, conservationists said this week, in a massive win for animal protection in the kingdom.

The animal was among five royal turtles – once feared extinct in the country – that laid more than 70 eggs.

Cambodia is home to several populations of endangered turtles, whose numbers have dwindled due to demand for them in Vietnam and China as delicacies and for use in traditional medicine.

Royal turtles, formally classified as southern river terrapins, were pushed to the brink of extinction by hunting and sand mining, which destroys the banks where they lay their eggs.

The damage was so severe that in 2000 they were feared wiped out in Cambodia, before nests were found and a careful conservation effort began.

Conservationists weigh the Royal Turtle eggs

Conservationists weigh the royal turtle eggs. (Photo: AFP/Handout)

On Tuesday (Mar 2), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced that four royal turtles bred in captivity – and one that was handed to its conservation centre in Cambodia’s south-western Koh Kong province – successfully laid 71 eggs.

“It’s the first time that the captive female royal turtles have ever laid eggs since they were head-started at the centre in 2006,” said Som Sitha, a conservation project manager with the WCS.

“The team will make artificial nests for incubation purposes or leave them as they are.”

Given the rarity of the species in the wild, the successful egg laying is considered a massive win for Cambodia.

READ: In Israel, mayo provides miracle for endangered turtles

READ: Indonesian orangutans airlifted back to the wild

“We anticipate soon being able to produce large numbers of royal turtles in captivity and releasing them back into the wild,” said the WCS’s Steven Platt.

Since conservation efforts started, scores of royal turtles have been released back into the wild.

These come from eggs laid in the wild and taken into captivity, to protect them from the dangers which threaten the species’ numbers.

Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Centre – the kingdom’s only dedicated turtle conservation facility – currently holds 192 royal turtles, and plans to release 50 of them this year.

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Researchers virtually open and read sealed historic letters | MIT News

An international team of scholars has read an unopened letter from early modern Europe — without breaking its seal or damaging it in any way — using an automated computational flattening algorithm. The team, including MIT Libraries and Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) researchers and an MIT student and alumna, published their findings today in a Nature Communications article titled, “Unlocking history through automated virtual unfolding of sealed documents imaged by X-ray microtomography.” 

The senders of these letters had closed them using “letterlocking,” the historical process of folding and securing a flat sheet of paper to become its own envelope. Jana Dambrogio, the Thomas F. Peterson Conservator at MIT Libraries, developed letterlocking as a field of study with Daniel Starza Smith, a lecturer in early modern English literature at King’s College London, and the Unlocking History research team. Since the papers’ folds, tucks, and slits are themselves valuable evidence for historians and conservators, being able to examine the letters’ contents without irrevocably damaging them is a major advancement in the study of historic documents.

“Letterlocking was an everyday activity for centuries, across cultures, borders, and social classes,” explains Dambrogio. “It plays an integral role in the history of secrecy systems as the missing link between physical communications security techniques from the ancient world and modern digital cryptography. This research takes us right into the heart of a locked letter.”

This breakthrough technique was the result of an international and interdisciplinary collaboration between conservators, historians, engineers, imaging experts, and other scholars. “The power of collaboration is that we can combine our different interests and tools to solve bigger problems,” says Martin Demaine, artist-in-residence in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and a member of the research team. 

The algorithm that makes the virtual unfolding possible was developed by Amanda Ghassaei SM ’17, a graduate of the Center for Bits and Atoms, and Holly Jackson, an undergraduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and a participant in MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). The virtual unfolding code is openly available on GitHub

“When we got back the first scans of the letter packets, we were instantly hooked,” says Ghassaei. “Sealed letters are very intriguing objects, and these examples are particularly interesting because of the special attention paid to securing them shut.”

Secrets revealed

“We’re X-raying history,” says team member David Mills, X-ray microtomography facilities manager at Queen Mary University of London. Mills, together with Graham Davis, professor of 3D X-ray imaging at Queen Mary, used machines specially designed for use in dentistry to scan unopened “locked” letters from the 17th century. This resulted in high-resolution volumetric scans, produced by high-contrast time delay integration X-ray microtomography.

“Who would have thought that a scanner designed to look at teeth would take us so far?” says Davis.

Computational flattening algorithms were then applied to the scans of the letters. This has been done successfully before with scrolls, books, and documents with one or two folds. The intricate folding configurations of the “locked” letters, however, posed unique technical challenges.

“The algorithm ends up doing an impressive job at separating the layers of paper, despite their extreme thinness and tiny gaps between them, sometimes less than the resolution of the scan,” says Erik Demaine, professor of computer science at MIT and an expert in computational origami. “We weren’t sure it would be possible.”

The team’s approach utilizes a fully 3D geometric analysis that requires no prior information about the number or types of folds or letters in a letter packet. The virtual unfolding generates 2D and 3D reconstructions of the letters in both folded and flat states, plus images of the letters’ writing surfaces and crease patterns. 

“One of coolest technical contributions of the work is a technique that explores the folded and flattened representations of a letter simultaneously,” says Holly Jackson. “Our new technology enables conservators to preserve a letter’s internal engineering, while still giving historians insight into the lives of the senders and recipients.”

This virtual unfolding technique was used to reveal the contents of a letter dated July 31, 1697. It contains a request from Jacques Sennacques to his cousin Pierre Le Pers, a French merchant in The Hague, for a certified copy of a death notice of one Daniel Le Pers. The letter comes from the Brienne Collection, a European postmaster’s trunk preserving 300-year-old undelivered mail, which has provided a rare opportunity for researchers to study sealed locked letters. 

“The trunk is a unique time capsule,” says David van der Linden, assistant professor in early modern history, Radboud University Nijmegen. “It preserves precious insights into the lives of thousands of people from all levels of society, including itinerant musicians, diplomats, and religious refugees. As historians, we regularly explore the lives of people who lived in the past, but to read an intimate story that has never seen the light of day — and never even reached its recipient — is truly extraordinary.”

Advancing a new field

In the Nature Communications article, the team also unveils the first systematization of letterlocking techniques. After studying 250,000 historical letters, they devised a chart of categories and formats that assigns letter examples a security score. Understanding these security techniques of historical correspondence means archival collections can be conserved in ways that protect small but important material details, such as slits, locks, and creases. 

“Sometimes the past resists scrutiny,” explains Daniel Starza Smith. “We could simply have cut these letters open, but instead we took the time to study them for their hidden, secret, and inaccessible qualities. We’ve learned that letters can be a lot more revealing when they are left unopened.”

The research team hopes to make a study collection of letterlocking examples available to scholars and students from a range of disciplines. The virtual unfolding algorithm could also have broad applications: Because it can handle flat, curved, and sharply folded materials, it can be used on many types of historical texts, including letters, scrolls, and books. 

“What we have achieved is more than simply opening the unopenable, and reading the unreadable,” says Nadine Akkerman, reader in early modern English literature at Leiden University. “We have shown how truly interdisciplinary work breaks down boundaries to investigate what neither humanities nor the sciences can hope to understand alone.” 

Computational tools promise to accelerate research on letterlocking as well as reveal new historical evidence. Thanks to this research, adds Rebekah Ahrendt, associate professor of musicology at Utrecht University, “we can now imagine new affective histories that physically connect the past and the present, the human and the nonhuman, the tangible and the digital.”

The research team includes Jana Dambrogio, Thomas F. Peterson Conservator, MIT Libraries; Amanda Ghassaei, research engineer at Adobe Research; Daniel Starza Smith, lecturer in early modern English literature at King’s College London; Holly Jackson, undergraduate student at MIT; Erik Demaine, professor in EECS; Martin Demaine, robotics engineer in CSAIL and Angelika and Barton Weller Artist-in-Residence in EECS; Graham Davis and David Mills, Queen Mary University of London’s Institute of Dentistry; Rebekah Ahrendt, associate professor of musicology at Utrecht University; Nadine Akkerman, reader in early modern English literature at Leiden University; and David van der Linden, assistant professor in early modern history at Radboud University Nijmegen.

This research was supported in part by grants from the Seaver Foundation, the Delmas Foundation, the British Academy, and the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek.

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Indonesian orangutans airlifted back to the wild

JAKARTA: Ten orangutans have been airlifted back to their natural habitat on Indonesia’s Borneo island, in the first release of the apes into the wild for a year due to the dangers of COVID-19 infection.

The animals were flown by helicopter across the island’s dense jungle earlier this month to keep them away from days-long land and sea routes that could expose them to the coronavirus.

Orangutans share 97 per cent of humans’ DNA so conservationists have been on high alert for signs of infection. The pandemic has thrown up unprecedented challenges for conservation efforts.

“For an entire year, we have not been able to release orangutans due to the global pandemic,” said Jamartin Sihite, chief executive of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF).

An orangutan in a cage is delivered by helicopter in Central Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia

An orangutan in a cage is delivered by helicopter in Central Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia. (Photo: AFP/Handout)

“We have implemented strict health protocols, and introduced mitigation plans to be enacted in the event of an orangutan contracting the virus. The use of a helicopter … helps reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.”

The fuzzy-haired creatures were sedated with tranquillisers before their flight and were shuttled inside transport cages encased in netting.

At least one of the moon-faced animals banged on its cage’s metal walls as it tried to make sense of the airborne mission.

The apes took a short boat trip after touching down, before arriving at the Bukit Batikap Protection Forest in Central Kalimantan – part of Indonesia’s section of Borneo – where they took to swinging on vines.

Several apes were also released into another forest in East Kalimantan.

Staff at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation have stepped up their efforts to prevent infection

Staff at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation have stepped up their efforts to prevent infection among the apes. (Photo: AFP/Handout)

Poaching and habitat loss decimated the Southeast Asian nation’s orangutan population before the coronavirus emerged as another potential threat to the critically endangered species.

“If an orangutan shows symptoms of respiratory problems, it’s possible that it has been infected with COVID-19,” said Vivi Dwi Santi, a veterinarian with BOSF.

“Also, if one of the staff tests positive … we will conduct tracing on an orangutan that’s been in contact with them.”

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of the coronavirus outbreak and its developments

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‘I’m as good as any man’: Aceh activist champions megafauna sanctuary preservation

JAKARTA: It was a picture of Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio standing in front of two elephants with a man and a woman in Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem that got people talking in 2016. 

The actor posted the picture on his Instagram and said that Leuser is “a world-class biodiversity hotspot … but palm oil expansion is destroying this unique place.”

Leuser Ecosystem is a forest area spanning Indonesia’s most western province Aceh and North Sumatra province, and a prized ecological hotspot. The photo, taken when DiCaprio was filming in Leuser for a documentary film about climate change, outraged the government.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar responded by saying that the ministry was “working hard” to protect the environment.

But some were curious to know who was the woman standing next to DiCaprio, one of Hollywood’s most famous actors.

“In all honesty, I did feel a bit star-struck,” said Farwiza Farhan who was also featured in the documentary.

Today, Farhan is a household name for forest and nature conservation, specifically for Leuser Ecosystem, which covers an area of about 2.7 million ha, more than 35 times the size of Singapore.

Farwiza Farhan and Leonardo DiCaprio

Farwiza Farhan (left) gained attention when she was photographed with Leonardo DiCaprio in Leuser. (Photo: HAkA/Paul Hilton)

As the chairperson and co-founder of Aceh-based non-governmental organisation Forest, Nature & Environment Aceh (HAkA), Farhan spends her days advocating for policies and planning programmes which aim to protect the megafauna sanctuary. 

“The Leuser Ecosystem is the last place on Earth where four megafaunas – rhino, tiger, elephant and orangutan – still roam together in the wild.

“And the fact that it is the last place on Earth is actually a sad fact,” the 34-year-old Acehnese told CNA.

More than 185,000ha of Leuser Ecosystem are carbon-rich peatlands, and the tropical rainforest is home to about 105 mammal species, 380 bird species and 95 reptile and amphibian species.

READ: Planting crops, building wells – Local volunteers take the lead to prevent yearly peatland fires in Indonesia’s Riau

It is also the life support system of about four million people in Aceh, providing freshwater and clean air.

The Leuser Ecosystem is an asset to Aceh’s economic development, bearing an untapped value of US$350 million per year in terms of tourism potential and ecosystem services, according to HAkA.

Nevertheless, it faces immense threats such as deforestation due to palm oil expansions, infrastructure projects and illegal logging, which are just some of the problems Farhan and her team of 30 people are fighting against daily.  


“But more than anything, probably the most destructive force to the Leuser Ecosystem is bad policy and bad planning,” Farhan said.

“I’m not opposed to any developments that would enhance human wellbeing and support people’s livelihood. But if it’s done in ways that could be destructive to the source of livelihood in itself, what’s the point?”  

She gave an example of how in 2016 a geothermal was planned to be built in the heart of the Leuser Ecosystem.

“This is an interesting case because geothermal is a renewable energy that we would really love to support. In any other case, we would support geothermal development.

“However, the location for the infrastructure development is in the heart of the Leuser Ecosystem and it is a sensitive rhino habitat which is critically endangered and there are not many of them left in the world,” she said.

READ: Clean energy but at what cost? Bali geothermal project a double-edged sword

Thus, they took the case to court, campaigned against the project and kept a close eye to make sure there was no bribery or corruption involved.

They also got the local communities involved and eventually managed to win the case in 2017.

(ks) view of Leuser

The Leuser Ecosystem is the last place on Earth where rhinos, tigers, elephants and orangutans still roam together in the wild. (Photo: HAkA/FKL)

At the moment, HAkA is also in court for many other cases, and one of them is the development of a mega-dam in the Leuser Ecosystem.

“Dams can be very destructive to the rivers’ ecosystem. Only 1 per cent of the water on this planet is freshwater. And the freshwater ecosystem is one of the most endangered ecosystems out there,” she said.  

HAkA is trying to look at climate change problems from both a climate mitigation point of view and climate change adaptation.

“One of the most important solutions for climate change is nature-based solution. Forest restoration and forest conservation are super important because for countries like Indonesia, one of the major drivers for carbon emission is deforestation and forest degradation.

“So for us, preventing that from happening is how we contribute to climate change mitigation,” Farhan explained.

They also work with local communities on forest restoration by making them more resilient in facing climate change, changing water systems, changing rain patterns and changing livelihoods.


Born and raised in Aceh, young Farhan spent a lot of time outdoors since both her parents were busy working as lecturers.

Conservationist Farwiza Farhan

Farwiza Farhan has been a nature lover since she was a child. (Photo: HAkA/Magdalena Stawinski)  

She played with dirt and caught insects, and when she had access to television, she would watch programmes about nature.  

Thus, when she became a teenager she knew she wanted to study biology and went to Penang, Malaysia for a bachelor’s degree.

Upon returning, she applied for jobs in conservation but did not manage to get one.

“That taught me you can only achieve the goals that you set for yourself when you are stubborn enough to keep pushing on, even when everyone told you that you can’t,” she said.

READ: Death threats, intimidation not a deterrence to scientist’s mission to save Indonesia forests

Realising that the jobs she wanted required 10 years of experience or a master’s degree, Farhan then decided to take a master’s in Brisbane, Australia.

Once she completed her studies and returned to Aceh, she managed to get a job with a government institution which focused on the Leuser Ecosystem.

But changes in Aceh’s political landscape led to the institution being dismissed, and that was when Farhan and her coworkers decided to establish HAkA in 2012.


HAkA focuses on policies, but it also has programmes which empower the local communities, including women.

One of their programmes is the women rangers programme.

(ks) Leuser's women rangers

HAkA has a programme to empower women so they can look after the Leuser Ecosystem. (Photo: HAkA/Manuel Bergamann)

“We know that women have an important role to play in environmental protection, but their roles have often been diminished. In the village level they are often left out … and are not allowed to play many roles especially in a landscape like Aceh,” Farhan said.

Therefore, they provided the women in the Leuser community with paralegal training so they know what to do if they come across cases of environmental destruction.

The 15 women take turns to patrol the area, although sometimes they are accompanied by their husbands which is common in Aceh, the only province in Indonesia that implements Syariah law and is often regarded as a conservative place.

Despite the circumstances, Farhan feels fortunate that she has been able to challenge the perceptions.

“I am quite lucky that I have a supportive family. My father never forced me to wear a headscarf, my mother never felt ashamed of me for whatever I do or wear, and I tried to be respectful with them as well so I didn’t wear anything which would make them shameful if I’m in Aceh.

“But at the same time, this enables me to have the trust and belief that I am as good as any man. I can do anything that I set my mind to do, that I could achieve these goals without having to accept the common conception that women are less or that as a woman you are less valuable,” she stated.

Farwiza Farhan at award ceremony

Farwiza Farhan has won the 2016 Whitley Award and the 2017 Future for Nature Award. (Photo: HAkA/Roy Borghouts)

While working to preserve the Leuser Ecosystem, Farhan is also currently pursuing her PhD in the Netherlands.

She is also a member of Women’s Earth Alliance, an organisation that seeks to strengthen the role of women in protecting the environment.  

For her work, Farhan won the 2016 Whitley Award, an award often dubbed as the “Green Oscars” as it celebrates conservation leaders.

She also won the 2017 Future for Nature Award which recognises the work of young conservationists.

Despite all her achievements so far, Farhan realises that the battle to protect the Leuser Ecosystem is far from over.

“The biggest challenge is the reality that at the moment, our economic system, our policies are not supportive of conservation. Conservation is very expensive in our economic system, and this is why it is seen as a luxury.

“For many people in businesses, to be engaged in activities which protect the environment, there are not many economic incentives for them to do that. But there are a lot of incentives for people to destroy the environment, and this is not working well for us.”

READ: Head of Indonesian peatland agency says he is ‘very optimistic’ there will be no forest fires this year

She said that when the environment is sacrificed for the economy, it will lead to bigger inequality.

“The gap in poverty widens, the cost of healthcare becomes bigger and these do not work for the future we have imagined together.”

Farhan realises she does not have all the answers to the problems and thus invites everyone to join in the discussion.

“More than anything, what I really want for the Leuser Ecosystem is for us to begin to find ways to think of conservation as a necessity rather than a luxury.

“When people in some parts of Indonesia see that protecting coral reefs would mean economic development and livelihood, they begin to do that even without conservation organisations telling them to do so. I wish for the Leuser Ecosystem to transform in the broader term to that paradigm.”

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‘Saya sebaik para pria’: Aktivis lingkungan asal Aceh berjuang melindungi megafauna kawasan Leuser

JAKARTA: Foto aktor peraih Oscar Leonardo DiCaprio berdiri di depan dua ekor gajah bersama seorang pria dan seorang wanita di Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser, Indonesia pada tahun 2016 masih lekat dalam ingatan sebagian orang.

Leonardo mengunggah foto tersebut di akun Instagram-nya dan mengatakan bahwa Leuser adalah “tempat keanekaragaman hayati kelas dunia … tetapi pembukaan lahan untuk kelapa sawit menghancurkan tempat unik ini”.

Leuser yang membentangi dua provinsi paling barat di Indonesia, Aceh dan Sumatera Utara, adalah kawasan ekologi yang berharga. Foto yang diambil ketika Leonardo sedang syuting di Leuser untuk sebuah film dokumenter tentang perubahan iklim itu pun membuat pemerintah geram.

Menteri Lingkungan Hidup dan Kehutanan Siti Nurbaya Bakar menanggapinya dengan mengatakan bahwa kementeriannya sedang “bekerja keras” untuk melindungi lingkungan.

(ks) Farwiza dan Leonardo DiCaprio

Farwiza Farhan (kiri) menarik perhatian publik ketika dia difoto dengan Leonardo DiCaprio di Leuser. (Foto: HAkA/Paul Hilton)

Terlepas dari kontroversi yang timbul, ada pihak yang penasaran dan cenderung ingin tahu siapa sebenarnya wanita yang berdiri di samping Leonardo, salah satu aktor Hollywood paling terkenal.

“Sejujurnya, saya waktu itu sedikit terpesona,” kata Farwiza Farhan yang juga tampil dalam film dokumenter itu.

Saat ini, Farwiza cukup dikenal sebagai pegiat lingkungan, khususnya untuk Leuser yang mencakup area seluas sekitar 2,7 juta ha, lebih dari 35 kali luas Singapura.

Sebagai ketua dan salah satu pendiri lembaga swadaya masyarakat (LSM) Hutan, Alam & Lingkungan Aceh (HAkA) yang berbasis di Aceh, Farwiza menghabiskan hari-harinya dengan mengadvokasi kebijakan dan program perencanaan yang bertujuan untuk melindungi suaka megafauna.

“Ekosistem Leuser adalah tempat terakhir di bumi di mana empat megafauna – badak, harimau, gajah, dan orangutan – masih hidup bersama di alam liar.

“Dan fakta bahwa itu adalah tempat terakhir di bumi sebenarnya adalah fakta yang menyedihkan,” kata wanita Aceh berusia 34 tahun itu kepada CNA.

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Lebih dari 185.000ha dari kawasan Leuser adalah lahan gambut yang kaya karbon, dan hutan hujan tropis adalah rumah bagi sekitar 105 spesies mamalia, 380 spesies burung, dan 95 spesies reptil dan amfibi.

Leuser juga merupakan sistem penyangga kehidupan sekitar 4 juta orang di Aceh dan menyediakan air dan udara bersih.

Ekosistem Leuser adalah aset bagi pembangunan ekonomi Aceh, dengan nilai yang belum dimanfaatkan sebesar AS$350 juta (Rp4,95 triliun) per tahun dalam hal potensi wisata dan jasa ekosistem, menurut HAkA.

(ks) Ekosistem Leuser

Ekosistem Leuser adalah tempat terakhir di bumi di mana badak, harimau, gajah dan orang utan masih berkeliaran di alam bebas bersama. (Foto: HAkA/FKL)

Meski demikian, terdapat ancaman besar seperti penggundulan hutan akibat ekspansi kelapa sawit, proyek infrastruktur dan penebangan liar. Dan Ini hanya sebagian dari masalah yang dihadapi Farwiza dan timnya yang terdiri dari 30 orang setiap harinya.


“Tapi lebih dari segalanya, mungkin yang paling merusak ekosistem Leuser adalah kebijakan dan perencanaan yang buruk,” kata Farwiza.

“Saya tidak menentang pembangunan apa pun yang akan meningkatkan kesejahteraan manusia dan mata pencarian masyarakat. Tapi jika itu dilakukan dengan cara yang bisa merusak sumber mata pencarian itu sendiri, apa gunanya?”

Ia mencontohkan bagaimana pada tahun 2016 terdapat rencana pembangunan pembangkit listrik tenaga panas bumi di jantung ekosistem Leuser.

“Ini kasus yang menarik karena energi panas bumi adalah energi terbarukan yang sangat kami dukung. Dalam situasi lain, kami akan mendukung pengembangan energi panas bumi.

“Namun, lokasi pembangunan infrastruktur berada di jantung ekosistem Leuser dan merupakan habitat badak sensitif yang terancam punah dan tidak banyak yang tersisa di dunia,” katanya.

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Oleh karena itu, mereka membawa kasus tersebut ke pengadilan.

HAkA berkampanye menentang proyek tersebut dan terus memantaunya untuk memastikan tidak ada kasus penyuapan atau korupsi yang terlibat.

Mereka juga melibatkan masyarakat sekitar dan akhirnya berhasil memenangkan kasus tersebut pada tahun 2017.

Saat ini, HAkA juga tengah berjuang di pengadilan untuk banyak kasus lainnya, salah satunya adalah pembangunan bendungan besar di ekosistem Leuser.

“Bendungan bisa sangat merusak ekosistem sungai. Hanya 1 persen air di planet ini yang merupakan air tawar. Dan ekosistem air tawar adalah salah satu ekosistem yang paling terancam punah,” ujarnya.

HAkA mencoba untuk melihat masalah perubahan iklim dari sudut pandang mitigasi iklim dan adaptasi perubahan iklim.

“Salah satu solusi terpenting untuk perubahan iklim adalah solusi berbasis alam. Restorasi hutan dan konservasi hutan sangat penting karena bagi negara-negara seperti Indonesia, salah satu pendorong utama emisi karbon adalah deforestasi dan degradasi hutan.

“Jadi bagi kami, agar mencegah itu terjadi, kami berkontribusi dalam mitigasi perubahan iklim,” jelas Farwiza.

HAkA juga bekerja dengan masyarakat lokal dalam restorasi hutan dengan membuat mereka lebih tangguh dalam menghadapi perubahan iklim, perubahan sistem air, perubahan pola hujan dan perubahan mata pencarian.


Lahir dan besar di Aceh, Farwiza waktu kecil banyak menghabiskan waktu di luar rumah karena kedua orang tuanya sibuk bekerja sebagai dosen.

Dia senang bermain dengan tanah dan menangkap serangga, dan ketika bisa menonton televisi, dia akan menonton program tentang alam.

(ks) Farwiza Farhan HAkA

Farwiza Farhan sejak kecil mencintai lingkungan. (Foto: HAkA/Magdalena Stawinski)  

Oleh karena itu, ketika beranjak remaja Farwiza ingin mempelajari biologi. Untuk mewujudkan keinginannya, dia pergi ke Penang, Malaysia untuk kuliah.

Sekembalinya dari Malaysia, dia melamar kerja di bidang konservasi tetapi tidak berhasil diterima.

“Itu mengajari saya bahwa Anda hanya bisa mencapai tujuan yang Anda inginkan untuk diri Anda sendiri ketika Anda cukup keras kepala untuk terus maju, bahkan ketika semua orang mengatakan kepada Anda bahwa Anda tidak bisa,” katanya.

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Menyadari bahwa pekerjaan yang diinginkannya membutuhkan 10 tahun pengalaman atau gelar pasca sarjana, Farhan kemudian memutuskan untuk mengambil S2 di Brisbane, Australia.

Setelah menyelesaikan studinya dan kembali ke Aceh, dia berhasil mendapatkan pekerjaan di sebuah lembaga pemerintah yang fokus pada ekosistem Leuser.

Namun, perubahan pada peta politik Aceh menyebabkan lembaga tersebut dibubarkan, dan saat itulah Farwiza dan rekan kerjanya memutuskan untuk mendirikan HAkA pada tahun 2012.


HAkA fokus pada kebijakan, tetapi juga memiliki program yang memberdayakan masyarakat lokal, termasuk perempuan.

Salah satu program mereka adalah program perempuan penjaga hutan.

“Kita tahu bahwa perempuan memiliki peran penting dalam perlindungan lingkungan, tetapi peran mereka sering kali diabaikan. Di tingkat desa mereka sering terabaikan … dan tidak diperbolehkan memiliki banyak peran terutama di Aceh,” kata Farwiza.

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Karena itu, mereka membekali perempuan di komunitas Leuser dengan pelatihan mengenai hukum agar mereka tahu apa yang harus dilakukan jika menemui kasus perusakan lingkungan.

(ks) penjaga hutan wanita Leuser

HAkA memiliki program pemberdayaan wanita sehingga mereka bisa menjaga ekosistem Leuser. (Foto: HAkA/Manuel Bergamann)

Ke-15 perempuan tersebut secara bergiliran berpatroli di kawasan Leuser, meski terkadang didampingi oleh suami mereka sebagaimana lazimnya di Aceh, satu-satunya provinsi di Indonesia yang menerapkan hukum syariah.

Meskipun demikian, Farhan merasa beruntung karena mampu melawan persepsi tersebut.

“Saya cukup beruntung memiliki keluarga yang mendukung. Ayah saya tidak pernah memaksa saya memakai jilbab, ibu saya tidak pernah merasa malu dengan saya atas apa pun yang saya lakukan atau kenakan, dan saya berusaha untuk menghormati mereka juga sehingga saya tidak mengenakan apapun yang akan membuat mereka malu jika saya di Aceh.

“Tetapi pada saat yang sama, ini memungkinkan saya untuk memiliki kepercayaan dan keyakinan bahwa saya sebaik para pria. Saya bisa melakukan apa pun yang saya yakini, sehingga saya bisa mencapai tujuan-tujuan ini tanpa harus menerima persepsi umum bahwa wanita itu kurang atau bahwa sebagai wanita Anda kurang berharga,” katanya.

(ks) Farwiza Farhan Future for Nature Award 2017

Farwiza Farhan telah memenangkan Whitley Award 2016 dan Future for Nature Award 2017. (Foto: HAkA/Roy Borghouts)

Sembari bekerja untuk melestarikan ekosistem Leuser, Farwiza juga sedang mengejar gelar PhD-nya di Belanda.

Ia juga seorang anggota Women’s Earth Alliance, sebuah organisasi yang berupaya memperkuat peran wanita dalam melindungi lingkungan.

Atas karyanya, Farhan memenangkan Whitley Award 2016, sebuah penghargaan yang sering dijuluki sebagai “Oscar Hijau” karena merayakan para pemimpin konservasi.

Ia juga memenangkan Future for Nature Award 2017 yang diperuntukkan bagi konservasionis muda.

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Terlepas dari semua pencapaiannya sejauh ini, Farwiza menyadari bahwa perjuangan untuk melindungi ekosistem Leuser masih jauh dari selesai.

“Tantangan terbesar adalah kenyataan bahwa saat ini sistem ekonomi kita, kebijakan kita tidak mendukung konservasi. Konservasi sangat mahal dalam sistem ekonomi kita, dan inilah mengapa konservasi dipandang sebagai kemewahan.

“Bagi banyak orang dalam bisnis, terdapat anggapan untuk terlibat dalam kegiatan yang melindungi lingkungan tidak banyak insentif ekonomi bagi mereka untuk melakukan itu. Tapi ada banyak insentif untuk orang merusak lingkungan dan ini tidak baik buat kita.”

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Ia menjelaskan ketika lingkungan dikorbankan untuk perekonomian, maka akan menimbulkan ketimpangan yang lebih besar.

“Kesenjangan dalam kemiskinan semakin lebar, biaya perawatan kesehatan menjadi lebih besar dan ini tidak akan berhasil untuk masa depan kita yang kita bayangkan bersama.”

Farwiza menyadari bahwa ia tidak memiliki semua jawaban atas masalah-masalah tersebut dan karenanya mengundang semua orang untuk berdiskusi.

“Lebih dari segalanya, yang benar-benar saya inginkan untuk ekosistem Leuser adalah agar kita mulai menemukan cara untuk menganggap konservasi sebagai kebutuhan dan bukan sebuah kemewahan.

“Ketika masyarakat di beberapa bagian Indonesia melihat bahwa melindungi terumbu karang berarti membangun ekonomi dan mata pencarian, mereka mulai melakukannya bahkan tanpa diminta oleh organisasi konservasi. Saya berharap Ekosistem Leuser berubah dalam cakupan yang lebih luas.”

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Ford government to strip some powers of environmental regulators 

The Ontario legislature is moving ahead with a Ford government bill to remove powers that allow local environmental regulators to protect communities against flooding and erosion. This despite warnings from those local environmental authorities that the changes would give new powers to provincial cabinet ministers to make political decisions about construction and industry projects that are not based on scientific evidence.

Conservation Ontario, which represents all 36 regional conservation authorities in the province, has asked the government to eliminate provisions of the bill that would take powers away from them. The association that represents municipalities across Ontario has also called on the government to revise its proposal.

As of Monday, the bill was in its final stages of debate at Queen’s Park. But a growing backlash has already provoked some resignations on a key panel.

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Former Toronto mayor David Crombie resigned as chair of the Greenbelt Council in protest over the weekend, along with six members of the council, which advises the province on land use planning issues across the Greenbelt.

The bill “will cut the heart out of watershed planning, which is vital to environmental planning in the province of Ontario,” says Crombie.

The new rules will, for one, require that conservation authorities issue a permit to developers when something called a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) is issued, unless the project sits in the Greenbelt. Because MZOs can be issued by the minister of municipal affairs and housing, critics worry that the province will use this power to bypass the conservation authority’s science-based permitting process.

“It takes away our ability to use science to make good decisions, to keep people safe,” says Deborah Martin-Downs, chief administrative officer of Credit Valley Conservation, who also resigned from the Greenbelt Council on Sunday.

Conservation authorities are allowed to attach conditions to these permits. But they won’t always have the final say regarding those conditions, because the legislation also adds new pathways to appeal conservation authority decisions.

“Ultimately, the conditions that are set could be appealed to the minister of natural resources,” says Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark.

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This legislation, which amends the Conservation Authorities Act, is being introduced in Schedule 6 of Bill 229, an omnibus budget measures bill.

“They tried to slip it by the people of Ontario by burying it in a budget bill,” says NDP environment critic Sandy Shaw.

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Critics worry that the new rules will make it easier for developers to build on wetlands, which help control flooding by absorbing excess rainwater during storms.

“We can’t just sit by and allow this to happen when we know that the science is being ignored,” says Andrea Kirkwood, associate professor of biology at Ontario Tech University.

Proposed development in Pickering ‘a flashpoint’

The Toronto Regional Conservation Authority (TRCA) has expressed some reservations about a high-profile development proposal in Pickering that threatens to pave over 55 acres of the Duffins Creek wetland, which was designated provincially significant in 2005.

“Our board has been very clear that we do not support the destruction of wetlands,” says Jennifer Innis, chair of the TRCA’s board of directors.

The province issued an MZO at Pickering’s request in order to fast track the project, which will add a film studio and warehouse to the Durham Live casino and entertainment complex.

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This new legislation appears to effectively guarantee approval for the project, regardless of the TRCA’s own assessment.

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“This is making decisions involving the environment based on politics,” says Innis. “And the effects and the consequences are massive and in many cases they’re irreversible.”

The TRCA was not briefed or consulted on these new changes, which limit their decision-making power in the case when an MZO is issued.

The new rule “was a complete and utter shock,” says Innis. “Not myself nor any member of our staff or board had any inclination that this was coming down.”

Clark says the change “was a direct result of discussions” the government had with “stakeholders, conservation authorities and municipalities.”

Clark could not say conclusively, though, whether any conservation authorities were consulted on this change.

“I’ll have to go back to the ministry and find out exactly the conversations that have taken place in the last week. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of feedback from conservation authorities and municipalities.”

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The TRCA is among 24 conservation authorities out of the 36 across the province that have either publicly criticized the original draft of the bill or explicitly called for changes.

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The MZO piece was part of a set of amendments that were voted into Schedule 6 during a meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs on Friday. Some of the amendments addressed concerns raised by the conservation authorities and environmental groups.

“I felt like we were getting somewhere, that the government was listening,” says Innis. “And then in the last minute, in the 11th hour, if you will, they threw in this amendment change on the MZO, which crosses the line.”

Shaw, a member of the standing committee, says she and other opposition members had less than 24 hours to review nearly 100 pages of amendments.

“Parliamentary democracy requires or asks that MPPs also get to have a fair shot at understanding what the government’s proposing and to be able to push back to suggest changes. And they’re not doing that,” says Shaw.

As of Monday, the bill was undergoing its third and final reading in Queen’s Park. After the reading, the province may vote the bill into law.

“It was a shambles of a democratic process,” says Crombie.

Clark expressed disappointment and frustration at the recent comments from Crombie and other members of the Greenbelt Council.

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“I happen to believe that the MZO is a very important tool that gives our province an opportunity to create jobs,” says Clark. “We’ve had a couple of MZOs where we needed to clarify that conservation authority permit between the conservation authority and the proponent, and we felt that the best time to do it was when the act was open in the budget bill.”

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Global News also reached out to Natural Resources Minister John Yakabuski, who is given the power to repeal conservation authority decisions and issue his own permits. His office declined our request for an interview.

“This will embolden some to just thumb their nose at the process and take it to the minister and try and push things ahead,” says Martin-Downs.

Innis believes the new rules are short-sighted.

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“It’s unfortunate because the government is choosing to pit the development industry against everyone else,” says Innis. “We can work together with our partner municipalities and we should be working together to grow and to stimulate our economy in an environmentally sensitive way.”

On Monday, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs announced $30 million in funding over the next five years to support wetland creation and restoration across the province.

Developers and landowners

Eighteen members of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA) are registered to lobby in support of the amendments contained in Schedule 6, according to the Ontario lobbyists registry. There are no other organizations or individuals registered to lobby for these changes.

The OHBA, which bills itself as the “voice of the residential construction industry in Ontario,” declined our request for an interview at this time. However, OHBA CEO Joe Vaccaro did email us the following statement: “OHBA recognizes the important work conservation authorities do within their mandate by providing protection for people and property in floodplains and hazard lands.”

Landowner groups have also spoken out in support of Schedule 6.

“I’m hoping that the regulations, when they get them out, will be such that conservation authorities have a lot less power,” says Kyle Cronk, president of the Lake Erie North Shore Landowner Association (LENSLA).

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Cronk is involved in an ongoing dispute with the Kettle Creek Conservation Authority regarding the planned construction of a retaining wall along his lakeshore property.

“Citizens should have the right to protect their property,” says Cronk, who participated in the province’s public consultation sessions earlier this year. “The policy should not be left up to the bureaucrats to direct us because landowners are better conservation people than the conservation bureaucrats themselves.”

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The province spent a year and a half gathering feedback from conservation authorities, municipalities and interest groups in preparation for these changes.

“We’ve come up with a piece of legislation that’s going to include accountability, transparency and consistency into the Conservation Authorities Act and at the same time also allow conservation authorities to focus in on their mandate, which we feel they’ve kept away from over the years,” says Environment Minister Jeff Yurek.

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“I think it’s excellent for democracy to have more debate and consultation with regard to this legislation and the amendments coming forward. And we will reach, hopefully, an area where it’ll be acceptable for the conservation authorities.”

The province’s 36 conservation authorities are watershed-based agencies that help Ontario communities manage their natural resources. The province created its first conservation authorities in 1946. Their role in flood and natural hazard protection came into sharper focus in the aftermath of hurricane Hazel, which killed 81 people, mostly in the Toronto area.

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The MZO is a tool that lets the municipal affairs minister directly zone land for certain purposes, bypassing aspects of the planning process. While MZOs have historically been used sparingly, the tool has become commonplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent report from the law firm BLG published in November, 31 MZOs have been issued during 2020 so far, compared to 70 between 1990 and 2019.

Beyond Schedule 6, there are other aspects of Bill 229 that have come under criticism. In particular, Schedule 8 of the bill exempts commercial logging operations from the Endangered Species Act.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Proposed legislation has conservation authorities across Ontario sounding the alarm

The province has recently proposed legislation which it says will reduce red tape and speed up development, and that has conservation authorities across Ontario sounding the alarm.
Conservation Ontario says the bill weakens the Conservation Authorities ability to protect the environment by reducing the input they have when it comes to development, and they say that, in turn, could lead to more flooding, erosion and drought. Andy Mitchell, chair of the Otonabee Region Conservation Authority spoke with Global News Morning Peterborough anchor Lindsay Biscaia about the proposed bill, and what it means here in Peterborough.

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Ontario auditor to release value for money audits related to the environment

Ontario’s auditor general is to release her annual report today, outlining three value-for-money audits and one operational review her office conducted this year.

The audits and review in Bonnie Lysyk’s report are all expected to relate to the environment or conservation.

Among them is an assessment of whether the province has systems in place to permanently protect Ontario’s provincial parks and conservation reserves.

The report also looks at whether the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines have processes and programs for reducing energy use in buildings.

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It also examines whether the three ministries with mandates related to the environment have set targets to ensure the sustainability of the province’s natural resources and agricultural sector, and are collecting the information they need to report on those goals.

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The report also includes a review of whether the 15 ministries with obligations under the provincial Environmental Bill of Rights operated according to the requirements of the law and its regulations.

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Auditor general takes Ontario’s climate plan to task – Dec 4, 2019

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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