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Protecting natural areas a priority for environmental work in Greater Sudbury

Regreening, policy advocacy, and getting people out in nature to make a difference are also important aspects of this work

by Naomi Grant

The Roxborough Greenbelt is an example of a green space secured by a community effort, and cared for by a grassroots stewardship group.  (photo by Naomi Grant)
The Roxborough Greenbelt is an example of a green space secured by a community effort, and cared for by a grassroots stewardship group. (photo by Naomi Grant)

Access to nature is part of the identity of northerners, and the reason many people give for choosing to live in a northern community. In Greater Sudbury, a landscape that is severely impacted by industry, and three decades of community regreening efforts, have heightened the value residents place on green spaces. 

“The Sudbury I grew up in is not the Sudbury that my children are growing up in today. Back then black and barren rocks were my backyard. Today due to regreening my own children cannot recognize nor believe the Sudbury of yesterday. The visions of a few, of what Sudbury could be, has resulted today in an environment and quality of life better than what we had then,” explains Franco Mariotti.

Regreening remains an important environmental effort in Greater Sudbury. According to the Biodiversity Action Plan, after approximately 3 decades of regreening work, 30,000 hectares of barren or semi-barren land have yet to be reclaimed with liming or plantings. The regreening efforts are led by VETAC, and continue to rely on volunteers. Consistent with the 5-year action plan in the Biodiversity Action Plan, 100,000 native trees will be planted this year. With a shift to increasing biodiversity, forty different tree species, and forest floor mats of undercover species, will be planted.

Regreening adds naturalized areas, but “what is also unfortunately true is that we are diminishing valuable green spaces in the core of the city,” says Mariotti. Increasing development pressures has meant the loss of green spaces of value to the community, including some regreening sites previously limed and planted by community volunteers. The loss of green spaces means a loss of natural services, resulting in degradation in water quality and other impacts. Citizen concern over the loss of green space has been growing over the past decade, and has only intensified in recent years.

It is no surprise then that a focus of current environmental work is protecting and securing green spaces. “Protection of natural areas and implementation of the green space acquisition plan” is one of the top four priorities agreed to by local environmental groups at the Spring 2012 Green Gathering.

Connect the Creek  is the most well known example. This collaborative effort aims to complete the Junction Creek Waterway Park, “a linear park where residents of Sudbury and visitors to the city can connect back to nature in the heart of our urban environment," by 2014. At a recent update to City Council, Connect the Creek reported that only 4.5 km of the 18 km trail remains to be completed. 

Community efforts have also rallied around specific green spaces valued by residents. A recent success championed by Councillor Cimino added green space to the Southview Greenbelt, through an agreement with the Sudbury Catholic District School Board. This is a good example of a local green space valued by residents in a neighbourhood. In contrast, efforts to save Wolf Lake focus on a wilderness area within the limits of Greater Sudbury that is recognized as globally important, due to being the largest known stand of old growth red pine forest in the world, and the only one observed to be self regenerating. 

The most comprehensive work on green spaces is being done by the Green Space Advisory Panel. Among the work completed in their first term was an inventory of green spaces, and an acquisition strategy to secure green spaces valued by the community for ecological or recreational reasons, but not part of the parks inventory or otherwise protected. Now in their second term, a key part of the panel’s work is monitoring implementation of this acquisition strategy, while continuing to refine information to facilitate the securing of green spaces. For example, a gap analysis flags areas of Greater Sudbury that are deficient in parkland.

To date, roughly twenty city-owned green spaces, and a handful of non-city owned green spaces have been brought into the parks inventory, almost all as natural parks. Acquiring privately owned green space opportunities is often very challenging as there are few resources allocated for acquisitions, and private owners are not always interested in coming to an arrangement. Nevertheless, creative solutions have been found for some important sites. The most challenging and urgent sites are those that are already in the planning process, with a completed development application for the site. The Green Space Advisory Panel is not given a role in commenting on these development applications, nor are the recommendations they have made for specific green space sites binding in any way. Community support plays an important role in many successful green space acquisitions. However, as things currently stand, for these challenging sites, strong grassroots mobilization and/or generation of strong political will is crucial for any chance of success. Citizens have risen to this difficult challenge, with a range of results.

Through their input to the Official Plan Review, the Green Space Advisory Panel has also done strong work on what changes in policy are needed to better protect our natural environment, and natural spaces of significance to the community. Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury also advocates for these type of policy changes.  Their approach reflects the idea that by changing policy, ‘business-as-usual’ can be improved.

An overarching priority agreed on by green groups is “engaging and empowering people to take ownership and make a difference.” Most people’s experience in making a positive difference to the environment is tied directly to an activity such as a clean-up or planting. The Junction Creek Stewardship Committee and VETAC involve a huge number of residents in these activities every year. Plantings and clean-ups are also held by many other groups, as well as Community Action Networks, schools, etc.

It is recognized by local groups that not all of these informally organized plantings are the most strategic or effective, and some argue that there could be better and more diverse ways of directing people’s desire to make a difference, both in terms of impact and of fostering a broader understanding of environmental challenges. When a school or scout club organizes an Earth Day event, they often choose what first comes to mind, without a broader context of local issues or other options. 

However, familiarity is not the only reason these activities are the most popular ways to make a difference.  It is widely accepted that people feel a basic need to get out into nature, and doing so not only has many benefits to the individual, it also fosters environmental stewardship. In this context, trail building and hikes led by Rainbow Routes, and nature walks and outdoor activities led by Conservation Sudbury and others, is important environmental work. 

Citizen science takes this one step further by involving people in collecting data of real value in monitoring species at risk, changes in wildlife populations or migration routes, and climate change impacts. As it is elsewhere, citizen science is growing in Greater Sudbury.

Find out more about local environmental groups active in the natural environment here.

See a summary of current work by these groups here.

To receive updates on green space issues and other local environmental issues, contact to request the Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury e-newsletter.


Naomi Grant has been closely involved in green space issues in Greater Sudbury for many years, is a member of the Green Space Advisory Panel, and chairs Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury.





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About the Sudbury Working Group

The Sudbury working-group of The Media Co-op was formed to create independent media in the North, to speak to our issues and outlooks on our communities as well as the world around us. Independent media provides an avenue for people who are wishing to gain critical perspective on the issues that matter most to us, and to give a voice to those people and stories that you won't find in the mainstream media.

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