Friends of the Rouge Watershed questions federal government’s new park concept

Ottawa – Parks Canada’s draft Rouge National Urban Park Concept is an unfortunate step backwards for Rouge Park protection, says Jim Robb, general manager of Friends of the Rouge Watershed (FRW).

Robb delivered that message to the Federal Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, describing the draft Rouge National Urban Park Concept, released in June 2012 by the federal government and Parks Canada, as a substandard version of the long-standing Rouge Park Concept created by GTA citizens and the Ontario government over the last 25 years.

In April 2009, the study area proposed for Rouge National Park was 160 square kilometres, and it was was further reduced to 100 square kilometres in 2010. The June 2012 Park Concept shrinks the study area to less than 57 square kilometres. This was before the public park planning process had even started.

“Prime Minister Harper has a laudable record of establishing and expanding new National Parks across Canada,” noted Robb, which made the observed changes that much more surprising.

FRW is concerned is that the ecological backbone of the park is missing from the new National Park Concept. “We were shocked when the June 2012 National Park Concept ignored the 600-metre-wide ecological corridor, which had already been approved in long-standing Rouge Park Plans and the Provincial Greenbelt Plan,” said Robb. ”This 600-metre-wide ecological corridor is absolutely essential to the creation of a sustainable public parkland, trail and habitat link between Lake Ontario and the Oak Ridges Moraine.”

Mr. Robb noted that southern Ontario is home to almost one third of Canada’s population and one third of Canada’s endangered species. And yet, at less than 1 percent of total land area, southern Ontario has the smallest proportion of national and provincial parks in Canada. A 100-kilometre-squared Rouge National Park would help to correct this historic imbalance.

As he addressed the Committee, Robb highlighted the work of Lois James, a founder of the “Save the Rouge” movement in 1975 and a recipient of the Order of Canada, as well as the thousands of other volunteers who have dedicated countless hours to help create and restore the existing Rouge Park. “The federal government would do a great disservice,” warned Robb, “to the ecological health of Rouge Park, the millions of potential park visitors, and the thousands of Rouge volunteers like Lois, if the ecological backbone of Rouge Park is ripped away as the price to pay for creating a National Rouge Park.”