In Muskoka, both the District and Area Municipalities have adopted land use policy that recognizes and protects the values of wetlands.
The Official Plan policy in Muskoka states that all wetlands are important and should be preserved. Limited development may be permitted within a wetland provided that wetland values can be protected.
In response to the concern for wetlands in Muskoka, the Muskoka Heritage Areas Policy Review Program's wetland evaluation system was put into place through a joint initiative with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Muskoka Heritage Foundation.
It is necessary to identify wetland types and evaluate their importance so that those areas can be protected from development (drainage and land reclamation) and environmental stresses such as invading species.
Heritage Areas are significant lands in Muskoka. The goal of the program is to identify significant areas on a comprehensive or landscape level basis.
Of these Heritage Areas in Muskoka, 23 have been grouped as wetlands. Thirteen of these wetlands contain all or a portion of a Provincially Significant Wetland. The Dwight Conifer Peat Forest and Cooper's Pond have also been determined to be of regional significance. The remaining areas have not been evaluated using the Provincial wetland evaluation system.
What are Wetlands?
Wetlands are defined as lands that are saturated with water long enough to cause the formation of waterlogged (hydric) soils and the growth of water-loving (hydrophytic) or water-tolerant plants.
Wetlands are Important
Surface water runoff may contain sediments, excess nutrients, viruses and pathogens and/or a variety of chemicals. A wetland acts like a filter to remove sediments, absorb nutrients and biologically change many chemicals into less harmful forms.
Significant Wetlands and the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System
Provincially Significant Wetlands are those areas identified by the province as being the most valuable. They are determined by a science-based ranking system known as the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System.
Ontario is home to approximately 24% of Canada's wetlands and 6% of the world's wetlands. Estimates of wetland extent in Ontario range from 24 million to 29 million hectares, or 22-27% of the area of the province.
Wetlands in a Watershed Context
A watershed is an area of land that drains into a common body of water and involves water and any other natural feature or function that affects or is affected by water.