In 2020 the coronavirus devastated economies, put millions of people out of work, all at a time of global climate and ecological crisis. 2020 was also the year we entered into the UN’s Decade on Restoration that aims to “prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide”. No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, you can agree that one way or another, we are in a time of crisis. A term that has been tossed around over the past year as a way out of the crisis is “a nature based recovery”.
Nature based recoveries are not a new idea, we can look to the past for models on what it might look like, putting millions of people to work while restoring our natural environments. One of the most ambitious conservation projects of all time was the Civilian Conservation Corps. Over the course of the program it employed nearly 3 million Americans while planting over 3,000,000,000 (Billion!) trees. A version of this program has been resurrected by the incoming Biden administration and is expected to present a plan within the next several months. It will be exciting to see it take shape over the coming years.Embed from Getty Images
Closer to home, we can look to similar projects that helped employ masses of Canadians while enhancing our natural environment. Following the Guelph Conference and the subsequent establishment of the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority there was a resolution to seek any practical project that would employ civilians in the post war era. The Ganaraska region had become a dustbowl due to the high rates of erosion caused by rampant deforestation and the underlying sandy soils easily being swept away by wind or rain. Restoring the Ganaraska Watershed seemed like an obvious candidate for the project. Over the next several years the Ganaraska Authority reforested over 10,000 acres of land while employing thousands of unemployed Canadians.
The benefits of these programs have extended far into the future. Today the Ganaraska watershed is a popular outdoor tourism destination, and is no longer subject to the destructive flooding it once was. Indeed, a University of Oregon study found that for every million dollars invested in watershed restoration it resulted in 16 new or sustained jobs and up to 2.5 million dollars in total economic activitiy. There are very few public sector investments that have rates of return that scale in a similar fashion.
Locally, what might a project of this scale look like that could employ many people while creating enormous ecological benefit? One such project that comes to mind is the Kawarthas Naturally Connected. The KNC is a natural heritage system plan developed over the past decade that aims to provide a linked network of conservation corridors across the Kawarthas. Perhaps a project that restores a ecological corridor from the Oak Ridges Moraine or Rice Lake in the south to the Kawartha Lakes in the north could be a great starting point? As an added benefit, perhaps a multi-day hiking trail could follow the corridor similar to the way the Ontario Waterfront Trail is used as a platform for restoring coastal ecosystems along the great lakes shoreline.
History has demonstrated that these environmental projects can have an enormous environmental and social benefit, hopefully our recovery can help lead to a sustainable future for everyone. The Kawarthas is a leader in environmental expertise and stewardship, if anyone can accomplish a nature based recovery, it is us! In 2016, the UN designated Peterborough a Regional Centre of Expertise for sustainability, lets put that designation to use and carry out a decade of restoration.