By Chad Ingram
A report from Watersheds Canada highlights a perceived lack of shoreland stewardship education among waterfront property owners as one of the major barriers to achieving sustainably healthy shorelines.
That report, entitled The Future of Our Shores, was released in May and draws its conclusions based on a series of stakeholder surveys. Those stakeholder groups are divided into three categories – lake and river associations, municipal officials, and municipal planners – and the bulk of responses to the voluntary surveys came from southeastern Ontario, including Haliburton County and the District of Muskoka.
A total of 123 representatives from 50 lake and river associations responded to the survey, including reps from a number of lake associations in the county. Those results showed the biggest perceived challenge to shoreline health to be unsustainable attitudes and practices – largely on the part of waterfront property owners themselves, but also on the part of municipal officials – spurred by a lack of education, understanding or awareness.
There was also indication that some waterfront property owners perceive municipal shoreline regulations as infringement of their rights.
“Lake and river associations consistently cite a perceived infringement upon the rights of private property owners during promotion and implementation of stewardship activities, especially when the values and attitudes of these property owners conflict with those of environmental groups,” the report reads. “Many respondents shared the belief that property owners were ‘going to to what they were going to do’ regardless of the ramifications on the biological and physical well-being of their lake or river, and that any attempt to mitigate these attitudes and practices was perceived as an alienation of the rights. Ultimately, this is an issue of education, values, and attitudes which could be resolved with open dialogue to find collaborative solutions.”
A total of 44 municipal officials, including councillors, mayors and reeves, responded to the survey, including officials from the county. Municipal officials cited the No. 1 barrier to sustainable shorelines being a lack of financial resources to implement bylaws and programs. They also pointed to competing interests – balancing environmental stewardship with development – as a major hurdle.
“Based on these responses, it would seem that situations in which development pressure has predominated over environmental concern are viewed in a rather negative light by municipal officials, suggesting that these officials wish to avoid situations wherein development occurs at the expense of conservation,” the report reads. “This might imply a greater environmental mindedness among municipal officials that previously implied by the results of the lake and river association surveys.”
“It would seem there is a general desire on the part of municipal officials to implement enhanced and/or sustainable shoreline practices which reflect their own conservation values and that of their constituents,” it continues. “However, implementation is often stymied by competing interests and lobbying from those who do not support sustainable approaches and have financial clout.”
Elected officials also indicated stronger shoreline policies from the provincial government would be helpful.
Twenty-three municipal planners responded to the survey, with representation from the County of Haliburton and the Township of Minden Hills. Like municipal officials, planners referred to a lack of financial resources in order to implement shoreline preservation policies, as well as a lack of strong policy from the province.
“Similar to municipal officials, planners cited the need for more comprehensive and effective policies from the provincial level of government, which, they believe, will allow for a more effective mediation between competing interests at the local level,” the report reads. “Additionally, in a fashion very similar to lake and river associations, planners consistently mentioned the need to address the attitudes, practices, and low levels of shoreland education on the part of waterfront property owners and developers.”
The report concludes that lack of education and associated attitudes need to be addressed to facilitate improved shoreline stewardship.
“Each of the three stakeholder groups had different perspectives about the barriers that limited shoreline sustainability in their region, but they also showed agreement on several topics, namely that a lack of shoreline stewardship education (and subsequent unsustainable attitudes) existed among waterfront property owners and developers. Indeed, the results of these surveys seem to suggest quite forcefully that values and education related to shoreland stewardship were both significant and limiting factors in achieving the lake or river-related goals of their association or municipality.”
The full report is available at https://watersheds.ca/planning-for-our-shorelands/