/Walk to raise awareness of threats to turtles
Leora Berman the chief operating officer of The Land Between holds Jaws a snapping turtle that features in educational campaigns for children. The new Turtle Guardian headquarters will officially launch in late May. /VANESSA BALINTEC Staff

Walk to raise awareness of threats to turtles

The Land Between’s Turtle Guardians will be hosting a Turtle Walk in Haliburton for the second year to help raise awareness about risks to local species.

“Turtles take 60 years at least to replace themselves” said Leora Berman chief operating officer and co-founder of The Land Between charity which covers land in Ontario from the Georgian Bay all the way to the Ottawa Valley.

Turtle Walks take place during the peak nesting season as turtles like to nest beside roads and cross the same places every year to mate. Berman estimates Ontario has lost more than 70 per cent of the original turtle population and the major threat is roadkill and road injury.

She says turtles are a “harbinger species.”

“They live for 400 years at least” said Berman. “Turtles are declining. If that isn’t an alarm ringing I don’t know what is. If the turtle goes everything in a lake goes.”

The project originally started out as an educational campaign for children but grew to help protect and raise the public’s awareness of Ontario’s turtles.

“We need nature to be healthy” said Berman.

New provincial changes make it harder for the environment to be protected she said.

“There will be no protections left in Ontario” said Berman. “In the Land Between at last count there have been 87 species at risk. None of those habitats will be protected none of those species.”

On May 2 the Ford government introduced Bill 108 the “More Homes More Choice Act” a bill that looks to increase affordable housing in Ontario and is currently being debated. The bill’s Schedule 5 holds proposed amendments to the Endangered Species Act that effectively take away many safety nets and delays protections for species at risk in the province.

Some major changes include extending processing times from three months to a year for at risk species to be put on the Species At Risk in Ontario list opening a fund for developers and municipalities to pay fees in lieu to gain authorization to carry out activities in areas that may have previously been protected and more ministerial control to veto automatic species protections for up to three years depending on social and economic implications.

Ontario Environment Minister Rod Phillips tweeted on May 2 his support for the bill. “We want to put home ownership within reach of more Ontario families and provide Ontarians with the chance to live closer to work. We will do so while maintaining strong environmental protections because Ontarians deserve a healthy environment and a healthy economy.”

Ontario Nature has said this bill “reflects neither the values nor the long-term interests of Ontarians who understand the importance of a healthy environment.” They say the bill if passed “would delay limit and/or remove protections for most Ontario’s threatened and endangered species and their habitats.”

“The public has been cut out of all processes” said Berman. “Immediately wetlands that would be considered provincially significant have been slated for development.”

Within the past few months municipalities have been welcoming development in significant wetlands. The Windsor Star reported that the Ontario government has lifted a “provincial significant wetland” designation of 50 acres of the South Cameron woodlands which can now be open for development. The Bay Today reported a new casino may be opening in North Bay where according to The Turtle Guardians a wetland full of Blanding’s turtles will be compromised.

“It falls upon grassroots it falls upon communities it falls upon kids to tell their parents they care about their futures” said Berman. She advises people to write to their MPP do research on nature protection and participate in awareness events like the Turtle Walks.

The Turtle Walk starts at 10 a.m. and will be held on Saturday June 8. The meeting point will be at the Haliburton Highland Secondary School grounds. For more information visit www.turtlewalk.ca.