In rapidly urbanizing areas, environmental features of relatively marginal importance may end up being protected in a municipal Official Plan, even when they are not covered under the Provincial Policy Statement. Because Greenlands features may be few and far between in rapidly developing municipalities, the prevailing attitude is often one of "protect anything that is green," an attitude that rests on the assumption that the feature must be valuable from an ecological perspective simply because it is in short supply. This is not always the case, however. A small, already degraded woodlot in an urban area may have relatively little intrinsic ecological value. Its true value to the community is social or aesthetic.
Conversely, in more remote, rural areas, highly significant features may be lost because of a combination of the lack of strong policy protection and lack of knowledge about the presence of the feature or its sensitivity. For example, a highly sensitive and rare fen wetland located on the Canadian Shield could be lost following an approved change in land use, simply because no one knew it existed or because there was no policy in place to protect it. From a purely ecological perspective, the fen is far more "valuable" than the degraded urban woodlot, even though the land on which it occurs may have a relatively low value as a piece of real estate. Given the current state of Greenlands protection, Ontarians may place undue emphasis on the preservation of marginal, often degraded Greenlands in populated areas at the expense of high-functioning ecosystems in more remote areas.
The effects of development pressure can also be seen in the treatment given to woodland protection in Official Plans. Generally speaking, the minimum size a woodland must be to achieve some level of recognition (and thus protection) increases as one moves from south to north in the study area. This pattern is apparent from an examination of Figure 16, whereby woodlands that lack policy protection (Level 4) become increasingly more prominent in the area west of the Niagara Escarpment and north and west of the Oak Ridges Moraine. Not only are these woodlands larger, but there are more of them situated closer to one another, so that at the edge of the Shield, woodlands form a virtually unbroken band across the top of the study area. However, because these woodlands are in abundant supply and subject to relatively low development pressure, they are not given a very high degree of policy protection unless they are also recognized as a Provincially Significant Wetland or an ANSI.
This study has presented a detailed analysis of the current state of Greenlands protection in the region of south-central Ontario. Just as the presence of a protective designation does not imply that the feature will persist in perpetuity, the lack of a Greenlands designation does not mean that a feature will ultimately be lost. Many natural heritage features that have little to no formal protection under current policy may end up being retained as an outcome of the actions of government authorities or private developers. While the maps that accompany this report show the extent to which Greenlands are protected at present, it should not be assumed that those features with relatively weak or no formal protection whatsoever are destined to disappear from the landscape.