Among the greatest barriers to achieving an equitable and consistent level of greenlands protection through Smart Growth are public attitudes and perceptions. Simply put, most people are motivated by self-interest and generally concerned primarily with those things that have a direct affect upon them.
Municipalities go to great lengths to bring significant natural areas into public ownership and then require that trails be built through them. The goal of conservation conflicts with that of providing recreational opportunities, usually resulting in the loss of ecological function over time.
Particularly in rapidly urbanizing areas, where greenland features may be few and far between, the prevailing attitude is often one of "protect anything that is green." The implication is that it must be valuable because it is in such short supply. However, the flaw in this argument is that the distinction between an area's intrinsic ecological value and its social or aesthetic value becomes blurred. The public or politicians may place a very high value on retaining a small, already degraded woodlot in an urban area, while a highly sensitive and rare fen wetland community in a remote corner of Haliburton County could be destroyed and no one would either know or care. Clearly, from a purely ecological perspective, the fen is the more valuable of the two, even though the land itself may have a very low value as a piece of real estate. Throughout much of Central Ontario, important greenland features are being lost because they are simply not on anyone's radar screen. By comparison, many of the battles for greenlands protection are waged in a confrontational and litigious atmosphere, consuming considerable amounts of time and money. Situations such as these 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.
It is also very difficult to protect well-functioning greenlands if we continue to promote the notion that many of our natural areas, particularly in heavily populated areas, need to be accessible to the public. Municipalities will often go to great lengths to ensure that significant natural areas are brought into public ownership and then will require that trails be built through them. This invariably results in a conflict between the goal of conservation and that of providing recreational opportunities, usually resulting in the loss of ecological function over time.
The question of how we will pay for the necessary changes in greenlands identification, policy delivery, securement, and management, as well as who will be responsible for their implementation, is always a perplexing one. A simplistic response is that all of us need to contribute our fair share, and if that means raising our taxes to pay for it, so be it. When it comes to greenlands protection, there is no question that money could be spent much more wisely than it is presently. One need look no further than our legacy of spending millions of dollars on lengthy and often emotionally charged Ontario Municipal Board hearings, with no certainty as to their outcome or that the natural environment has been well served at the end of the day. As part of the overall Smart Growth strategy, a full accounting of costs versus environmental benefits should be undertaken to determine how we can best allocate our limited financial resources to achieve cost-effective solutions.