Niagara Region is the most southerly municipality in the Central Ontario Zone, extending along the south shore of Lake Ontario from the City of Hamilton east to the Niagara River and New York State. Urban development is concentrated along the shore of Lake Ontario (Grimsby, Beamsville, Vineland, and St. Catharines), the Welland Canal (Thorold, Welland and Port Colborne), and the Niagara River (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Falls, and Fort Erie).
Given its fertile soils and favourable climatic conditions, agriculture is an extremely important land use in Niagara, particularly the growing of tender fruits such as peaches, apples, cherries, and grape vines along the brow of the Escarpment.
The Niagara Escarpment is the most prominent landform feature in Niagara, as well as the most environmentally significant area (Figure 8). Although the rich woodlands along the face of the Escarpment are still largely intact, there are fewer Escarpment Natural Area woodlands (Level 2 protection) on the top of the landform than elsewhere (e.g., City of Hamilton and Region of Halton). The geological formations that make up the Escarpment have given rise to several very large quarry operations.
The Regional Official Plan (Regional Municipality of Niagara 2000) defines "Environmentally Sensitive Areas" very broadly (Table 8) and maps them even more generally (Figure 8) as a network of green ribbons that represent the Niagara Escarpment and several major creek and river corridors (e.g., 20 Mile Creek, Welland River and Welland Canal Corridors). The provincially significant Wainfleet Bog, situated just west of Port Colborne, is the largest Level 1 feature in the municipality but is also subject to commercial peat extraction operations (which, as an agricultural use, is a permitted activity).
Short Hills Provincial Park, which lies just south of St. Catharines, is also a significant Life Science ANSI, and receives Level 2 protection. The Haldimand Clay Plain, which occupies the western portion of Niagara Region, supports several Level 1 and 2 wetlands.
The Official Plan of the Region of Niagara lacks any specific policy provision to protect woodlands, and as a result these features are classified as having Level 4 protection (Table 7).
Figure 8: Regional Municipality of Niagara