The Highlands Corridor covers over 100,000 hectares of unceded public and private land, rich with wetlands, forests, wildlife communities, species at risk, and deep carbon deposits. It extends across southern Haliburton and northern Peterborough counties, within the territory of the Williams Treaties First Nations, Connecting three provincial parks, the corridor offers a nature-based solution to building climate change resilience, protecting lands and waters, and maintaining biodiversity. Its protection provides an opportunity to meet federal, provincial and municipal government commitments to building resilience to climate change and expanding protected areas. These commitments include Canada’s pledge to support nature-based climate solutions and to protect at least 30% of our lands and waters by 2030; Ontario’s plan to expand protected areas and natural areas to mitigate impacts of flooding; and the objectives set out in the County of Haliburton’s Community Climate Action Plan (in development).
Click here to watch our 2022 video on the Highlands Corridor.
Click here to listen to an interview on Planet Haliburton – Canoe FM about the Highlands Corridor Project.
Click here to read a blog post on the Ontario Nature website that describes the Highlands Corridor.
Click here to download a PDF version of the Executive Summary of the report Protecting the Highlands Corridor. Haliburton Highlands Land Trust, Ontario Nature and Glenside Ecological Services collaborated on the production of the report.
Location of the Highlands Corridor
The following are the key conservation values, based on desktop analyses and field evaluations:
- The Highlands Corridor follows a band of granite rock barrens which have limited occurrence elsewhere in southern Ontario but cover 1.2% of the Highlands Corridor.
- Total wetland coverage in the Highlands Corridor is approximately 17.9%, indicating high regional representation. This includes six large Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW) complexes totaling 3,859 ha, approximately 1,945 ha of two additional candidate PSWs, and 13,420 ha of unevaluated wetlands.
- About 23% of the wetlands in the Highlands corridor are fens, bogs or coniferous swamps with deep organic deposits, providing highly valuable functions for climate resilience, including carbon storage and flood prevention.
- 75% of the forests of the Highlands Corridor are mature and 2% qualify as old growth forests. The largest old growth forest identified is the 210 ha Catchacoma Old-growth Forest, notable for Eastern Hemlock.
- The Highlands Corridor supports 35 federal and/or provincial species at risk, and an additional 21 provincially significant species.
- A circuit theory analysis, conducted to show areas of concentrated wildlife movement, found high priority areas for conservation that enhance connectivity and allow wildlife movement among the three existing provincial parks.
- One candidate provincially significant Earth Science Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) (Lochlin Esker) and two candidate regionally significant Life Science ANSIs (Lochlin Bog and Silent Lake – Lowrie Lakes) are within or adjacent to the Highlands Corridor.
Recommendations for Protection
Haliburton Highlands Land Trust, Ontario Nature and Glenside Ecological Services collaborated on a report on the Highlands Corridor in December 2021. The report summarizes federal and provincial political commitments regarding climate change and protected areas and outlines a strategy for protecting the Highlands Corridor. The report authors recognize that protection of the corridor will require consultation with and consent from the Williams Treaty First Nations and considerable collaboration among the Ontario government, municipal governments, conservation organizations and community stakeholders. The report sets out three recommendations for the Government of Ontario:
- With the consent of the Williams Treaties First Nations, apply interim protection measures that put a pause on industrial development within the Highlands Corridor while consultation about opportunities for protection is undertaken.
- Commit to the protection of the 60,550 ha of unceded Crown land in the Highlands Corridor, with the free, prior and informed consent of affected First Nations.
- Initiate consultation with affected First Nations and the public to identify the most effective means of protection.
As non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust and Ontario Nature are committed to supporting the conservation of the Highlands Corridor, and will continue efforts to: 1) raise public awareness and community support for the protection of the Highlands Corridor; 2) seek opportunities to engage with affected First Nations to understand their interests, rights and responsibilities; 3) develop partnerships with upper and lower tier municipalities for protection of the corridor; 4) work with other NGOs to raise the profile of the Highlands Corridor at the provincial level; and 5) continue research in the Highlands Corridor including wetland and habitat evaluations, mapping, and targeted species at risk investigations.
There is an urgent need to adopt nature-based solutions for climate change resilience in Ontario and around the world. It is also imperative that we increase the number of protected spaces to enhance connectivity across the landscape and prevent further biodiversity loss. With less than 11% of its land base currently protected from industrial development, Ontario has a long way to go to contribute to Canada meeting its target of protecting 25% of lands and waters by 2025. In Central Ontario, there are still opportunities to protect extensive, relatively intact, ecologically valuable habitats that will help to accomplish these conservation goals. However, many key habitats in the region remain undocumented and unevaluated, and therefore at risk of being degraded or lost entirely, with negative consequences for biodiversity and climate resilience.
To prevent the ongoing loss and degradation of the ecosystems that function as nature-based solutions to both the climate and biodiversity crises, the province needs to act. The Highlands Corridor represents a valuable opportunity for Ontario to expand its network of protected spaces, build climate resilience, and support biodiversity in Central Ontario.
The Haliburton Highlands Land Trust, Ontario Nature and Glenside Ecological Services Limited would like to thank all funders of this project for their support of research, education, analyses and field evaluations. Contributors consisted of the following:
• The Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry
• The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Species at Risk Stewardship Fund
• The Ontario Trillium Foundation
• Environment and Climate Change Canada, Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP)
• Environment and Climate Change Canada, Climate Action Fund
• The RBC Foundation, RBC Tech for Nature
• U-links Centre for Community-based Research