"Natural Heritage Systems" are being implemented across Ontario through local Conservation Authorities and municipalities and land use restrictions are coming. Land use planning in Ontario is guided by the Ministry of Natural Resources' Provincial Policy Statement (PPS - the current edition is from 2005), which includes policies intended to protect the natural heritage of the province (which may affect areas including fish habitat, woodlands, marshes, meadows, etc.). Individual municipalities implement these policies through their official plans and zoning by-laws following the completion of natural heritage studies. For example, in 2006, the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority and the County of Oxford completed the Oxford Natural Heritage Study. The report included the recommendation that the County proceed to designate significant natural heritage areas and to regulate the use of these areas through the Official Plan.
Although the PPS says that nothing in the Natural Heritage Policy is "intended to limit the ability of existing agricultural uses to continue", there is no similar protection for proposed changes in use or urbanized or other development of land. In some situations, therefore, a natural heritage designation may remove the possibility of developing a property beyond agriculture (or expanding an existing agricultural operation) and thereby decrease its value on the market. While the designation may not affect the current use of a property, landowners should be aware that the incoporation of natural heritage designations into municipal planning may affect future use of their land. In some areas of the province, natural heritage systems have already been established. In other areas, the study and planning process is still underway.
Guiding the planning process is the MNR's Natural Heritage Reference Manual. Read the MNR's Draft 2009 Second Edition of the Natural Heritage Reference Manual at: Draft 2009 Manual.