Community Associations for Environmental Sustainability

What is happening with the "Ottawa Wildlife Strategy"?

The beginning, the middle and awaiting the end of a revised strategy for coexistence

By Pragati Parajuli, CAFES Carleton practicum student

A crucial conversation is unfolding about the city’s wildlife strategy- a journey that started with the aim of fostering coexistence between residents and the diverse wildlife of Ottawa. According to city staff, the Wildlife Strategy Report has been delayed to Q1 of 2024 to allow consideration of comments and further work on the development of options for consideration by committee and Council. We may see it at the April 2024 City Environment and Climate Change Committee meeting.

The wildlife strategy was intended as a plan that strives to protect biodiversity and foster coexistence between the city's wildlife and its human inhabitants.  

The beginning

In 2010, community members, prompted by the unwarranted killing of coyotes in the suburban community of Greenboro in Ottawa, urged the City to develop a Wildlife Strategy. A 17 member Working Group was appointed to develop recommendations for the Strategy. They included 5 Community Stakeholder Organizations: Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre, Ontario Wildlife Coalition, the Greenbelt Coalition who represented Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital, the City’s Environmental Advisory Committee and the Forests and Greenspace Advisory Committee. After a number of meetings, Terms of Reference that reflected the intent of the Wildlife Strategy were approved by the majority of the Working Group, with opposition from the agriculture and the Ministry of Natural Resource.

In February 2011, an Interim Report was presented, confirming the Terms of Reference along with a detailed Work Plan that included plans for continued meetings once a month with the objective of presenting a report to a joint meeting of the Planning and Environment Committee and the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee (ARAC), as called for in the Council motion. However, that was the last meeting the city held of the Working Group despite every effort made by the community organizations to determine why meetings had been discontinued. It was 16 months later that staff produced a draft Strategy, previously unseen by community organizations on the Working Group. It was immediately challenged as none of the community organizations’ key recommendations were included and wildlife would continue to be trapped and killed.

Following this, wildlife organizations resigned, each submitting a detailed critique of the draft. The public controversy escalated with articles in the media and letters to the mayor and councillors, resulting in the city dragging out the process for yet another year with the Wildlife Strategy. The 2013 Wildlife Strategy then went to ARAC for approval (in contravention of the Council motion) and finally nothing was changed in the controversial draft. Access to Information documents show the strategy was co-opted by backroom dealing. An alternate proposal from a hunting and trapping advocacy group which considers urban wildlife as a “a nuisance to be removed” was responsible for sidelining the Wildlife Strategy and its intended coexistence focus. 

Over the years and looking forward.

In 2022-23, the killing of coyotes in Riverside Park South and the shooting and relocation of bears in Kanata have reignited concerns that have been strongly expressed by the public at two city organized Information Sessions, with the promise by the city for an “As We Heard It Report”. This report is to be made available by February.

Public concerns also prompted a joint letter from the OCWC and environmental and community organizations to the mayor and councillors in May 2023, listing recommendations considered essential for what many councillors have indicated they want to see: “a revised Wildlife Strategy that reflects modern day practices to coexist with wildlife in our city”.

The OCWC has worked with the community and the city of Ottawa since 2004 in providing specific recommendations for policies based on coexistence. They have prepared position papers on the key recommendations, ignored in 2013, required for a revised Wildlife Strategy that aligns with councillors’ vision.

These recommendations include the need for the city to calculate the time and cost of repetitive maintenance in trapping beavers and instead use cost-effective flow device technology to mitigate flooding, keeping beavers and their essential ecological services on the landscape. Addressing the issues of coyotes, the OCWC recommends discontinuing ‘sighting reports’ that promote unwarranted fear, omitting subjective terms like ‘habituation’ and adopting proven strategies from cities like Toronto, Oakville, and Niagara Falls, focusing on public education and detailed response guidelines. Concerning the city's response to large mammals, the OCWC urges using the NCC as the lead, outlining specific roles for the NCC, city by law, and police and resorting to relocation only as a last resort, back to the nearest natural area.

With respect to the wildlife construction protocol, recommendations include reverting to the original intent of the 2015 protocol with required conditions, offering equal protection to living creatures as to trees, and avoiding winter clear cutting to prevent harm to hibernating animals. One paper underscores the importance of eco-passages, especially in areas near the Greenbelt, where roads cause increased wildlife mortality. Recommendations include adopting wildlife sensitive planning measures and consulting the city of Edmonton for valuable insights into wildlife engineering design guidelines and conservation integration.Additionally, public education has also been emphasized in the recommendations, focusing on the need for comprehensive public education and community outreach programs. The position papers also emphasize working with the community and adopting ‘Best Practices’ for a progressive Wildlife Strategy. Recommendations include selecting staff with the right skill sets and a desire to make a difference, viewing residents and community organizations as allies, and reinstating the city’s employee directory online to foster trust and transparency.

The OCWC also recommends consulting cities with successful solutions to municipal challenges and engaging residents consistently, rather than reactively after controversies. 

As Ottawa stands at the crossroads of its Wildlife Strategy journey, the collective efforts and recommendations by OCWC and the community holds the promise of shaping a more harmonious future. The city now faces the task of not only acknowledging these insights but translating them into action. The impending report in Q1 2024 should offer an opportunity for the city to bridge the gap between plans and implementation, ensuring the wildlife strategy evolves to a roadmap of coexistence. As we eagerly await the staff report, we know that this will be an opportunity for residents, community organizations, and decision makers to advocate for a more effective Ottawa Wildlife Strategy in the midst of the biodiversity crisis.

You can find the position papers here.

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