Lessons on wetland offsetting for Ontario

Ontario Nature has issued a report, “Navigating the Swamp: Lessons on Wetland Offsetting for Ontario” by David Poulton and Anne Bell (July 2017, 78 pp.)  From the Executive Summary:

The Government of Ontario is proposing to develop a wetland offsetting policy to enable compensation for the negative impacts of development through the restoration or creation of new wetlands. … If done effectively, wetland offsetting could be a positive force for conservation, helping to reverse the ongoing  trend of wetland loss in the province. If done poorly, however, it will do more harm than good.
Navigating the Swamp: Lessons on Wetland Offsetting for Ontario explores both the promise and the pitfalls of wetland offsetting, with the aim of informing policy development in Ontario. The report surveys relevant laws and policies in the United States and Canada, as well as those in Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. It also reviews policy outcomes and lessons learned, particularly from those jurisdictions where wetland offsetting policy has been in place and implemented for many years.

The report makes 22 recommendations.

UPDATE – June 2023

Since the 2017 report, Ontario Nature has published more on the issue of the effectiveness of offsetting loss of wetland with “new” wetlands, including a June 2023 report, “Wise practices for wetland offsetting in Ontario.” It and other resources can be found here.

The new report notes that “Ample evidence suggests offsetting is an extremely risky practice with a very low record of success” that “involves an extremely risky trade-off whereby conservation actions (e.g., the creation or restoration of wetlands) are implemented to compensate for wetland destruction or degradation. It is a trade-off that seldom works in nature’s favour. Although offsetting policies are often guided by the objective of achieving no net loss of wetland features, research has repeatedly demonstrated that this goal is rarely achieved.”

However, the current government is determined to allow and promote this practice, so the report provides “a framework, key information, and examples for developing and assessing offsetting policies to help ensure the best possible outcomes for wetlands and the communities that depend on them.”