Protecting the Niagara Escarpment


When I was a young child, I was endlessly fascinated with nature. As I hiked along the Bruce Trail, I found absolute joy in discovering the many mammals, reptiles, fish, and insects that lived in the forests, streams and meadows that I wandered through. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my discoveries were a celebration of the incredible diversity of life along the Niagara Escarpment. I also didn’t realize that I could be one of the last generations to see many of these species exist. Like so many others before me, the Niagara Escarpment inspired me to take action to protect, to care for, and to share the joy with others so they’ll be moved to do the same.

In the 1960s, development along the Niagara Escarpment was largely unregulated. During that time, an audacious idea was born: the creation of a public footpath spanning the entire Niagara Escarpment. And through that idea something incredible happened. Conservationists, scientists, landowners, and everyday citizens banded together to alert the public that the Niagara Escarpment was a true global treasure deserving of protection. Action for the Niagara Escarpment took many forms, including the creation of the Bruce Trail Association (later to be renamed the Bruce Trail Conservancy), which then helped to influence the creation of the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act – the very first environmental land use plan in Canada. In 1990, the Niagara Escarpment was designated as a World (Niagara Escarpment:iosphere by UNESCO.

The Bruce Trail Conservancy understands the path forward depends on healthy, protected land. We are grounded in the evidence that land, in a natural state or brought back to ecological health, is a critical step in addressing our climate crisis and protecting global biodiversity. The Bruce Trail Conservancy is one of the only charitable organizations working to preserve sensitive Niagara Escarpment lands while making them safe and accessible for the people of Ontario.

To date the Bruce Trail Conservancy has protected over 18,000 acres of the Niagara Escarpment. Habitat loss, developmental pressure, population growth and climbing land prices add urgency to our important mission. Niagara Escarpment lands, when protected and cared for, safeguard Ontario’s biodiversity including over eighty-nine species of conservation concern and provide key ecosystem services such as water filtration, air purification and carbon storage. Our awareness of environmental issues and the importance of conservation in partnership with Indigenous peoples can build a shared future to living in harmony with nature.

Today this legacy of conservation has increased in ambition and scope. We are helping to protect larger tracts of land and ever increasing ambitious restoration work. We are also participating in Indigenous led conservation work, and adding Indigenous wisdom into our land stewardship plans. As more and more people come to appreciate the beauty and diversity of the Niagara Escarpment, we have a growing opportunity to make meaningful change together. Today, this region is a shining example of what can be accomplished when people work together to preserve and restore the natural world.

These days, I am still in awe of the beauty of nature. I am also incredibly inspired by the creation of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network, and this new Indigenous led approach to protecting the Niagara Escarpment. The biodiversity of the Niagara Escarpment is a testament to the power of conservation, and a reminder of the importance of protecting our planet for generations to come.

—  Michael McDonald is CEO of the Bruce Trail Conservancy.