Land-Use Conflicts Stretch Across Canada

THE push to preserve the Niagara Escarpment by limiting land use is only one example of conflicts emerging across Canada as environmental concerns butt heads with development plans.

Typical is controversy over the Oak Ridges Moraine, a glacial feature whose rolling hills reach the escarpment near King City, Ontario, and run hundreds of miles to the east. Portions of 'Anne of Green Gables,' a film based on Lucy Montgomery's novel, were filmed there. Environmental groups are pushing for moraine legal protection similar to that of the escarpment.

There is also the case of Banff National Park near Calgary, Alberta, one of Canada's most popular national parks. While the park itself is protected, development proposals for land just beyond the park gates include golf courses and condominium developments, says Dixon Thompson, a professor of environmental science at the University of Calgary.

"There are very considerable pressures outside the national parks where there's much less control," he says. "Even within the parks you risk cumulative impact or destruction by insignificant increments."

But negotiating such buffer zones is difficult, because whether land is distinct often seems a matter of taste or opinion.

For this reason, the Man and the Biosphere program administered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization has been helpful, says Cecil Louis, assistant director of the Niagara Escarpment Commission.

The escarpment's 1990 designation as a biosphere reserve "signifies that this is a representative ecosystem of some of the world's important ecosystems," Mr. Louis says.

The escarpment is one of only six biosphere reserves in Canada. By comparison there are 68 reserves in the United States with 300 others in 75 countries around the world. Ted Cook, an official with the biosphere reserve program in Canada, says the biosphere designation "gives people a safe setting to look for solutions. Often people are uncomfortable working in the other fellow's turf, and the designation ... provides an impartial forum."

An early political supporter of the escarpment plan, Norman Sterling, says the biosphere designation "fits much more easily into the public's consciousness now" and has improved the climate for debate.

"The public is becoming less consumer oriented and more quality-of-life oriented," he says. "That makes it easier to accept the government saying, 'No, you can't do that with your land.' "

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