City of Hamilton will spend $40K on biodiversity plan to protect species, habitats

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Hamilton Naturalists' Club will hire a coordinator and lead the plan, which will focus on protection, enhancement, restoration and education. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The City of Hamilton will spend $40,000 on a biodiversity plan it says will help protect local habitats and species.

The plan, which council still has to approve, could include the city using specific plants for landscaping and construction, collecting data from certain areas and updating policies to encourage a diversity of species, among other measures. The Hamilton Naturalists' Club will hire a coordinator and lead the plan, which will focus on protection, enhancement, restoration and education.

Jen Baker, Hamilton Naturalists' Club, said Hamilton's biodiversity is "not bad," but stressed the need to protect what's left and enhance it.

"We know that we're losing a lot of species," Baker said. "I think we can do better."

Conservation groups and environmental organizations have been pursuing a plan for three years, city staff say. City council's general issues committee voted unanimously to move ahead with the plan, which will take 12 to 18 months to put together. City council still has to ratify the vote on April 14.

"We're really excited to be able to move forward," Baker said. 

Lauren Vraets, a city planner, called Hamilton a "biodiversity hot spot," with major natural areas like Cootes Paradise, the Niagara escarpment, Lake Ontario and Dundas Valley that provide habitat for plants, animals, and insects. 

But its biodiversity is threatened, Vraets said, by climate change, urban development, habitat removal and invasive species. In February 2020, the general issues committee directed staff, along with conservation groups, to look at the feasibility and resources needed for a biodiversity plan.

She said it would look for gaps in the city's coverage and bring together actions of involved groups, like Environment Hamilton, the Bay Area Restoration Council, Royal Botanical Gardens, and local ecologists. 

What it will cost

Coun. Brad Clark (Ward 9, upper Stoney Creek) said having a biodiversity plan as new developments and subdivisions pop up is a "prudent course of action."

"We acknowledge that climate change is here, and we acknowledge the impacts that it's creating," he said. "And when we're looking at biodiversity, we want to make sure that the things we're doing, we're not making it worse."

The total estimated cost of the project is $91,500. Two city departments — planning and economic development, and public works and Hamilton Water — will each give $20,000. 

Vraets said this will also allow Hamilton Naturalists' Club to apply for other government funding, which can require city contributions to apply. In-kind city contributions, such staff time and social media advertising, will cover an estimated $25,500. 

Joanne Hickey-Evans, planning manager, said she couldn't promise if more funding would be needed since the actions aren't known yet. 

'The very least'

She also said the plan wasn't meant to slow other projects down, like construction, but to refocus them with a biodiversity lens. 

"If we could do our part in trying to improve the biodiversity, as we do road widening...that would be a bonus for everything, climate change, all environmental needs, " she said. 

Given the municipality's impact on biodiversity, Coun. Maureen Wilson (Ward 1, west end) said that the money was a small amount to allocate. 

"This is the very least that we have to do," she said. "The very least."

Staff will report back in six months to update on progress.