A new local not-for-profit organization run directly by Indigenous peoples was officially unveiled on Earth Day in St. Catharines, with the goal of ensuring the sustainability of the UNESCO-designated Niagara Escarpment Biosphere ( United Nations Educational Organization, Scientific and Cultural Organization) biosphere since 1990.
The 725-kilometre escarpment stretches from Niagara to Tobermory and must undergo periodic reviews by UNESCO to ensure it meets the agency’s designation criteria.
Liette Vasseur, the UNESCO chair in community sustainability at Brock University, who is also a professor in the department of biological sciences, told a large gathering at the historic Brown Homestead on Pelham Road on Friday – coinciding with the Day of the Earth and the launch of the United Nations Decade of Indigenous Languages - that in UNESCO’s last review almost 10 years ago, the oversight body recommended that the monitoring structure for the biosphere become local rather than government-led, and that it was crucial to involve indigenous peoples.
A three-year grant from Environment and Climate Change Canada is supporting the work of the Indigenous non-governmental organization Plenty Canada on the development of the still-emerging biosphere network.
The Niagara Escarpment Commission transferred its role and responsibilities for the biosphere to a new transitional leadership committee in 2019, and this committee worked directly with Plenty Canada on governance.
With a new UNESCO biosphere review coming in 2024, it is essential that work continues to protect the diverse ecosystems that make up the escarpment, Vasseur said.
“The main reason is to be able to connect and share because we all have a responsibility for this ecosystem, so we want to make sure that we connect with every group, every person who is part of this beautiful ecosystem,” she said. declared.
Vasseur said the network has a lot to offer in terms of tourism, sustainable development, protection and conservation.
The shift to a non-governmental organization encompasses a co-governance structure of indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, she said.
“It’s important because it’s not just for us today: it’s for many other generations,” she said. “The vision must be, how to protect it in the long term?”
Larry McDermott, executive director of Plenty Canada, said protecting the escarpment – “a great gift we’ve been given” – is crucial at a time when the world is facing biodiversity loss, climate change and soil loss.
Lynn Wells, interim president of Brock University, said the new network will do “incredibly important” work. “What a great gift for Earth Day,” she said of the new organization.
“This will benefit everyone in Niagara for generations to come.
Sean Kennedy, president of Niagara College, said the new initiative is “so important to our natural world. We are fortunate to live in this incredible place, the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere.
UNESCO said the Escarpment Biosphere includes the greatest topographic variability in southern Ontario, with habitats ranging from high elevations to Great Lakes coasts, cliff edges, talus slopes, wetlands, woodlands, limestone alvars, oak savannas, conifer swamps and many more.
These habitats collectively exhibit the highest level of species diversity among Canadian biosphere reserves, including over 300 species of birds and dozens of species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and flora. . says UNESCO.