A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) was completed for the Rouge National Urban Park management plan in accordance with the 2010 Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The SEA was carried out in an integrated and iterative way during the management planning process with a goal of enhancing positive effects and avoiding or reducing potential negative effects.

The analysis of effects focused on four key groups of valued components that together form the basis of the Rouge National Urban Park purpose: Natural resources, cultural resources, components of importance to visitor experience, and the vibrant farming community (including agricultural resources).

Being an agency with a conservation mandate, Parks Canada management plans are developed with the intent to produce positive environmental effects and avoid or reduce negative environmental effects. However, between intention and implementation there are possibilities for unplanned or inadvertent outcomes. To ensure such possibilities are identified and averted, the SEA examines planned management actions at a high level by analyzing the various circumstances that could generate negative effects. Strategies to mitigate these potential effects are identified when warranted. The SEA also provides a better broad-scale view of the entire park within its surroundings, facilitating the identification of potential cumulative effects that could be overlooked when impact analysis is scoped only at the project level. Finally, the SEA is used to confirm that the management plan is aligned with the overall guidance for the Government of Canada provided in the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy.The management plan comprises four key strategies and a section on management area concepts. A summary of the SEA analysis for each is described below.

Key Strategy 1: Protect natural heritage values in support of a resilient park landscape

The four objectives of Key Strategy 1 are inherently intended to produce positive environmental effects for the park’s ecosystems. Much of Key Strategy 1 establishes the groundwork to monitor and evaluate progress towards maintaining or restoring ecological integrity through the development of a variety of sub-plans and guidance materials. Most of the actions were predicted to have positive or neutral effects. The adoption of dark sky compliant lighting was the only action identified to have potentially negative effects on visitor experience or cultural resources. However, as a manager of several protected heritage areas that are also Dark-Sky Preserves, Parks Canada has the experience to develop guidance that will meet the needs of this unique park without impairing these valued components. Developing guidance for implementing dark sky lighting was identified as a mitigation strategy in the SEA.

Key Strategy 2: Sustain a living landscape—past, present, and future

The first objective of Key Strategy 2 supports the engagement and involvement of Indigenous communities with direct historical and current cultural connections to the park. All of the actions are predicted to have positive or neutral effects on valued components.

Key Strategy 2 actions designed to support a vibrant farming and lessee community are predicted to have positive effects on farmers and agricultural resources, though visitor experience, natural resources, and cultural resources will also benefit. Some actions could generate minor construction within the park that would be evaluated through project-level impact assessment. Two actions related to agricultural innovation and pilot projects could have potential adverse effects on natural resources, cultural resources, or visitor experience based on hypothetical scenarios, but the SEA concluded that these would be easily mitigated by putting in place a simple review function to ensure that the goals and objectives of any innovative agricultural pilot projects are aligned with the park mandate, and that the associated uncertainty or risk is acceptable and commensurate with the prospective benefits.

When managing cultural landscapes in the park, there will inevitably be cases where tradeoffs are required between the various valued components. For example, undertaking an intervention to protect a cultural landscape may incidentally have a detrimental effect on visitor experience. This management plan and the sub-plans identified within it will help provide the key information on the associated value, scarcity, resilience, etc. of the various valued components that could be affected by such an intervention. That information will be used to evaluate different options, permitting the Field Unit Superintendent to make a well-informed decision that complies with legislation and policy, such as section 6.(1) of the Rouge National Urban Park Act which highlights maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity as the first priority in park management.

Key Strategy 3: Celebrate Rouge National Urban Park as a National and International Gateway to Discovering Canada’s Environment and Heritage

Key strategy 3 outlines actions that facilitate visitor connections with the park and is predicted to have many positive effects for visitor experience. Connecting Canadians to their heritage forms a key part of the Rouge National Urban Park purpose. Since this strategy requires the most physical construction, it also has the most potential to negatively affect valued components. All forms of outdoor recreation can negatively affect the environment, so strategies intended to increase visitation can augment the intensity or severity of these impacts. Hosting events, constructing visitor facilities, and expanding the park trail network can also negatively affect natural, cultural and agricultural resources. Although these potential effects may not be avoided entirely, good planning and adherence to Parks Canada’s environmental impact analysis process and sustainable trail guidelines can help to minimize impacts to an acceptable threshold and, in many instances, contribute to a net benefit across the landscape by marrying restoration projects to these initiatives. For example: Creating a new trail using best established trail building techniques and feature-sensitive routing, and closing social trails through ecologically or culturally sensitive areas and actively restoring them. The main mitigation strategies to address the potential negative effects from Key Strategy 3 include:

  • Give consideration for cumulative effects in the planning of visitor facilities that form part of a larger system, such as the gateway welcome and public activity areas, and the trail system in their respective project impact assessments.
  • Incorporate alternatives analysis into the impact assessments of larger projects that could contribute to cumulative effects.
  • Develop or adopt a Best Management Practice for Special Events to standardize the prescription and application of effective and efficient mitigation measures.

Key Strategy 4: Achieve Success through Collaboration

Key Strategy 4 lists a number of actions that support a collaborative approach to park governance, management, and operations. The expected impacts are primarily positive and are also expected to support the other key strategies, especially by using collaboration to build better knowledge about ecosystems, cultural resources, agricultural resources, and visitor needs and expectations that can inform future decisions. This collaborative and inclusive approach could also be a source of negative effects: volunteers and partners taking on active and involved roles in the park could be less familiar with the complex range of considerations that Parks Canada staff are used to contemplating in their day-to-day work. Examples include: the level of awareness of species-at-risk critical habitat areas; awareness of in-situ archaeological resource potential; and knowledge of fish habitat and risk factors associated with vegetation removal. Preventive measures are already under development or have been put in place and involve use of standardized information packages as well as training opportunities tailored to the level of involvement that volunteers or partners may have in the park.

Management Area Concepts

The six management area concepts refine some of the direction in the key strategies, tailored to areas within the park or park-wide themes. On the whole the actions in the management area concepts will yield positive results for valued components by targeting the areas in which the greatest benefits can be achieved. The management area concepts also acknowledge that positive ecological outcomes inside the boundaries of the park cannot be successful without collaborating in external planning initiatives to protect headwaters, watersheds, and ecosystem connectivity beyond the park; they offer actions to achieve these ends. A key recommendation of the SEA is that consideration of potential cumulative effects is particularly important in Management Area 1, given the number of projects, both internal and external, that are anticipated within the next 10 years. Either through a standalone analysis or by incorporating this consideration into project impact assessments, analysis of the potential for cumulative effects will help to ensure that any broader vulnerabilities to residual effects can be identified and mitigated. This will support the intended future condition of Management Area Concept 1 – “The heart of park biodiversity”.

Connection to the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy

The Rouge National Urban Park Management plan aligns with the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS), with clear contributions to six of the 13 FSDS goals, including: 1) Effective Action on Climate Change; 7) Pristine Lakes and Rivers; 8) Sustainably Managed Lands and Forests; 9) Healthy Wildlife Populations; 10) Sustainable Food; and 11) Connecting Canadians With Nature.

Conclusion

The strategic environmental assessment of the Rouge National Urban Park Management Plan concluded that its strategies, objectives, actions, and concepts will generate predominantly positive environmental impacts. Some of the actions have the potential to cause negative environmental impacts, most of which can be addressed by applying good planning and review practices and by standardizing guidance materials and tools already in development or referenced in the management plan. Some potential effects will be addressed through project-level impact assessment when the concepts have advanced to the point of becoming proposals. It is anticipated that realization of the objectives in the management plan could result in some negative residual effects to natural resources, cultural resources, visitor experience, or agricultural resources, however, the net result will be overwhelmingly positive, and the significance of residual negative effects is predicted to be minor. The SEA has recommended strategies to maximize the positive effects and minimize the negative effects as concepts identified in the management plan advance, including the completion of cumulative effects analysis and development of best management practices for events and activities.