What makes a wetland significant? An examination of changes made to the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System

Wetland ecosystems are declining globally, including in Ontario. To preserve certain wetlands from human disturbances, Ontario uses the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System (OWES) to evaluate wetlands and determine whether they are ‘provincially significant’. Wetlands that are determined to be ‘provincially significant’ are protected from development by section 2.1 of the Provincial Policy Statement. In 2022, the Ontario government introduced updates to OWES that change how wetlands are evaluated. This report examined these changes and analyzed their implications for land use planning. Through literature reivew, policy analysis, and semi-structured interviews conducted with practicing evaluators, it was found that the changes to OWES are likely to result in less wetlands being protected from development. Based on the findings, this report recommends that planning authorities review their local policies affecting wetlands and assess whether these policies are still suitable.
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