Halton Region owns 665 hectares (1,645 acres) of forests in 14 separate tracts, including wooded areas, wetlands and meadows. Nine of the forest tracts are located in Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) with unique ecosystems. Six of the tracts are in the Niagara Escarpment area, which is designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Halton’s Regional Forests provide rich and varied habitats for wildlife and are home to number of rare species.
In southern Ontario, many tracts of forest were established through agreements between the provincial government and another party, normally a municipal government or Conservation Authority, usually on municipally owned lands, and often with the financial or managerial support of the province (i.e., the Ministry of Natural Resources). Typically, agreement forests were started to reclaim land that had been cleared for agriculture but which was not being used nor was ideally suited for this activity. Some of these lands were abandoned and had associated environmental problems, such as soil erosion and flooding. According to MNR, the Agreement Forest Program included management planning, marking, marketing, and other duties to ensure effective rehabilitation of the lands.
The province has been actively setting up agreement forests for over 75 years. Under the AFP, MNR established contracts with 28 municipalities, 26 Conservation Authorities, a federal commission, and a publicly incorporated company. The agreements encompassed approximately 130,000 hectares of land and resulted in the planting of approximately 147.5 million trees in southern Ontario overall. Assistance from the province included monetary incentives for planting trees and free nursery stock, and later, help with managing the growing forests. According to MNR, the program’s reforestation activities have contributed to restoring biological diversity on these lands. However, in 1994, MNR gradually began to return responsibility for agreement forests to the respective landowners, and at this point, the ministry is no longer entering into these agreements with municipalities.
Many of MNR’s AFP partners have adopted the responsibility of managing these forests and have the expertise to carry out proper forest management. However, the ECO is concerned that some municipalities may face situations in the near future that could place these forests in jeopardy. Budget pressures could limit the ability of a municipality to tend properly to a forest. Municipalities could receive tempting offers from land developers, since many forests would make attractive residential or recreational settings. The Forestry Act includes the provision that if a provincial grant was used to obtain the land for an agreement forest, then permission must be sought from the Minister of Natural Resources for its sale. If and when these grant lands are sold, at least 50 per cent of the proceeds of the sale must be directed to the local municipal or conservation authority and the balance to the province. Even with these checks in place, sales could still proceed.
There are signs of development pressures and other threats to the integrity of agreement forests. For example, in eastern Ontario in 2003, planning was under way for a tourism- related theatre facility within the Larose Forest, an agreement forest. The ECO has also received expressions of concern from environmental organizations that smaller municipalities may not be able to manage or protect these forested sites properly. In a central Ontario regional municipality, staff noted that in the years preceding MNR’s withdrawal from agreement forest management, some of the area’s agreement forests suffered neglect. The same regional staff noted concerns such as the need to remove hazard trees and risks associated with mountain-biking at one site. In general, municipalities would like agreement forests to be financially self-sustaining. Although some revenue can be derived from appropriate and selective harvesting, many municipalities could face new costs – for instance, signage, maintenance and consulting fees – by adopting agreement forest responsibilities.
In the long run, MNR’s retreat from the management of agreement forests may not bode well for these forests, especially for their ecological attributes. MNR’s retreat also represents a significant shift in the province’s approach to forest management in the history of Ontario.
Hilton Falls wears well in any season. Like a chameleon, Hilton Falls blooms bright in spring with boundless wildflowers, envelopes its landscape in rich greens in the summer, blazes firey ambers and hues of red in the autumn and as the icy air tickles its way through barren branches and frozen waterfalls in the winter, you realize that all this is just minutes away from home. 645 hectares of bliss.
Hilton Falls is a great place to start for newer riders. A selection of double-track leads you out to the areas where the Conservation area borders the Regional Forest. This is where the trails begin to get more difficult.
Starting your rides at Hilton Falls also helps support the local conservation authority, Conservation Halton. A HAFTA partner. Conservation Halton offers many outdoor recreational activities in the Halton Region