The Oak Ridges, Rouge National Urban Park, Greenbelt World Biosphere Reserve Nomination


The Oak Ridges Moraine, Rouge National Urban Park, Greenbelt World Biosphere Reserve nomination is a research initiative that was initially based at the University of Waterloo, intended to develop the documentation that will form the basis for nominating the Oak Ridges Moraine, Rouge National Urban Park and Greenbelt area as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Biosphere Reserve. Fostered by sufficient local community and political support, a UNESCO designation could become the basis for a strong and continuing program of research, monitoring, education and awareness, strengthening attention and initiatives for stewardship, promotion of sustainable livelihoods and capacity development for effective cooperation in environmental governance on the reserve area.


Imagine an area where environmental organizations, farmers, researchers, and businesses work together to find ways to improve the environment, the local economy and society together. This is not only possible but it can become reality with your help.  


This brief statement is meant to provide potential Oak Ridges Moraine, Rouge National Urban Park, Greenbelt World Biosphere Reserve supporters and partner organizations with an overview of what the designation is, and is not, and some possible configurations of the designated area in relation to UNESCO’s criteria.


What IS a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve?


The UNESCO ”Man and the Biosphere” program was established in 1971 to promote the ideals of conservation combined with sustainable resource use within a larger landscape context. Interdisciplinary research, monitoring and educational initiatives are necessary to develop the local capacity to achieve this. UNESCO therefore awards designations of recognition, called “biosphere reserves”, to places in the world where evidence can show this is being done.


Biosphere reserves recognize and serve to promote three main functions:

1. conservation in protected areas, as well as in “working landscapes”. Rather than prioritizing conservation to the exclusion of development and economic activity, as traditional protected areas management would suggest, biosphere reserves are seen to be working landscapes where people are encouraged to pursue stewardship and livelihood opportunities in a more integrated way, where conservation and human development can produce mutual benefits, and where the broad concerns of sustainability can be addressed across multiple scales so as to promote adaptation and learning. (Pollock, 2009)

2. promotion of sustainability for local or regional economies, and

3. capacity-building functions such as research, monitoring and education.


Additionally, biosphere reserves have experimented widely with means of building long term viability through decision-making approaches, programs and community engagement initiatives that integrate attention to stewardship, livelihoods and learning.


Stakeholders for an Oak Ridges Moraine, Rouge National Urban Park, Greenbelt World Biosphere Reserve (could be anyone including local Conservation or Naturalist Groups, Farmers, Tourism Operators, Local Businesses etc.) would be able to share information with the other 13 biosphere reserves in Canada, including one for the Niagara Escarpment, and the 482 around the world.


Such a designation has provided other Canadian regions with a broad landscape perspective for promoting sustainable livelihoods, harmonizing biological and cultural diversity as well as economic and social development. This is achieved through partnerships between nature and people working towards improving sustainable communities, for example developing sustainable tourism or marketing local agricultural products. A World Biosphere Reserve designation can also serve to draw in corporate interests as partners in the prestigious United Nations designation or through special product branding initiatives. In many cases, biosphere reserve partners and structures have informally become important governance players, acting as a continuing focus for communication, collaboration, initiative and direction in decisions affecting stewardship and livelihoods in biosphere reserve areas.



What a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve is NOT:

An Oak Ridges Moraine, Rouge National Urban Park, Greenbelt World Biosphere Reserve, if designated:

• would NOT be land controlled by the United Nations. If designated, owners and government authorities within an Oak Ridges Moraine / Rouge Urban National Park / Greenbelt Biosphere Reserve would continue to make their own decisions regarding the operation of businesses and management of resources. Each biosphere reserve has its own community-based organizational arrangements judged by those involved to be appropriate for the local circumstances to foster the biosphere reserve ideals.

• would NOT be a designation with regulations. The international recognition does not, nor cannot intrude on property rights, Aboriginal rights, jurisdictional and administrative authorities, or on the responsibilities of elected bodies.

• would NOT require a new wilderness area or additional parks and protected areas beyond areas already protected for their ecological or natural heritage values. In the context of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program, ‘reserve’ means a conservation core that already exists in a specific geographic area. Otherwise, biosphere reserves include different mosaics of land and water with rural and urban settlements where people work together to balance conservation and economic development in creative, sustainable ways.


Possible configurations of an Oak Ridges Moraine, Rouge National Urban Park, Greenbelt World Biosphere Reserve:

A prospective Oak Ridges Moraine, Rouge National Urban Park, Greenbelt World Biosphere Reserve could take several forms providing it met the following general criteria:

• have legally protected core area(s) and “buffer zones” that shield representative ecosystems from unbridled development

• have a strong commitment to stewardship that promotes sustainability for resource use and the local economy

• have a history of scientific study including ecological and socio-economic research and monitoring

  1. be an area dedicated to protecting cultural history and developing a sense of place

• be active in the education and training of resource management professionals and citizen stewards

• be dedicated to consciousness raising among the general public.

  1. be a gathering place for regional dialogue about current environmental and economic growth issues.

The selection of the boundaries and governance structure would be decided locally. The general land use configurations for a biosphere reserve are provided by the legislated land use designations in the Oak Ridges Moraine, Rouge National Urban Park, Greenbelt area. Two general possibilities include (see reference map below):

• The Oak Ridges Moraine Plan Area and Rouge National Urban Park on their own

• The Oak Ridges Moraine Plan and Rouge National Urban Park Area including adjacent Greenbelt Plan areas

• Or in addition to the above, include some associated watersheds or protected areas


Next Steps


Our preliminary research indicates that the Oak Ridges Moraine meets the criteria on its own and has the essential community and organizational support to be considered for the Biosphere Reserve designation. There are however, hydrological, geomorphological and ecological rationales for considering the inclusion of other watersheds, and protected areas like Rouge National Urban Park and parts of the Greenbelt with functional connections to the Oak Ridges Moraine.


The work started at the University of Waterloo is being transferred to the local community to be carried forward and begin its implementation. The lead co-ordinating organization will initially be the Rouge Valley Foundation based in Rouge National Urban Park at the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre (, 1749 Meadowvale Road, Toronto, Ontario M1B 5W8. Partner organizations are being sought, and are anticipated to get involved and expand and evolve the process over time. The University of Waterloo will continue to support the process to establish the ORG World Biosphere Reserve.


To learn more about World Biosphere Reserves visit:




The Oak Ridges, Rouge National Urban Park, Greenbelt World Biosphere Reserve nomination

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