Backgrounder: Ravine Strategy Implementation
Toronto’s ravine system is the city’s greatest green asset. The city’s network of ravines – measuring more than 300 kilometres and 11,000 hectares – is one of the largest in the world.
Ravines are a major part of Toronto’s green infrastructure, and along with our parks and tree canopy, provide environmental, health and recreational benefits. They filter and convey stormwater and are part of larger watershed systems. They support a resilient city and house infrastructure, such as utilities and sewer lines. They help to move people through the city on some of the busiest roads and trails, such as the Don Valley Parkway and Lower Don Trail.
Ravines are important natural refuges in the city and contain most of Toronto’s environmentally significant areas, forests and wetlands, and many varieties and significant species of plants and wildlife.
Of Toronto’s ravine land, approximately 60 per cent is publicly owned. The remaining 40 per cent is owned by a patchwork of landowners, including public institutions such as hospitals and universities, as well as private property owners.
The Ravine Strategy
The City’s Ravine Strategy was adopted by City Council in October 2017.
The Strategy’s vision for Toronto’s ravine system is a natural, connected sanctuary essential for the health and well-being of the city, where use and enjoyment support protection, education and stewardship.
The Strategy, a co-ordinated framework, vision and approach to ravine management and investment, presents a series of 20 actions under five guiding principles that guide management and protection of these vital green assets. Council directed staff to report back with a detailed implementation report.
The Ravine Strategy principles are:
- Protect: to enhance ecological function and resilience of ravines and watersheds
- Invest: to achieve consistent and significant investments
- Partner: to create more opportunities for individuals and organizations to contribute to our ravines
- Connect: to provide more opportunities for people to connect with nature and the city’s rich history
- Celebrate: to encourage recognition of and respect for this beautiful and essential system
Implementation of the Strategy
The implementation report identifies the key actions and recommendations required to implement the Ravine Strategy over the next 10 years. The report:
- Identifies the first 10 Priority Investment Areas and preliminary assessment of capital requirements.
- Outlines the ongoing work to co-ordinate and integrate planning and delivery of capital projects by multiple City of Toronto divisions.
- Recommends launching a ravine campaign and convening a multi-stakeholder Ravine Campaign Leadership Table.
- Proposes two initial projects as part of the campaign
- The loop trail project
- The InTO the Ravines: Nature at your doorstep micro-grant program.
- Recommends immediate investments to address urgent needs in invasive species management, litter and wayfinding.
- Establishes a ravine unit.
- Provides a status update on the 20 actions in the Ravine Strategy.
Investment in ravines
Currently the City’s staff-recommended 2020 to 2029 Capital budget and plan includes $460 million for work in ravines.
In addition, the City invests approximately $10.1 million annually from the operating budget for forest management, including tree planting, invasive plant and pest control, volunteer stewardship, maintenance, ravine bylaw permit review and enforcement, and restoration.
The implementation report recommends investing an additional $2.7 million annually in new and enhanced services related to ravine litter collection and invasive species management. The report also identifies an estimated capital investment need of $104.9 million for service improvements in ravines and recommends that this be considered in the development of the 2021 to 2030 capital budget and plan.
Priority Investment Areas
As part of the Ravine Strategy, Council adopted a prioritization framework and directed that the framework be used to prioritize investment and focus efforts across the ravine system. This approach recognizes that work cannot be undertaken at once throughout the entire ravine system, which includes 105 segments.
The prioritization framework includes:
- Existing high ecological value, such as environmentally significant areas, interior forest and species of conservation concern.
- Substantial existing or planned infrastructure that needs to be maintained, repaired, protected from erosion or upgraded.
- Anticipated adjacent population growth.
- High levels of existing use.
- Surrounding areas of high need, such as Neighbourhood Improvement Areas.
- Surrounding areas with low access to ravines and greenspace, transit and walkable spaces.
Using this framework, a set of 10 Priority Investment Areas (PIAs) have been identified across Toronto:
- Rowntree Mills Park
- West Humber Parklands
- Upper Black Creek
- Lower Mimico Creek
- High Park
- Sunnybrook Park
- Moore Park and Yellow Creek Ravines
- Lower Don River (includes two abutting segments)
- East Highland Creek and Morningside Park (includes two abutting segments)
- Lower Highland Creek
The first 10 PIAs were assessed to determine the need for investment in three main categories:
- Enhancing access: creating new boardwalks, lookouts and seating areas, improving trails and formalizing access points
- Protecting and restoring ecological features: creating wetlands, managing invasive species, and restoring forests
- Increasing resilience: stabilizing river banks from erosion
Invasive species management
Invasive species pose a serious threat to the ecological health of Toronto’s ravines. Management of invasive species is a concern worldwide and a struggle for cities, even rural and remote areas, across North America. Multiple invasive plant species are present in the city’s natural areas and ravines, and ongoing disturbance by human activity, as well as the changing climate, creates conditions for invasive plants to thrive and spread. Species of particular concern in Toronto include dog strangling vine, garlic mustard, European buckthorn, Norway maple, and the emerald ash borer.
Urban Forestry has recently completed its second city-wide Tree Canopy Study. The study provides important data with regard to invasive species. Only 10 per cent of the 179 species found in Toronto’s urban forest are identified as invasive species. However, invasive tree cover in parks and ravines has increased from 10 per cent to 14 per cent between 2008 and 2018. Additionally, invasive shrub cover has doubled over the 10-year study period, from 15 per cent to 32.5 per cent, mostly due to the spread of the invasive common buckthorn.
To manage invasive species in Toronto’s ravines, the City follows best management practices promoted by the Ontario Invasive Plant Council (OIPC). Urban Forestry manages approximately 40 invasive plant species and 46 of the City’s 86 environmentally sensitive areas.
Parks, Forestry and Recreation (PF&R) currently invests $2.63 million from its operating budget for invasive species management. This report proposes an additional phased-in investment of $2.05 million annually to support restoration and invasive species management.
Ravine Litter Pick-up
Litter and illegal dumping can harm ravines by smothering vegetation and damaging wildlife habitat. PF&R invests $0.95 million on ravine and watercourse management and receives funding to support this work from Toronto Water. However, there is no comprehensive program for litter clean-up in ravines. This report recommends an additional annual investment of $0.657 million for ravine litter clean-up.
The Ravine Strategy presents a long-term, system-based approach to protecting and managing the City’s ravine system. Large-scale and complex challenges such as this demand that we leverage the full range of Toronto’s talent and commitment.
Unleashing the energy and resources required to achieve sustained impact requires that the City work collectively across diverse sectors including business, other public institutions, non-profit organizations, community groups, Indigenous groups, residents and community volunteers.
The Ravine Campaign
This report proposes developing a coordinated, multi-faceted philanthropic ravine campaign to raise awareness and generate additional funds to protect, maintain and improve Toronto’s ravine system.
Two initial projects are identified as part of the ravine campaign: the loop trail project and the “InTO Ravines: Nature at your doorstep” community engagement program.
1. The Loop Trail
In partnership with Evergreen and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, the loop trail project seeks to create a continuous, 81-kilometre off-road, multi-use ring trail, knitting together five Ravine Priority Investment Areas, 22 Neighbourhood Improvement Areas, the Humber River and Don River ravine systems, the waterfront and neighbourhoods along the Finch corridor. The loop trail would also connect to and support the Meadoway, which is the continuous multi-use trail that will ultimately link downtown Toronto to the Rouge Urban National Park and allows people to travel between the two without ever leaving nature.
2. InTO Ravines: Nature at your doorstep community engagement program
The City is working with Park People to develop a two-year pilot program to support community groups and organizations in engaging residents in ravine activities and programming. The “InTO Ravines: Nature at your doorstep” program will emphasize and bring to life the guiding principles of the Strategy. Through a mix of small grants, events and community programming, it aims to connect the people of Toronto to their ravines and help develop a deeper understanding of ravine ecology, Indigenous knowledge and heritage in ravines and the goals of the Ravine Strategy.
This report proposes the establishment of a new ravine unit within the PF&R division. The unit will provide leadership and capacity to advance the interdivisional work of implementing the Ravine Strategy, and will provide a one-stop shop for Council and the public in relation to ravine issues.
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Media contact: Shane Gerard, Strategic Communications, 416-397-5711, Shane.Gerard@toronto.ca