Residential encroachment within suburban forests: Are Ontario municipal policies sufficient for protecting suburban forested natural areas for the long term?
McWilliam, Wendy Janine
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Many natural areas and systems within urban landscapes are small or narrow. Landscape ecology studies within forested and agricultural landscapes have found that small natural areas that are protected from development or resource extraction through land use planning are significantly affected by adjacent land use changes. Some eventually lose the values for which they were protected. Studies also indicate that natural area boundary structures and functions are important determinants of the extent to which external threats affect adjacent natural areas. Few studies have empirically tested whether small or narrow urban natural areas that are protected from development through municipal land use planning are significantly affected by adjacent land use changes. However, municipal planners and forest managers are concerned that activities of residents living adjacent to the forest edge, commonly referred to as residential encroachment, may be degrading the social values, and ecological forms and functions of their woodlands. Studies have recorded evidence of human impacts within suburban forest edges, indicating that both recreation and yard-related activities are occurring and that these activities occur at significantly higher frequencies in the forest edge than in the interiors of these forests. However, no study has differentiated residential encroachment activities from those of other recreationists. In addition, although a number of municipalities have developed policies to address these activities, little is known about these policies, the extent to which they are implemented, or their effectiveness in protecting their small or narrow forested natural areas from residential encroachment activities. The principal research questions answered in this research are: 1) Do municipalities within Southern Ontario have policies for protecting natural areas from the activities of residents living adjacent to suburban forest edges? 2) To what extent are they implementing these policies? 3) What encroachment activities, if any, are occurring in Southern Ontario municipal forest edges? and 4) Are municipal boundary-related policies effective in limiting edge-resident encroachment activities? Using a mixed method approach, the research incorporates qualitative and quantitative data collection to answer these questions. The content analysis of official and secondary plans and social surveys of key informants within six Southern Ontario municipalities identify boundary-related policies for protecting municipal natural areas from residential encroachment activities. They also determine the extent to which the study municipalities implement these policies. Field studies in 40 forests within these municipalities used unobtrusive measurements of encroachment behaviour to describe encroachment activities under two implemented municipal boundary demarcation policies, and other boundary treatments The three research methods, together with a literature review, were used to determine whether Ontario municipal policies are effective in limiting edge-resident encroachment activities within municipal forest edges. The content analysis and interviews indicated that, in general, municipal policies were insufficient to address the edge-resident encroachment issue. Policies had been established, but not at a sufficiently authoritative policy level (i.e. the official plan level) to support their implementation by staff. In addition, policies were missing explicit goals, objectives and strategies to direct their implementation, and the municipalities had not integrated their disparate policy components into an integrated course of action through time and space. The municipalities were successful in implementing policies to prevent edge resident encroachment within natural areas adjacent to newly developing subdivisions. However, they had infrequently implemented their policies for preventing encroachment within natural areas adjacent to established subdivisions. Furthermore, all the municipalities were not frequently implementing their policies to remediate existing encroachments within natural areas adjacent to newly developing or established subdivisions. The unobtrusive measurement of encroachment behaviour confirmed that residential encroachment activities generated a housing effect zone of impact within municipal forest edges. The distribution of the evidence of encroachment was significantly biased to the forest border. Encroachment traces were highly prevalent within study forests, occurring in over 94% of sites and covering 26 to 50% of the sampled area. Encroachment traces were particularly intense in the first 8 metres from the forest border; but extended a mean maximum extent of 16 metres from the forest border, with 95% of the evidence of encroachment lying within 34 metres. Boundary type significantly affected the mean frequency, intensity and maximum extent of encroachment. Mean frequencies, intensities and extents of all encroachment, and of most encroachment categories, were generally higher in sites with boundary types that allowed edge residents ready access to the forest edge. Conversely, sites with boundary treatments that had barriers to entry, such as fences or grass strips, tended to have lower encroachment levels. Sites with multiple barriers, such as those with fences, grass strips and paths, tended to have the lowest mean frequencies, intensities and mean maximum extents of encroachment. While sites with implemented municipal post and fence policies had significantly lower mean frequencies, intensities and, in the case of fences extents of encroachment, they were not significantly different from those of sites under some of the boundary types not subject to municipal policies. They were also significantly higher than those of sites with fences and grass strips (with or without pathways). Sites with municipal posts had significantly lower mean intensities of encroachment than sites with other boundaries that enabled residents to enter the forest edge, and had significantly lower mean frequencies of waste disposal traces than fenced sites. Sites with fences also had significantly lower mean intensities of encroachment than sites with no boundary demarcation, or sites with fences and gates, and were particularly effective in reducing the incidence of yard extension encroachments, and mean maximum extents of encroachment. Despite the effectiveness of these boundary demarcation policies, and that of some of the other boundary treatments evaluated, none of the boundary treatments was effective in eliminating encroachment traces. A buffer of between 10 and 20 metres in width would be required to segregate the mean maximum extent of encroachment activities from sensitive forest edges, depending on the boundary demarcation policy, or type. The research concludes that current municipal policies are insufficient to meet the complexity and scope of the encroachment activities occurring. Some preventative policies have been developed and are regularly implemented within natural areas adjacent to new subdivisions. However, implemented boundary demarcation policies are insufficient to eliminate, or minimize residential encroachment. Wider more complex boundary policies that limit different types of encroachment and include elements that reduce access, spatially separate, and encourage informal residential surveillance (such as fences, grass strips and pathways) can further reduce encroachment levels. Few municipalities have established boundary demarcation policies to prevent encroachment within natural areas adjacent to established subdivisions, and study municipalities infrequently implement policies and bylaws to mitigate existing encroachments within these areas. Yet interviewees, and the results of the unobtrusive measurement of encroachment in study forest edges, indicate that encroachment activities are highly prevalent within these municipal forests. Policies at all levels, and particularly at the official plan level, are required to protect natural areas from edge resident encroachment, and other forms of post development impacts on natural areas. These policies are required to support the more rigorous enforcement of encroachment bylaws, and the negotiation, and implementation of effective buffers and boundary demarcation treatments. In consideration of these results and conclusions, the dissertation describes the implications for municipal planning policy and urban and regional planning theory, and provides recommendations for future research.