Natural Heritage Evaluation

What is a natural heritage evaluation?

We also refer to this type of study as an environmental impact study. Natural heritage evaluations, or environmental impact studies, assess the impact of a proposed development project on the natural features and functions found on or adjacent to a property.

Are natural heritage evaluations only required for 
large-scale development projects?

Not necessarily. Any land development, even an addition or a single new building near a sensitive feature can trigger the municipality to require a natural heritage evaluation. Sensitive features include things like watercourses, woodlands, wetlands, endangered and threatened species, significant wildlife habitat, fish and fish habitat, and valley lands. These are the types of features our ecologists are looking at when we do a natural heritage evaluation or environmental impact study. At the end of our environmental study, we produce an environmental impact statement or natural heritage evaluation report.

How will I know if I need a natural heritage evaluation?

Typically, the process begins with a consultation meeting with the municipality where the landowner outlines the project they are proposing. Following that meeting there may be additional consultation with other agencies (e.g. a Conservation Authority) where a check-list of further studies that are required to support the development application is provided. This could be as simple as a species at risk screening letter, if the property is deemed to include habitat of an endangered, threatened or species of special concern. Alternatively, the landowner may be directed to pursue more detailed studies, such as: a natural heritage evaluation, a floodplain analysis, or traffic studies, for example. There is a whole range of types of studies that may be required by the municipal level of government before they will issue the approvals or permits required for the proposed development project.
Natural Heritage Evaluation

What’s involved in a natural heritage evaluation?

The municipality requiring the environmental assessment may provide the scope of work, may direct us to a Conservation Authority, or may tell us to base the study on our professional opinion. This means that prior to starting work the sensitive features that require evaluation will be identified. The next step is to conduct the field assessment. Depending on the scope of work, this can include everything from formal surveys for breeding birds, breeding amphibians, snake emergence surveys, bat acoustic monitoring, winter raptor nesting surveys, and deer wintering assessments. We may also be required to complete wetland boundary mapping, watercourse assessments, electrofishing (a scientific survey method of identifying fish species and abundance), and more.

If I want to build on or near an area that is classified through the natural heritage evaluation as a sensitive feature, will my permit application be rejected?

Not always. After we complete the field work at your proposed site, we can provide an opportunities and constraints map to inform your development plans. With your consideration of this mapping and a development plan ecologists can prepare a report outlining the predictable impact of your proposed project on the surrounding environment. Typically, that report will also include recommended mitigation measures, wherever possible. Mitigation measures are steps you can take that would help to offset or mitigate any negative impact we might expect from your proposed development plan. This may include simple direction such as avoidance options, timing restrictions, installing habitat features like bird and bat boxes, implementation of protective buffers, naturalization, reforestation or shoreline restoration plans using native vegetation. Part of our role, after we collect the field data and produce mapping, is to help find innovative and novel ways for your development project to occur while protecting the surrounding environment in accordance with the applicable policy and legislation.

How quickly can a natural heritage evaluation be completed?

Timing is often dependant on the time of year and the scope of the assessment. By necessity, most of our field work occurs during the growing season. As an example, if a wetland review, aquatic monitoring, or a fish habitat assessment is required, the window of opportunity to complete this work is roughly from late May or early June to mid-September. We are always willing to work with our clients to provide them with the services they require in the timeliest manner possible. It is best to plan ahead to avoid delays in your process; however, never hesitate to reach out to us to find out if we can help.

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Natural Heritage Evaluation

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