What is a Ramsar designation?
The Ramsar Convention is a voluntary Treaty, committed to encouraging education and sustainability by acknowledging globally important wetlands through designation. The Convention on Wetlands of International importance, the Ramsar Convention / Treaty, was signed in Ramsar, Iran; on February 1, 1971 (Ramsar is a place, not an acronym).
Is Canada a member of the Ramsar Convention / Treaty?
Yes, Canada ratified (signed) the Treaty on January 5, 1981. Canada has 37 Ramsar sites.
Why Ramsar for the Niagara River?
In the early part of the 19th century, the Niagara River was considered to be the most degraded place in North America. In 1972, Canada and the United States signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to clean-up the Great Lakes, including the Niagara River.
Major clean-up efforts in the Niagara River over the past 50 years have reduced discharges of pollution and toxic chemicals. To acknowledge this achievement of a cleaner, healthier river, a Ramsar designation for the Niagara River is being pursued.
A Ramsar designation will commit, under Treaty, Canada and the United States will continue to work together to ensure the environmental progress that has been achieved over the past 5 decades for the Niagara River does not backslide. It will ensure future programs and staff are aware of the history and work that has been completed on the river, for decades to come.
In addition, a Ramsar designation will endorse the rivers ecological significance and its global importance. It will strengthen local economies through increased tourism, recreation and increased funding opportunities. It will heighten international awareness of the river’s global contribution to biodiversity and its role in building stronger, healthier and more resilient communities.
What are the benefits of a Ramsar designation for the Niagara River?
A Niagara River Ramsar designation will:
- Increase global awareness of the Niagara Region;
- Provide increased funding opportunities for commerce, tourism, recreation and heritage programs;
- Increase overnight and long-term “stay” tourism opportunities;
- Affirm the goals of the Niagara River Remedial Action Plan’s by strengthening existing binational commitments and mechanisms to prevent backsliding of environmental accomplishments through continued pollution prevention and restoration programs;
- Will solidify a new legacy for our Niagara River – Globally Significant
What is a Ramsar wetland?
Different from the definition used in Ontario, the Treaty uses a broader definition of wetlands, defined as any land that is occasionally wet, including lakes and rivers. The term is used in its widest application, applying to any water related feature, as the definition needs to translate across many languages and cultures to define water-based ecosystems globally.
Are Ramsar Treaty Rules the same for each country?
Yes. When a country signs the Ramsar Treaty, they agree to promote the conservation and wise use of water-based ecosystems through sustainable practices. How this principal is achieved is up to each individual country.
Canada achieves the objectives of Ramsar through its North American Waterfowl Management Plan and the Federal Wetland Conservation Policy. In Canada, Ramsar designation serves to highlight the values of the site but does not affect the management regime nor resource use within the proposed site.
The United States achieves the objectives of Ramsar through the Federal Water Pollution Control Act which restricts the discharge of dredged / fill material over the “waters of the United States.”, including Ramsar sites, as they are “wet lands”. The goal of the United States is to also highlight the values of Ramsar sites without affecting their management regimes or resource use within them.
Is a Ramsar designation regulatory?
No. A Ramsar designation is not an instrument that creates regulatory rules. A Ramsar designation will not impose any regulatory measures or legally enforceable restrictions on landowners. The designation will not impact, restrict or limit the use of the Niagara River for recreation, business or commerce. A Ramsar designation will not take away anyone’s rights and ability to enjoy their properties.
Can a Ramsar site have regulations?
Yes. Although Ramsar does not impose regulations on a site, the character of the site and the species found within it could be or become protected. These protections are not because of the Ramsar designation. For example:
- Point Pelee in Ontario is a Ramsar site. Because it is a National Park, the associated restrictions were already in place prior to Ramsar designation. These restrictions are not Ramsar restrictions.
- Mer Bleue Conservation Area in Ottawa is a Ramsar site. It was a Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW) prior to Ramsar designation and has the associated PSW regulations in place. These restrictions are not Ramsar restrictions.
- Delta Marsh in Manitoba is a Ramsar site. It was purchased from private landowners post Ramsar designation and is now a National Heritage Marsh and has associated restrictions in place. These restrictions are not Ramsar restrictions.
Important note: The use of the water in the Niagara River is governed by a Boundary Waters Treaty between Canada and the United States and is administered by the International Joint Commission, with oversight from the International Niagara Board of Control. It is the highest level of regulation the river could receive.
What obligations does a Ramsar designation bring?
The treaty imposes minimal rules. Site managers are encouraged to promote conservation and other beneficial uses of the site. The Treaty lists no sanctions for failure to do so. The Treaty is clear that these obligations cannot be legally enforced.
Ramsar is a “good faith” designation to encourage the maintenance of the ecological character of a site in the context of wise use. Typical activities include recreational activities such as boating, bird watching, consumptive activities such as hunting and fishing, and agriculture. The aim is not to prohibit activities, rather to encourage activities in the framework of “wise use”.
Is the United States a member of the Ramsar Convention / Treaty?
Yes, the United States ratified (signed) the Treaty in 1987. The United States has 36 Ramsar sites.
How many countries have signed the Ramsar Convention / Treaty?
There are 169 member countries, known as Contracting Parties that have designated more than 2,227 Ramsar Sites (215,000,000 ha) around the world.
How does a site qualify for a Ramsar designation?
To qualify for Ramsar designation the site must meet at least one of the following nine criteria:
- Is representative, rare, or unique.
- Supports vulnerable, endangered or threatened species.
- Supports keystone or endemic species.
- Supports species at a critical stage in their life cycles (migration, breeding).
- Supports 20,000 or more waterbirds.
- Supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species of waterbird.
- Supports a significant proportion of indigenous fish species.
- An important food source, spawning area, nursery or migration path for fish.
- Supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of wetland-dependent non-avian animal species. (Something that is not a bird).
Does the Niagara River qualify for Ramsar designation?
Yes. The Niagara River meets all 9 criteria. Only 35 (1%) of Ramsar sites meet all nine criteria.
The Niagara River is An Important Bird Area, does it need another designation?
Yes. The Important Bird Area (IBA) Program is an international program launched by Birdlife International in Europe in 1985. The Niagara River received IBA program recognition in 1996. IBA focus is only on birds.
What is the Ramsar designation process?
Each signatory country to the Ramsar Treaty / Convention has its own procedure for Ramsar nomination. In Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, represented by the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), oversees the Ramsar nomination process through the Policy Document: Nomination and Listing of Wetlands of International Importance in Canada: Procedures Manual. In the United States, the Federal Government represented by Fish and Wildlife Services oversees the Ramsar nomination process.
Who is championing the Niagara River Ramsar designation?
A binational Niagara River Ramsar Steering Committee was established in 2013 to oversee the Ramsar designation nomination. The Steering Committee includes members from the Western New York Land Conservancy, The Niagara Parks Commission, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, the Regional Institute (SUNY Buffalo), the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (Brock University), Niagara College, and the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. This work is being supported by the University of Buffalo Environmental Law and Policy Clinic.
Although the Niagara River Ramsar Steering Committee is pursuing a transboundary Ramsar site designation, each country has different procedural requirements. The transboundary designation occurs once each country has met the procedural requirements for designation. It is possible to designate only one side (individual country) of the river. Dual designation is required for transboundary status.
The Niagara River would be the first bi-national / transboundary Ramsar site in North and South America (the America’s).
Process for Niagara River Designation (Canada):
1) Selection of a site nominator:
- A site nominator is the appropriate administrative authority (parties holding title to land or water).
2) Completion of Canadian nomination package requirements:
- A completed Ramsar Information Sheet (RIS), verifying the site meets at least one of the nine criteria.
- Written endorsement from the Province of Ontario, represented by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF).
- Agreement from the landowner (The Niagara Parks Commission & Province).
- Letters of support from stakeholders (federal, provincial, regional municipalities, Aboriginal communities, river users, etc.) would strengthen the nomination.
Where is Canada in the designation process?
Selection of a site nominator:
- The majority of the Canadian bed of the Niagara River is owned by the Province of Ontario (“Crown”). The Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) holds title to several parts of the river bed as well. Both agencies would be an appropriate site nominator. The Niagara Parks Commission Board of Directors has approved the site nominator role in principal pending an acceptable legal review. The Province is required to provide an endorsement and is currently working through the Ministerial briefing process.
Completion of a Canadian nomination package:
- A completed Ramsar Information Sheet (RIS), verifying the site meets all nine criteria necessary for designation has been completed.
- Written endorsement from the Province of Ontario, represented by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is forthcoming.
- Endorsement of site nominator from The Niagara Parks Commission is pending.
- The Ramsar Steering Committee developed a stakeholder engagement schedule, initiated in June 2015. Local, federal, provincial, regional and municipal government support will advance the nomination. Once government support is achieved, Indigenous communities will be engaged, followed by users of the river and other stakeholders.
- To date, endorsements (letters of support) have been received from Ontario Power Generation, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, the City of Niagara Falls (Ontario), and the Town of Fort Erie. Endorsements are pending from the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Regional Municipality of Niagara.
When does Canada expect to complete the designation process?
The Ramsar Information Sheet (RIS) has been reviewed by the Canadian Wildlife Services. Several revisions were requested and they are currently being addressed. The goal of completing stakeholder engagement is late fall 2016.
The Ramsar Steering Committee will submit the completed nomination package to the Director General of the Canadian Wildlife Service, Ottawa. The Service will coordinate the review of the nomination with appropriate organizations. Once deemed to be complete, the nomination package will be submitted to the Ramsar Secretariat in Switzerland, through the office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada. Acceptance or rejection of nominated sites is the responsibility of the Ramsar Secretariat. When approved, the Ramsar site is added to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. This process can take between 2-6 months. All past Canadian and American nominations submitted to the Secretariat have been “Listed” as Ramsar sites (i.e. no nominations have been rejected).
Formal announcements will follow designation.
Process for Niagara River Designation (United States):
1) Selection of a site nominator:
- A site nominator can be any federal agency, local government, group, community, private organization, or landowner.
2) Completion of a United States nomination package:
- A completed Ramsar Information Sheet (“RIS”), which verifies the site meets at least one of the nine criteria necessary for designation.
- Agreement / endorsement from all landowners and stakeholders.
- Endorsement from local or state wildlife or natural resource agency.
- Endorsement from a member of Congress.
Where is the United States in the designation process?
1) Selection of a site nominator:
- The proposed nominator is the Greenway Commission.
2) Completion of a United States nomination package:
- A completed Ramsar Information Sheet (RIS), verifying the site meets eight of the nine criteria necessary for designation has been completed*(see footnote 1)
- Support / endorsement from landowners and stakeholders are being pursued. Support has been received from the New York Power Authority, Western New York Land Conservancy, Town of Grand Island, and Riverside-Salem United Church.
- Endorsements from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, the Niagara River Greenway Commission, a Member of Congress and municipalities /counties are being pursued.
*Footnote 1: The Northern Dusky Salamander meets criteria 9, it is only found in the Canadian gorge.
When does the United States expect to complete the designation process?
The Ramsar Information Sheet (RIS) has been reviewed by the Canadian Wildlife Services. Several requested revisions are currently being addressed. These revisions will help facilitate an efficient review by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The goal of completing stakeholder engagement is winter 2016/17.
The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the U.S. National Ramsar committee will review the completed nomination package. Following review, a decision for qualification for inclusion on the Ramsar List is determined. The FWS Director makes the final designation decision. Once reviewed, and deemed to be complete, the nomination package will be submitted to the Ramsar Secretariat in Switzerland.
How can I get involved to show my support?
Canadian Co-Chair, Ramsar Steering Committee
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone 905-328-5213
Land Conservancy Development Director & U.S. Co-Chair, Ramsar Steering Committee
Western New York Land Conservancy
P.O. Box 471, East Aurora, NY 14052,
Email: email@example.com Phone 716.687.1225
Show your support – www.law.buffalo.edu/ramsar