John Riley

John Riley Photo

John Riley

John Riley is the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s science advisor emeritus. He has had careers as botanist, geologist, ecologist and conservation professional with the Royal Ontario Museum, Ontario Geological Survey and Ministry of Natural Resources, Ontario Nature and, since 1998, with the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

He is co-founder of the Partnership for Public Lands, which led the campaign that that added six million acres of protected areas across Ontario, and is co-founder of the Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation and Greenbelt Foundation.

He has written books on the flora and wetlands of Ontario and the Hudson Bay Lowland, the Niagara Escarpment and Georgian Bay World Biosphere Reserves, and the Rouge Valley, as well as studies of Ontario alvars and woodlands.

At NCC, John established a systematic, evidence-based approach to conservation-at-scale, completing conservation blueprints from coast-to-coast, focusing conservation on areas of most significance and threat. He led the fundraising for this work, and co-authored conservation blueprints for the Great Lakes and prairie-parkland ecoregions and for Labrador. McGill-Queen’s University Press published his latest book, The Once and Future Great Lakes Country, which has been favourably reviewed by notables like Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro. The book won the Ontario Historical Society Fred Landon Award for best history in the last three years. John lives on a farm in Mono, Ontario.

2016 Forum Talk

Great Lakes country is nothing like what it was 400 years ago, when its superabundant fish and wild life, and its forests and prairies, astonished its first European visitors. European contact brought an extraordinary period of disease, warring and genocide, and of landscape wilding after Native land care was ended. What was it like 400 years ago? What did we do to this place? What will it be like a century from now?

Today, Great Lakes country supports 45 million and an annual economy of $1 trillion. It is a landscape open to the continent and now the world. It was here that North American manufacturing and consumerism were invented, and where the migration of people and the manufacture of ownership are still dominant industries. All this was fueled by the liquidation of Nature’s capital. A century ago, more than 80 percent of us lived in the country; today, more than 80 percent are in cities, most in new global city-states, its largest TorBuffChester.

However, there is now more forest cover, cleaner water, recovering biota, and a better quality of life than a century ago. It is nothing like it was but there are new ambitions afoot, restoring the region’s ecology even while intensifying our footprint. A new recombinant ecology is asserting itself and, in this good fortune, Great Lakes country may well be extraordinary among regions of the world.

Great Lakes country is an endowment of immense geopolitical importance, and its natural capital will continue to be a magnet for human endeavour. The massive changes that transformed Great Lakes country are invisible to any single generation – What it was like in 1800 was totally different than 1600, and totally different again by 1900. It will be changed again by 2100 and, if we can learn our way forward, better.

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