In Ontario, land-use planning is one of the most important functions that municipalities have. Since the 1940s and the first provincial planning Act, the Ontario government has laid down the framework for municipal land-use planning. Changes to the planning Act in 1996 shifted more of the land-use decision-making to municipal governments and local citizens, with less direction from the provincial government and less control exercised by it. The Provincial Policy Statement (PPS), established where the provincial interest in land-use planning lies. Municipalities must take the policy statement into account (they "shall have regard for" the policies) in their land-use planning. The natural heritage portion of the PPS gives clear direction to municipalities for protecting natural areas such as wetlands, woodlands, and habitats of threatened and endangered species. The PPS has the following features:
- There is more municipal control over which areas get developed and which are protected.
- Municipalities are given considerable latitude in implementing the PPS
- There is less provincial involvement in the review and approval of "Official Plans" making the municipal role in protecting natural areas even more important.
The new provincial policies under the Planning Act provide a renewed opportunity to reflect local community support for the conservation of natural areas in Official Plans and land-use planning. Communities can approach the task in a number of ways, one of which is through an Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC). Such committees are increasingly in place across Ontario.