Conservation authorities across the province say they are concerned after receiving a letter from the Minister of Environment late Friday afternoon.

In it, Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks Jeff Yurek recommended to groups that they shut down any programs that do not reflect their ‘core mandate’.

“We want to discuss getting down to the core mandate,” he told CTV News. “Which is looking after flooding in the province, our drinking water and taking care of our conservation lands.”

Even though the programs are not funded by the province in the first place, Yurek says conservation authorities have been allowed, until now, to expand their mandates and then charge the municipalities for their costs.

“This is responding to what municipalities would want, this is responding to our Bill 108 which is giving accountability to conservation authorities to focus on the core mandate and any other program they’d like to do, they’d have to enter into a contract with municipalities to deliver it.”

Yurek says some conservation authorities are running ski hills, water parks and splash pads.

“This is extremely consuming and extremely disappointing,” said Kim Gavine, General Manager of Conservation Ontario, the Association which represents Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities.

They’re worried a wide variety of their watershed management programs that help to support local watersheds could put be at risk.

“We’ve been caught completely by surprise,” she said. “We’ve been working for months in good faith with the government to make a number of planning and development approvals streamlining changes to support their agenda to eliminate the deficit and implement the Housing Strategy.”

Gavine said there was no consultation with Conservation Ontario or any of its member groups.

Conservation Sudbury’s Carl Jorgensen says he found the letter puzzling and is worried some of the city’s environmental programming could now be on the chopping block.

“We were working with provincial staff to try and figure out what regulations could be developed to allow other programs that we do to continue however at this time they’re asking us to wind those down that aren’t in the core. It’s a little disappointing because we were already working towards defining what this stuff was,” he said. “We’ve got some water quality monitoring programs, both ground water and surface water. We’ve also got some climate change weather data that we’re just about to start collecting,” he said.

They’re also worried about the education program in which Lake Laurentian Conservation Area can see upwards of 100 students a day.

“The province has become a fairly minor funding partner in these things and so at this time the programs that we’ve developed over the years are really important to us,” said Jorgensen. “When there were cuts to us back in the 90s in the order of 75 per cent from the province, conservation authorities were creative, they came up with programs, they came up with funding sources that didn’t require the provincial dollars anymore. It’s those programs the province is now telling us to wind down.”

North Bay –Mattawa Conservation Authority’s CAO Brian Tayler says they’re still trying to make sense of the letter and they’ve asked the ministry for clarification.

“It’s the uncertainty, we’re in the middle of a process that’s been going on for several years now. We have a new act, it’s been changed twice in the last three years I would say, the last time was in June and it set a framework or a process in place on how to modernize the conservation authority and so the letter isn’t very consistent with that,” said Tayler.

He adds they’re not sure what could be at risk in North Bay-Mattawa and is hoping that will come with talks with the ministry.

“It’s unsettling, because we believe we had a process down and a conservation going on and the letter doesn’t quite fit with that process so we’ll figure it out,” he said.