Conservation authorities are facing sweeping cuts, which they say will cost jobs and end important research.

Letters were sent to all 36 Ontario conservation authorities, advising them that they'll be limited to their core mandate.

Ian Wilcox, general manager at the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA), says that means initiatives like tree planting may be coming to an end.

"It's very disturbing. I mean we have a 70-year history."

The letter from the province calls on the organizations to restrict their efforts to flood control, drinking water source protection and management of conservation lands.

But Wilcox says part of the cost of those programs has already been shifted to municipalities.

"That's a bundle that they've cut funding for by 50 per cent last spring."

Environment minister and Elgin Middlesex London MPP Jeff Yurek says it's all about getting costs under control.

"We need conservation authorities to focus on the core mandate right now."

That mandate says less than 10 per cent of conservation authority budgets go to flood mitigation, meanwhile conservation authorities have expanded their own mandates.

Yurek says, "The municipalities have no accountability in the process, they can't stop these funding increases. This is responding to what municipalities would want."

But Wilcox says these cuts are happening without consultation and the authority has been told they can't increase fees or levies to offset losses.

He says while some programs aren't part of their core mission they are still vital to public safety - like efforts to mitigate farm fertilizer run-off that's been linked to blue-green algae growth in Lake Erie.

"The biggest risk, I think, is what's to happen to the health of the watershed...the water quality, the forest cover. These are losses that may not be possible to make up."

Wilcox says with this most recent directive his worst case scenario projects two thirds of the 95 member UTRCA staff could lose their jobs.

Yurek says there will be discussions between the province and conservation officials in the fall.