Last month, Ontario’s Divisional Court upheld the provincial regulation 176/13 which provides major industries, such as forestry, energy transmission and mining, extensive exemptions from prohibitions outlined in the once “gold standard” Endangered Species Act (ESA).
In effect, multiple major industrial sectors do not require permits or agreements before harming, harassing or killing a species and destroying its habitat. This reinforces a permit-by-rule system where the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry allows companies to follow the loose rules set out in this regulation instead of taking necessary actions to minimize adverse effects to species or provide overall benefit to them. Therefore, the central ideas embodied by the protection provisions of the ESA have been violated.
Although Ontario Nature and Wildlands League lost their court challenge, these organizations are as committed as ever to the protection of the province’s most vulnerable plants and animals. The fight is not over.
Currently, 155 species are listed as endangered or at risk of extinction in Ontario, comprising 40 percent of endangered and threatened species in Canada. Approximately 75 percent of Ontario’s reptiles and 35 percent of amphibians are considered at-risk. Blanding’s turtle and Fowler’s toad are two examples. These facts emphasize the need for more lawful and stringently-upheld guidelines under the ESA.
In the face of this legislative disappointment, it is important that organizations such as Ontario Nature engage more people in conservation. One way in which they can do this is citizen science. Data from citizen science projects, such as the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas (ORAA), play a crucial role in conservation. Submitting reptile and amphibian sightings via online form, email, mail or the Atlas app help inform land stewardship and management planning. Ontario Nature’s ORAA website also includes a comprehensive field guide with species descriptions, and information on habitat and range.
Hayley Swanlund is the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas intern at Ontario Nature. She is in her fourth year of a biodiversity and conservation biology degree at the University of Toronto.