Canada warbler

Will Ontario make good on its promise to stop the losses of our native wildlife and sensitive habitats?

Earlier this week, Gord Miller, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, expressed his concerns about this when his office released a special report on biodiversity entitled: “A Nation’s Commitment, an Obligation for Ontario.” The report explains that biodiversity loss, the loss of the variety of species and natural systems that make up the web of life, poses an enormous threat to the well-being of people living in Ontario, Canada and the rest of the world.

The frightening implications of biodiversity loss were recognized in 1993 when Canada became a signatory to the Convention for Biological Diversity, an international treaty that commits the 193 signatory countries to work towards stopping further loss of species and ecosystems. Subsequently, in 1995, the Government of Ontario declared its commitment to conserve and sustain biodiversity.

But what does this commitment look like? If the Province is serious about protecting our biodiversity, then the government will have to follow up on two key recommendations. First, a provincial policy document must be drafted that requires each ministry to consider biodiversity in its daily operations and outline specific action items to be taken within key ministries.

Second, the Ontario Ministries of Natural Resources and Environment must be awarded sufficient funding to allow them to accomplish conservation goals.  Rumours that these ministries may be hit with further budget cuts in 2012 do not bode well on this one.

Cutting funding to the two ministries charged with safeguarding Ontario’s wildlife and wild spaces would be fiscally irresponsible. Investing in the environment creates economic wealth. For example, a recent study commissioned by the Government of Canada found that 28 full time jobs can be created for every one million dollars spent on green projects, such as biodiversity and habitat conservation. In comparison, investment in infrastructure, such as roads, creates 9 full time jobs for every one million invested.

Another example from the same study shows how investing in environmental programs more than pays for itself. Ontario spent 11 million dollars to create the Ontario Wetland Habitat Fund. This initiative generated almost 100 million dollars, paying for the program almost 10 times over! The profit reflects direct and indirect income, landowner contributions and the dollar value of ecological goods and services.

The bottom line: investing in biodiversity and a green economy creates jobs and generates wealth. Ontario Nature is asking the government of Ontario to consider this when choosing where to make cuts in the upcoming budget.

John Urquhart was Ontario Nature’s conservation science manager.