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Could lax application of Endangered Species Act be putting Ontario species at risk?

By Mark Sabourin,
December 15 2017

Ecojustice, the David Suzuki Foundation and Ontario Nature have taken up an issue last raised in October 2017 by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario: Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, 2007, and those charged with enforcing it, are doing a poor job of protecting the province’s at-risk species. At the heart of the problem, according to Ecojustice, the David Suzuki Foundation and Ontario Nature, is the conflicting mandate within the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF): protecting biodiversity and promoting resource exploitation.

The charge mirrors one made by Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Dianne Saxe in her 2017 Environmental Protection Report. There, she examined the streamlined system introduced under the Endangered Species Act, 2007 in 2013 that has allowed activities that threaten at-risk species to proceed through permits, exemptions, or agreements entered into with proponents.

The new report from Ecojustice, the David Suzuki Foundation and Ontario Nature is called “Without a Trace? Reflecting on the 10th anniversary of Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, 2007. It says that under the MNRF’s streamlined process “exemptions allow activities to proceed without government review or approval, as long as development proponents register online and meet the conditions set out in regulation. There is no requirement, unlike permits, to provide an overall benefit to the species harmed and thus promote its recovery.” In fact, the requirement to provide an “overall benefit” to species, which was standard pre-2013, has been replaced with the much less demanding requirement to minimize harmful impacts.

Ecojustice lawyer Sarah McDonald, a “Without a Trace” co-author, says that the MNRF is putting the interests of industry ahead of those of at-risk species.

MNRF has consistently denied that its streamlined process puts species at additional risk. Safeguards, it argues, are built into the process.

But “Without a Trace” says the number of species at risk in Ontario continues to grow. Very few have recovered sufficiently to be delisted. It counts more than 200 species at risk in Ontario, and says, “the loss or decline of a species can affect the whole web of life of which it is a part. . . . Functioning, resilient ecosystems provide numerous and irreplaceable benefits, such as air and water purification, soil stabilization, flood prevention and climate change mitigation and opportunities for adaptation. These are vital to the well-being of all living things, including human beings.”

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