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Advisory group expects bobolink solution

The Milk Producer magazine

April 2012

Members of a government-appointed advisory group are optimistic they can come up with ways to put endangered species of birds on the road to recovery without jeopardizing normal farming operations.

The Ontario government appointed a Bobolink Round Table Advisory Group in 2011 to provide advice and recommendations to develop a long-term recovery strategy for the birds.

The bobolink population has declined by two-thirds since the late 1960s. That put it under Endangered Species Act protection. A similar pattern has emerged for the eastern meadowlark.

Since these birds nest in fields and pastures, farmers were concerned they would be unable to harvest hay crops until well into July. Last year, however, the province granted agriculture a three-year exemption from habitat protection provisions under the act until Oct. 31, 2014.

The advisory group has representatives from key stakeholders, including the Ministries of Natural Resources, and Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, conservation groups, farm organizations, land developers, gravel pit operators and others. Representing Dairy Farmers of Ontario is Bill Mitchell, the organization’s assistant director of communications and planning.

“We are confident a mutually beneficial solution will be reached,” says Mitchell. “All the groups involved have gained an understanding of what has to be done.”

“The discussions so far have been very constructive,” says Anne Bell, director of conservation and education for Ontario Nature. The charitable organization, dedicated to protecting wild species and spaces through conservation, education and public engagement, has more than 30,000 members and 140 member clubs across the province.

“We’re all working from the same premise: the recommendations we put forward have to work both for farmers and for grassland birds at risk,” she says.

The flexibility of the Endangered Species Act is helping the process, Bell adds. “The round table is using this flexibility to find a way forward that works for endangered species as well as farmers and other stakeholders.”

Like DFO’s Mitchell, she believes the advisory group will find a way forward. “I’m optimistic. Participants are willing to think outside the box and be innovative.”

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