Recent Media Coverage

Don't endanger the Endangered Species Act

The Waterloo Record

June 15, 2012

Op-ed by Fraser Gibson and Caroline Schultz

Kitchener’s Hidden Valley is a wonderful place, a natural gem that many of us are fighting hard to protect.

How fortunate people are to live in a city that contains this 80-hectare (200 acres) urban oasis, lush with woodlands, meadows and three provincially significant wetlands teeming with life — great blue herons, turtles and the endangered Jefferson salamander.

Development proposals have been put forward that threaten the existence of this unique green space that so much wildlife depends on and which serves as an escape from the concrete jungle for many of us.

Sensitive ecosystems like the wetlands in Hidden Valley, and rare species like the secretive Jefferson salamander, are afforded some protection under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. That’s a good thing. We need to protect species and habitats that are at risk so that they don’t completely disappear from our neighbourhoods and, eventually, the province.

However, the Ontario Liberals’ budget bill (Bill 55), currently the subject of intense debate at Queen’s Park, contains a list of amendments that strike at the heart of the endangered species act, a critical piece of legislation that we need to support conservation efforts like the ones made to protect Hidden Valley.

The amendments include a host of new exemptions that will benefit industry and private landowners to the detriment of biodiversity. As it currently stands, in order for development to get the green light, proponents must demonstrate how actions will be taken to ensure that in the end, endangered wildlife will be better off. But the amendments in Bill 55 remove this requirement.

The proposed changes, additionally, include removing the deadline to submit plans outlining how to proceed with the recovery of most endangered species.

Normally such changes are subject to public consultation under the Environmental Bill of Rights, but not this time. The changes have been slipped in through a 350-page budget bill.

Why does this matter? To begin with, our right to participate in environmental decision-making, guaranteed under the environmental bill of rights has been circumvented, thereby eroding government accountability, transparency and environmental responsibility.

Further, in Ontario and around the world, humans are faced with an ongoing loss of species and their habitat. The rate of extinction is considered to be 1,000 times or more the natural rate. Yet government resolve has proven weak, real action on the ground has been insufficient, and the crisis deepens.

The government did the right thing when it passed a strong — yet flexible — endangered species act in 2007. We need Premier Dalton McGuinty to stand by his record and take the steps needed to conserve the rich, yet fragile, web of plant and animal life in this province.

Ultimately our economy and indeed our well-being as a society depend on protecting and sustaining the natural world that supports us. We can start with Hidden Valley.

Fraser Gibson is president of the Kitchener Waterloo Field Naturalists, and Caroline Schultz is executive director of Ontario Nature.

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