Ecojustice Blog – Nature Posted on August 23, 2016 (updated: March 29, 2017)

How Ontario is failing its species at risk — again

Ecojustice lawyer Laura BowmanLaura BowmanLawyer
Loggerhead Shrike by Dick Daniels via Wikimedia Commons
Loggerhead Shrike by Dick Daniels via Wikimedia Commons

44 species missing ESA recovery strategies, no delay notice provided

The province of Ontario spreads across over a million square-kilometres of Canada’s diverse landscape. Although some wilderness remains, much of the landscape in Ontario is under pressure from human activity. In some areas of Southern Ontario there are species found nowhere else in Canada. Human activity leaves species in these rare habitats vulnerable and many are classified as threatened or endangered.

The Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) is Ontario’s main law for stopping and reversing the decline of species in our province. Species like the Least Bittern, the Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee and the Loggerhead Shrike are supposed to be protected by the ESA. Not only does the ESA prohibit anyone from killing or harming an endangered or threatened species, it also helps prevent their important habitat from being destroyed and requires the government to prepare a recovery strategy for each species listed as endangered and threatened.

Despite being hailed as North America’s “gold standard” for species protection when it was first introduced in 2007, the Ontario government’s implementation of the ESA has fallen far below expectations in recent years. The government has consistently failed to live up to ESA requirements and ensure species are protected. We need to look no further than when the province gave major industries sweeping exemptions from the Act, an issue that Ecojustice assisted in bringing before the courts.

And once again, it looks like the Ontario government is dodging the ESA’s requirements.

The ESA requires the Ontario government to prepare recovery strategies for species that are endangered or threatened.  These recovery strategies then guide government initiatives to recover the species. Without recovery strategy and a government response statement, the government effectively has no plan to reverse the decline of the species.  The ESA recognizes that these strategies must be prepared in a timely manner by setting timing requirements.

There have been prolonged delays by Ontario in preparing the recovery strategies for endangered and threatened species. The ESA requires Ontario to explain the delay before the recovery strategy is due and provide a “delay notice” with a time estimate for when the strategy will be complete.  Working with Ontario Nature and the David Suzuki Foundation, we have identified 44 species for which no valid delay notice exists, and have called on the government to take action.

Without valid delay notices, no recovery strategy is in place nor is there even an estimate for when a recovery strategy will be complete.  In the meantime, Ontario’s endangered species are not getting the protection they need to recover and survive.

While Ontario has recently updated delay notices for a large number of species, these delay notices demonstrate a pattern of inadequate explanation for the delay and failure to estimate when the strategies will be complete.

In many cases Ontario claims it is awaiting the preparation of a federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) recovery strategy.  In some cases this excuse is used by Ontario even after the federal recovery strategy is complete.  In other cases, there is no federal recovery strategy required.  More broadly, relying on the federal government to complete strategies is a problem given that the federal has itself unlawfully delayed finalization of many recovery strategies.

The question is, what is Ontario waiting for with these species, and when will it have a plan to ensure they do not disappear from the province?  We don’t know.  Ontario species deserve better.  The ongoing delays signal a lack of serious commitment by Ontario to meet the requirements of the ESA and protect species.

We know that worldwide, species are going extinct at such an alarming rate that scientists have described the current era as the beginning of the sixth mass extinction episode in history. A study in Science magazine estimates that between 11,000 and 58,000 species disappear each year worldwide, and Ontario species are no exception.

The primary goal of the ESA was to ensure Ontario took swift, science-based actions to protect species.

We’ve called on the provincial government to take action and ensure that Ontario species get the protection they need by preparing recovery strategies. Let’s hope they step up to the plate before it’s too late.

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