Posted on January 18, 2010 (updated: January 18, 2010)

Is Ontario backing down on its commitment to protect endangered species?

Save Ontario’s Species, a coalition of leading environmental groups, expressed its support today for the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s hard hitting report, The Last Line of Defence: A Review of Ontario’s New Protections for Species at Risk.

While Commissioner Gordon Miller rightly praises Ontario’s Endangered Species Act (ESA), he points out many ways in which it can be undermined. He cautions that government policies and regulations being formulated under the ESA must:

  • be based on sound science rather than politics;
  • uphold the ESA’s “precautionary principle”;
  • ensure the independence of the teams responsible for recovery plans; and
  • ensure that exceptions from the Act are only granted when there is a demonstrated track record in conservation.

“Introducing the new Endangered Species Act was an important first step,” says Anne Bell, Ontario Nature’s Senior Director of Conservation and Education. “But unless the Province takes the kinds of actions strongly recommended in this report, Ontario’s wildlife will only be protected on paper.”

The Province is currently drafting its first set of habitat regulations for ten high priority species under the new Act, including the threatened woodland caribou. These regulations will set the standard for the rest of Ontario’s endangered species.

“Woodland Caribou will be the first test of the government’s intentions in implementing the Act. But all indications are that political pressure to maintain the status quo of industrial activity in caribou habitat will trump science,” says Rachel Plotkin from the David Suzuki Foundation

The habitat regulation now being drafted by the Ministry of Natural Resources for woodland caribou indicates that industrial development, including forestry, will continue in prime woodland caribou habitat, despite the fact that habitat loss is the major reason for the species’ decline.

“We urge the McGuinty government to rise to the Commissioner’s challenge to make greater efforts to ensure Ontario’s endangered species are protected,” says Justin Duncan, staff lawyer at Ecojustice. “We need to do things differently, and err on the side of caution, or we will continue to see species disappear from Ontario.”

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