Report identifies more than 2,000 “exempted” activities in at-risk species’ habitats, with no government oversight or public scrutiny
TORONTO — Ontario’s 2007 Endangered Species Act (ESA) isn’t protecting at-risk species because the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is failing to effectively implement it, according to a report released today by the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice and Ontario Nature.
The report highlights broad exemptions granted to industry from prohibitions, major delays in the development of recovery strategies for at-risk species, and a complete lack of public transparency about harmful activities occurring in at-risk species’ habitats.
“Ontario was a leader in the protection of at-risk species when the original ESA was passed in 1971. Today’s report clearly shows that we’ve moved from leader to laggard, and the result will be death by a thousand cuts for countless integral species in the province,” Rachel Plotkin of the David Suzuki Foundation said.
The report identifies a problem inherent to the MNRF mandate: that it is responsible for both protecting biodiversity and “promoting economic opportunities in the resource sector.”
“When it comes to ESA implementation, the ministry has not prioritized the law’s fundamental purpose: the recovery of at-risk species,” Sarah McDonald of Ecojustice said. “As the regulatory exemptions indicate, MNRF has put the interests of industry first, and the recovery of Ontario’s most imperilled species second.”
As of October 2017, there were more than 2,000 registered activities exempted from ESA prohibitions against harm to species at risk and their habitat, for which no information has been publicly released. It is uncertain if the MNRF is monitoring these activities or the mitigation measures that proponents claim they will complete. In most instances, the MNRF requires that mitigation plans be developed, but not that they be submitted. Under the exemption regulation, there is no approval process. As the report finds, “The ministry has no authority under the ESA to say no to any project. In essence, the ministry gave up this authority when it put the exemptions in place.”
The report discusses several species for which MNRF-led recovery plans are long overdue, including but not limited to:
“These delays are unacceptable. The world is facing an unprecedented loss of biodiversity and yet we continue to waste precious time,” Anne Bell of Ontario Nature said. “We have a law to protect our most vulnerable species, and should be able to expect our government to implement it properly.”