Ontario review of Endangered Species Act could put vulnerable species at even greater risk

TORONTO — The Government of Ontario’s review of the 2007 Endangered Species Act could put the province’s most vulnerable animals and plants at even greater risk by removing barriers to the harmful activities that are driving wildlife decline, say the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, Earthroots, Environmental Defence, Greenpeace Canada, Ontario Nature and World Wildlife Fund Canada.

Most of Ontario’s 243 species at risk are listed because of habitat loss and disturbance, caused in large part by a lack of limits on industrial activity and development. Due to a regulation passed in 2013, many industries are exempt from current ESA restrictions, including forestry, which for the most part has not had to comply with ESA prohibitions.

On the 10-year anniversary of the ESA, the provincial government posted a discussion paper on the Environmental Registry of Ontario and launched a 45-day consultation period. Although the paper offers the goal of enabling “positive outcomes” for species at risk, it focuses on increasing “efficiencies for business.”

The government says it wants to reduce barriers to economic development. But an overemphasis on creating greater efficiencies for industry could subject the province’s at-risk species — and our natural heritage — to even greater threats. Further weakening of the act could push many of these species over the brink.

Ontarians have until March 4, 2019, to provide input into the government’s ESA review.

Representatives from the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, Earthroots, Environmental Defence, Greenpeace Canada, Ontario Nature and World Wildlife Fund Canada released the following statements:

“The Endangered Species Act exempts most industrial activities from prohibitions, including against habitat destruction. Striving for greater balance is going backwards. We need to set our sights on greater limits for industrial activity to reverse habitat loss and degradation, which is the primary cause of wildlife decline here and around the world. We need Ontarians to speak up for species protection, just like they did for the Greenbelt. We need to show the government for the people that our people include wildlife!” – Rachel Plotkin, Ontario Science Campaigns Manager, David Suzuki Foundation

“The only problem with the Endangered Species Act is the complete failure of the Ontario government to step up to its responsibilities and administer it properly. Proponents complain that it takes too long to get a permit to contravene the law’s prohibition to harm species or damage their habitat but the ministry has never denied an ESA permit to any applicant in any situation.” – Gord Miller, Chair, Earthroots and Former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario

“In the decade since the Ontario ESA has been in existence, industry interests have been prioritized far above species protections. For example, the forestry industry has been given broad exemptions for the very activities that most often harm at-risk species. The primary intent of the ESA is to protect species, and this is likely incompatible with the government’s vision of streamlining the act to create ‘efficiencies’ for business. Environmental organizations are concerned that the government’s review will further erode the act’s protection for species at risk. The announcement of this review came only a month after the government axed its environment watchdog, and is one of a series of anti-environment moves.” – Sue Tan, Lawyer, Ecojustice

“People in Ontario expect our government to protect endangered species. It is also clear that people and industry have both thrived when the needs of endangered species are addressed. Going backward will be bad for species, people and our economy.” – Tim Gray, Executive Director, Environmental Defence

“With wildlife populations crashing and species pushed to the brink around the world, it is incredibly reckless for the government to propose weakening endangered species protections here in Ontario. This would put our vulnerable plants and animals at even greater risk. Ontarians cannot allow this to happen.” – Reykia Fick, Forest Campaigner, Greenpeace Canada

“The options put forward by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks would undermine the very cornerstones of the law: science-based listing of species at risk (including Indigenous traditional knowledge) and mandatory protection of listed species and their habitats. This is yet another in a long line of examples of the government’s short-sighted fixation on environmental deregulation that is threatening our biological riches to line the pockets of the corporate elite. The proposed options would make it easier to bulldoze and pave over the habitats of endangered species. Environmental deregulation gone amuck threatens our values, our prosperity and the fate of species at risk.” – Caroline Schultz, Executive Director, Ontario Nature

“Since the Endangered Species Act was introduced, pressures to habitats have continued to mount and the species at risk list has continued to grow. Our current legislation is not doing enough to protect species. The exemptions introduced in 2013 made it too easy to harm habitat. We need to improve protections for species at risk, not water them down further.” – James Snider, VP science, research and innovation, WWF-Canada

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The David Suzuki Foundation is a leading Canadian environmental non-profit organization, collaborating with all people in Canada, including government and business, to conserve the environment and find solutions that will create a sustainable Canada through evidence-based research, public engagement and policy work. The Foundation operates in English and French, with offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

Earthroots is a grassroots conservation organization dedicated to the protection of Ontario’s wilderness, wildlife and watersheds. Combining grassroots campaign strategies with effective research and educational programs, Earthroots empowers thousands of Canadians each year to advocate for better environmental protection and achieve conservation victories.

Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity, goes to court and uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment for all.

Environmental Defence is Canada’s most effective environmental action organization. It challenges and inspires change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.

Greenpeace exists because this fragile earth deserves a voice. It needs solutions. It needs change. It needs action. Around the globe, Greenpeace is standing up for our communities, and is holding governments and corporations accountable. Whether on the streets or at the ballot box, we hold the real power when we work together.

Ontario Nature protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement. It connects thousands of individuals and communities with nature through 150 conservation groups, and 30,000 members and supporters across the province.

World Wildlife Fund Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. It works in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife.

For media inquiries:

Stefanie Carmichael, David Suzuki Foundation: scarmichael@davidsuzuki.org, 437 997 2568

Hannah Barron, Earthroots: hannah@earthroots.org, 647-567-8337

Catharine Tunnacliffe, Ecojustice: ctunnacliffe@ecojustice.ca, 416-368-7553

Rachel Kitchin, Environmental Defence: rkitchin@environmentaldefence.ca, 416-323-9521 ext. 246

Marie Moucarry, Greenpeace Canada: marie.moucarry@greenpeace.org, 438-993-6127

John Hassell, Ontario Nature: johnh@ontarionature.org, 416 786 2171

Rebecca Spring, WWF-Canada: rspring@wwfcanada.org, 647-338-6274