Last Line of Defence Executive Summary
|The Last Line of Defence: A Review of Ontario’s New Protections for Species at Risk|
This Special Report, submitted to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario on February 24, 2009, reviews Ontario’s new Endangered Species Act, 2007 and recommends additional steps by the Government of Ontario to protect and recover species at risk and their habitats.
On June 30, 2008, Ontario’s new Endangered Species Act, 2007 came into force. It replaced an out-dated law that was widely viewed as ineffective. The Ontario government introduced this new law with the goal of becoming a world leader in the protection and recovery of species at risk.
In Ontario, there are currently 183 species identified as extirpated, endangered, threatened, or of special concern. At least six species native to Ontario are known to have become extinct in modern times. Experts from around the globe have reached a consensus that the loss of biodiversity is unequivocally at crisis point. The conservation of biodiversity should be a priority for all governments.
Effective species at risk legislation, when properly implemented and enforced, serves as the last line of defence for species at risk. These plants and animals may disappear forever if nothing is done to improve their imperilled state. Ideally, other government measures also exist to effectively conserve biodiversity and to prevent species from becoming at-risk in the first place.
The Endangered Species Act, 2007 contains some much-needed advances in the protection of species at risk. It recognizes a wider range of at-risk species, not just a select few that were the most imperilled. Independent experts, free from political interference, will now be responsible for evaluating which species are at-risk and creating the list of which species are to be regulated. These changes are positive steps.
The new law generally prohibits the killing or harming of threatened and endangered species, as well as the destruction of their habitat. It requires the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) to ensure that recovery strategies are prepared for all endangered and threatened species within set timelines. Moreover, the Minister of Natural Resources must issue statements that detail what the Ontario government will do to protect each of those species. The application and implementation of these aspects of the law will be critically important to gauge its effectiveness in protecting species at risk in the years to come.
Despite the many advances found in the new law, there remain holes in this safety net for Ontario’s species at risk. For example, the general habitat protections do not apply for five years for endangered and threatened species that were not covered under the old law, unless a species-specific habitat regulation is passed. There also are no requirements to develop such regulations for any of the species that are currently listed.
While the Ontario government promoted the flexibility of this new law as one of its key attributes, it is this very flexibility that – if misapplied – most threatens to unravel the safety net. For example, the requirement to prepare recovery strategies for all endangered and threatened species and management plans for species of special concern is weakened by the government’s discretion to determine what actual recovery efforts will be undertaken.
Similarly, while the previous legislation included strict habitat protection requirements, the new law’s flexible approach allows for a mix of approved uses within protected habitat. Most significantly, the government has discretion to issue approvals for activities that would otherwise be prohibited (i.e., harming species at risk or their habitat). These provisions contain broad powers which, if not exercised with great care, have the troubling potential to significantly undermine the law’s basic purpose of species protection. Therefore, the law’s success in adequately protecting and restoring species at risk will significantly rely on how the law is applied.
To date, the Ontario government has not prescribed approvals issued pursuant to the Endangered Species Act, 2007 under the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993. As a result, the public is denied the right to open, transparent, and accountable government decision-making related to these approvals that harm species at risk. This failure is disappointing, but could be easily remedied.
The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) strongly believes that conserving biodiversity – including protecting species at risk – is unequivocally a government-wide responsibility and a provincial interest, beyond just the responsibility of MNR. Without concrete measures and swift action, many of Ontario’s wild species and the natural areas they depend upon may be lost forever. This Special Report outlines five key action items to ensure successful implementation of the new law, as well as six recommendations for the Ontario government to better protect and restore the province’s most vulnerable species.
- Next section: Introduction
Citing This Article:
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 2009. The Last Line of Defence: A Review of Ontario’s New Protections for Species at Risk, ECO Special Report, 2009. Toronto, ON : Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. pp. 1-2