Toronto – The provincial Cabinet in Ontario announced its approval last week of sweeping exemptions for industry under the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA), which caused many environmental organizations are incensed at the government’s abdication of its responsibility to protect and recover Ontario’s endangered plants and animals.
“This is the first major test of the new Cabinet’s commitment to the environment, and they have failed,” says Dr. Anne Bell, director of conservation and education at Ontario Nature. “They have turned their backs on the province’s most imperiled wildlife, and at a time when the federal government is poised to do the same.”
The new exemptions lower the standard of protection for endangered plants and animals across many industries, including forestry, pits and quarries, renewable energy, hydro, mining, infrastructure development, waste management, and commercial and residential development. They also dramatically reduce government oversight of activities affecting Ontario’s lakes, rivers, forests and wildlife.
“The scope of the exemptions is appalling,” says Amber Ellis, executive director of Earthroots. “The government has caved to industry and turned a deaf ear to all who believe in society’s duty to protect endangered species.”
Among the exemptions is a special five-year exemption for the forestry sector, which leaves forest-dwelling species like the threatened woodland caribou out in the cold. Listed as threatened in Canada in 2000, the woodland caribou has already lost about 50 percent of its historic range in Ontario and continues to decline, due to industrial activity.
“I guess we’ll need a new animal for the Canadian quarter,” says Dan McDermott, director of the Ontario Chapter of Sierra Club Canada.
The costs of administering the ESA were one of the factors driving the decision. Environmentalists question, however, the wisdom of Cabinet’s decision even from an economic perspective. A government study in 2009 determined the value of ecosystem services (pollination, carbon sequestration, soil retention, flood control, etc.) in southern Ontario alone at over $84 billion per year.
“Wise management of this asset demands careful government oversight and enforcement of environmental laws and policies, not environmental deregulation,” says Bell. “Society simply can’t afford to continue to lose species and degrade the natural environment.”