Protecting Species at Risk in Ontario
Key Elements of the Endangered Species Act
The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is simplifying rules that protect endangered species in some low-risk situations. These changes will improve how the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is administered, but they will not have any effect on the key features of the act that make it the gold standard for species at risk protection legislation in North America.
Science-Based Assessment: Species thought to be at risk are assessed by an independent body that reviews species based on the best-available science and Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge. The four categories of "at risk" for species native to Ontario are:
- endangered - facing extinction or extirpation (disappearing from Ontario)
- threatened - at risk of becoming endangered in Ontario
- special concern - sensitive to human activities or natural events which may cause it to become endangered or threatened
- extirpated - no longer exists in the wild in Ontario, but still exists elsewhere
Automatic Protection: Species classified as endangered or threatened automatically receive legal protection.
Habitat Protection: When a species is classified endangered or threatened, its habitat is also protected.
Accountability: Timelines and reporting requirements are legislated. For example, recovery strategies must be created within one year for newly listed endangered species. The government must also let the public know which actions will be taken for species recovery and report back on these actions after five years.
Compliance and Enforcement: Monitoring compliance is an important part of protecting species at risk and their habitat. Maximum fines under the act were increased when the act came into force to $250,000 for individuals and $1 million for corporations. Conservation officers also have the authority to search, seize, make arrests and issue stop-orders.
Administrative Changes Effective July 1, 2013
Volunteers and Researchers
Activities to help protect or recover species at risk, or address broader conservation initiatives, will be able to proceed without a permit from MNR. Individuals or businesses will be required to register with MNR and follow stringent rules to minimize adverse effects on species at risk.
As well, accredited organizations such as universities will be able to register for long-term possession of specimens for scientific or educational purposes instead of applying for approval from the ministry.
Some activities follow standard procedures, have predictable effects, and require common approaches to minimize adverse effects and achieve benefits for species at risk. For these activities, rather than going through an application and review process with MNR, individuals and businesses will be able to register with MNR and follow stringent rules aimed at benefiting the species at risk.
An example would be a landowner who wants to cut down an endangered butternut tree. The landowner will be able to register and plant additional butternut elsewhere, which is faster and simpler than going through an application process.
Activities Necessary for Human Health or Safety
Activities required for human health or safety will no longer require a permit as long as the proponent registers the activity with MNR and follows stringent rules to minimize harm to species at risk. Examples of these activities include clearing vegetation from transmission lines or repairing structural damage to a bridge where there is a risk to human health or safety.
Developers with Projects Underway
Planning and development can take years for major projects. These changes will help existing or already planned activities proceed without additional approvals if new species or habitat protection comes into effect. A transition period will allow the work to continue alongside efforts to mitigate adverse effects on species.
Forestry companies are required to develop forest management plans under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act. These plans include provisions for species at risk protection, which in some cases overlap with requirements under the ESA. MNR will establish a panel to review the linkages between the two acts, with members from Aboriginal communities, the forest industry, municipalities and environmental organizations.
To allow time for the panel to do this work and the government to respond, there will be a five-year period in which forestry companies will not require permits under the ESA for forest operations carried out under approved forest management plans. During this time, companies must comply with stringent rules set out in regulation, including those to address caribou conservation.
Success Stories for Ontario's Species at Risk
Recovering species at risk is a long-term endeavour, but the ESA is already making a difference for many species and their habitat.
Because of rules set out in the ESA, local populations of species at risk are improving - even while human activity proceeds. The ESA also created the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, which has supported more than 600 protection and recovery projects, and restored more than 24,000 hectares of habitat.
- After disappearing from Ontario, piping plover are once again nesting along the Great Lakes shorelines. The ESA protects their habitat, while the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund has provided support for community groups who are watching over these endangered birds.
- Peregrine falcon populations in Ontario have recovered to the point where the bird's status was recently upgraded from threatened to special concern. MNR has been working collaboratively with many partners on the protection and recovery of these birds.
- Where the new Detroit River International Crossing is being built, ESA requirements resulted in more than 1,000 endangered Butler's garter snakes being saved from destruction and transported to new habitat created for them. On the same project, ESA requirements resulted in studies that pioneered new ways to grow colicroot, a threatened herb, in new locations.
- Ontario is keeping endangered butternut trees on the landscape with requirements to plant up to 20 trees for each tree cut down.
- Where businesses want to develop areas that are habitat for bobolink or eastern meadowlark, they must ensure that a larger area of grassland nearby is made suitable and maintained as habitat for the bird.
- Where landowners want to remove barn swallow nests (for example, to tear down an old barn), they must put up replacement nests for the species.
- Local populations of plants such as American chestnut, dense blazing star, and willowleaf aster are being strengthened by planting seeds and seedlings.
- Stewardship activities are increasing the profile of numerous very rare species at risk, such as flooded jellyskin, pale-bellied frost lichen and dwarf lake iris. This leads to enhanced survey efforts and the discovery of additional populations of these species. Two new populations of Laura's clubtail, an endangered dragonfly, were found through a survey supported by the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund — doubling the number of creeks in which it is currently known to occur in Canada.
- Ontario also funds the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program to assist farmers who help protect and recover species at risk and their habitats. The government has supported more than 1,450 projects since 2008.