A willful blindness: Ontario is failing our endangered species
News release from Ontario Nature
Today, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario raised serious concerns about the government’s willingness and ability to protect endangered plants and animals across the province. Hundreds upon hundreds of harmful activities are going forward without any government monitoring or oversight.
“The commissioner exposed the government’s failure to monitor and enforce compliance with Ontario’s Endangered Species Act (ESA),” says Caroline Schultz, executive director of the charitable organization Ontario Nature. “It is shocking that the government authorizes otherwise illegal activities through exemptions and permits. To add further insult to injury the government apparently lacks the legal authority to inspect those activities even if it wanted to.”
According to the commissioner the government is also keeping the public in the dark about the activities and their impacts. We don’t know where the activities are occurring, what species are being affected, or the extent of the harm done,” says Schultz.
The barn swallow, a bird whose populations have plummeted by 65 percent between 1966 and 2009, is one of the hardest hit. Since 2013, through an exemption regulation that sidesteps the basic ESA protections (prohibiting harm to an endangered or threatened species and its habitat), the government has given the green light to over 500 activities that would damage or destroy barn swallow habitat.
Another species falling outside the law’s protections is the threatened Algonquin wolf. Once common in Ontario, its current population is now estimated to be fewer than 500 mature individuals. “Hunting and trapping are the biggest threats to the species,” says Schultz. “But the government doesn’t have the backbone to do what’s needed to promote its recovery.” Hunting and trapping are allowed to occur throughout much of the range of the Algonquin wolf, again through an exemption regulation that circumvents ESA protections.
Ontario Nature fully supports the Commissioner’s recommendations to the government, which include examining the impacts of ESA exemptions and other authorizations, giving inspection powers to enforcement officers, and prohibiting hunting and trapping of wolves and coyotes (all easily mistaken for Algonquin wolves) throughout the entire range of the Algonquin wolf.