I released a special report today to the Ontario legislature about protecting our most vulnerable wildlife. This report, Laying Siege to the Last Line of Defence: A Review of Ontario’s Weakened Protections for Species at Risk, reviews the Ministry of Natural Resources’ (MNR) implementation of the Endangered Species Act, 2007 over the past five years, and discusses my concerns with recent changes to its regulations. I’ve dedicated a lot of attention to this issue in my past annual reports, as I believe that MNR has a profound responsibility to safeguard our most imperiled species.
Today’s report is a follow-up to one from 2009, The Last Line of Defence: A Review of Ontario’s New Protections for Species at Risk. That report set out key action items for successful implementation of the new Endangered Species Act, 2007. I voiced my support for this new legislation, particularly the science-based listing process for species (something that was missing under the old 1971 law). However, I also raised numerous concerns about potential roadblocks to success, especially the temptation for MNR to misuse the flexibility tools provided in this new law.
As the title of my follow-up report suggests, I have been frustrated to see many of my concerns become reality. MNR has stalled in implementing the law at nearly every turn over the past five years. For example, despite a legal requirement, MNR has no plan to protect polar bears or lake sturgeon as I wrote about my most recent annual report.
What I never anticipated, however, was the sweeping scope of the exemptions from the Act for industry introduced by MNR in the summer of 2013. These new exemptions and their potentially disastrous impact on Ontario’s 155 endangered and threatened species are the focus of Laying Siege to the Last Line of Defence.