WWF-Canada is concerned about the findings outlined in Ontario’s Auditor General’s annual environmental report, which signals a troubling disregard by the Ontario government for the future of at-risk species and climate change.
The report found that the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which was designed to conserve and protect at-risk species from threats such as development, and was weakened by an amendment in 2019 is essentially being ignored. Most approvals are granted to project developers without review, the report said. It also found that an application to harm species has never been denied since the act was passed in 2007, only two ESA charges have ever been laid, and environmental officers have not been appointed.
Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, determined that the provincial ministry of the environment “lacks guidance on when to say ‘no’ to permit applications to harm species at risk and their habitats,” has no “long-term strategic plan to improve the status of species at risk” and permanently exempted forestry operations on Crown land from considering species at risk.
WWF-Canada is calling for the Ontario government to start enforcing the Endangered Species Act (ESA) immediately, to protect at-risk species and their habitat. Otherwise, the province will continue down a dangerous path with regard to wildlife loss as well as climate change. Ontario has the most species at risk in Canada, a number which has jumped by 22 per cent since 2009 (although no new species have been added to the Species at Risk in Ontario List since 2018) while approvals to impact species at risk have increased by 6,262 per cent in that same time frame.
“The Government of Ontario is essentially no longer implementing the Endangered Species Act. Species in Ontario are already experiencing dramatic declines in population numbers, and their habitats are being further destroyed or degraded as a result of development in the province. Ignoring wildlife and habitat protection not only puts species at risk, it can exacerbate the effects of climate change on the province and the world because Canada, and Ontario in particular, store globally significant amounts of carbon in our ecosystems,” says James Snider, VP of Science, Knowledge & Innovation at WWF-Canada.
The recent Living Planet Report Canada 2020 found that on average, species assessed as at risk in the country have declined by 59 per cent since 1970. In southern Ontario, which contains the highest number of species at risk in all of Canada, protected habitat is particularly low. This means species such as the little brown bat, Blanding’s turtle and bobolink remain at risk of further declines. In northern Ontario, species like woodland caribou are at risk from increasing development threatening their habitat.
Development can also have a negative impact on carbon stored in the ground. WWF-Canada’s recent Mapping Canada’s Carbon Landscape research shows that Ontario contains 77.1 billion tonnes of carbon in its soils and plants. If we don’t protect habitat for species at risk, we also risk releasing these enormous amounts of climate-change causing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
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WWF-Canada is committed to equitable and effective conservation actions that restore nature, reverse wildlife loss and fight climate change. We draw on scientific analysis and Indigenous guidance to ensure all our efforts connect to a single goal: a future where wildlife, nature and people thrive. For more information visit wwf.ca.