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Ruling on exemption of many major industries from Endangered Species Act upheld

Message from Ontario Nature

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Ontario Nature’s attempt to overturn Endangered Species Act exemptions for major industries fails:

Ontario Nature and Wildlands League sued the Ontario government over a regulation which exempts a wide range of resource extraction and other industrial activities from the requirements of the province’s Endangered Species Act (ESA). We were represented by Ecojustice lawyers. The grounds for the suit were first, whether the Minister of Natural Resources failed to assess the negative impact of his proposed regulation on all of the species that it would put in harm’s way; and second, whether the regulation was contrary to the ESA’s main purpose of protecting and recovering species at risk.

On May 29, 2015 Ontario’s Divisional Court upheld the provincial regulation that exempts many major industries — including forestry, energy transmission, housing, oil and gas pipelines, mineral exploration and mine development, transit, wastewater management companies — from the ESA and allows them to kill species at-risk and destroy their habitat.

This is a very disappointing decision. The survival of Ontario’s most vulnerable wildlife is now weighed against competing industrial interests, which may tip the scale towards extinction. Every single endangered and threatened species in the province is deprived of the full protection of the law. When it was introduced in 2007, the Endangered Species Act was considered the gold standard law for species protection in North America. Unfortunately, recent years have seen the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry shirk its duties to protect at-risk wildlife.

Some of Ontario’s 155 at-risk species threatened by the regulation include the American eel, Blanding’s turtle, lakeside daisy, eastern hog-nosed snake, Acadian flycatcher and the iconic woodland caribou.

While this is a setback, Ontario Nature remains committed to protecting endangered species.

  • Working with farmers through the ALUS Program to advance our common interest in stewardship for grassland species at risk, like the bobolink.
  • Promoting natural heritage systems planning at the municipal and regional level, including through the 2015 coordinate review of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, Greenbelt Plan, Niagara Escarpment Plan and Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.
  • Working with our Youth Council to protect pollinators – several of which are at risk – and calling for restrictions on toxic pesticides, especially neonicotinoids.
  • Advocating for new protected areas and sustainable management in the boreal forest, home to the threatened woodland caribou and many other species at risk.
  • Protecting rare and vulnerable habitats for endangered species on and in areas around our 24 nature reserves.
  • With the help of thousands of volunteers, compiling data on endangered reptiles and amphibians to inform conservation and recovery plans.

We are reviewing the decision with Wildlands League and Ecojustice and considering our options.