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Pay-to-slay or long-overdue update: Ontario's plan to reform the Endangered Species Act, 2007

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 4/26/2019 1:45:00 PM

Developers have complained that species at risk legislation, such as Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, 2007, imposes costly burdens on them. Defenders of biodiversity shrug in response, because that’s what the legislation is supposed to do.

Those two opposing camps may find themselves trading cold stares in the coming months as they debate the merits and objectives of proposed reforms to Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, 2007. To defenders of biodiversity, the plan is nothing short of a war on wildlife.

Little more than six weeks after receiving almost 15,000 comments on a discussion paper, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks has posted a dramatic reform proposal on the province’s Environmental Registry for comment by May 18, 2019. The legislative changes, it says, will “modernize and improve the effectiveness of the [A]ct and improve outcomes for species at risk.”

In its submission, the Ontario Home Builders’ Association described the Act as problematic, administratively difficult, and a burden on time and resources. It urged the government to focus on transitional regulations, streamline the permit process, and emphasize the conservation of key ecosystems rather than individually-listed species on small parcels of land.

It said the automatic listing of new species and habitats creates tremendous business uncertainty. It urged the government to lengthen the notice period, allow for longer transition periods once a species is listed, respect planning approvals that have already been obtained, and give the minister discretion on listing.

Many of those recommendations are part of the government’s plan. A species will be added to the endangered species list within 12 months of receipt of its assessment report, rather than three. Assessments would consider the health of the species outside of Ontario. The minister would be authorized to suspend species and habitat protections for up to three years for some newly-listed species under certain conditions. Habitat protection would no longer be automatic if a species is listed as endangered or threatened.

Most notably, proponents would have the option of paying into a new Species at Risk Conservation Trust in lieu of completing certain on-the-ground activities. The government says the trust would support large-scale actions that assist in the protection and recovery of species at risk, but critics of the planned changes have zeroed-in on this provision, labelling it pay-to-slay.

“At a time when the Earth’s wildlife is in crisis, we should be restoring our natural environment, not allowing big business to cut a cheque and send in the bulldozers,” said Shane Moffatt, Greenpeace Canada’s Head of Forest Campaign, in a statement.

In a joint statement, Ontario Nature, Environmental Defence and the David Suzuki Foundation labelled the plan “shocking and irresponsible,” adding that it “will effectively remove all safety nets for species at risk in this province. The proposal will give industry a free pass to exterminate species in Ontario.”

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