New rules threaten protection of endangered species in Ontario: watchdog

by Guest Author | November 7, 2013

Video courtesy of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario

Ontario’s environmental watchdog says new rules brought in this year by the Ontario government threaten the protection of endangered species.

The regulations weaken the law that’s supposed to protect threatened plants and animals, as well as their habitats, Environment Commissioner Gord Miller said after releasing his latest report Wednesday, Nov. 6.

By exempting some groups from obtaining permits, the full protection of the law no longer applies to activities like forestry operations, aggregate pits and quarries, hydroelectric dams and infrastructure construction, Miller says. The regulations remove the right of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) to say no, he says. “Every place, no matter how unique or ecologically important, will be open to activities with the potential to adversely affect species at risk. No place is untouchable or special.”

The ministry has failed to do what’s needed to make the law work since almost the very day they passed the Endangered Species Act in 2007, he adds.¬†“The ministry has stalled recovery strategies, crafted meaningless government response statements, delayed habitat protection, mismanaged the permitting process and deliberately ignored public participation,” Miller said. “In the process, they have infuriated property owners, industry groups and members of the general public and brought the reputation of the Endangered Species Act into disrepute.”

Natural Resources Minister David Orazietti insists the law is the “gold standard” for environmental protection in North America because an independent scientific body helps make decisions about habitat and species protection.

But Miller says he’d have to call it “the brass standard, because it’s a little bit tarnished and gold standards don’t tarnish.” The government also won’t know if its rules are effective because those involved in such activities don’t have to file any monitoring reports with the ministry, he says.

Orazietti dismissed Miller’s comments, saying there are no broad exemptions and the status of nine endangered species have improved since the Act was passed.

He said he’s concerned that Miller doesn’t fully understand the regulatory changes and its impact on the legislation. “The stringent standards are still in place,” he said.

Orazietti said the new rules allow some “low risk” activities in existing projects to be registered online, such as housing developments that have been 10 years in the works and have gone through lengthy environmental processes and permitting. Any new or proposed development would still require a permit, he said.

“It would be unfair to certain economic development projects that have been under development where there has been considerable expenditure of resources to bring these to light,” Orazietti said.¬†They still have to provide a “mitigation plan” for the ministry to review for any endangered or threatened species that may be present in the development area, he said.

Forestry companies that provide a forest management plan won’t have to obtain a permit for 5 years, but the ministry would still monitor their activities. “So this is not something that is an indefinite, permanent exemption,” Orazietti said.

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