Colorado lodgepole pine forest destroyed by mountain pine beetle.

The mountain pine beetle, which has devastated western North American forests like this one in Colorado, is working its way to Ontario. 
Photo © Ernie Bernard \ Fotolia.com

Ontario is attempting to clear away some of the regulatory red tape and overlap that keeps Ministry of Natural Resources officials from moving quickly to combat invasive species with a new Invasive Species Act introduced late last month.

The bill, which MNR staff began working on in earnest last summer, would give Ontario greater authority over banning particular species and their transportation into and within the province while strengthening the ministry’s inspection and enforcement capabilities to make sure companies and individuals comply. And when they don’t, they’ll face penalties.

 “These are serious issues and invasives are having significant negative impacts on our environment and economy,” Orazietti told reporters.

 “In the past few years we have been hearing more and more about invasive species. This is becoming a much greater challenge in Ontario today than it was 30, 40 or 50 years ago.”

If the legislation passes, and in a minority parliament with the looming prospect of a spring election that's no sure thing, it would be a first of its kind in Canada as Ontario would become the only jurisdiction in the country with stand alone invasive species legislation.

Orazietti stressed the legislation is needed to overcome gaps in the current patchwork of 20-plus pieces of provincial and federal legislation related to invasive species. Among the disparate but affected legislation: the Canada National Parks Act, the Seeds Act, the Plant Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act (both federally and provincially) and the Municipal Act, among others.

“The 20 pieces of legislation that currently exist, and that we have been attempting to manage invasive species within this province for more than 20 years, do not create a focused piece of legislation that gives us the regulatory tools specifically to address invasives,” Orazietti told reporters at Queen’s Park.

As the costs related to deterring invasives from entering the provinces rise, the urgency increases to smooth out the wrinkles between laws used by decision-makers and enforcement officers to protect the environment and native plant and animal species.

Invasives cost the province tens of millions each year, the minister said. Zebra mussels alone suck up more than $90 million from the provincial treasury annually just to mitigate the damage they do, while invasive plants cost the agriculture and forestry sectors upwards of $7.3 billion each year nationally.

“They put our resource-based jobs at risk and our forestry industry and commercial fisheries and agriculture jobs at risk, in addition to tourism and more,” Orazietti told reporters. “Being home to the Great Lakes with our high levels of trade and travel, Ontario is particularly at risk from invasives.”

Some invasives like zebra mussels, sea lamprey, round goby and giant hogweed are already well established in the province, Orazietti said. Others like Asian carp and mountain pine beetle - which have devastated American rivers and Western Canadian forests, respectively - are inching towards the province.

This act will give the government the tools they need to work around gaps in existing legislation to move quickly - as quickly as government can ever move - to implement new regulations and policies aimed at halting whatever threat the environment faces.

To learn more about the proposed Invasive Species Act, read up on the Environmental Bill of Rights website.

Public comments are welcome until April 14, 2014.

Andrew Reeves is an environmental writer completing a book about Asian carp in North America. He is a contributing editor at Alternatives Journal and This Magazine’s environmental columnist. His work has also appeared in the Globe & MailSpacing and Corporate Knights.

Follow him on Twitter.

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