Eastern Prairie White Fringed Orchid (Platanthera leucophaea).   Photo by / Josh

Eastern Prairie White Fringed Orchid (Platanthera leucophaea). Photo by /Joshua Mayer

WE ARE NOW in the throes of the largest mass extinction since the disappearance of the dinosaurs more than 65 million years ago.

Let that sink in.

In Ontario alone, there are 243 species currently listed as at risk. One of these endangered species, the eastern prairie fringed-orchid, is found in this region of southwestern Ontario. Sadly, there are only 21 populations of this orchid left in the province. The eastern prairie fringed-orchid is on the path to extinction, and it’s not alone.

For most of these at-risk animals and plants, their decline is due to habitat loss and degradation. Unsustainable development has left these species without a home and has driven their populations into serious decline. If we are unable to provide the eastern prairie fringed-orchid and others with adequate protection, they may disappear from our province altogether, or in some cases, even the country.

The most important legal tool currently protecting our at-risk species is Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA). The ESA’s purpose is to protect and support recovery of at-risk species and their habitats. But is it on the chopping block?

In January 2019, the Ontario government’s Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) announced that it would review the Endangered Species Act. The changes under consideration do not bode well for Ontario’s species. In fact, they are going in the opposite direction, marked with a big green light for industry and developers.

We’re predicting a rough road ahead for the endangered species of Ontario given that the government’s discussion paper explicitly states that the ESA is “unclear, administratively burdensome, time-consuming and costly for applicants, and [creates] barriers to economic development.” Translation? This government wants to make it quicker and easier to destroy the habitats of endangered plants and animals.

With the government’s track record of pushing environmental deregulation (e.g. scrapping cap and trade, disassembling the office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario and, most recently, introducing Bill 66), this ESA review should raise alarm bells for Ontarians. Is the government willing to sacrifice our most vulnerable species on the altar of expediency for developers?
 
If anything, we need a stronger ESA, not a weaker one. A short-sighted fixation on environmental deregulation serves no one’s long-term interests, not even those of businesses. A healthy economy depends on a healthy environment. That’s why Ontarians who care about nature and a healthy environment must remind our government that we all have a stake in protecting the natural world.

Let your MPP know that you care about nature and want the Ontario government to protect it.

You have until March 4, 2019, to comment on the government’s ESA review and can do so by visiting ero.ontario.ca (ERO # 013-4143).

Anne Bell is the Director of Conservation and Education at Ontario Nature, a charitable conservation organization that protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement. 

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