TORONTO — Future generations of Ontario wildlife lovers will know iconic creatures like the monarch butterfly and woodland caribou thanks to new endangered species legislation hailed as the toughest of its kind in North America, environmentalists said yesterday.
Ontario is home to about 15,000 species of animals and plants, but outdated legislation has left the province with the greatest number of endangered species in the country.
There are now 175 species currently at risk, but the government should be applauded for addressing the problem with a new law that is stronger than anything similar in Canada or the United States, said Wendy Francis of the group Ontario Nature, which is part of the Save Ontario’s Species coalition.
“Other than British Columbia, Ontario has the greatest biodiversity in Canada so we have a great responsibility to protect the species that we have here,” Francis said.
“I think it’s completely appropriate that Ontario is enacting the best endangered species act in the continent.”
The update to Ontario’s Endangered Species Act expands the number of protected animals in Ontario and allows scientists to determine which species should be added to the list each year.
Countless unique creatures would one day become nothing more than a memory without the new protections, said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence.
“If we want our kids to have butterflies in the future — as opposed to having their wildlife experiences restricted to viewing squirrels and raccoons — we need this endangered species act,” he said.
It’s important for Ontario residents and everyone around the world that endangered species be protected, even if it comes with a cost, said Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay.
The governing Liberals are pledging $18 million over four years to increase habitat protection for threatened animals, and help farmers, conservation authorities and municipalities absorb the costs of following the new rules.
“I remember in the last century talking about species that didn’t need protection and within 50 or 60 years they were gone,” Ramsay said.
“In the 21st century we can no longer treat our environment that way, we need to protect all our biodiversity.”
Both opposition parties said they would support the bill which was to face its final procedural step in the legislature yesterday, although it was expected some members representing rural ridings would vote against it.
“A number of our members, particularly from rural ridings, are concerned this could result in farmers or other landowners losing income without adequate compensation from the government,” said Conservative critic Tim Hudak.
“The government has not set aside adequate funding to help protect areas without hurting farmers’ livelihoods.”
Farmers aren’t against protecting endangered species, but feel they are unfairly targeted by the process, said Paul Mistele, vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
“(We) all along have said that we would embrace legislation but we wanted to make sure that it didn’t put the primary producers in Ontario out on a limb,” he said.