TORONTO – Inadequate funding for the Ministry of Natural Resources is leading to excessive hunting and fishing and preventing the government from protecting endangered and threatened species, Ontario’s auditor general said Tuesday.
The biodiversity of the province is being threatened in part because the ministry lacks sufficient data to identify the worst problem areas and has no proper strategy to maintain sustainability, the report says.
While there’s a new act in place to protect endangered species, McCarter said the province is still falling behind in ensuring that animals, fish and plant life don’t become extinct.
“Over time, things are probably getting worse instead of getting better,” McCarter said, adding that 75 species in Ontario are on the brink of extinction.
One of the contributing factors is stagnant funding for the ministry, which hasn’t kept pace with inflation and is making effective enforcement of environmental laws difficult, the report states.
“They definitely don’t have the dollars in real terms that they had 10 or 20 years ago, so that is having an impact,” McCarter said.
“The amount of enforcement is definitely down.”
Enforcement officers have been restricted to spending only $75 to $125 a week for operating costs like gas, vehicle repairs and maintenance, and travel. Shifts were reduced to an average of one or two a week in 2006-07, compared to three or four a week the previous year, the report found.
That lack of enforcement has led to overhunting of moose and black bears and overfishing.
Some commercial and aboriginal operators were found to have exceeded their quotas by more than 250 per cent, and ineffective enforcement at one lake led to the walleye population collapsing to an unhealthy level, the report says.
Flagrant overhunting of black bears was found in some areas of the province, and 10 of 76 hunting areas reported they exceeded the annual limits in 15 of the 18 years between 1987 and 2004.
Rick Smith of Environmental Defence said the report clearly underlines that not enough attention and dollars are being directed to a critical area of government.
“The expectations of Canadians when it comes to environmental protection are at an all-time high, and yet you don’t see government agencies – which are supposed to be undertaking these activities – sufficiently funded,” he said.
“There’s no question the funding has not kept pace with the scale of the environmental challenges that it’s now clear that we face.”
New Democrat Leader Howard Hampton said the government can appease environmentalists by passing legislation that looks good on paper, but it won’t make a difference if it doesn’t fund enforcement.
“You can stand up and hold as many photo-ops as you want at Queen’s Park, but the work on the ground isn’t getting done, and that threatens the natural environment,” Hampton said.
“You can pass laws easily here, but if you don’t have the people on the ground to implement them, to follow through with them and enforce them, then all you’re doing is, frankly, fooling the public.”
Natural Resources Minister Donna Cansfield said the government will review the report and look at increasing funding if a lack of money is indeed the problem.
“If it’s resources, I will have to ask for more and I will do so,” she said.
The report suggests more funding will be necessary if the government intends to implement its recommendations.
“Additional investments may well be needed to address several of our concerns,” it states.