TORONTO – The number of protected plant and animal species in Ontario will nearly triple if the McGuinty government passes environmental legislation introduced yesterday.
“Climate change, population growth and urbanization have taken a toll on our natural environment,” said Minister of Natural Resources David Ramsay. “In response to those challenges, we all share a commitment — to protect important natural features and habitats, and to sustain Ontario’s amazing wealth of biodiversity.”
The proposed law will add 79 species to the 42 that are now illegal to kill. The newly listed species include the Atlantic salmon, peregrine falcon, American badger, grey fox and Blanding’s turtle.
It will also put scientists in charge of determining which species get added to the protected list each year — Mr. Ramsay said there could be as many as six new species annually.
Environmentalists, who had threatened to make species protection an issue in this fall’s election, hailed the legislation.
“We’re very very pleased,” said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence. “If this is passed in its current form, it’ll be the best endangered species legislation in the country.”
The proposed Endangered Species Act, 2007, will replace legislation enacted in 1971.
“Compared to the existing Endangered Species Act, the proposed legislation provides significantly broader protection provisions for species at risk and their habitats,” said Mr. Ramsay.
Ron Maher, a spokesman for Ducks Unlimited Canada, lauded the bill’s stewardship initiatives, which will fund measures by private landowners to preserve habitat.
“There’s a bunch of different things that private landowners can do if they have incentive money, or the right technical expertise,” he said. “Their land produces goods and services that are based on the natural environment. Recognizing that, and being able to reward them for the value they add to society, is a key part of it.”
The funding would go to fund tree and shrub planting projects led by volunteer stewardship agents, Mr. Ramsay said.
Representatives from the forestry industry, however, were unhappy.
“None of our major concerns were addressed,” said Jamie Lim, president of the Ontario Forest Industries Association. “We know that this is going to lead to controversy, more process and more red tape because it’s so vague.”
At the top of the forestry association’s list of concerns is an open-ended definition of habitat protection, which officials say will be dealt with case-by-case over the next five years. That means the habitat for each of the 79 newly protected species will be individually defined.
Officials said the process will allow flexibility in determining what land needs protection. In some parts of the province, protection measures have stymied economic development, as was the case with the blue racer, an endangered snake.
Currently, anyone who kills, injures or interferes with protected flora or fauna faces up to $50,000 in fines and two years in prison. The new act provides for fines of up to $250,000 for individuals and up to $1 million for a corporation. Prison terms for offenders will be reduced to one year.
Conservative MPP Norm Miller said the legislation, introduced only 10 months after consultations began, appeared rushed and accused the government of using the prevailing political issue of the moment, the environment, to score points with voters.
“The federal government took six years to get their legislation together,” Mr. Miller said. “It looks to me like the premier wants this for his election platform.”