At Sauble Beach, a popular Ontario beach destination, a critically endangered bird is struggling to survive. 

For thirty years, the piping plover had disappeared from the Great Lakes. In 2007, there was a bit of hope for the birds when they began to reappear on Sauble Beach and other lake shorelines thereafter.

A piping plover male and young

As their populations started to grow, the little birds faced a new obstacle at Sauble Beach: threats from illegal bulldozing of sand dunes in their critically sensitive habitat. In April 2018, the Town of South Bruce Peninsula, which manages the beach, was charged by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry with two violations of Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. Earlier this month, a Justice of the Peace found the town guilty under both counts for work done in the fall and spring of 2017. 

Plovers win this round

Sauble Beach flattened by bulldozers in 2017
Bulldozers destroy dunes at Sauble Beach in the fall of 2017. Photo credit: Kate McLaren

This is a major win for species at risk in Ontario! Endangered species are having it rough lately. Earlier this year, the Ontario government weakened the law that protects them. Thankfully, the charges the town faced were laid under the previous, stronger version of the law. 

Endangered species rarely have the law on their side, but this time protection for nature prevailed. The Justice of the Peace noted that the action the town took was illegal. And even more, it had violated its own beach management bylaws in 2017, causing potentially irreparable damage to the ecosystem

Together we stood up for nature. Thank you! 

The bulldozing at Sauble Beach led to an outcry by local citizens and volunteer groups. So, we teamed up with Ecojustice and Ontario Nature to help. In 2018, our three organizations asked the Ontario government to intervene to prevent further damage to the beach. That’s because the town was planning to do more bulldozing and destruction.

In April of 2018, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources filed the charges, and also put in place a stop work order to prevent the town from continuing these harmful practices. As the town appealed the order, our organizations got involved to stand up for the piping plover. Although the stop work order expired, it’s great news that the charges have resulted in a guilty verdict under provincial law. 

What’s next for plover lovers

The sentencing hearing for the Town of South Bruce Peninsula is delayed until December 12. Each charge could carry a fine of up to $1 million. If levied, the fine should be large enough to discourage any further destruction. They should also serve as an example to others who may put endangered species or their habitat under threat. We also hope that the Sauble Beach management plan, currently under development, will include measures to keep the piping plovers and their habitat safe. 

As we celebrate this win, we have to keep up the fight to defend more species in this province. The Ontario government has consistently weakened environmental protections for the benefit of sprawl developers and quarry mining companies. Get involved and see where other species are under threat by visiting this hot spots map. Also take action and tell the provincial government that Ontario is Not for Sale.