by Wendy Francis

In May of this year, Ontario became the leading jurisdiction in North America when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable plants and animals. In partnership with other conservation organizations, Ontario Nature engaged in a vigorous campaign to revamp the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The improved act is founded on science, not politics, and comes with a range of programs and resources to ensure that endangered species have a fighting chance of survival.

Significant improvements include boosting the number of species now protected under the act from 43 to 200; assurances that scientists, not politicians, will decide which plants and animals are in need of protection; automatic protection for the habitat of endangered species; mandatory recovery strategies; and incentives to encourage proper stewardship on the part of landowners whose properties contain rare habitats.

Some extreme property-rights organizations expressed their opposition to the revised act by destroying potential endangered species habitats. Not only are such actions misguided, they are motivated by faulty reasoning. The previous ESA made altering or destroying the habitat of protected species on private lands a crime. The new act is much more flexible on this point and allows landowners to pursue a variety of options to protect rare species while continuing to use their land for commercial or economic purposes.

The new legislation does not come into effect until June 2008. In the meantime, numerous regulations and recovery strategies need to be written, and the mechanisms for supporting private stewardship will need to be developed. Ontario Nature will continue to be engaged in these processes.