By Wendy Francis

Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, long criticized for being too weak in its protective measures, is now undergoing a badly needed overhaul. In May, Minister of Natural Resource s David Ramsay released a discussion paper outlining proposals for updating the act.

These proposals go a long way toward addressing the many deficiencies of the outdate d Act (see “Way of the dodo,” Summer 2006, page 46). For the first time, an official, independent, expert assessment of species at risk in the province will take place.  However, whether those species identified as at risk will automatically receive protection under the Act is not clear. Options being considered include allowing the minister to make the decision whet her identified species are protected.

The most important and challenging amendments to the act relate to the protection that it will afford listed species. For some time it has been well understood that merely prohibiting the harming or killing of endangered species is not sufficient. Their habitat – the ecological conditions to which species are adapted and that allow them to feed, mate and raise their young – must also be protected from destruction. The vast majority of land in southern Ontario, where most of the endangered species in the province are found, is privately owned. That means the onus will often fall on private landowners to protect areas where endangered species live. Figuring out how to encourage such stewardship while avoiding a backlash from private landowners is one of the biggest challenges that the developers of the new legislation face.

Consultations on the discussion paper concluded in July. It is expected that amendments to the Endangered Species Act will be introduced this fall.