TORONTO – More than 2,700 Ontarians have signed an open letter urging Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Bill Mauro to step up for the province’s endangered wildlife.
“This sends a clear message to government that Ontarians expect the province to deliver on the promise it made in 2007 to defend endangered wildlife,” said Ecojustice lawyer Charles Hatt, who delivered the letter to Minister Mauro’s office this morning.
At issue is the Minister’s foot-dragging in the appointments process for the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO). Members of COSSARO are responsible for assessing and classifying species as endangered or threatened based on scientific criteria. Until a species is classified as endangered or threatened it is not covered by the core protections of Ontario’s Endangered Species Act (ESA). But COSSARO is short of quorum, putting its next meeting in jeopardy.
The letter urges Minister Mauro to move on recommending committee appointments so that Ontario can get down to the business of protecting endangered wildlife. Species coming up for assessment include the Yellow-banded Bumble Bee, whose numbers have “steeply declined” in recent years, and the Eastern Wolf, of which fewer than 500 remain — according to Ontario’s own estimates.
“Ontarians clearly want this Committee to be able to convene and move forward with its vital work,” said Hatt. “The Committee’s work is a critical to the ESA’s ability to protect endangered wildlife. Quite simply, if the Committee can’t meet to assess and list a species, it won’t be protected.”
Delayed appointments part of continuing trend
When it was introduced in 2007, the ESA was considered the gold standard law for species protection in North America. Unfortunately, recent years have seen Ontario shirk its duties to protect at-risk wildlife.
In 2013, the province introduced a regulation that exempts major industries from strict protection standards under the ESA — in many cases giving them a free pass to kill endangered or threatened species and destroy their habitat, as long as this harm is “minimized.” As a result, environmental groups, represented by Ecojustice lawyers, had no choice but to go to court earlier this year in an effort to quash that regulation. A judgment is pending in that case.