Ontario's Biodiversity Strategy
In June 2005 the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) released their final “Master Plan”to protect biodiversity across the province, Protecting What Sustains Us: Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy. Earthroots was an active participant in the development of this strategy and was one of the original members on the Biodiversity Council.
Ontario's Biodiversity Srategy is an "umbrealla" strategy that identfies 5 main threats to biodiversity (pollution, habitat loss, invasive species, unsustainable use, and climate change) and recommends broad actions by government, non-government and private sector organizations to conserve Ontario's rich natural heritage of plants, animals and ecosystems.
Some of the key actions outlined in the strategy are:
• Create an Education and Awareness Task Team to promote community based education, awareness and environmental citizenship.
• Enhance and promote private land resource stewardship and biodiversity conservation.
• Review and update Ontario species at risk legislation to provide broader protection for species at risk and their habitats, and to include requirements for recovery planning, assessment, reporting and enforcement.
• Seek opportunities to establish protected areas that contribute to the completion of a well-designed system of protected areas representative of Ontario's ecosystems.
Earthroots was very pleased to see the Ontario government taking important steps to preserve Ontario's biodiversity. Unfortunately, Canada's provincial governments have been slow at implementing measures to protect biodiversity. It is generally not a ‘top of the mind’ issue even though biodiversity essentially sustains all life on the planet including our own.
Although this strategy sets out some essential and positive steps that must be taken to preserve Ontario's biodiversity, Earthroots is concerned that too much emphasis will be placed on protecting our ecosystems for their "economic, social and cultural benefits" as opposed to their "ecological and intrinsic values".
Earthroots, along with two other environmental organizations who were active on Ontario’s Biodiversity Council since its inception, officially resigned from the Council in June 2008. The decision came after years of disappointment and frustration with the lack of action being taken by the Council and the inability for the group to come to agreements on how to best protect and enhance Ontario’s biodiversity. We hope our resignation acts as a message to Minister of Natural Resources Donna Cansfield and shows her that the council as it is currently structured simply does not work.
Earthroots became particularly dismayed with the Council’s recent publication. The Interim Report provides some good background information but it is out-dated and lacks direction. The repeated use of old-data and terminology combined with a lack of direction on what we should be doing to solve Ontario’s biodiversity loss is extremely disappointing. This Council is supposed to be the authority on biodiversity issues in Ontario, instead the report dances around the fact that the main threats to Ontario’s biodiversity are human activities like logging, mining, road building, and suburban sprawl.
Earthroots has recently published a report that explains where the Council’s report succeeds and where it lacks effectiveness - it also provides key information that is missing from the original document.
To read Earthroots' report, please click on the following link: What Happened to Ontario's Biodiversity Strategy? (652.38 kB)
To read the Biodiversity Council's report, please click on this link: Interim Report on Ontario's Biodiversity (4.1 MB)
What is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity is the variety of genes, species and ecosystems and the ecological processes of which they are a part. Biodiversity is our life support system (Environment Canada)
Biodiversity is the extraordinary variety of living creatures and ecological communities growing and interacting with each other all over the world. It is the richness and complexity of species and ecosystems throughout the planet - continually acquiring and honing the adaptations necessary for survival under constantly changing conditions. (David Suzuki Foundation)
Why should biodiversity be important to Ontarians?
• Nature provides many services to us but biodiversity needs to be protected to sustain those services. A healthy, functioning ecoystem purifies the air that we breathe, recycles and cleans the water we drink, maintains nutrient-rich soil to feed us and moderates the climate we live in.
• Scientists worldwide have acknowledged that the loss of biodiversity is one of the most critical environmental issues facing the planet.
• Ontario's population is projected to grow by 4 million by 2030. We need to accommodate this new growth in a way that does not harm critical wildlife habitat, forests, watersheds and the remaining fertile agricultural land that sustains our quality of life.
• Ontario is home to 40% of Canada’s ‘species at risk’ and the majority of these species can be found in the southern regions of the province.
• There are now 172 species on Ontario's ‘species at risk’ list but only a small percentage are actually protected by the Endangered Species Act and even less have plans in place to ensure population recovery. Ontario lost three species (Timber Rattlesnake, Karner Blue and Frosted Elfin butterflies) before recovery plans were developed to prevent their extirpation.
• Scientists estimate that a species goes extinct somewhere in the world every 10-20 minutes and that we are now experiencing the largest wave of extinctions since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago.
When a species goes extinct, a thread is unraveled in the interconnected web of life that binds us all.
Threats to Biodiversity
• Habitat loss – habitat destruction is the primary threat to biodiversity and the rapid rate of species' extinctions. The vast majority of this province's original wetlands have been drained and converted to other uses and a mere 1% of the old growth red and white pine trees remain. Old growth forests and wetland ecosystems have a very high level of biodiversity. We are also rapidly changing the quality of the air, land and water where species live.
• Spread of invasive species – 160 invasive species have been introduced into the Great Lakes. Invasive species compete with native species and have drastically changed the natural composition of the ecosystem.
• Climate change – the burning of fossil fuels which releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is changing the climate at a rapid rate. Climate change affects many species who cannot adapt quickly enough to survive an increase in the average temperature and changes in their surrounding environment.
Species at Risk
Did you know?
• Ontario is home to more species at risk than any other province.
• Close to 200 of the animals found in Ontario’s provincial parks are considered rare or endangered species at risk.
• Many species at risk, including gray foxes, wolverines and eastern wolves can still be hunted and trapped across the province, even in provincial parks.
• Less than a third of the species at risk in Ontario as listed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) have been classified on the province’s “species at risk” list.
• Each year the number of species threatened with extinction in Ontario increases as a result of habitat loss, hunting and trapping pressures and a shamefully slow and incomplete protection process.
Did you know?
• These treasured wilderness areas face increasing threats from industry and high-impact recreation such as sport hunting, snowmobiling and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) use.
• Sport hunting is permitted in the majority of Ontario's Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves in Ontario.
Did you know?
• The Eastern wolf, which is listed as a species of “Special Concern”, can still be trapped in protected areas.
• Wolves can still be killed year-round in southern and eastern Ontario where the recovery of the Eastern wolf is critical.
• Wolves are only protected on 3% of their Ontario range.
Did you know?
• 400 species are currently listed on the National Species at Risk List.
• The degradation and destruction of habitat is the biggest contributor to the increasing number of species at risk in the province.
• Spanning 12,000 kilometres, Canada’s northern boreal forest is one of largest intact and undisturbed forest ecosystems remaining in the world today. A diverse array of wildlife inhabit the Boreal forest; the last stronghold for many species at risk such as the woodland caribou and wolverine.
• Old growth red and white pine forests now exist on only 1% of their original range, yet clearcutting in these forests is still routine.
• Industrial-scale clearcutting is the harvest method used in 90% of forest operations within Ontario.
• Some clearcuts in Ontario are more than 10,000 hectares in size, equivalent to 17,000 football fields.
• Logging companies now have their sights set north of the current "cutline" (at the 51st parallel) and mining companies have already started prospecting.
• Though the Ontario government has committed to initiate a land-use planning process for the Boreal forest before industrial development projects begin, this has not yet occurred
• The province has yet to develop a comprehensive policy to ensure our old growth forests are protected.
Did you know?
• The Golden Horseshoe’s population is projected to increase by 3.7 million people by 2035. The government must act now to institute tough legislation to curb urban sprawl so that southern Ontario’s remaining green space and agricultural lands are not paved over to accommodate the newcomers.
• The minimum intensification target for new developments in the Draft Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe is only 40%. Therefore, 60% of all new developments in Southern Ontario will occur on previously undeveloped green space and agricultural land, while only 40% must occur in areas that are already ‘built up’. In comparison, the intensification target in Vancouver is 70%; internationally, the targets in the United Kingdom and in Sydney, Australia, are 60%. The province must set higher intensification targets to encourage sustainable development.
• The minimum density requirements set out in the province’s Draft Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe are only 40-50 persons per hectare. 55 people per hectare are needed for an area to have even basic public transportation services, twice that many are needed for higher order transit such as rail.
• The Growth plan states that the greater Golden Horseshoe requires an expansion of the current and future highway networks. Highways disrupt wildlife corridors, add to air pollution in the GTA, and further facilitate urban sprawl. It has been demonstrated time after time that, in the long run, additional highway capacity does not relieve congestion; it just causes more people to opt to drive. Despite this, the Ontario government is still moving ahead with plans to construct the Mid Peninsula Highway. Stretching from the Niagara Region to Kitchener, the highway would cut through, 16 Life Science Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest, 74 wetlands, 8 Conservation Areas, and the Niagara Escarpment, a United Nations Biosphere Reserve.
Curbing urban sprawl is the best way to protect natural habitats and species at risk in the Golden Horseshoe. Natural features surrounding Toronto such as the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Niagara Escarpment should not be bulldozed and paved over. We need a comprehensive strategy for controlling urban sprawl, improving air and water quality, and protecting endangered species, natural habitats and farmland through the permanent protection of interconnected greenbelts throughout the province of Ontario.