Doug Ford’s Conservative government in Ontario is taking serious criticism for a plan to allow municipalities and developers to pay a fee in lieu of meeting their responsibilities under the provincial Endangered Species Act.
The measure would affect species like boreal woodland caribou that are threatened in their own right, and are also seen as a sentinel for the health of forest carbon sinks that are a cornerstone of any effort to reduce the province’s greenhouse gas emissions.
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CBC says the government cited the endangered butternut tree as a species that is threatened by disease, so that replacing a stand cut down by developers might be less useful than funding research on the disease. The regulatory payment would also free applicants from “some of the more onerous and lengthy requirements of a permit,” said Environment Minister Rod Phillips.
“But let me be clear: applicants would still be required to take the necessary steps to minimize adverse effects,” Phillips added. “This payment is not, by any means, an opportunity for businesses to walk away. It is an opportunity for an increased efficiency and a more strategic focus on how we preserve species and their habitat.”
CBC also details a series of administrative changes designed to soften and delay implementation of the Act when a species is identified for protection.
Ontario Greens leader Mike Schreiner said the announcement amounted to pulling the plug on the Endangered Species Act after the previous Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne put it on life support.
“This trust fund is a pay-to-kill provision,” he said. “You’re essentially saying to developers, ‘Yeah, go ahead and cut the tree down, go ahead and kill the species, but if you pay into a fund we’ll do a little bit of research.’ Well, you know what? It’s pretty hard to do research when the butternut trees are already cut down.”
“At a time when the Earth’s wildlife are in crisis, we should be restoring our natural environment, not allowing big business to cut a cheque and send in the bulldozers,” added Shane Moffatt, head of Greenpeace Canada’s forests campaign.
“The world is in a biodiversity crisis, and the Ontario government has proposed to gut one of the most comprehensive endangered species laws in the world,” said Ontario Nature, the David Suzuki Foundation, and Environmental Defence in a joint statement. “The province is bending to pressure from industry and sprawl developers when they should be working to restore and protect vulnerable habitats.”
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