Why aren’t governments living up to their legal responsibilities?

February 5, 2014 Borys Holowacz Latest Posts

Opinion from the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists
Authors:  Myrna Wood myrna@kos.net and Cheryl Anderson cherylanderson23@sympatico.ca
 
January 21, 2014 
 
Last fall, the Environmental Commissioners of Canada and Ontario released audits showing how badly their governments were failing to protect our endangered species and their habitats. 
 
Neil Maxwell, federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, released his fall report to Parliament November 5th.  It said that the state of Canada’s protected wildlife areas — patches of land that are critical resting and feeding areas for migratory birds and homes for various species at risk — are in a pathetic state. Two-thirds of them and more than half of migratory bird sanctuaries “are considered to have less than adequate ecological integrity.” 146 recovery strategies have yet to be completed. Of the 97 action plans required by law, only seven are in place. In other words, the government has met only 7% of its targeted action plans. 
 
Environment Canada spent $21.3 million for its Migratory Birds Program in 2011-12.  About half was spent on developing conservation plans and strategies, yet the Department has missed its 2010 deadlines for completing its 25 Bird Conservation Region Strategies. These strategies are of prime importance for developing and implementing conservation programs for all bird species.  
 
Some populations of migratory birds have declined to the point that they are now species at risk.  55 species protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994   were listed under the Species at Risk Act as of March 2013. Environment Canada is clearly not meeting its responsibilities to migrating birds.  Environment Canada is the lead agency on the International Convention on Biological Diversity, a 1992 treaty signed by 193 countries. Yet it has not recognized and protected its own Important Bird Areas the way many European and even some African countries have. 
 
Endangered species protection is being seriously undermined in Ontario.  Gord Miller, Environmental Commissioner (ECO), says in his report, “Laying Siege to the Last Line of Defence that since the original Endangered Species Act (ESA) came into effect in 2008, MNR has failed to prepare nearly half of the recovery strategies needed for the 155 endangered and threatened species in Ontario.  He continues, “on July 1, 2013, a series of regulatory amendments came into force creating broad exemptions from the ESA’s requirements to obtain a permit or agreement prior to harming a species at risk or its habitat. The following industries no longer require permits or agreements before harming a species at risk or its habitat:  Crown forestry operations, most hydro-electric generating stations, many aggregate pits and quarries, certain ditch and drainage activities, most early exploration mining activities, wind facilities and certain development and infrastructure projects.” 
 
These regulations are now being challenged in court by EcoJustice and Ontario Nature.
 
The ECO’s Report recounts the case of the Ostrander Point Wind Energy Park, a nine turbine wind energy facility proposed for Crown Land in Prince Edward County.  In July 2013, Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal revoked the approval issued to the project.
 
The Crown Land on which the project was to be constructed is habitat for Blanding’s turtle and Whip-poor-will, both of which are threatened species in Ontario. The area is also a vital migratory corridor for other at-risk species of birds, bats and the monarch butterfly; it is also part of an internationally recognized Important Bird Area.  The Tribunal revoked the Renewable Energy Approval on the basis that roads for the project would cause “serious and irreversible harm” to the Blanding’s turtle population due to increased mortality.
 
This decision highlights that a high standard of protection is necessary under the ESA when MNR is contemplating the authorization of otherwise prohibited activities,” said Gord Miller, ECO.
 
The historic decision won by the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists was challenged by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Gilead Power (the developer). The challenge took place January 21 to January 23, 2014, at the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario. As of February 5, 2014, a decision has not been rendered.
 
This David-and-Goliath struggle by PECFN and their lawyers Eric Gillespie and Natalie Smith are all that stand in the way of the destruction of the PEC South Shore Important Bird Area by wind corporations looking to profit from publicly-owned land.  The South Shore is the last undeveloped area on Lake Ontario.  The governments of Ontario and Canada are not protecting this scarce wildlife habitat or even enforcing the existing Migratory Bird Act and the Endangered Species Act.
 
Some brave citizens are trying to do so through the only legal avenues remaining. 
 
Members of Prince Edward Field Naturalists are asking:
 
“Why is it up to us to protect this crucial wildlife habitat? Why aren’t governments living up to their legal responsibilities?” 
 


 

 

 

 

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