In 2019 the Government of Ontario rammed through amendments to our Endangered Species Act (ESA), decimating protections for the province’s most imperiled plants and animals. Among the changes was a new power allowing the government to override automatic protections for newly listed threatened and endangered species, and their habitats.
Here are 10 good reasons to oppose this proposal and demand immediate protection for endangered black ash trees and their habitats.
Globally, black ash is critically endangered. According to the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO), Ontario’s conservation responsibility is significant given that at least 25 percent of the global range is in our province.
There has already been a year’s delay in protecting the species: COSSARO determined black ash to be endangered in October 2020, yet the species is still not listed under the ESA.
The proposed delay would create a perverse incentive for bad actors to get rid of black ash and its habitats before protections come into effect. Those wishing to avoid meeting ESA requirements would have two years to cut down trees and destroy habitats.
Continued and likely accelerated removal of black ash because of the proposed delay risks the loss of genetic diversity that could provide resistance to emerald ash borer – the primary threat to the species.
Delay means postponing action to address other threats to the species, especially those related to habitat loss. These include forestry (harvesting and the large-scale application of herbicides to control broad-leaved species), flooding from hydro-electric dams, and land conversion for agriculture, renewable energy, industrial or residential purposes.
There has been extensive loss of black ash habitat – primarily wetlands and shorelines. Over 70 percent of wetlands in southern Ontario have been lost, and the loss continues. According to Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), habitat conversion may have “significant regional effects” on the few remaining black ash in heavily developed areas.
MECP maintains that the delay is required to better understand threats to black ash. Yet, COSSARO and COSEWIC have already thoroughly examined threats to the species. These are well understood and documented.
MECP’s claim that more time is needed to consider the social and economic impacts of protecting black ash is unfounded. They have already had a full year. Moreover, the means of addressing social and economic impacts are already built into the ESA, providing ample flexibility. For instance, there are already exemptions (with conditions) in place for health and safety, development and infrastructure, early exploration mining, pits and quarries, hydro-electric facilities, drainage works and wind facilities. Forestry operations in managed Crown forests are entirely exempt from ESA requirements due to recent amendments to the legislation.
For all these reasons, black ash should benefit from the full protection of the law, without further delay. Ontario must live up to its responsibility to protect and recover this globally imperiled, culturally significant species. We are amid the sixth mass extinction due to human indifference and delays. Let’s not add another species to the list.
Anne Bell has been directing Ontario Nature’s conservation and education programs since 2007. She loves to go birding, camping, swimming, and skiing and to play hockey with her husband and two daughters, Kestrel and Castilleja.