The Office of the Auditor General of Ontario released its State of the Environment in Ontario report in May – an assessment of how effectively the Government of Ontario is protecting the environment. The report has several sections such as climate change and water quality, and a large section on nature and wildlife, and it does not paint a pretty picture of Ontario’s environmental track record.
The report starts by laying out what we all know: nature is essential. It does so much for us and we are constantly finding out more about its benefits. Nature provides flood control, climate mitigation, air and water filtration, mental health and disease control – we cannot function without healthy ecosystems. It thus stands to reason that a top priority of the provincial government, which holds the main responsibility for nature, would be to protect nature and us along with it. But this report shows that is not the case.
The report instead shows that we continue to lose forests, wetlands and wildlife. This is despite promises and targets to do otherwise. Some of the key pieces of bad news covered in the nature and wildlife section of the State of the Environment Report include:
Despite the historic loss of 72% of Ontario’s wetlands, we continue to lose them. The report states that we lost a further 1.3% or over 13,000 hectares from 2000–2015. The rate from 2011–2015 was triple that from 2000–2011. In 2017, the Government of Ontario set a target to halt and reverse this loss, but this target has now been removed and wetland loss is set to continue unabated.
Deforestation increased an incredible 77% from 2009 to 2018. On average, over 4 times the hectares of forest were lost compared to new forest planted per year.
Wildlife species are also suffering. In 2023, there are 264 species in Ontario listed as at risk. This is an upward trend from the 224 listed in 2015. Ontario has already lost 8 species to extinction – wildlife never to be seen again. Ontario is not meeting its commitments to recovering species at risk as reassessments of species status’ show. Some 151 species at risk have been reassessed. Of these 31 (20%) moved to a higher risk category, 22 (14%) moved to a lower risk category, and 98 (65%) showed no change.
In partial good news, between 2011 and 2022 seven new Provincial Parks were created and protected areas increased by 1.98%. However, Ontario still stands at under 11% of land area protected when science and federal targets indicate we need at least 30%, so much more needs to be done on this front.
Other metrics looked at include spreading invasive species, declining pollinators and overall lower wildlife population numbers.
These failures are not exclusively the fault of the current government. Most of these trends have been ongoing for decades. However, the current government is not doing anything to change this trend and in fact is set to accelerate it with many policy changes (e.g. Bill 23, Greenbelt changes, Endangered Species Act, Provincial Policy Statement changes, and more) that remove protections for wild species and wild spaces. At this rate, the numbers in the next Auditor General’s report stand to be even more dire.
This report proves and quantifies much of what Ontarians have been worried about. We cannot plead ignorance; we can unequivocally show that nature is in decline. We need nature and it needs us to do so much better.
Lesley joined Ontario Nature in 2022. She holds a B.Sc. in Biology from the University of Guelph, a diploma in Ecosystem Management from Fleming College and an M.Sc. in Biology from Queen’s University. She has diverse work experience including roles with government and not-for-profits in stewardship, conservation and granting. She has been active in a turtle conservation and research project in Kingston and area since 2016. She is a member of Kingston area nature groups and enjoys running, cycling, swimming, camping, hiking and gardening.