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The World Outdoors: New watchdog guards environment

Woodstock Sentinel Review,
Postmedia Network,
Paul Nicholson,
July 14 2016

Dr. Dianne Saxe, the province’s new environmental commissioner, spoke recently at a Carolinian Canada meeting in Norfolk County’s Backus Heritage Conservation Area.

Having spent four decades as an environmental lawyer, Saxe is well positioned to lead the environmental commissioner’s office through a five-year term. She is also a passionate naturalist and an avid outdoors enthusiast.

Saxe, who stepped into the position last December, described her role as a fact-based, non-partisan watchdog.

She is the guardian of the province’s Environmental Bill of Rights and leads an office that provides independent oversight on Ontario’s environmental, energy, and climate performance.

One of her goals as the new environmental commissioner is to boost awareness of the tools imbedded in the Environmental Bill of Rights so that they can be used by Ontarians to the benefit of the environment.

This Bill of Rights equips Ontarians with rights to participate in environmental decision-making. It ensures that we are notified about environmentally significant government proposals and have the opportunity to comment on them. We can also ask for a ministerial review.

Saxe described a new online feature that allows people to set up environmental registry alerts based on key words so that the database needn’t be searched in its entirety over and over.

Her second goal is to ensure that the Ontario Legislature and Ontarians receive accurate information about the government’s progress towards its environmental, climate and energy conservation goals and its compliance with the Environmental Bill of Rights.

To this end, Saxe has developed performance report cards for each ministry to increase transparency and ensure action on overdue environmental reviews.

Her third goal is to hold the government to account for creating and upholding legislation and policies that enhance the protection of the environment.

I asked her in particular about bird species at risk. She shared two reports that the environmental commissioner’s office had created for the legislative assembly on Ontario’s species at risk.

The links between species at risk to climate change, biodiversity, and the natural areas that these species depend on were key themes in these reports.

Saxe also said that updating performance indicators to include wetland retention, water quality, and progress against invasive species would help.

Not surprisingly, all environmental issues can’t always be on the front burner. “We evaluate the importance and impact of issues and our office’s finite resources to determine how best to focus our energies each year,” Saxe said.

The goals of the environmental commissioner’s office intersect significantly with groups such as Carolinian Canada, a coalition that brings together a network of organizations and individuals to advance a strategic “big picture” vision for healthy landscapes across Ontario’s Carolinian zone.

Michelle Kanter, Carolinian Canada’s Executive Director, said that the shared interest in the impacts of climate change, habitat loss, and the importance of our natural infrastructure are key.

“Groups such as Carolinian Canada, community groups, and individuals are making a real difference.” Kanter stressed.

By using the provisions of the Environmental Bill of Rights and commenting on the province’s proposals we have a chance to arrest the degradation of our ecosystems.

To learn more about the environmental commissioner of Ontario visit eco.on.ca. For information about Carolinian Canada visit caroliniancanada.ca.

Nature notes

If you find yourself in Norfolk County, take advantage of the many birding hot spots. After hiking through the Walsingham Flats Conservation Area last week, I trekked through part of Backus Woods with London-based birder and environmental scientist Will Van Hemessen. He found Acadian flycatcher, hooded warbler, and blue-winged warbler by ear. Other highlights included towhee and vireo species.

The deer tick or black-legged tick is the primary carrier of Lyme disease, a potentially debilitating inflammatory infection. It makes sense to avoid hiking in tick-infested areas. Wear long-sleeved shirts and tuck your light-coloured long pants into your socks to block ticks. Use insect repellent and stay on trails. For more information, visit canlyme.com.

Ontario Nature will host its seventh annual Youth Summit for Biodiversity and Environmental Leadership at Lake Couchiching from Sept. 23-25. Registration is now open for high school students from across the province. Participants will take part in hikes, seminars and workshops.


Twitter @NicholsonNature