Species at Risk legislation exists at the federal and provincial levels but the practical impact of the legislation in Ontario is only starting. The impact will be felt especially by the development industry and by those engaged in infrastructure projects. Ontario appears to be “out in front”, and therefore other Provinces may look to the pros and cons of the Ontario approach in framing future initiatives.
Endangered species are studied and classified in one of four categories: Endangered, Threatened, Special Concern, Extirpated. Endangered and Threatened Species receive species protection and general habitat protection (subject to transition rules). Additionally, the Minister of the Environment is to ensure that a recovery strategy is prepared for each endangered or threatened species. Implementation of a recovery strategy may include a species-specific habitat regulation, with an extended habitat definition. Recovery strategies will also be issued for extirpated species if feasible, and management plans will be issued for species of special concern.
Activities which harm protected species, or harm or destroy protected habitat are prohibited, but may be authorized by permit. These permits will involve engagement in recovery and rehabilitation of the protected species.
Species-specific habitat protection is still a work in progress. Currently there are 145 species listed as threatened or endangered in Ontario (mammals, reptiles, amphibia, birds, plants, insects, fish and molluscs), but as of October 2012 only 23 of these have species-specific habitat protection.
The practical application of this legislation is still evolving. Compensation funding and other mitigation measures are currently being assessed so that development continues in keeping with the legislative requirements. Compensation funding may include obtaining funds from developers to promote stewardship on other lands not being developed.