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06/06/2013

Cabinet passes endangered species decision, eNGOs see red

Last week, the Star wrote a story about the fears of a conservation agency, Wildlands League, that there will be serious repercussions to the habitats of endangered species if Ontario bends over backwards to accommodate industries as it embarked  on “modernization of approvals” under the Endangered Species Act.

The story was in the paper on Wednesday. By Thursday, environmental groups emailed to say they believed a cabinet decision was imminent.

A decision did come down — quietly on Friday — and eNGOs say it was just what they feared: the cabinet approved sweeping exemptions for industry under the Endangered Species Act.  

They say the new exemptions “lower the standard of protection for endangered plants and animals across many industries, including forestry, pits and quarries, renewable energy, hydro, mining, infrastructure development, waste management, and commercial and residential development.”

And that is not all: Nature Ontario, Sierra Club Canada, David Suzuki Foundation and Earthroots came together for a news release in which they said that the decision also “dramatically reduce government oversight of activities affecting Ontario’s lakes, rivers, forests and wildlife.”

“The scope of the exemptions is appalling,” said Amber Ellis, executive director of Earthroots. “The government has caved to industry and turned a deaf ear to all who believe in society’s duty to protect endangered species.”

The news release says among the exemptions is a special 5-year exemption for the forestry sector, which leaves forest-dwelling species like the threatened woodland caribou out in the cold.

The woodland caribou has already lost about 50 per cent of its historic range in Ontario and continues to decline, due to industrial activity, say experts.

“It is our worst fear. Make a law then gut it. Even a great law can be castrated,” said Janet Sumner of Wildlands League.

Raveena Aulakh is the Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term, and wildlife. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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