McGuinty endangered species exemption for industry sacrifices caribou

Feature story - January 24, 2011
24 January 2011 (Toronto) – Greenpeace today announced it will vigorously oppose the McGuinty government’s proposal to exempt the forest industry and others from the Endangered Species Act by ramping up its efforts to convince the Premier to honour his promise to protect the threatened woodland caribou.

Despite three years of promises to protect the threatened woodland caribou in Ontario’s forests, the provincial government has put forward a proposal to exempt logging, mining and other industries from having to take action to protect caribou under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This means that the sensitive species – which is listed as threatened across Canada – will have no legal protection under the very Act that was designed to save it.

Greenpeace doesn’t think that the forest industry should shut down, but we do believe that it should be required to do something substantial to protect caribou. This exemption says that they don’t have to.

The McGuinty government today quietly posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights site a notice for a so-called approach to caribou that is really an exemption for industries from the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“This proposed exemption from the Endangered Species Act is a complete reversal for Premier McGuinty who solemnly promised to protect Ontario’s threatened caribou,” said Catharine Grant, Greenpeace forest campaigner. “We have already started rallying Ontarians to demand the Premier keep his promise through our touring caribou caravan. We will increase those efforts and bring the caribou caravan to the doors of even more McGuinty cabinet ministers and their voters in the months ahead leading up to the provincial election. We will raise awareness about Premier McGuinty’s disregard for Ontario’s endangered species.”

“The forest, mining and other industries operating in the Boreal Forest and in woodland caribou habitat have the potential to have the greatest impact on endangered species habitat so it makes no sense to exempt them from complying with the Endangered Species Act,” said Grant.

The proposed exemption ignores Ontario Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller’s warning that “woodland caribou is at risk of being extirpated in Ontario by the end of this century.”

In his 2009/10 annual report, Miller said only 20,000 woodland caribou remain in Ontario and their territory has shrunk by 50 per cent in little more than a century. “The government’s plan calls itself science-based. Instead, it’s faith-based. We can only pray that caribou will survive,” Miller said.

Greenpeace is not against logging or other industrial development in the north, but needs assurances that this activity will not drive caribou to extinction.

“Greenpeace is part of the historic Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement and is working with forestry companies and other environmental organizations to find solutions for the long-term protection of woodland caribou,” said Grant. “As part of the agreement, the forest industry implemented an interim moratorium on logging on more than 3.5 million hectares of caribou habitat in Ontario. Yet, instead of looking to these unlikely partners for solutions, the McGuinty government has moved forward with a dangerous exemption that will put the environment at risk, and create significant controversy in the marketplace for Ontario.”

In 2008, Ontario passed a new Endangered Species Act – one of the strongest in North America – which mandated the protection of habitat for threatened and endangered species. Today’s proposed exemption is a major step backwards for McGuinty and a threat to the survival of woodland caribou.

Greenpeace’s caribou caravan focused on McGuinty, Natural Resources Minister Linda Jeffrey, and Northern Development, Mines and Forests Minister Michael Gravelle last year. Now it will focus on more Ontario ministers and MPPs in their ridings with stops in: Brampton, February 5th and 6th, Guelph, Stratford and Kitchener, from February 10 to 17.

Take Action:

Demand the McGuinty government keep its promise to save woodland caribou.