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Endangered Species Act changes will harm species at risk, say researchers


Changes to Ontario’s Endangered Species Act are being panned by fish researchers and nature lovers alike.

“The government is proposing to amend regulations under the Endangered Species Act and across the board these changes will weaken protection for species at risk,” said Anne Bell, director of Conservation and Education at Ontario Nature.

One of the amendments proposed last December affects a little fish called the Redside Dace that finds its home across southern Ontario, but primarily along the corridor of the proposed Highway 413 near Toronto.

Currently, the endangered fish would have to be vacant from an area for 20 years before habitat protections could be lifted. Amendments could lower that to 10 years, opening up more land for development, said Bell.

“The fact that it’s declining in 13 of the 17 watersheds in southern Ontario where it persists, and they want to weaken protections, not strengthen them for this animal, is very concerning,” said Bell.

The government says the proposed changes, which would also allow development “exemptions” in areas where newly listed species at risk in Ontario are found may speed up development, but will still protect the province’s most endangered animals.

Redside Dace. (Source: Government of Ontario)

“The concern is they set the precedent to make changes to other species in the future, when their presence is an inconvenience to development,” said Nick Mandrak, a biological sciences professor at the University of Toronto, whose been studying fish biodiversity for more than 40 years.

While the government says these are reasonable changes to make, the goal is not to directly cut red tape or speed up development, it’s about finding a balance, between protections and progress.

“It isn’t red tape, because we have a legal responsibility to protect endangered species with the Endangered Species Act. Why would we want to change legislation that gives less protection to endangered species?” said Mandrak.

“It’s not an act to enable development; it’s an act to ensure that we protect species at risk. And we’re currently in the throws of a mass extinction. They’re calling it the sixth mass extinction event. We’re seeing an unprecedented and accelerated decline of species around the world,” said Bell. Top Stories

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