Stewardship Activities and Funding under the Endangered Species Act, 2007
|The Last Line of Defence: A Review of Ontario’s New Protections for Species at Risk|
This Special Report, submitted to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario on February 24, 2009, reviews Ontario’s new Endangered Species Act, 2007 and recommends additional steps by the Government of Ontario to protect and recover species at risk and their habitats.
Effectively administering this law – and conserving biodiversity in general – requires that MNR have the necessary capacity and resources to carry out its responsibilities. The advisory panel stated that “financing the Act will be critical to its ultimate effectiveness” in its report to the Minister of Natural Resources.
MNR’s core funding to pay for its own species at risk staff and program remained virtually unchanged over the last decade at approximately $2 million a year. For the 2008-2009 fiscal year, MNR has increased its core operating budget to just over $6 million for its species at risk program. This funding increase is a significant improvement, although it remains to be seen whether it is sufficient for the task at hand.
The law does create a funding mechanism for third-parties. It formally establishes the Species at Risk in Ontario Stewardship Program, the purpose of which is to support activities that preserve and rehabilitate habitat, implement recovery strategies and management plans, and educate the public. The support for stewardship activities is particularly important in southern Ontario, where the majority of the province’s species at risk live or depend on lands that are privately owned.
This new program has been allocated $18 million over roughly four years, beginning in the fiscal year 2007/2008. MNR states that it will give preference to applicants that already have a minimum of 1:1 matching funds. In July 2007, MNR announced that $3 million would be made available for stewardship projects in the fiscal year 2007/2008.
In August 2007, the ministry gave these funds to 85 projects (out of a total 194 applications) run by a variety of organizations including conservation authorities, non-profit groups, universities, aggregate companies, and forestry companies. For the fiscal year 2008/2009, the ministry allocated approximately $5 million in funding for 108 projects.
Concerns have been expressed that MNR district offices were given little time to consider the applications for funding for both the 2007/2008 and 2008/2009 applications. District offices, at the frontlines of dealing with many species at risk issues, should ensure that projects are consistent with and reflect the same priorities as their own local activities. The recovery teams responsible for specific species at risk were also not consulted on the applications for funding. Moreover, the majority of funded projects do not appear to be directly related to existing recovery plans. For funding submissions for 2009/2010, MNR now is “strongly” recommending that applicants consult MNR staff and species experts.
Conflicts may arise in the future before the courts or other legal bodies, because provincial projects may lack the endorsement of a recovery team. A better approach is provided by the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk under the federal Species at Risk Act, where the recovery team needs to endorse a project in order for third-parties to obtain funding.
MNR also has established a fund to provide incentives to some landowners to conserve species at risk. Publicly announced in November 2008, the ministry is allotting $800,000 annually to share the costs of some existing programs, such as the development of individual Environmental Farm Plans that address the needs of species at risk. This Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP) will be administered by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association will lead its implementation. The full cost of select beneficial management practices (BMPs) will be covered, such as invasive alien plant control and enhancing wildlife habitat. MNR will fund eligible projects up to a total of $20,000 per farm.
MNR does have other incentive programs available for landowners to conserve species at risk. For example, the purpose of the Conservation Land Tax Incentive Program (CLTIP) is to recognize, encourage and support the long-term stewardship of specific categories of conservation land by offering tax relief to those landowners who agree to protect the natural heritage features of their property. However, MNR only allows landowners to participate and obtain relief from property tax if endangered species inhabit their land; no incentives exist for the habitats of threatened species or other species at risk. The ECO raised this specific concern in the Supplement to our 2004/2005 Annual Report, as did the advisory panel in its report to the Minister of Natural Resources. Only 60 properties across the entire province currently receive tax relief for the habitat of endangered species under CLTIP.
The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario recommends that MNR expand its Conservation Land Tax Incentive Program to provide financial incentives to private landowners to protect the habitat of a broader range of species at risk, including for recovery purposes.
The law allows for the establishment of an advisory committee – the Species at Risk Program Advisory Committee (SARPAC) – to make recommendations to the Minister. It can be composed of up to 19 members. This committee may make recommendations to the Minister on a wide range of issues including the administration of the statute, the development of incentive programs and stewardship programs, the development of best management practices, public education and outreach programs, the preparation and implementation of recovery strategies and management plans, the assembly of scientific information, and the role of agreements and permits.
In August 2008, the Ontario government announced the membership of SARPAC. Fourteen stakeholders were appointed, affiliated with the forest industry, agriculture, developers, hunting and fishing organizations, conservation authorities, and conservation groups.
Unlike the legal requirements for the composition of COSSARO, the members of this committee are not required to be indepent or possess relevant qualifications.
Citing This Article:
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 2009. The Last Line of Defence: A Review of Ontario’s New Protections for Species at Risk, ECO Special Report, 2009. Toronto, ON : Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. pp. 53-55