Photo: Will Ontario give industry a free ride in the home of the caribou?

Will the Ontario government allow an exemption from the Endangered Species Act for industry operating in the habitat of the boreal woodland caribou? (Credit: Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement)

By Rachel Plotkin, Biodiversity Policy Analyst

Last week the Ontario government announced a proposed exemption under its much lauded Endangered Species Act (ESA) for all industry operating in the habitat of the province's threatened boreal woodland caribou population.

When the province passed the legislation in 2007, the environmental community celebrated it as the gold standard for species protection. However, the government announced last week that it intends to give industry a pass on the act's mandatory prohibition against caribou habitat destruction.

To some extent, this proposed application of the ESA can be attributed to the jobs-versus-environment narrative that still persists in northern Ontario around caribou protection. This is truly unfortunate, as times have changed. Although the forestry industry and environmental organizations were often adversarial in the past, many of us are now working together to grow the green marketplace. This means progressive companies are rewarded by consumers (like you!) who are using your pocketbooks to demonstrate support for environmental protection. This creates a win-win situation for wildlife and progressive forestry companies.

In 2010, the David Suzuki Foundation was one of nine environmental organizations to sign the world's largest conservation agreement, the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. Under the agreement, environmental groups agreed to suspend market campaigns against Forests Products Association of Canada companies and promote forest sector competitiveness in return for a three-year reprieve on logging in virtually all caribou habitat within the companies' tenures, while science-based caribou conservation and protected-areas planning takes place with the involvement and participation of Aboriginal people and their governments.

In Ontario, the CBFA signatories — environmentalists and logging companies — have been working together to develop a solution for caribou persistence and a healthy northern economy. We have completed a set of recommendations for government that outline how to accomplish the goals of protecting caribou while safeguarding jobs. Notably, these recommendations do not ask for an exemption for industry under the ESA.

The David Suzuki Foundation will continue to work with First Nations, our industry colleagues, and the Ontario government to develop and implement science-based caribou conservation plans that reward forestry companies in the marketplace.

February 1, 2011

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