by BETTER FARMING STAFF
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources worked with farm groups earlier this year as it prepared to clarify protected habitats for 11 species classified as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, the ministry’s cooperative approach didn’t dispel fears among farmers that an ever-widening habitat net could impact their farming operations.
Before the regulations were put in place July 1, the ministry allowed comment and some of that comment came from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). Peter Jeffery, OFA policy adviser, says farmers worry about this type of policy but they don’t say much, partly because individual farmers don’t want to draw attention to themselves.
However, Jeffery says, he does hear grumbling from farmers who are concerned about the number of species being added to the list. “What’s the cumulative effect going to be?” Jeffery asks, adding, “From our perspective, it is a concern.”
According to the ministry website, of the roughly 30,000 species of animals and plants in the province, more than 190 are considered at risk. The 11 that received protection under the Act on July 1 were: the bent spike rush, a wetland plant; the rapids clubtail, a dragonfly; the common five-lined skink (Carolinian population); the eastern foxsnake (Carolinian population); the gray ratsnake (Carolinian population); the eastern foxsnake (Georgian Bay population); the gray ratsnake (Frontenac Axis population): the American white pelican; the northern barrens tiger beetle; the pale-bellied frost lichen; and the Virginia mallow, a plant.
Jolanta Kowalski, the ministry’s senior media relations officer, said in an email that many existing activities can continue in regulated habitat without the need for authorization under the Act.
“If the activity will damage or destroy habitat,” Kowalski said, “then it requires an ESA permit.” She added that it’s the ministry’s goal, “to work with farmers to recognize their ongoing stewardship practices.” An example noted was the exclusion of intensive row crop areas from the regulation for the Frontenac Axis population of gray ratsnake and the Georgian Bay population of the eastern foxsnake.
There are also incentives to protect species at risk and support the use of best management practices.
The ministry has provided $2.5 million to the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program supporting more than 1,200 projects that use specific farm management practices to help protect and recover species at risk.
The OFA’s Jeffery said farm projects such as building a new barn or extending an existing barn do not usually trigger the need for an ESA permit.
“Generally,” he said, “those are permitted activities in an agricultural area and, unless there is some rather odd circumstance, then you can probably go ahead without triggering any sort of application beyond a building permit.” BF