Cathy Majtenyi: Threatened species counting on us

By 
  • May 9, 2019

Scientists warn that Earth is in the early stages of the “sixth mass extinction,” with a decrease of up to 60 per cent since the 1970s of the numbers of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish on the planet.

A sizable portion of these animals — as well as many plants — are on the path to permanent loss. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines extinction as being an “irreversible process whereby a species or distinct biological population forever ceases to exist.” The IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species includes more than 27,000 species that are at various points in the extinction process.

Ontario is home to more than 30,000 species of plants, insects, fish and wildlife. Included on the Species at Risk in Ontario list are 243 species classified as being endangered, threatened and of special concern. For 16 of these species, it’s too late; they have ceased to exist in Ontario.

While extinction can be a natural process, what we’re seeing today is very different. In a natural process, a “background rate” measures the number of species that become extinct over time due to non-human causes. (Scientists widely agree this rate is two extinctions per 10,000 species per 100 years). A 2015 study found that species loss over the past century is around 100 times higher than the background, or natural, rate. 

The scientific community widely agrees that the dramatic animal and plant decreases we’re seeing today are mostly because the places where plants and animals live, and their food sources, are being destroyed by human activity. 

These activities include urban sprawl, pollution, human-induced climate change, resource exploitation to satisfy rising consumerism, introduction of exotic species not native to a particular area, among others. 

It’s against this backdrop that the Ontario government is proposing changes to the province’s Endangered Species Act that would essentially strip away protections, giving “greater certainty to business … compared to the current piece-meal industry-led approach,” explains the Ministry of Environment news release. The Ontario government has given the public until May 18 to comment on the proposed changes. 

It is urgent that we do so.

There are a number of ways that animal and plant protections enshrined in the current Endangered Species Act will be eroded. Particularly worrisome are measures that would:  Require the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario to change the classification of a species’ risk if the Minister of the Environment so desires. • De-link inclusion on the Species at Risk list from receiving automatic protections, instead providing the minister with more discretion on protections. • Enable the minister to temporarily suspend species and habitat protections for up to three years for newly-listed species. • Allow businesses, municipalities and others to pay a “regulatory charge” that “would be paid in lieu of fulfilling certain potential conditions that could otherwise have been imposed under the permit, agreement or regulation” portion of the current law. The money would go to projects in a provincial species-at-risk protection agency. 

The proposed changes allow developers and industry to “to pay their way out of protecting endangered species’ habitats” while making the classification and protection process vulnerable to political interference.

Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ explores the interconnections of biodiversity and reminds us that “We are not God. The Earth was here before us and it has been given to us.”

We don’t have the right to cause extinction through our behaviour. We mustn’t allow the “Open for Business” world to cut short any part of the world of God’s beautiful creation. 

Our biblical call to be wise stewards of God’s gifts — especially the land and His creatures — is a serious one, requiring us to curb short-term profits and material gain for the long-term health and stability of the planet.

(Majtenyi is a public relations officer who specializes in research at an Ontario university.)


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Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

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