In the early 1970s, a significant shift occurred in the relationship between North Americans and the world we live in.
People started to recognize that nature’s bounty isn’t bottomless and human activities often strain the Earth’s limits. Across Canada and the U.S., faced with society’s perpetual penchant for economic growth as an end unto itself, many people started to advocate for protecting nature lest it be irreparably broken by our actions.
A 1970 Vancouver benefit concert against nuclear testing in Amchitka, Alaska, launched Greenpeace. Earth Day also started that year. In 1973, the U.S. passed the Endangered Species Act, to protect plants and animals from extinction as a “consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation.”
Canada’s Species at Risk Act wasn’t passed until 2002. But Ontario, in keeping with the trend of the times, introduced legislation in 1971, and then revised it, passing an improved Endangered Species Act in 2007, which scientists and conservationists now consider the gold standard of wildlife protection law in Canada and beyond. The primary mandate of these acts is to protect the areas species need to survive. In Canada, habitat loss and degradation are the primary causes of decline for more than 80 per cent of listed species.
Sadly, we seem to be entering a new phase: environmental deregulation. Now, when habitat needs to be protected to ensure the survival of a species, government and industry often balk and backpedal.
Witness the changes the federal government made last year to the Fisheries Act, controversially weakening the law so only a few select categories of fish will receive legal protection from industrial development.
And now, Ontario is poised to weaken its Endangered Species Act by creating a range of exemptions so industry will not have to follow its habitat-protection requirements.
Despite the evidence that endangered species laws are effective, governments in Canada are proceeding with deregulation and abdicating their responsibilities for wildlife habitat protection, often quietly.
But our governments underestimate the public. The federal government likely wagered few would pay much attention when it stripped protections from the Fisheries Act and Environmental Assessment Act. But concerned citizens not only noticed, they protested loudly across the country.
Politicians need to know that people care about at-risk plant and wildlife populations. You can make a difference by calling cabinet ministers or MPs to let them know you oppose the deregulation trend.