Letter: Ontario Housing Bill Threatens Turtle Populations

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This month Ontario witnessed two contradictory impulses at work. On the one hand, the United Nations delivered a massive report on May 6th detailing the catastrophic destruction to the planet’s bio-diversity and the accelerating extinction of species caused by human activity, particularly economic development, pollution and climate change. Four days earlier, the government of Ontario had gutted the Ontario Endangered Species Act with a 20 page insertion into an omnibus housing bill to facilitate economic development. Accordingly, it is refreshing to report on a small, recent effort to reverse the impacts of human activity on species at risk here on the Saugeen Peninsula. Typically, in keeping with current worldwide efforts to save the environment, this local effort involved young people.
On April 23 and 24 this year, elementary students from St. Edmunds, BPDS, and both SON communities received a presentation from the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC) to learn about turtles. All 8 species of turtles in Ontario are designated federally at risk.
The OTCC presenters showed the students six different species of live turtles. All had suffered trauma and had been rehabilitated but could not be released back into the wild for reasons such as blindness, decreased mobility, and missing limbs. For the students, teachers and parents this was an up-close experience that drew an enthusiastic response.
Presentations like this encourage young people on the Peninsula to be stewards of their environment and to understand why animals should not be driven to extinction. So why do turtles matter?
As students everywhere learn, it is not just about saving turtles. We now know that all species, including humans, are interdependent. The loss of one can be the cause of the loss of others as well as being indicators of a broad threat to the environment. Turtles are an integral part of the Saugeen Peninsula’s diverse and vibrant ecosystem, which is highly valued by the residents and by Canada and, until last week, apparently by the province also.
It is ironic that, just as our local schools, like most schools in Ontario are trying to teach children about the importance of saving endangered species, the government, which recommends this study in the curriculum, has introduced Bill 108, the “More Homes, More Choice Act.” This Bill will weaken the classification criteria designed to protect endangered species. The Bill allows the Environment Minister to delay protections of species for three years or longer, and provide developers, industry and anyone else who impacts the habitat of endangered species with a range of options to continue their activities, including a fee-in-lieu fund, called “pay to slay” by critics of the Bill.
The government’s discussion paper describes the inconvenience of the Endangered Species Act, stating that “authorization processes can create significant administrative burdens and delays.” This, of course, is what the Act is supposed to do since, as the UN report noted the main cause of the destruction to bio-diversity is economic development.
Species at risk in Canada are designated as endangered, threatened, species of special concern, or Not at Risk.
First, “endangered,” means that a species faces imminent extirpation or extinction, second, “threatened,” means the species is likely to become endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to extirpation or extinction and third, “special concern” means the species may become threatened or endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics.
On the peninsula, we have populations of three turtle species (Painted Turtles, Snapping Turtles, Spotted Turtles). There are two records of Blanding’s Turtles as well (Flowerpot Island and Cabot Head). It is possible there are populations of those species but it is most likely that they swam over in a storm etc. from eastern Georgian Bay but there could also be populations we don’t know about. Snapping turtles and midland painted turtles are species of “special concern,” Blanding’s turtles are “threatened” and the spotted turtle is “endangered.”
As is the case for many species at risk, habitat destruction has played a major role in the decline of the peninsula’s turtles. Many of the marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens that turtles once called home have been drained, filled, or otherwise altered. Roads have been built through several of the remaining wetlands, and as a result road mortality is now a major threat to turtles, second only to habitat loss.
Don’t forget to check out the latest blog on Plastics in the Great Lakes at: https://sourcesofknowledge.blog/
John Bainbridge,
Tobermory