Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA 2007) prohibits the damage or destruction of the habitat of species classified as endangered or threatened on the Species at Risk in Ontario (SARO) List in Ontario Regulation 230/08.
Under the ESA 2007, “habitat” is defined as either:
- an area on which a species depends directly or indirectly to carry on its life processes (based on the general definition in clause 2(1)(b) of ESA 2007); or
- an area prescribed by regulation as the habitat for the species (clause 2(1)(a) of ESA 2007).
The Lieutenant Governor in Council may make regulations prescribing an area as habitat of a species that is listed as extirpated, endangered or threatened on the SARO List. A habitat regulation can prescribe an area as the habitat of the species by describing the specific boundaries of the area, by describing the features of the area, or by describing the area in any other manner. Given the central role of habitat protection in species conservation, Ontario intends to regulate the habitat of Woodland Caribou for the purpose of promoting its survival and recovery.
Woodland Caribou (Forest-dwelling boreal population) is listed as a threatened species under the ESA 2007. Woodland Caribou are native to Ontario’s northern forests. They are an important indicator of a healthy boreal forest ecosystem on which they rely. As one of several jurisdictions responsible for managing the northern boreal forest, Ontario has an important role in Woodland Caribou stewardship. Woodland Caribou occur at low densities over large areas of the Boreal Forest. They range across much of northern Ontario, with isolated populations along the shoreline and islands of Lake Superior. Effective Woodland Caribou conservation and recovery requires maintenance of a landscape suitable for caribou. They require larger areas of mature boreal forest with a variety of forest conditions that shift through time and across a broad geographic area. These forest landscapes also provide multiple social and economic benefits to the people of Ontario. A healthy caribou population is a good indicator of a healthy boreal forest – a signal that Ontario can continue to benefit from its boreal forest resource.
The proposed approach for protecting the habitat of Woodland Caribou provides for the consideration of social, economic and environmental concerns in the context of long-term caribou survival. Caribou ranges would be the basis for evaluating habitat conditions and identifying Woodland Caribou habitat, assessing population trends, and assessing and addressing cumulative impacts. At a range level, Woodland Caribou can tolerate cumulative impacts of disturbances up to a threshold, beyond which their persistence is uncertain. The approach would focus on the long-term sustainability of Woodland Caribou ranges including the consideration of cumulative impacts. The proposed approach would involve protecting 3 different zones:
- A protection zone, consisting of areas of continuous caribou distribution within the Area of the Undertaking (AoU) for Forest Management that are required to provide an adequate amount of caribou habitat. All development activities, that damage or destroy habitat (exceed disturbance threshold) would require a permit in this zone.
- A conservation zone, consisting of areas of continuous caribou distribution within the AoU where specific development activities would be exempted by regulation provided they meet conditions aimed at the protection and recovery of caribou and its habitat. (For the forest industry these conditions would mirror those being implemented through the Caribou Conservation Plan, which has been in place since 2009).
- Areas in the Far North will receive an exemption by regulation for activities authorized to occur under a Community Based Land Use Plan (CBLUP) provided they meet conditions aimed at the protection and recovery of caribou and its habitat.
The proposed approach could delineate a protection zone using the following criteria to identify large areas that:
- Have not been previously harvested;
- Are not planned for forest harvest for at least 30 years;
- Currently contribute to a sufficient amount of caribou habitat; and
- Do not prevent strategic access into the Far North Planning Area.
The proposed approach requires the development of exemption conditions for individual sectors aimed at the protection and recovery of caribou and its habitat. These conditions will be developed with the involvement of interested parties.