Invasive species are a growing threat to Ontario’s environment, economy, and society. Once established, invasive species can be difficult and costly to control and eradicate, and the damage caused to the environment is often irreversible. The Ontario government has been involved in invasive species prevention and management activities since the early 1990’s. Although there are many examples where these efforts have been effective, species continue to arrive and spread in Ontario. New approaches and tactics are required to address the current and future threats posed by invasive species in Ontario.
To assist in scoping necessary actions to address the problem, the Ontario government published the Ontario Invasive Species Strategic Plan in 2012. The plan highlights work that has been undertaken and identifies gaps in current programs and policies.
Since the release of the plan, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has examined how Ontario’s existing legislation and policy framework addresses invasive species. This analysis was summarized in an Invasive Species Discussion Paper posted on the Environmental Registry in August 2013 (ER# 011-9780). The analyses and feedback received clearly identified the need for a stronger legislative framework. In response, the government has proposed an Invasive Species Act which, if passed, would provide a stronger legislative framework to prevent, detect, rapidly respond, and manage invasive species that impact Ontario’s natural environment.
For the purpose of the proposed act, invasive species include plants, animals or other organisms (e.g., bacteria) that are not native to Ontario or a part of Ontario that have had, or that may have, negative impacts to the natural environment and associated economic and social benefits.
If passed, the proposed act would provide authority to:
• Enable the passage of regulations which would list invasive species. Upon listing, a suite of restrictions would be applied to the species (e.g., illegal to possess, deposit, release, transport, buy, sell, lease, trade, and propagate the species).
• Enable, through the passage of regulations, restrictions on carriers of invasive species. Carriers are things that harbour invasive species and enable their movement and spread. Prohibitions for carriers would be determined on a case-by-case basis.
• Provide for exemptions from the prohibitions under certain circumstances (e.g., possession of an invasive species for research, control, or educational purposes).
• Enable the minister to temporarily designate an invasive species that poses a significant threat, in order to take immediate action. This provision would only be used where waiting to list the species in regulation would cause significant harm to the natural environment.
• Enable the ministry to undertake rapid response activities such as implementing control and eradication activities. These provisions would only be used in limited circumstances, and would be based on the scale of the threat and the potential impact to the natural environment and economy.
• Provisions are also included which enable the minister to prepare provincial invasive species prevention and response plans for extremely high risk species, and enter into agreements.
The proposed act, if passed, would come into force one year after receiving Royal Assent.
The proposed legislation is intended to:
• Provide a more proactive and comprehensive approach to prevent the introduction of new invasive species, and manage the spread of those species already established in Ontario.
• Hold those responsible for introducing high risk invasive species into Ontario, for the costs of control and eradication. This will be achieved through strong penalties as well as cost recovery mechanisms for expenses related to control and eradication activities.
• Promote shared accountability for managing invasive species through enabling partnerships.