Where the wild things aren’t


On the same day WWF International reported that global wildlife populations have plunged 58 per cent since 1970, Ontario Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe warned in a report last week that the Ontario government needs to “get serious” about wildlife declines and invasive species ASAP. Some of the more worrying numbers from her report:

231 Ontario species officially “at risk” 

That may not seem like a lot when you consider that Ontario is home to 30,000 species of flora and fauna. But the report shows that many hundreds more native species are “under pressure” and already in decline. Globally, species are now going extinct about 1,000 times faster than the natural rate. Says Saxe: “We’re running blind. For many species, the government simply isn’t keeping track.” 

20% Plunge in Ontario’s moose population over the last decade

There are now about 92,300 moose left in Ontario – several thousand fewer than the approximately 98,000 moose licences currently issued to hunters in the province, not including Aboriginal hunters who have the right to take moose without licences. Ministry data reveals low calf birth rates (fewer than 30 per 100 moose) in more than 45 per cent of management areas. Hunters take 5,700 a year on average, but Saxe says “harvesting” restrictions may not be enough to prevent further population declines. Habitat degradation, climate change parasites and other diseases are serious threats to these iconic animals, whose populations near Cochrane and Thunder Bay have dropped by 50 to 60 per cent.

4 out of 8 Bat species now endangered by white nose syndrome

The disease named for a white fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) that infects the skin of the muzzle, ears and wings of hibernating bats, has wiped out bat populations across eastern North America, including five provinces. One study applying data from the U.S. puts the annual pest control value of bats to Ontario’s agriculture industry at $100 million to $1.6 billion. 

7 years ago First time Environmental Commissioner recommended the province step up protections for amphibians

And still “there has been no action,” according to Saxe, while eight of Ontario’s 27 amphibian species are at risk of disappearing altogether. Agricultural chems, pharmaceuticals in our waterways and road salt are seriously messing with their habitat, as are climate change, infectious diseases, wetlands drainage and flimsy protection from land use planning policies. It doesn’t help that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) relies on unpaid citizen science for monitoring programs.

20,000 kilograms Live Asian carp seized by conservation officers and Canada Border Services agents between 2005 and 2013

A growing number of fish farms in the U.S. have been shipping live carp to feed high demand for the fish in North American markets, despite laws against their transportation across state lines in the U.S., and the fact it has been illegal to possess Asian carp in Ontario since 2005.

Introduced in the southern U.S. in the 70s to combat algae, several varieties of the voracious eater carp have made their way into the Illinois River, posing what Saxe calls an “imminent threat” to the Great Lakes. The report says it takes the presence of as few as 10 females and 10 males to have a 50 per cent chance of successful spawning. 

50 Provincial parks where invasive species, including zebra mussels, are a concern

Invasive mussels have passed the population tipping point. That means more trouble for bottom-dwellers that rely on plankton for survival. Saxe says “eradication is impossible,” at least with existing techniques. Is it time for the province to start circulating zebra mussel stew recipes? 

$280 million Cost to municipalities to tackle tree-killing Emerald ash borer over the next 10 years

The Emerald ash borer is steadily chewing its way through millions of North American ash trees common in deciduous forests, along rivers, creeks and urban sidewalks. And costing city governments and the forest industry billions of dollars along the way. If you have one of the 82,000 ash trees still left in Toronto’s canopy in your yard, make sure to give it a hug while it’s still standing. Toronto is slated to lose all 860,000 of its original ash trees.

45 Community-based Stewardship Councils axed by the province in 2013 

The significance of that move in 2016, says Saxe, is that the MNRF “has retreated from being a hands-on resource manager.” Its new emphasis on “risk management [and] a landscape approach is a step backwards for real on-the-ground conservation and stewardship in Ontario.”

On the horizon: beasts of the southern wild 

Wild boars are wreaking havoc right across the U.S., destroying habitat, causing damage to crops and killing young livestock, says Saxe. More bad news: they’re heading north – there have already been sightings in Prescott and Russell in southeastern Ontario and near Voyageur Provincial Park outside Ottawa (probably escapees from licensed farms) – carrying diseases that Saxe says “threaten other animals and people… and compete with native wildlife.” 

ecoholic@nowtoronto.com | @ecoholicnation



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