Farmers Can Choose to Play a Leading Role in Endangered Species Protection



owenEditor’s note: This is Owen Roberts’ Real Talk, Real Action column. Each week, Owen will offer his insight into how farmers and the agricultural industry can participate in the rural- and ag-related discussions going on around them. Contact Owen at [email protected] or on Twitter at @TheUrbanCowboy.

Score one for agriculture.

In Ontario, the province is proposing to simplify parts of its Endangered Species Act, a nod to the fact that sometimes low-risk situations present themselves even to particularly delicate flora and fauna.

Take butternut trees for example. With the pending change, landowners who want to cut down a butternut, then plant additional butternuts elsewhere to make up for the lost tree, may soon be able to do so simply by registering with MNR. Currently, they must go through a lengthy application process before they fire up the chainsaw.

The nod to low-risk situations pleases disgruntled Ontario farmers.

“It brings some common sense back into the process,” says Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Mark Wales.

Over the past few years, some of the stipulations in the Act have drawn sharp criticism from Ontario farmers, who were frustrated with what they considered extreme measures.

Most noteworthy was protection for the eastern meadowlark and the bobolink, two of Ontario’s 150 threatened or endangered species.

“It’s about balance,” says Wales. “Farmers care about endangered species. But we still have to feed people.”

These birds favour grasslands, and it was feared finding them in a hay field could stop harvest.

Farmers, however, didn’t roll over. But neither did they come across as uncaring anti-environmentalists.

“It’s about balance,” says Wales. “Farmers care about endangered species. But we still have to feed people.”

Through the federation, farmers worked with the province and biologists to try to find a reasonable preservation approach for these species. That effort is still in the works. But the bottom line is that by working with others towards a research-based assessment of the situation, farmers won a lot of respect in Queen’s Park.

That was clear earlier this week when the proposed changes to simplifying the Act were announced. Second in line in the news release, coming in right after the Minister of Natural Resources, was Wales, with his supportive perspective on the proposal.

These days, for farmers to reach the legislature and influence policy, it sure doesn’t hurt having the Premier double as the agriculture and food minister, as she does in Ontario.

That said, it’s crucial to take a public position, to take action, as the federation did. Otherwise, how will people in decision-making capacities such as the Premier truly gauge opinion?

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