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Don McCabe

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Don McCabe, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

Rural Matters: Preserving biodiversity

The Ontario government recently released an action plan to protect biodiversity, the variety of life on earth, including species diversity, genetic diversity and ecosystem diversity in the province.

The plan, called Biodiversity: It’s in Our Nature, is a 52-page report that outlines the roles and responsibilities for activities in two dozen categories ranging from supporting biodiversity education to reducing urban sprawl.

The OFA thanks the government for showing leadership in developing this strategy, and for recognizing the key role Ontario farmers play in preserving the land, water, plants and animals for future generations.

Ontario farmers manage ecosystems as part of daily activities on the farm. Along with growing safe, affordable food and the daily tasks of running a business, taking care of the landscape on the farm is naturally part of a farmer’s job. As such, farmers are uniquely qualified to observe how changes on and near our land affect the wildlife and plant species living on our properties.

Biodiversity is important to Ontario farmers, but current legislation meant to protect biodiversity is also a hindrance to many farm businesses. The Endangered Species Act, 2007 governs protection requirements of plants and animals that are identified as “species at risk” in Ontario. Farmers encountering endangered species on the farm can face financial repercussions due to the loss of the use of their farmland. That’s because once a species is considered a Species at Risk, it receives automatic protection for both the species itself, and for its habitat.

Biodiversity’s great value to all cannot just be achieved by regulation. An ecological goods and services program that recognizes the true value provided by the agricultural landscape is needed.

The OFA has advocated, through our role on the Ontario Biodiversity Council, for an ecosystem-specific approach to wildlife protection, rather than a species-specific approach.

Focusing on the protection of ecosystem or habitat types in lieu of protecting the habitats of individual species would allow for a more holistic way to protect endangered species while still respecting farmers who rely on the use of their land for their livelihood.

As the OFA continues to provide input on the important issue of biodiversity, we will continue to support many of the initiatives outlined in the action plan.

Ontario’s natural wealth of ecosystem, species and genetic diversity is valuable to all of us, and as farmers we’ll do our part to contribute to its preservation. Ontario farmers can also be assured that OFA will continue to advocate for a balanced approach that delivers the important work of biodiversity preservation with the real need for legislation and programs that enable prosperous and sustainable Ontario farms.

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