To fulfill a legislative requirement of the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA), the Government of Ontario has published the 2019 Review of Progress towards the Protection and Recovery of Ontario’s Species at Risk, which includes progress reports for 16 species at risk, and highlights recent activities undertaken as part of the province’s species at risk program.

Under the ESA, reviews of progress towards the protection and recovery of a species are required to be conducted no later than the time specified in the species’ government response statement (GRS) or not later than five years after the GRS is published if no time is specified. The GRS is Ontario’s official species-specific policy on the protection and recovery of species at risk.

Progress made towards the protection and recovery of a species, as reported in the reviews of progress, is based on progress made towards implementing the actions set out in the species’ GRS. Further, depending upon the information and resources available at the time of the review, the review can also help identify implementation gaps as well as opportunities to adjust protection and recovery actions to achieve the recovery goal for the species.

In 2019, reviews of progress towards protection and recovery are required for 16 species for which GRSs were published in 2014:

Progress toward the protection and recovery of these 16 species are reported in a total of 13 reports – 10 single-species reports, and three multi-species reports (i.e., Bird’s-foot Violet and Virginia Goat’s-rue; Common Hoptree and Dwarf Hackberry; Hill’s Thistle and Lakeside Daisy).

The progress reports consist of an Introduction, which provides an update of recent activities under Ontario’s species at risk program, and 13 chapters, with detailed information on the progress made toward the protection and recovery of the above-listed species.

Species at Risk in Ontario List

In 2019, there were no changes to the Species at Risk in Ontario (SARO) List – no new species were listed, and no existing listings were changed (that is, the status of species on the SARO List in 2019 remained the same as that in 2018).

As of December 2019, there are 117 endangered, 54 threatened, 56 special concern and 16 extirpated species on the SARO List for a total of 243 listed species.

Based on the listed status of species on the SARO List, species protection currently applies to 187 species listed as endangered, threatened or extirpated. Habitat protection is afforded to the 171 species listed as endangered or threatened.

  • 117
  • 54
  • 56
    special concern
  • 16

The provincial record of species at risk

Staff at the Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC), at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), track Ontario’s species at risk by collecting, reviewing and managing species information that is then incorporated into the comprehensive provincial database known as Land Information Ontario (LIO). As of October 2019, LIO contained 700,156 observations and information on 27,045 occurrences of species at risk in Ontario.

Harnessing the power of citizen science to track species at risk

The NHIC gathers and manages data about where species of conservation concern, including all species at risk, occur. Beginning in 2017, the NHIC built a project called Rare Species of Ontario, in iNaturalist footnote 1 , to assist in the collection of this information. Using tools built into iNaturalist, the NHIC developed the project to gather observations from members on a subset of biodiversity – namely, species of conservation concern. The project makes it easy for the public to submit records of species at risk observations (for inclusion into the provincial database) – all they need to do is open up the iNaturalist app on a smart phone, and snap a photograph of the species. Since development, the NHIC has created awareness of the project among Ontario iNaturalist users and others, partly via MNRF social media accounts.

The Rare Species of Ontario project has been very successful – almost 700 people have joined the project since 2017, and over 450 of them have, collectively, submitted over 33,000 observations of a rare species. What’s more impressive is that over 15,000 observations are of 192 species at risk. iNaturalist offers its users a range of benefits including (i) gaining access to a large online community of naturalists, who can help to verify sightings and identification, and (ii) the iNaturalist ‘computer vision’, which suggests likely identifications based on confirmed photos already in the database. Additionally, users submitting species at risk observations also receive the satisfaction of knowing that they have contributed meaningful data for use by government and conservationists, to protect and recovery Ontario’s rare and at-risk species.

As a result of vast strides in the technology of hand-held devices, citizen science initiatives like iNaturalist are able to harness the power of technology for good. NHIC’s Rare Species of Ontario project is an excellent example of the leveraging of this power to improve our knowledge of species at risk in Ontario, and our ability to protect and recover them. If you haven’t yet downloaded the iNaturalist app and joined the project, what are you waiting for?

Recovery strategies

As of December 2019, recovery strategies have been developed for 156 species at risk. Progress is being made towards the development of recovery strategies for an additional 18 endangered and threatened species. The Government of Ontario is cooperating with federal agencies on the development of the majority of these strategies, and strategically prioritizing the development of recovery strategies under the ESA for the remaining species.

Government response statements

The Government of Ontario publishes a government response statement (GRS) to identify and communicate how the government will support the recovery of a species. The GRS is the Government of Ontario's species-specific policy on what is needed to protect and recover the species. The GRS for a species includes a recovery goal as well as actions the government will lead or support to help achieve that goal.

As of December 2019, government response statements have been published for 146 species listed as endangered, threatened, or special concern on the SARO List.

Species at risk stewardship in Ontario Parks

Ontario Parks is a key partner in carrying out a range of actions that contribute to species at risk protection and recovery in Ontario. Each year, projects comprising research and monitoring, habitat creation, management, and restoration, and education and outreach, led by Parks staff, continue to bring us closer to realizing recovery goals and priorities for several species at risk. This year, we present three projects which address important protection and recovery needs for Ontario species at risk – two for reptiles, and one for Piping Plover (a 2019 review of progress species).

Mitigating road mortality for species at risk turtles in Presqu’ile Provincial Park

Mortality from vehicular collisions is a major threat to Ontario’s species at risk reptiles, particularly turtles. Reducing road mortality is, therefore, critical to protecting and recovering Ontario species at risk turtles. In partnership with Sean Boyle, a doctoral candidate at Laurentian University, staff at Presqu’ile Provincial Park have been actively engaged in work to decrease species at risk turtle road mortality within the Park, for the last five years. Based on Sean’s monitoring of SAR reptiles and road mortality in Presqui’le Provincial Park since 2014, sites with high rates of turtle movement across roads, and nesting on road shoulders, were identified. Data show that Midland Painted (Chrysemys picta), Snapping (Chelydra serpentina), and Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) cross roads and nest on road shoulders at/near these sites.

In 2015, the first artificial nesting areas in the Park were created at two such sites, and fenced to deter turtles from travelling into their ‘traditional’ nesting areas on road shoulders. Additionally, as part of road upgrades, small wildlife ecopassages designed for reptiles and amphibians (i.e., herpetiles), along with speedbumps, were installed in late 2015. The ecopassages were intended to facilitate the safe passage of animals, including herpetiles, across roads. In 2016, fencing was installed along both sides of roads in the vicinity of the identified high-risk sites; this fencing continues to be maintained and improved. In 2017, interpretive signs, to indicate areas of high turtle traffic, were installed near one of the artificial nesting areas, as well as near ecopassages. Turtles started nesting in the artificial nesting areas in 2017, and their nests were protected by Park staff. Park staff observations suggest that several nests in the artificial nesting areas have been successful. Ongoing, long term work by Park staff includes maintenance of exclusion fencing and artificial nesting areas, continued protection of turtle nests, tracking of hatching from protected nests, and incidental observations of turtles nesting at the artificial nesting areas.

Long-term monitoring of Gray Ratsnake at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park

Gray Ratsnake (Pantherophis spiloides) is found in Ontario in two populations - the Carolinian population in southwestern Ontario, which is endangered, and the Frontenac Axis population in southeastern Ontario which is threatened. Major threats to Gray Ratsnake include loss and fragmentation of habitat, persecution by people, collisions with motor vehicles, and destruction of suitable hibernation sites. The Government of Ontario protects the species and its habitat under the ESA.

Additionally, the government is also committed to leading a monitoring program for Gray Ratsnake at priority Ontario Parks locations to determine species presence, distribution and habitat use, per the Government Response Statement for Gray Ratsnake. To this end, threatened Gray Ratsnakes at Murphys Point Provincial Park have been monitored consistently since 1998, through summer-long, incidental mark and recapture (PIT-tagging) efforts. In 2014, a preliminary analysis of these monitoring data (based on 30-70 captures annually) showed that over the short term (1999-2002), Gray Ratsnake populations appeared to have increased in the Park. However, over long term of monitoring, no clear population trends could be discerned, with the population fluctuating around 70 individuals. Further, over the longer term (1998-2011), the likelihood of an individual surviving or being added to the population, did not improve. One likely reason for not being able to confidently infer population increases based on these long term data is that Gray Ratsnakes captured during surveys for the first time are less likely to be recaptured during follow-up surveys. This bias makes the monitoring data more difficult to analyse for clear population trends, and requires greater caution in interpreting any apparent positive trends as population increases.

Further to summer mark and recapture monitoring, two known hibernacula were also monitored sporadically between 2004-2010. Analysis of these data showed significant declines in the number of individuals hibernating at these two sites. Although it is not clear what proportion of the overall Gray Ratsnake population in the Park is comprised by individuals hibernating at these two hibernacula, the observed declines may be contributing to the lack of overall population increase. However, this inference also suggests that other hibernacula in the Park, yet to be monitored, may be compensating for the declines at the monitored hibernacula, thus resulting in a population that appears to be stable. In an effort to find other hibernacula, the Friends of Murphys Point Park conducted radio-telemetry monitoring of six adult Ratsnakes in 2014, and found four communal hibernacula, along with several communal basking/shedding sites. Future monitoring of these newly-identified hibernacula could provide clearer understanding of the status of Gray Ratsnake in the Park.

Overall, these findings have added greatly to the Park’s understanding of important habitat sites (hibernacula) within the Park, and are being used during Park management planning, to inform zoning and policy decisions which are likely to influence outcomes for Gray Ratsnakes.

Piping Plover nesting on south-eastern Ontario Parks beaches

The Piping Plover disappeared from Ontario in 1986. About twenty years later (2005-2008), the species returned to Ontario’s Great Lakes beaches, including provincial parks. Since 2008, the species has nested every year in Wasaga Beach Provincial Park. In 2016, the first successful nesting along Lake Ontario, in south-eastern Parks occurred, in Darlington and Presqu’ile Provincial Parks. Since then, Piping Plover has nested every year in Darlington Provincial Park, and in intermittent years in Presqu’ile and North Beach Provincial parks.

In south-eastern Ontario, nesting success has varied across years and parks. In 2016, Piping Plover nested successfully in Darlington Provincial Park (two nests and seven fledglings) and Presqu’ile Provincial Park (one nest and three fledglings). In 2017, the species nested in Darlington and North Beach Provincial parks; however, only one chick fledged (from Darlington). In 2018, Piping Plover nested only in Darlington (one nest), where two chicks fledged in 2018. In 2019 also, the species nested only in Darlington where the first nest was washed out by high water levels, but the breeding pair successfully re-nested, and hatched three chicks. Unfortunately, these chicks did not survive owing to high rates of predation.

The return of Piping Plovers to the south-eastern Parks led to the implementation of a range of recovery actions for the species. Further, beach management strategies were revised to protect vital Piping Plover nesting habitat, and minimize human disturbance to nesting birds. Parks staff throughout the Ontario Parks south-east zone worked together to implement recovery efforts, and to educate park visitors on the significance of Piping Plovers and their habitat.

Piping Plover nests and recovery efforts sparked a great deal of interest from the media, members of the public, and curious beach-goers, to learn more about these returning beach inhabitants. Staff worked closely with numerous members of the public and local stakeholders to monitor nests and chicks, as they grew up on Ontario Parks’ shorelines. To date volunteers have contributed well over 1,500 hours to beach monitoring, ongoing breeding behaviour data collection, monitoring survival rates, and educating beach-goers on Piping Plover biology. The return of Piping Plover to the Great Lakes beaches of Ontario serves as a testament to the resilience of the species, and its ability to survive and recover through the support of the government, its partners, and the public.

Supporting public participation in species at risk stewardship activities

Stewardship is a cornerstone of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Species at Risk Stewardship Program (SARSP) provides financial support to enable individuals and organizations to get directly involved in protecting and recovering Ontario’s species at risk.

Since the Species at Risk Stewardship Program was established in 2007, Ontario has provided funding for 1,137 projects that have supported the protection and recovery of the province’s species at risk. Collectively, these projects have implemented on-the-ground recovery actions for nearly 200 species at risk. Ontario’s stewardship partners reported that the government’s support has helped them to involve 73,468 individuals who volunteered 583,046 hours of their time for the projects. Provincially-funded projects have contributed to the restoration of approximately 54,532 hectares of habitat for species at risk. Stewardship partners identified that millions of people have received species at risk information through their education and outreach activities.

Species at risk legislative and policy updates

10th year review and legislative amendments of the ESA

In 2018-19, the Government of Ontario reviewed the ESA to improve protections for species at risk, consider modern and innovative approaches to achieve positive outcomes for them, streamline approvals, and provide clarity to support economic development. The review included public consultation, including meetings with stakeholders, municipal associations, and Indigenous peoples. Based on this review, several amendments to the Act, under five broad areas, came into force on July 1, 2019. Key amendments are listed below.

Assessing species at risk and listing them on the Species at Risk in Ontario (SARO) List

  • Provide the public earlier notice of the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario's (COSSARO) species’ assessment and classification results by making its report available to the public no later than three months after it is received by the Minister.
  • Extend the time from when a COSSARO report is received by the Minister to when listing is to occur from three to twelve months (i.e., when a species must be added to the SARO List.
  • Improve certainty of the timing of species list changes by requiring COSSARO to submit an annual report to the Minister between January 1 and January 31 of each year.
  • Allow the Minister to require COSSARO to reconsider the classification of a species, where the Minister forms the opinion based on scientific information that the classification may no longer be appropriate. For species that are not yet on the list or are listed as special concern, the proposed changes provide that the species would not be added to the SARO List or listed to a more endangered status during COSSARO's re-assessment.
  • Require COSSARO to consider a species’ condition around its broader biologically relevant geographic area, inside and outside Ontario, before classifying a species as endangered or threatened. If the overall condition of risk to the species in the broader biologically relevant geographic area is lower, require COSSARO to adjust the species’ classification to reflect its overall condition.
  • Broaden COSSARO member qualifications to include members who have relevant expertise in ecology, wildlife management, as well as those with community knowledge.

Defining and implementing species and habitat protections

  • De-couple the listing process from automatic protections and provide greater Minister’s discretion on protections, while keeping the assessment as a science-based process at arm’s length. The changes provide the Minister with authority to temporarily suspend species and habitat protections for up to three years for some newly-listed species when certain specified criteria are met.
  • Enable scoping of species protections, where appropriate, via new Minister’s regulations. This new authority enables species protections to apply to specific geographies or in specific circumstances (for example, to species that are not affected by disease).
  • Remove the mandatory legislative requirement and timeline to develop a habitat regulation proposal for each newly-listed threatened or endangered species and retain the option to develop a habitat regulation when needed.
  • Enable the Minister, rather than LGIC (Lieutenant Governor in Council), to make species-specific habitat regulations.

Developing species at risk recovery policies

  • Clarify that recovery strategies are advice to government, and that Government Response Statements are the government’s policy direction for species at risk.
  • Give the Minister discretion to extend the nine-month Government Response Statement development timeline, for some species.
  • Minister may now extend timelines for conducting the review of progress towards protection and recovery based on individual species’ needs.

Issuing Endangered Species Act permits and agreements, and developing regulatory exemptions

  • Allow for the creation of an option for clients proposing to undertake an activity or project that could impact species at risk to provide funds rather than completing certain on-the-ground activities for eligible species at risk. The funds will support strategic, coordinated and large-scale actions that assist in the protection and recovery of species at risk.
  • New transition provision for existing ESA-permit, agreement, or instrument-holders to continue to operate for twelve months following the application of new species or habitat protections while they seek amendments to their authorization to address newly listed species.
  • Creation of a new landscape agreement that takes a strategic, coordinated and consolidated approach to authorizing clients undertaking multiple activities to achieve positive outcomes for species at risk.
  • More flexibility to harmonize (s.18) with other legislation, regulation or instrument
  • Streamlined processes and reduced burden to some ESA authorizations (e.g., removal of need to consult with an external expert)

Enforcing the Endangered Species Act

  • Enhanced and streamlined enforcement powers by:
    • Applying inspection powers and offence provisions that already existed in the ESA to also include activities conducted under the regulations
    • Extending current protection order powers that can be used with the Minister’s discretion to protect habitat during the intervening period before a species is listed, or where a regulation has been made so that the prohibition is not applicable, to also include the discretion


  • footnote[1] Back to paragraph iNaturalist is a citizen science initiative, started in 2008 at the University of California at Berkeley, and an online social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists who map and share observations of biodiversity from around the world through a smart-phone based app or via the iNaturalist website.