How species at risk are protected
How we work to protect and recover plants and animals that are at risk of disappearing from Ontario, and their habitat.
On this page Skip this page navigation
Endangered Species Act
More than 200 species of plants and animals are at risk of disappearing from Ontario.
The Endangered Species Act provides:
- science-based assessment: species are assessed by an independent body based on the best-available science and Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge
- automatic species protection: species classified as endangered or threatened automatically receive legal protection
- habitat protection: when a species is classified endangered or threatened, its habitat is also protected
The Act sets out:
- timelines in the law for producing strategies and plans to recover at-risk species
- tools to help reduce the impact of human activity on species and their habitats
- tools to encourage protection and recovery activities
How species at risk are classified
The Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario is an independent body that classifies native plants or animals in 1 of 4 categories of at risk status.
Categories of at risk status
Each species is classified into 1 of 4 categories:
- extirpated: lives somewhere in the world, and at one time lived in the wild in Ontario, but no longer lives in the wild in Ontario
- endangered: lives in the wild in Ontario but is facing imminent extinction or extirpation
- threatened: lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered, but is likely to become endangered if steps are not taken to address factors threatening it
- special concern: lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered or threatened, but may become threatened or endangered due to a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats
Immediate protection for species
Plants and animals are automatically protected from being harmed or harassed if they are classified as being:
Species classified as special concern are not included in this protection.
Species protection and human activity
Not every activity that occurs near a member of a protected species will kill, harm or harass that member. To help determine if a proposed activity could kill, harm or harass a member of a protected species, consider:
- the biology and behaviour of the species
- details of the activity
- how the activity may affect the species’ ability to carry out its life processes
Read the policy guidance on harm and harass (August 14, 2014)
Immediate protection for habitat
General habitat protection
When species are listed as endangered or threatened, their general habitat is automatically protected.
General habitat is an area on which a species depends, directly or indirectly, to carry out its life processes. This includes places that are used by the species as dens, nests, hibernacula or other residences. It doesn’t include areas where the species once lived or where it may be reintroduced in the future.
General habitat descriptions
General habitat descriptions are technical, science-based documents that provide greater clarity on the area of habitat protected for a species. They have been developed for some of the species that are most likely to be affected by human activity.
Specific habitat protection
After a recovery strategy has been developed and a government response statement has been published, the specific habitat regulation is developed which will eventually replace the general habitat protection.
The specific habitat of threatened and endangered species will then be regulated under the Endangered Species Act.
Recovery strategy or management plan
Listing a species as endangered or threatened sets a time limit for getting advice on how to ensure healthy numbers of the species return to Ontario.
The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks engages individuals and agencies with expertise on the species to write recovery strategies and management plans. This can include knowledge from the public and stakeholders.
Recovery strategies must be completed within:
- 1 year for endangered species
- 2 years for threatened species
Similar plans, called management plans, must be completed within 5 years for special concern species, unless a recovery strategy or management plan is required for the species under the federal Species at Risk Act.
Ontario has developed and published recovery strategies for 163 species at risk as of December 2022. At present there are over 200 species listed on the Species at Risk in Ontario List. Pursuant to the Endangered Species Act, 2007 the Ministry may require additional time to prepare a recovery strategy for a species in the following circumstances:
- the complexity of the issues involved in the preparation of a recovery strategy;
- the desire to cooperate with other jurisdictions (e.g., federal government agencies); or
- the desire to give priority to the preparation of recovery strategies or management plans for other species.
The Ministry is providing updates (Table 1) on the progress toward completing recovery strategies for 37 endangered and threatened species that were identified as requiring additional time to prepare. The updates provide a snapshot of the current status of each of these recovery strategies as well as forecasts when key steps in the recovery strategy development process are targeted for completion. The information and forecasts represent best available planning information, and as a plan it is subject to change and will be updated periodically.
To maximize accessibility, the table is available in both HTML and PDF formats. There may be differences between the versions – if you need the complete publication, download the PDF version.
Table 1. Progress updates and forecasts for recovery strategies for 37 species at risk in Ontario. Updated December 31, 2022
Download PDF (Updated December 31, 2022)
*Updated in this version
Government response statement
After receiving a recovery strategy or management plan, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks has 9 months to consider the advice in the strategy or plan and outline the actions it intends to take or support to help recover the species.
The response statement is based on advice provided in the recovery strategy, social and economic factors, and input from stakeholders, other jurisdictions, Aboriginal communities and the public.
Guided by the response statement, the government:
- works with individuals, environmental groups, municipalities and many others to help them protect endangered and threatened species and their habitat
- supports community stewardship projects that help protect and recover species at risk
- advises planners and developers, organizations, land owners, farmers and others on how they can avoid harming endangered species and their habitat
- works with industries, land owners, developers, researchers and others who want to take actions that could, harm, a species or damage its environment
- conducts research on species and their habitat
Review of progress
Once the government response statement is published, the Ontario government is required to conduct a review of progress towards protecting and recovering a species no later than the time specified in the species’ government response statement, or not later than five years after the government response statement is published if no time is specified.
Specific habitat protection
When a species is listed as endangered or threatened, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks will propose a habitat regulation for the species within:
- 2 years for endangered species
- 3 years for threatened species
A habitat regulation replaces general habitat protection. It provides a more precise definition of a species’ habitat and may describe features (e.g., a creek, cliff, or beach), geographic boundaries or other unique characteristics.
Regulated habitat may be smaller or larger than general habitat. It may include areas where the species isn’t currently found. These areas may have been previously occupied by the species or could be occupied in the future.
The recovery strategy and government response statement are key information sources for developing habitat regulations for threatened and endangered species.
Habitat protection and human activity
Not every activity that occurs within or near protected habitat will damage or destroy that habitat. To help determine if a proposed activity could damage or destroy the habitat, consider:
- details of the activity
- which parts of habitat are likely to be altered by the activity
- how habitat changes will affect the species’ ability to carry out its life processes
Read the policy guidance on damage and destroy (February 15, 2012)
Categories of protected habitat
The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks categorizes habitat to help identify areas within the species’ habitat that may be able to tolerate more or fewer changes.
Habitat is categorized by considering how a species uses its habitat and taking into account any unique characteristics of that habitat.
Habitat categories help determine when an activity may damage or destroy habitat and what conditions may be required for an authorization.
Areas in a species’ habitat fall into one of three categories.
Category 1: Red
These are areas of habitat where a species will probably be least tolerant to changes (e.g., nesting and hibernation sites).
Activities that could alter category 1 habitat areas will likely damage and destroy them, so they usually require authorization to continue.
Category 2: Orange
These are areas of habitat where a species is believed to be moderately tolerant to changes (e.g., areas used daily to find food).
Relatively high-impact or large-scale activities that could alter category 2 habitat areas could damage and destroy them, so they usually require authorization to continue.
Category 3: Yellow
These are areas of habitat where a species is believed to be the most tolerant to changes (e.g., areas used occasionally to find food).
Some high-impact or large-scale activities that could alter category 3 habitat areas could damage and destroy them, so they usually require authorization to continue.
Your input is welcome at every stage and on draft documents developed under the Endangered Species Act, including recovery strategies, government response plans and habitat regulations.
These documents are posted for comment on the Environmental Registry before being finalized.
Committees and advisory groups
Species at Risk Program Advisory Committee
This committee makes recommendations to the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks about the province’s species at risk program. It has up to 19 members with expertise in resource use, land use and/or environmental sectors, as well as the protection and recovery of species at risk.
Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario
An independent team of experts called the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario assesses and classifies species at risk. They use the best available scientific information and community and Aboriginal traditional knowledge.
Provincial Caribou Technical Committee
This provincial standing committee was set up to review and suggest improvements to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks’ conservation and recovery actions in the Caribou Conservation Plan. It provides scientific and technical advice on implementing the plan.
Members are recognized scientific and technical experts in their fields, including caribou ecology, forest ecology, conservation biology, and forest management.
This group provides advice to the government on solutions that consider the needs of farmers and land owners and the habitat needs of grassland birds such as the bobolink and eastern meadowlark.
The group has 13 members with agricultural, conservation, renewable energy, development, aggregates and First Nations perspectives. Members are serving a term that coincides with a 3-year exemption for bobolink under the Endangered Species Act, which is set to expire in October 2014.