The Endangered Species Act prohibits the harm and harassment of protected species and damage or destruction to their habitat.

You may need an overall benefit permit to perform an activity that is not otherwise allowed under the Endangered Species Act. The overall benefit permit authorizes a person, company or organization to perform the activity, as long as you provide an overall benefit to the species in Ontario.

You may need an overall benefit permit if:

  • your activity is not for the protection or recovery of a species at risk
  • your activity is not for the protection of human health or safety
  • your activity will not provide a significant social or economic benefit to Ontario
  • you are not a band (as defined in the federal Indian Act), a tribal council, or an organization that represents a territorially-based Aboriginal community

Read about other kinds of permits and authorizations


You will need an overall benefit permit for activities such as:

  • building a housing development in the habitat of eastern prairie fringed-orchid
  • cutting down American chestnut trees to build a trail through private property
  • building a highway through the habitat of eastern foxsnake


When you get an overall benefit permit, you need to meet certain conditions such as:

  • impact monitoring (the collection and summary of scientific data on the effects of the authorized activity on the species), with the goal of better predicting the effects of particular activities on species at risk
  • effectiveness monitoring (the collection and summary of scientific data on the success of steps taken to minimize adverse effects on the species and achieve an overall benefit), with the goal of more successful measures over time
  • supplementary actions (specific action(s) to be taken if measures to minimize adverse effects or achieve an overall benefit are not successful)
  • requirements for scheduled submission of reports to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, to show compliance with the permit and provide updates on the status of the activity and the results of impact and effectiveness monitoring efforts


  • an overall benefit to the species will be achieved within a reasonable time frame through the requirements imposed by the conditions of the permit
  • reasonable alternatives have been considered, including alternatives that would not adversely affect the species, and the best alternative has been chosen
  • reasonable steps to minimize adverse effects on the species are required by the conditions of the permit

The Endangered Species Act also requires that the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks consider any government response statement for the species that would be specified in the permit, before it can be issued.

Requirement: achieve overall benefit

Providing an overall benefit to a species means undertaking actions that contribute to improving the circumstances for the species. It must include more than steps to minimize adverse effects on the species or habitats.

How to achieve overall benefit

Achieving an overall benefit to a species may involve providing the species with a range of benefits, such as:

  • increasing the number of individuals of the species living in the wild and capable of reproducing
  • increasing the distribution of the species within its natural range
  • increasing the viability or resilience of existing populations of the species
  • slowing or reversing population declines by addressing key threats to the species’ survival
  • increasing the quality or amount of habitat for the species

Activities such as filling information gaps, education and outreach may contribute to an overall benefit plan for a species at risk. However, alone they are unlikely to meet the overall benefit requirement.

Recovery strategies and government response statements, where available provide information that can be used to form plans to achieve an overall benefit for species at risk.

Guiding principles

Achieving an overall benefit is based on a number of guiding principles:

  • overall benefit will be scaled and assessed on a contextual basis (e.g. species by species and activity by activity)
  • overall benefit must be achieved within a reasonable time
  • benefits are outcome-oriented (and linked to the protection and recovery of the species)
  • outcomes should involve consideration of where the greatest overall benefit can be achieved for the species
  • proposed actions should be based on the best available scientific information
  • proposed actions should involve consideration of ecological function. Plants and animals depend on certain physical conditions (e.g., water temperature, soil type) and ecological processes (e.g., predator-prey relationships, water flow) for their survival. Together those physical conditions and ecological processes make up ecological function.
  • assessment of overall benefit will involve the consideration of relevant uncertainties and risks (e.g., variability of ecological processes, level of understanding of the species, impacts of activities, mitigation measures and overall benefit actions such as habitat creation)

Overall benefit actions

Some examples of achieving an overall benefit while meeting the guiding principles include:

  • modifying existing storm ponds and outflows to improve water quality for an at-risk fish or mussel
  • installing permanent fences and underpasses along an existing stretch of highway to prevent future deaths of at-risk turtles along that highway
  • removing artificial barriers from streams to improve up/downstream movement of at-risk fish
  • undertaking steps to restore quality at-risk bird habitat in a degraded, abandoned field

Requirement: consider reasonable alternatives

You will need to show the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks that you have considered reasonable alternatives to your activity.

Alternative approaches to your activity include:

  • changing the location of the activity
  • using alternative methods, equipment or technical designs
  • changing the timing of the activity to avoid times when the species is there or is most sensitive to disturbance
  • changing the geographic scale, duration and/or frequency of the potential adverse effects
  • adding or changing approaches and timing of site restoration or rehabilitation after the activity is done

When considering reasonable alternatives to your activity, you must:

  • consider at least one alternative that would completely avoid any adverse effects on species at risk
  • identify alternatives that you considered but did not think were reasonable because of biological, technical, social or economic limitations
  • explain why the approach you have chosen is the best alternative

Requirement: minimize adverse effects

You must take reasonable steps to minimize the adverse effects of your activity on the species at risk and their habitat that are likely to be affected by your activity.

Ways to minimize the adverse effects of your activity on species at risk and their habitat may include modifying the:

  • location of the activity
  • geographic scale of the potential effects
  • activity design (e.g. engineering and technological)
  • timing of the activity
  • duration and frequency of the effects
  • approaches and timing for any site restoration or rehabilitation (such as doing progressive rehabilitation while other parts of the activity are still happening)
  • general operational protocols

When completing your permit application, you will have the opportunity to explain the steps you plan to take to minimize the adverse effects of your activity on species at risk and their habitat.


  • installing effective sediment and erosion control during construction to ensure that water quality in at-risk fish habitat is protected
  • installing a special fence to keep at-risk turtles from laying eggs, or getting killed by machinery, in a sand/gravel pit
  • rehabilitating or restoring the habitat of an at-risk bird after temporarily destroying it along a hydro corridor to replace the existing power line
  • harvesting trees, as part of a forestry operation, from at-risk turtle habitat when the turtle is hibernating, so individual turtles are unharmed during the process

How to apply

The process of applying for and obtaining an overall benefit permit has multiple phases. Start by contacting the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Park.

Step-by-step guide and policies

Download and follow the step-by-step guide to applying for a permit:

Submission Standards for Activity Review and Overall Benefit Permits

If you are interested in using scientific studies as part of an overall benefit permit download the Guidance on Using Scientific Studies as part of an Overall Benefit Permit for information on what is required.

Resources for each application phase

Phase 1 – Information Gathering: Application form and guide: Information Gathering

Phase 2 – Activity Review and Assessment: Application form and guide: Avoidance Alternatives

Phase 3 – Permit Application and Assessment: Application form and guide: Overall Benefit Permit

Processing time

The ministry will strive to acknowledge receipt of an overall benefit permit application and confirm whether the application requirements have been met within 60 calendar days of receipt, under normal circumstances. Once a complete application has been confirmed, we will aim to render a decision on the permit application within 3 months, under normal circumstances. In some cases, more time may be needed to complete consultation and environmental assessment requirements and refine the proposed permit conditions before seeking the permit decision.