Provincial report: Wildlife populations declining in Ontario

The Environmental Commissioner for Ontario recently released the 2015/2016 Environmental Protection Report, titled “Small Steps Forward”. Volume 2 of this report focuses on trends in biodiversity, referring to case studies of population declines in moose, bats, and amphibians in Ontario.

Moose (Alces alces) populations in Ontario have been in decline for several decades despite recovery efforts in the province and elsewhere in North America. The population in Ontario is estimated at approximately 92,000 moose today, says the report, compared to about 115,000 individuals in the early 2000’s. Populations in certain areas of the province have declined by as much as 60 percent in the past decade, and many are below management objectives set by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). Loss of suitable habitat, disease, parasites, and climate change are some of the many factors said to be contributing to a declining moose population.

The report considers the millions of bats in North America that have died as a result of white-nose syndrome “an ecological disaster.” The disease was first found in Ontario in 2010, leading to four bat species becoming endangered in the province. The eastern small-footed myotis (Myotis leibii), little brown myotis (M. lucifugus), northern myotis (M. septentrionalis), and tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus) have all been listed on Ontario’s Endangered Species Act of 2007.

As is the case throughout the world, this report highlights that populations of amphibians in Ontario are experiencing concerning declines. Three of the 27 amphibian species native to Ontario have been extirpated, while five have been listed under the province’s Endangered Species Act. The report cites loss of suitable habitat as the primary threat to amphibian species in Ontario.

The recommendations in the report hinge on one central theme: gaining greater understanding of Ontario’s biodiversity should be the government’s first priority.

“Without good information on Ontario’s species,” the report states, “…MNRF simply cannot make informed decisions about conservation, or assess whether conservation measures are working.” The report criticizes MNRF’s failure to begin implementation of a biodiversity monitoring program, despite a 2012 provincial government mandate to do so.

The report concludes with recommendations for ways MNRF can effectively address population declines in moose, bats, amphibians, and overall biodiversity. Recommendations include mandatory reporting for moose hunters, increasing efforts to mitigate harm to at-risk bat species, and prohibiting infrastructure development on wetlands.

Header Image: ©Barbara Friedman