OFA Commentary 0310
OFA calls for compensation
By Mark Wales, Vice-President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
January 21, 2010 - Ontario’s Endangered Species Act offers considerable protection for a wide variety of species at risk of becoming extinct, but farmers should be able to recover compensation for the costs they incur protecting those species.
The principle of fairness dictates and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture believes there needs to be compensation for a farmer forced to take productive land out of production in order to save and protect the habitat of endangered species. If this doesn’t happen, the protection of these species must become a cost of food production that’s passed along to society.
Farmers have long been known for their love of nature and all its creatures. We recognize them as part of the total ecosystem – each important in its own way to the whole system.
OFA and Ontario farmers believe all of society benefits from a complete and protected ecosystem. This Act makes farmers pay for things that all in society benefits from having. It can be compared with an employer restricting the size of an employee’s office and reducing that employee’s pay as a result.
Ontario’s farming community becomes a victim of the new act’s definition of habitat – the area where a listed species lives. As the Ministry of Natural Resources develops the criteria protecting these habitat areas, farmers are finding out certain areas of their farms could become off limits to regular agricultural production.
Last June, the ministry posted its draft habitat regulations for nine species it believes to be at risk of going extinct. Included in that list of nine species were: American Badger, Barn Owl, Jefferson Salamander, Wood Turtle, Peregrine Falcon, and the Eastern Prairie Fringed-orchid. Now that the regulations have been finalized,, the fears of OFA and Ontario farmers have been confirmed.
In the case of the American Badger, woodchuck and Franklin’s ground squirrel dens, an area of about 560 acres will be lost to production. Next, sites for barn owls pose a different problem for farmers. The MNR restrictions apply even to man-made structures – everything from barns to silos where the owl may have chosen to build its nest.
Wood turtle habitat represents additional challenges for farmers. If a wood turtle is shown to be present in a stream on a farm, the land on both sides of the stream, river or waterway is designated for protection. That can extend from 200 metres or 500 metres above the high water mark. This could take between 200 acres and 14,880 acres out of production.
The Jefferson salamander enjoys pools in woodlots, so the MNR has designated the area within 300 metres of these pools as protected and off limits to any farming activity. The ministry has notified farmers with lands suited to the Jefferson salamander that drawing down on water from these pools, or removal of the canopy cover (tree cutting), and use of herbicides or fertilizers can also be viewed as damaging the habitat.
OFA has attempted to get details from the ministry about how normal, everyday farm practices in the designated habitat areas will be viewed – but with no success.
Farmers who find themselves in “grey areas” when it comes to interpreting the Act and how it might apply to their farmland, may want to ask a ministry official’s opinion before doing something that could lead to a hefty penalty.