Species At Risk

Endangered Species Act: The Basics

How the Act Works and How You Can Get Involved

Ontario passed a new Endangered Species Act in 2007, making the province a North American leader in protecting species at risk. The new act, which updated a 1971 law, protects three times as many species, emphasizes science-based decision making, and protects not only species but also their habitat.

There are timelines in the law for producing strategies and plans to provide advice for recovering at-risk species. And there are now tools to help reduce the impact of human activity on species and their habitats, and to encourage protection and recovery activities.

1. Classify Species

The act created an independent body, the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO), which considers whether a plant or animal should be designated as at risk, and its status. This committee consists of people with expertise in certain scientific disciplines or Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge.

Learn more about how the committee works and the different classifications for at-risk species.

Meeting dates and species to be considered by the committee are posted online. Members of the public are welcome to provide information useful for their assessments or present in person to the committee.

2. Provide Immediate Protection for Species

Plants and animals that are added to the Species at Risk in Ontario List as Endangered, Threatened or Extirpated species are automatically protected from being harmed or harassed. Special Concern species – those that are sensitive to human activities but not Threatened, Endangered or Extirpated – are not included in this protection but may be periodically reviewed for changes to their overall population.

3. Provide Immediate Protection for Habitat

The Endangered Species Act recognizes that it’s not enough to protect plants and animals themselves – their homes, and the land and water they need to live out their lives, also need to be protected. When species are listed as Endangered or Threatened, their general habitat is automatically protected.

General habitat includes areas on which a species depends, directly or indirectly, to carry on its life processes, including reproduction, rearing, hibernation, migration and feeding.

Plants and animals that were deemed at risk on the old Species at Risk in Ontario List, and that do not already have habitat protection, will automatically receive general habitat protection on July 1, 2013.

4. Obtain Advice Through Recovery Strategies

Protecting Endangered and Threatened plants and animals is only part of the process. We also want to restore populations of these species so that they will no longer be at risk of disappearing from Ontario.

Listing a species as Endangered or Threatened sets a deadline for gaining advice on how to ensure healthy numbers of the species return to Ontario. Recovery strategies must be completed within one year for Endangered species and two years for Threatened species. Similar plans, called management plans, must be completed within five years for Special Concern species, unless a recovery strategy or management plan is required to be prepared for the species under the federal Species at Risk Act.

The ministry engages individuals and agencies with expertise on the species to write the recovery strategies and management plans, typically incorporating knowledge from the public and stakeholders.

We welcome comments on draft recovery strategies, which are posted on Ontario’s Environmental Registry. Comment on any strategies currently available for review.

See all the recovery strategies developed to date.

5. Prepare Government Response

After receiving a recovery strategy or management plan, the ministry has nine months to consider the advice provided in the strategy or plan and to outline what actions it intends to take or support to help recover the species. This government response statement along with the recovery strategy are key information sources for developing habitat regulations for Threatened and Endangered species.

We welcome comments on draft response statements, which are registered on Ontario’s Environmental Registry. Comment on any statements currently available for review.

See all the government response statements developed to date.

6. Regulate Specific Habitat

A key step in protecting a species is defining its habitat, including specific places in that area that are used as dens, nests and places to hibernate.

Once a species is listed as Endangered or Threatened on the Species at Risk in Ontario List, timelines are set to define the habitat for the species in a habitat regulation. For Endangered species, the ministry has two years after a species is listed to develop a habitat regulation for the species. For Threatened species, the deadline is three.

We welcome public comments on draft habitat regulations, which are registered on Ontario’s Environmental Registry. Comment on any draft regulations currently available for review.

See all the habitat regulations developed to date.

Which species need protection?

An independent committee considers whether a plant or animal is at-risk of disappearing from Ontario and how it should be classified.
Learn more.

Want to comment on work in progress?

Review any draft recovery strategies, government response statements or regulations currently posted for comment.
Learn more .

Other Laws and Policy that Protect Endangered Species

Read about the many laws and policies help protect species at risk.
Learn more.

Enforcing the Endangered Species Act

The act sets out stronger penalties for people or corporations who harm species at risk or damage their habitat.
Learn more about how the law is enforced.

Endangered Species Act – Complete Text

Read the full wording of the 2007 law.
Read now.

What Happens Next?

The government response statement guides the actions the ministry intends to take or support to protect and recover each species.

Within five years of publishing a government response statement, the ministry must review the progress made in protecting and recovering the species.


Blanding turtle

Endangered Species Act

Learn the basics


Permits and other authorizations

The Endangered Species Act offers flexibility tools that try to balance species protection and human activity.

Mobile phone

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.