Species At Risk

Habitat protection

How habitat protection works under the Endangered Species Act


The Endangered Species Act (ESA) prohibits damage or destruction to the habitat of Endangered and Threatened species. When a species becomes listed as Endangered or Threatened in Ontario, its habitat is automatically protected using the general habitat definition in the ESA. This is also known as general habitat. The habitat of Endangered and Threatened species is protected either through general habitat or a habitat regulation.

Understanding general and regulated habitat


General habitat is a generic definition of habitat under the ESA that is used to automatically protect a species' habitat as soon as it is listed as Endangered or Threatened. Under the ESA, general habitat is defined as the habitat 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 does not include areas where the species previously occurred (historically) or areas where it may be reintroduced in the future.

A Habitat Regulation is a regulation that describes in detail species-specific habitat that is protected under the ESA. It provides a more precise definition of a species’ habitat than the general habitat definition.

Regulated habitat may be smaller or larger than general habitat and may include areas currently unoccupied by the species. These areas may have been previously occupied or will potentially be re-occupied in the future.

General habitat descriptions are technical documents developed to provide useful information about each species' typical habitat areas, features, and uses. These descriptions are consistent with the general habitat definition of the Act.

A habitat regulation is typically developed two to three years after a species is listed as Threatened or Endangered. For Endangered species, a habitat regulation is developed within two years of the species being listed. For Threatened species, a habitat regulation is developed within three years of the species being listed. Once finalized, a habitat regulation replaces general habitat protection.

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You can find current notices about all proposed actions and activities related to species at risk protection and recovery. We want to hear what you think.

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Your proposed activity and habitat protection


Not every activity that occurs within or near protected habitat will damage or destroy that habitat. A number of factors help to determine if a proposed activity will potentially damage or destroy the habitat, which include answering the following three questions:

  • What are the activity details?
  • Which parts of habitat are likely to be altered by the activity?
  • How will habitat changes affect the species’ ability to carry out its life processes?

What do “damage” and “destroy” mean?


Damaging habitat is when an activity changes habitat in ways that impair its usefulness for supporting one or more of the species’ life processes.

Destroying habitat is when an activity changes habitat in ways that eliminate its usefulness for supporting one or more of the species’ life processes.

What is habitat categorization?


The ministry categorizes habitat to help identify to which parts of its habitat species 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. Areas in a species’ habitat fall into one of three categories that reflect how tolerant that area of habitat is to change before its usefulness for the species is compromised. Habitat is categorized for both general habitat and a habitat regulation.

 

Category 1: Red

These are highly sensitive areas of habitat where a species will probably be least tolerant to changes. Activities that could alter category 1 habitat areas will likely damage and destroy them, so they usually require authorization to continue. E.g., nesting and hibernation sites.

 

Category 2: Orange

These are areas of habitat where a species is believed to be moderately tolerant to changes. 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. E.g., areas used daily to find food.

 

Category 3: Yellow

These are areas of habitat where a species is believed to be the most tolerant to changes. 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. E.g., areas used occasionally to find food.

Habitat categorization and authorizations


Habitat categories help the ministry decide when an activity may damage or destroy habitat and what conditions may be required for an authorization.

Not all activities that alter habitat will damage or destroy that habitat.

Learn more about Categorizing and Protecting Habitat under the Endangered Species Act policy.

Permits and other authorizations


The Endangered Species Act offers flexibility tools (e.g., regulations, permits and agreements) that try to balance species protection and human activity. Learn more

Contact


Ministry Office

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

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Blanding turtle

Endangered Species Act

Learn the basics

Permits

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.