Environmental groups intervene to protect Piping Plover habitat

Environmental groups are participating in a hearing this week to uphold a stop work order that blocks the Town of South Bruce Peninsula from destroying piping plover habitat on Sauble Beach.

                                                    photo by Sandy Lindsay

“Sauble Beach is considered to be vital habitat for the endangered piping plover,” said Sue Tan, Ecojustice lawyer in a media release. “The piping plover is listed as endangered under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. Enforcement and compliance with the ESA in this instance is crucial in ensuring that piping plover habitat is protected and the natural state of their nesting grounds is preserved. Our efforts during this week’s hearing aim to ensure that actions taken by the ministry to protect an endangered species under the Act are effectively enforced.”

Ecojustice lawyers, on behalf of Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature, are intervening in the Town of South Bruce Peninsula’s appeal, which is aimed at revoking a stop work order that was first issued by Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in March, 2018. The order prevents the Town from intensive beach grooming — including raking and bulldozing — on the shores of Sauble Beach.

The groups allege that the Town’s continued practice of beach grooming harms piping plover habitat and does not comply with the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA) requirement to preserve and protect endangered species’ habitat.

“When the Town ‘grooms’ the shores of Sauble Beach, it runs the risk of sweeping away the birds’ nests and leaving them exposed to predators. Major beach work, even in the winter, can damage the habitat over the long term. Considering there are only a handful of nesting sites for piping plovers in all of Ontario, including annual breeding on the shores of Sauble Beach, this practice puts the recovery of this species at greater risk,” said Caroline Schultz, executive director at Ontario Nature. “We need the minister to ensure this area is protected under the law and send a clear message that the reckless destruction of endangered species’ habitat will not be tolerated in Ontario.”

The main threat to piping plovers is human disturbance, since the sandy beaches where they live are also popular for human recreation which can destroy nests. Groomed beaches lack natural hiding places, making eggs and chicks more vulnerable to predators such as foxes, cats, raccoons and gulls.

“To put it simply, intensive beach grooming that harms piping plover habitat is against the law, and a decision in favour of the municipality in this case would effectively send a pro-extinction message,” said Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence. “Piping plovers only made their return to the area in 2007, after a nearly 30-year absence. If we want to ensure the Sauble Beach plover population can continue to survive and one day thrive, we need to make sure that the ESA is enforced, and that flouting it has real consequences.”

In March 2018, the groups sent a letter to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry asking for a stop work order to halt planned beach grooming by the Town of South Bruce Peninsula on protected piping plover habitat. The ministry issued an order the following day. That order has since been amended several times to reflect the species’ changing seasonal needs.

Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity, goes to court to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment for all.

Environmental Defence is Canada’s most effective environmental action organization. We challenge, and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.

Ontario Nature protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement. Ontario Nature is a charitable organization representing more than 30,000 members and supporters, and 155 member groups across Ontario. For more information, visit ontarionature.org.