Ontario should closely monitor a bee-killing pesticide and end logging in Algonquin Park — the only provincial park in which timber harvesting is allowed, environmental commissioner Gord Miller urges in his latest annual report.
While the Liberal government has taken steps to reduce the area available for logging, almost two-thirds of the massive park can still be used by forestry companies, he said in a 191-page document.
Miller also takes aim at urban sprawl, a gutting of the Environment Ministry’s budget and ability to fight pollution in a “timely manner,” and singles out neonicotinoid pesticides for harming bees and their pollinating ability.
Citing the growing concern worldwide over harm to honey bee populations, Miller said neonicotinoids — now the subject of a proposed class action lawsuit by bee keepers against chemical companies — may require further restrictions on their use.
“This is the biggest threat,” Miller told a news conference, describing the pesticide danger as “bigger than DDT” and calling on the government to put in place monitoring systems or go further with a moratorium as several European countries have done until more evidence is in.
Environment Minister Glen Murray said he believes neonicotinoids are “much more toxic than DDT” but warned conservationists not to expect any firm provincial action right away in terms of any crackdown on corn, soy and other seeds coated with the pesticide for at least a year.
Because farmers are now buying seeds for next spring, “the seed availability precludes options for next year,” Murray said. “The earliest change would be 2016.”
Environmental activists accused the government of dragging its feet.
“Our entire food system is threatened,” said Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, who called for a ban on the pesticides last spring.
“The premier talks this game to death. Now it’s too late to do anything for next spring’s planting season.”
The group Friends of the Earth said the government should be mandating a 50 per cent cut in the use of the pesticide-coated seeds for next spring at a bare minimum.
Acknowledging his push to end logging in Algonquin will be “controversial” given that the park was set up as a timber reserve 121 years ago, Miller insisted “it is a serious anomaly that our oldest and most famous park would not even qualify as a protected area under international standards because we cut the timber.”
Miller said logging should continue in the Ottawa Valley to the east and maintains “there is ample wood supply outside the park to keep those mills running for the foreseeable future if we choose to allocate it.”
The phase-out should not happen immediately but should occur in an “orderly and non-economically disruptive way,” the commissioner added.
Looking back to the province’s 2006 growth plan aimed at intensifying growth in urban areas to preserve agricultural and natural land, Miller found the government has approved “lower density” development targets for nine of 15 municipalities in the outer ring of the Golden Horseshoe area curving around the west end of Lake Ontario from Niagara to Northumberland.
“The government is allowing communities to continue the pattern of low density development that is too sparse to support even basic transit services,” the commissioner said.
The criticism comes as Premier Kathleen Wynne makes a major push to improve transit in the GTA to reduce gridlock.
Miller said the shortfall in efforts to fight pollution are “an embarrassment” given how the province, less than two decades ago, had a “world-class pollution control system.”
In mandate letters to new cabinet minsters recently, Wynne directed Murray to ride polluters harder.