Gray Rat Snake Protection Doesn’t Have a Leg to Stand On

Published on March 8th, 2012 in the Frontenac News as a Letter to the Editor

Recently, the Ontario Ministry of Natural resources (MNR) proposed new regulations to protect the gray rat snake. These regulations include three levels of exclusion zones around the snakes’ habitat reaching out as far as one kilometre from their known haunts. And just in case if you forgot how the MNR works, these regulations will restrict or prevent what you can do on your private property without compensation if a gray rat snake is found within 1000 meters of your land.

But what many people don’t know is the way that the MNR determines whether a species should be protected or not. A committee, all of whose members receive handsome per diems, looks at five criteria to determine whether a species in Ontario should be protected. However the committee and MNR do no research or studies themselves, but rely on information provided by the federal government.

They look to see whether (A) the population is in decline, (B) the species range is less than 20,000 km², (C) the population is small and in decline, (D) the population is small and restricted or (E) a quantitative analysis has been done showing the necessity of protection. If any of those five criteria are met, an animal will receive extra protection.

And what criterion did the gray rat snake meet?

Well, the MNR has not done any studies of the gray rat snake population, but according to their 2002 estimate there were between 20,000 and 85,000 snakes in the Frontenac Arch. Apparently, the population hasn’t been declining, so we can scratch off A. Also, the snake population wasn’t too small or restricted, according to the committee, so we can toss out C and D. And they haven’t completed a quantitative analysis for criterion E, so what does that leave?

Well, criterion B. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources a species with an occurrence or range of less than 20,000 km² in the Province of Ontario is considered to be endangered. So let’s put that into context here. Remember the last time you went to Toronto and thought the city was so darned big. Well imagine that 32 times over. If that’s too urban for you, imagine Cape Breton Island – twice over – as being an area too small. We should note that the committee didn’t consider the gray rat snake’s abundance in the eastern and central United States in that 20,000 km².

After the do-nothing, per diem committee has determined that the animal should be protected, the MNR goes out for public consultation. What an oxymoron, at best, a sham at worst. Any citizen is permitted, at this point, to give their input into the regulations through the EBR process, so as to maximize the regulations’ effectiveness and limit their intrusiveness. But when our bureaucrats finally do ask the public to comment upon the proposals, the public isn’t provided with any of the documentation used to make the decision. In fact the documentation is essentially hidden from our view.

When we craft regulations – even a regulation to protect a snake – we ought to identify whether the legislation might solve a demonstrable problem. If a regulation is necessary, it must achieve its goal while also taking into consideration the potential impact on an individual’s livelihood.

The protections on the gray rat snake, as far as the evidence released suggests, do not solve a demonstrable problem; however, these regulations can have the effect of eliminating the value and enjoyment of the property of thousands of law-abiding people.

The gray rat snake’s protection doesn’t have a leg to stand on, neither does its bureaucracy.

Randy Hillier, MPP for Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington