From: Dr. David Suzuki, Care2, More from this Affiliate
Published March 10, 2014 09:24 AM

Protecting species in Canada

Of 345 species at risk in Canada, more than 160 have waited far too long for recovery strategies. Thanks to a recent federal court decision, four luckier ones are finally getting overdue plans detailing steps needed to save and protect them, including identifying habitat they need to survive. But to make it happen, environmental groups including the David Suzuki Foundation, with the help of Ecojustice lawyers, had to take the federal government to court. It wasn't the first time we’ve gone to court to protect wildlife.

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In what the judge called "the tip of the iceberg," the court found an enormous systemic problem in the two ministries responsible for protecting endangered and threatened wildlife. Both the environment and fisheries ministers broke the law for the species in question by allowing multi-year delays in meeting deadlines required under the Species at Risk Act, adopted in 2002.

This legal win is good news for Pacific humpback whales, marbled murrelets, Nechako white sturgeon and southern mountain caribou. But their fate and that of many other federally recognized endangered and threatened species remains in jeopardy. Court victories are just a start. It will take political will to ensure species and their habitats get the protection they need.

The yellow-breasted chat, northern goshawk and spotted turtle are just some of the endangered species that continue to wait, some for as long as seven years now. The eastern whip-poor-will, known for its distinct nocturnal cries, struggles to survive pollution, pesticides and climate change, while the grey fox and prairie loggerhead shrike confront agricultural and pesticide threats as they contend with recovery strategy delays.

When plans come this late, impacts of large development projects such as the Northern Gateway pipeline aren’t adequately considered before projects are approved. We’ll never know if the Joint Review Panel's recommendation to support the Enbridge project would have been different had it considered recovery impacts on threatened species such as the humpback whale.

Recovery strategies are not the only slow-moving part of the species-at-risk process. Just getting status assessments for species may take up to five years. Five more years could be required for government to decide whether to accept these scientific assessments and give species protection. Then, legal timelines kick in, followed by recovery strategies, many delayed, and still more years for action plans, which have no timelines, to take effect. For killer whales, whose overdue action plan was just released, the process has taken about 13 years and a court challenge from the David Suzuki Foundation and others, which concluded government was failing to protect the whale’s critical habitat. Many species have been waiting even longer.

Read more at ENN affiliate Care2.

Marbled Murrelet image by Peter LaTourrette via American Bird Conservancy.

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