3.4 Species at risk

Endangered Barn Owl

Globally, our wealth of species is being lost at an astounding rate. Canada’s rich heritage of wildlife is disappearing. While Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), proclaimed in 2003, has some redeeming qualities, overall its flaws make it ineffective in protecting Canada’s threatened species. It provides basic protection only for species on federal lands – about 5% of the lands in Canada. It lets the federal cabinet rather than the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) scientists decide which species are on the ‘species at risk’ list. Habitat protection and recovery plans are voluntary.

The legal listing of species at risk has become more political and less scientific each year. Cultus Lake sockeye salmon were not listed to avoid “significant socio-economic impacts on sockeye fishermen and coastal communities.” Eight aquatic species recommended by COSEWIC were not listed by federal cabinet in 2006. Former Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn said it was “to ensure that we don’t negatively affect the fishing industry.”

In the last few years, despite rhetoric about ‘safety nets’, the federal government has refused to issue emergency orders to protect critical habitat on non-federal lands. Ottawa has looked the other way as the B.C. government has permitted logging in Northern spotted owl habitat, condemning the species, with only a few pairs left, to extinction in Canada.

The Greens know that the conservation of species diversity is an essential part to a healthy environment. To conserve species, we must strengthen Canada’s SARA and make it an effective tool that actually protects endangered species and their habitats everywhere in Canada including all federal, provincial, territorial, First Nations, and private lands. We envision an Act that includes powers to enforce prescribed measures to protect species at risk and stop acts of non-compliance. We believe the COSEWIC scientists should have the final say on the designation of threatened species and not have its recommendations subject to Cabinet approval, a condition that greatly weakens COSEWIC’s power and ability to protect species at risk.

Green Party MPs will amend Canada’s SARA to:

  • Ensure that listing under this Act is based on scientific, and not political, processes. COSEWIC’s determination will be the actual legal listing. Cabinet approval will be removed;

  • Ensure that recovery-planning efforts identify and then appropriately manage, protect and/or restore the habitat that species need to recover, through consultative, collaborative efforts with stakeholders, land-owners, provinces, municipalities, and First Nations governments;

  • Inject $40 million/year for five years to renew the federal Species at Risk implementation funding (currently set to expire in March 2015);

  • Make it a criminal offence, made punishable as a mens rea offence, to kill a listed species, regardless of whether the offence occurred on federal or provincial land;

  • Identify ecologically significant areas and establish a Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan for Canada, working with the provinces to establish and protect wildlife corridors through land use management plans at the regional and provincial level.