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Federal government is failing Canada’s species at risk

Oct 08 2015

By Jennifer Deol | Wilderness Committee

Updated 10/13/15: Certain American Badger subspecies are listed as Schedule 1 under SARA including the BC subspecies jeffersoni. Recently, jeffersoni was split into two populations which the federal government has not taken action on to update the listing. The subspecies that has no protection under SARA is the American badger taxus subspecies that is found from Alberta to Ontario so we removed the American badger from our BC list below.

Canada has had a federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) for over a decade now. You would think that if governments put laws in place, they are prepared to uphold them – that has not been the case with SARA. In recent years, the federal government has spent more energy undermining and ignoring their own law than it has honouring it.

The goal of the Species at Risk Act is to prevent endangered or threatened wildlife from becoming extinct or lost from the wild, and to help in the recovery of these species.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), a committee of government and non-government experts, is appointed to direct the assessments and classifications of species using the best available scientific, community and Aboriginal traditional knowledge. However, they are an advisory committee and it is up to the Canadian Minister of Environment to respond to COSEWIC's recommended status within 90 days. The federal government then has nine months to make a decision on the addition of the species to the legal list.  Once listed, recovery strategies and action plans are to be released within a specified timeframe. 

SARA is a strong law in theory. Just this year, thanks to a SARA emergency order that was brought about by pressure from the Wilderness Committee and other environmental groups, sage grouse numbers saw a bounce back. But because of government foot dragging and refusal to enforce the law, SARA is failing the majority of our species at risk. A recent study found that SARA’s legal protection and mandated recovery efforts have done little good since the law was passed over a decade ago. Of the species in the system, 86% of them either deteriorated or stayed at the same level of endangerment. Sadly, this is no surprise since the government is routinely late in listing and preparing species-recovery plans within their mandated timeframe. To date, only 14 action plans have been finalized and listed on the Species at Risk Public Registry.

Right now, in our country, there are approximately 151 designated at-risk species that are sitting ducks awaiting listing decisions – decisions that have been unlawfully delayed. That means there are no management plans, no recovery plans and no action plans to protect these designated at-risk wildlife.

That is deeply troubling, and unlawful.

During a time when the sixth mass extinction is upon us, you would think Canada would get their ducks in a row and uphold their legal obligation to Canada’s at-risk wildlife.

They are failing to uphold their own law, and in turn failing us.

What we need are strong federal, provincial and territorial species at risk laws that are not only strong in theory, but strong in the trenches. Only 10% of BC’s 1,900 species at risk are listed under SARAIn BC, one of two provinces without an endangered species legislation, a provincial law would step in for at-risk species when the federal government fails to show up. We also need provincial and federal laws that give priority to prevent species from becoming at-risk in the first place. Endangered species legislation needs to be guided by science, protect critical habitat, be properly funded and most importantly – be enforced. If BC strives to be the “best place on earth,” it cannot be the “last place on earth” without an endangered species law.

Here are a few of BC’s species that have been left off the federal Species at Risk Act list:


 Northern fur-seal – This coastal traveller was designated as “Threatened” in November  2010. 
 Photo: Rolf Ream -  NOAA National Marine Mammal Laboratory via Wiki Commons





  Grizzly bear (Western population) – These awe-inspiring giants are under the gun, and  have been designated as “Special Concern” by COSEWIC  since May 2012.







 Barn swallow – This graceful darter was last designated as “Threatened” by COSEWIC back  in May 2011.





 Western bumble bee (occidentalis subspecies)  – Since May 2014 when COSEWIC  designated it as “Threatened,” this pollinators protection  priority has  lost its buzz.  Conservation groups and lawyers recently released a letter to the federal government asking  for its listing.
 Photo: Stephen Ausmus - USDA ARS via Wiki Commons





Bull trout (South Coast BC populations) – Although bull trout are listed as “Threatened”  under the US endangered species act, the south coast BC  population has yet to be listed  under SARA. It was designated in November 2012 as “Special Concern” by COSEWIC.
 Photo: USFWS Mountain Priaire via Flickr 


Roell's Brotherella Moss – An endemic moss in western North America, this moss was designated by COSEWIC as “Endangered” back in November 2010.



 Oregon branded skipper – Last designated as “Endangered” in November 2013, this small  butterfly-like critter continues to fight for its life in the  endangered Garry Oaks ecosystem.
 Photo: Charlesjsharp via Wiki Commons



All species COSEWIC designations can be found here.

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