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The Greater Sage-Grouse
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The Greater Sage-Grouse

The Greater Sage-Grouse is an endangered bird that lives in the Alberta, Saskatchewan regions within Canada, and in the Western states for the United States of America. The bird was once found in the province of British Columbia but has been extirpated for over a century. This bird is brownish-gray, plump, chicken-like, with white patterning. It has a long spiky pointed black-and –white tail and a black belly. The males can weigh about 4.5lbs, and the females about 2.2lbs. Surprisingly, this Grouse is the largest in North America! The Greater Sage-Grouse lives in the prairies, but has been seeing terrible declines to their habitat within the last 10 years. The Greater-Sage Grouse is limited to its habitat because it prefers lower wet areas, where the young can forage for insects. Also, their diet heavily consists of sage leaves and buds, so they can only survive where the sagebrush is found. The degradation to their habitat can be linked to:

  • Conversion of habitat to farmland and intensive livestock grazing;
  • Oil and gas development near leks;
  • Oil and gas wells and associated pipelines destroying sagebrush habitats;
  • Drainage and irrigation projects: the development of dams, dugouts and reservoirs increased fourfold in southeastern Alberta between 1951 and 2001, meaning more than 80% of the Greater Sage-Grouse range was altered.
The ‘lek’ is the critical area needed for breeding, also acting as central hubs for the majority of their activities. Luckily, in an unprecedented decision, the federal government, in 2013, announced that they would introduce an Emergency Protection Order to help save this prairie-dwelling Greater Sage-Grouse. This came after 2008, when public engagement and private consultations shed widespread awareness of the issues that this species is facing. This Emergency Protection Order plus the recently designated Protected Area of Govenlock, are two steps that are were much needed to help the Greater Sage-Grouse survive their habitat degradation, and begin to reproduce successfully again. Govenlock is a region in southwest Saskatchewan where many of the species are found. Govenlock has recently become a designated area. This step was crucial in the designation of Govenlock as a National Wildlife Area. Govenlock’s luscious grasslands, the only suitable habitat for this bird, are now protected, and the Greater Sage-Grouse as a result! The Emergency Order for the protection of the Greater-Sage Grouse was issued by the Minister of the Environment, backed by the Governor General in Council, based on the opinion that the Greater Sage-Grouse is facing imminent threat to its survival and recovery. Following this Emergency Protection Order, the following activities are now prohibited:
  • Killing or moving sagebrush plants, native grasses or native forbs in a legal subdivision or road allowance
  • Constructing and/or installing a fence in a legal subdivision or road allowance
  • Constructing a new road, or widening a road that is in the protected area
  • Operation of a facility, motor vehicle or machine that produces noise that exceeds 45 dB(A) (equivalent to the noise found in a library) at any given time between 1.5 hours before sunset to 1.5 hours after sunrise during the months of early April to end of May.
These prohibitions do not apply to people engaging in activities related to public safety or health, or to the health of animals and plants, and that are authorized under provincial law. It is important to remember that just because we do not see this animal every day, that it matters just as much as any other species at risk. It is up to us to save the Greater Sage-Grouse by changing mankind’s destructive ways! Share this information with your friends and family so that they can know the progress that has been made, and what they can do to help. The Greater Sage-Grouse would greatly benefit if each and every one of you reduced your ecological footprint.

Precedent setting ruling to defend Species at Risk: Western Chorus Frog
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Precedent setting ruling to defend Species at Risk: Western Chorus Frog

[caption id="attachment_37987" align="alignleft" width="150"] Andrea Lesperance, Student-at-Law.[/caption] This blog post was written by Andrea Lesperance, a Student-at-Law for Nature Canada. A fight to protect the Western Chorus Frog has resulted in a precedent-setting legal decision. This 2018 decision of the Federal Court has affirmed the Federal Government’s authority to issue emergency orders to protect the habitat of species-at-risk located on provincial lands. The decision affirms the federal government’s authority to protect at-risk species and their habitat and should future court decisions. This is important in a time where biodiversity, particularly species already at risk, are lost at an alarming rate.

What is the Western Chorus Frog?

The Western Chorus Frog is a small (approximately 2.5 cm long) brown, grey or olive tree frog with three dark lines along its back and one larger line on each side. It is is found in approximately 100 wetland locations divided into two populations: the Carolinian population of southwestern Ontario and the Great Lakes / St. Lawrence – Canada Shield population (GLSLCS) in regions of Ontario and Quebec. The GLSLCS population is threatened, mainly due to habitat destruction and fragmentation, particularly in suburban areas of southwestern Quebec. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzePgnIpUuk

What Legal Protections Have Been Put in Place?

In 2008, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed the Western Chorus Frog GLSLCS population as Threatened. Subsequently, in 2010, it was listed as Threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). However, the strongest habitat protections afforded by SARA did not apply to much of the GLSLCS population because the relevant habitat did not lie on federal land. Thus, in 2013, Nature Quebec asked the Minister of Environment to issue an emergency protection order for the La Prairie population of Western Chorus Frogs under SARA. The Minister refused to make the recommendations and so Nature Quebec initiated a judicial review in Federal Court, seeking mandamus; an order to the Minister to make the recommendation. In its 2015 decision, Québécois du droit de l’environnement v. Canada (Environment), 2015 FC 773, the Federal Court set aside the Minister’s refusal as unreasonable and ordered her to reconsider the decision. The Minister undertook an extensive information gathering process and concluded there was imminent threat to the recovery of the Western Chorus Frog. Thus, in July of 2016, the Federal government issued an emergency order to protect Western Chorus Frog habitat in La Prairie, Quebec. The emergency order prohibited, among other activities, the construction of infrastructure, structure or barriers on approximately 2 km2 of partially-developed land in the municipalities of La Prairie, Candiac and Saint-Philippe, Quebec. The prohibitions were intended to prevent the loss and degradation of essential Western Chorus Frog habitat and prevent activities which could harm the species.

Legal Precedent and Implications

This decision was contested by a housing developer, Groupe Maison Candiac, who had previously received authorization from the province to build a housing development on part of the 2 km2 at issue. The developer applied to the Federal Court have the emergency order invalidated on the grounds that
  • (1) the provision of SARA which enables the Minister to, within the emergency order, prohibit activities on non-federal land, is outside the constitutional jurisdiction of the federal government, or
  • (2) the emergency order is expropriation without compensation, which is prohibited by s. 952 of the Civil Code of Quebec and the common law rule of de facto appropriation.
In the resulting decision, Le Groupe Maison Candiac Inc. v. Procureur General Du Canada, 2018 CF 643, the Federal Court rejected these arguments, finding that the section of SARA which enables the federal government to prohibit activities on non-federal land via an emergency order is a valid measure of criminal law, which falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The Court found that the relevant section of SARA:
  • pursues the legitimate public purpose of environmental protection first recognized in R v. Hydro-Québec, [1997] 3 SCR 213,
  • does not impinge on areas of exclusive provincial legislative jurisdiction, and
  • has the attributes of a criminal law regime.
Further, the FC held that the concept of de facto appropriation does not affect the validity of the emergency order because Parliament had provided for a compensation mechanism for the losses suffered as a result of the emergency order within SARA but limited its scope to extraordinary consequences. Congratulations to Nature Quebec! Without their initiative, the emergency order and resulting decision may not have come about. This recent decision is important for Nature Canada’s Greater Sage Grouse Case An emergency order has only been used to protect a species at risk twice since SARA came into force in 2002. An emergency order was issued in 2013 to protect Greater Sage Grouse habitat on Albertan provincial lands. The sage-grouse has been listed as an endangered species under SARA and the Alberta Wildlife Act for some time, but was afforded little protection under these mechanisms. Recognizing these shortfalls, Nature Canada wrote to then-Minister of the Environment Peter Kent, urging him to issue an emergency order to protect the Sage-Grouse and its habitat. On December 4, 2013 the federal government issued the Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage Grouse (SOR/2013-202). Now, the City of Medicine Hat and LGX Oil and Gas have applied to the Federal Court for a judicial review of the decision to issue the emergency order. The City of Medicine Hat and LGX Oil & Gas have requested that the Federal Court strike down the emergency order and the authorizing provisions of SARA on the basis that they are outside the federal government’s constitutional powers and so they unlawfully infringe on exclusive provincial legislative authority. It is clear, based on the Western Chorus Frog case, that the federal government has the authority to prohibit actions in important sage-grouse habitat in order to protect the species, because this falls under the legitimate public purpose of environmental protection.
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(Eco)Justice for the Sage Grouse
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(Eco)Justice for the Sage Grouse

[caption id="attachment_37532" align="alignleft" width="150"] Stephen Hazell, Director of Conservation and Legal Counsel.[/caption] The Federal Court of Canada has decided to grant Nature Canada and other nature groups, represented by Ecojustice, the status of intervener in a law case that will test the constitutionality of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) for the first time. The City of Medicine Hat in Alberta and LGX Oil & Gas initiated an application for judicial review asking that an emergency order protecting the endangered Greater Sage Grouse, and sections of SARA be declared unconstitutional. Having intervener status will allow the nature groups and Ecojustice file a written argument, and make a brief oral argument at the court hearing. The emergency order being contested was issued in 2013 to impose restrictions to protect the habitat of the Greater Sage Grouse on provincial and federal Crown lands in Alberta and Saskatchewan. At the time, Environment Canada reported that there were fewer than 150 birds remaining in the two Canadian provinces where they are found (Alberta and Saskatchewan) and that the bird’s population had fallen 98 per cent since 1988. The Greater Sage Grouse is listed as endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act, and must remain as such to stabilize its population and continue its recovery.

A future for the Sage Grouse

As it stands, Ecojustice is looking to ensure that the judges hear why emergency orders and SARA are valid law, and that they are critical to the future of the Greater Sage Grouse and many other wildlife species across Canada.
For more information on this case, please consult the following media reports CBC News on June 2, 2016: LGX Oil + Gas blames sage grouse protection order for insolvency CBC News on September 17, 2013: Endangered sage grouse to be protected by emergency order
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Protect Canada’s Grasslands
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Protect Canada’s Grasslands

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] Grasslands are the most endangered, the most altered and yet the least protected ecosystem on the planet. Unfortunately, the current federal government is transferring 1 million hectares of mainly native prairie grasslands (community pastures) to the provincial governments. In Saskatchewan, that means that protection of species at risk on these grasslands is being lost. Nature Canada has been a voice for grasslands conservation, seeking protection of species at risk such as the Greater Sage-Grouse, a creation of a National Wildlife Area at Govenlock and calling on the federal government to provide financial support to ranchers for conservation work on the community pastures. Public Pastures, Public Interest (PPPI) has now launched an official parliamentary petition to Hon. Catherine McKenna, federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, calling on her to work with livestock producers, First Nations and Métis organizations, local committees and conservation organizations to create a multi-use prairie conservation network on all former PFRA Community Pastures. Please fill out and share this petition with others before July 6th when it closes. Already it is garnering support across Canada  - we need 500 signatures in order for final certification.

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One-Four Research Farm: A Cooperative Wildlife Management Area
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One-Four Research Farm: A Cooperative Wildlife Management Area

[caption id="attachment_26918" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Blair Scott Blair Scott,
Professional Writing Intern[/caption] Located in southeastern Alberta, One-Four Ranch Research Facility, most of which is leased land from Alberta, has served as a hub for both agricultural and conservation research since 1927. The site is a 42,000-acre expanse of semi-arid mixed-grass prairie, situated south of Medicine Hat AB. One-Four Ranch is a part of the Northern Great Plains and home to at least 23 federally listed species at risk, and other rare species including the threatened Swift Fox, the endangered Mountain Plover and the threatened Soapweed. One-Four Ranch has traditionally occupied a common ground for achieving the goals of ranchers and conservationists. Its operations yielded agricultural research that had a pivotal influence on the production strategies and market valuations of ranchers. With respect to conservation, the research conducted at One-Four demonstrated that ranching and wildlife protection do not merely co-exist – they can actually complement one another. An operational framework that centres on preserving essential habitat features for species at risk involves well-managed pasture grazing; in fact, some species, such as the Mountain Plover, depend on grazing by ungulates to maintain optimal grass conditions. [caption id="attachment_15197" align="alignright" width="215"]Image of a Greater sage grouse A Greater Sage-Grouse by Gary Kramer[/caption] In 2012, AAFC proposed a transfer of One-Four lands to the Province of Alberta. Shortly after, major conservation organizations began questioning how such a transfer would benefit conservation of the grasslands and grasslands wildlife. The Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) contested the proposed transfer arguing that the One-Four grasslands should be protected under the Canada Wildlife Act. AWA cited the importance of this research farm to the re-introduction of endangered prairie species such as the Greater Sage-Grouse. The Greater Sage-Grouse cannot afford to lose anymore native grassland habitat – sagebrush accounts for about half of their diet during the warmer seasons, and 100% of their winter supply. In light of the complicated land-holding arrangements, Nature Canada has supported establishment of  One-Four Ranch as a Cooperative Wildlife Management Area, under which management responsibilities would be shared between Alberta, Canada and ranchers whose cattle graze this land. Nature Canada also has been calling for greater protection of 7 other proposed protected areas. To read more about these critically important sites, click here.

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Oil Company Grouses Erroneously
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Oil Company Grouses Erroneously

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] Ranchers and oil and gas companies are critical to the conservation of prairie grassland species at risk such as the Greater Sage Grouse, and Nature Canada is committed to supporting a sustainable economy in the region as well as nature conservation. “However, LGX Oil and Gas claimed yesterday that the emergency order to protect the endangered Greater Sage Grouse in southern Alberta caused it to go bankrupt. LGX has been on notice for three decades that drilling in Sage Grouse habitat is highly problematic” said Stephen Hazell, Director of Conservation at Nature  Canada. “The Sage Grouse was federally listed as threatened in 1997, and as endangered in 1998. Seismic operations near leks  (the mating areas for Sage Grouse) were banned by the Alberta government in the early 1980s. So we at Nature Canada find it difficult to accept that the Sage Grouse has suddenly made oil and gas operations uneconomic.” “Dialogue among stakeholders and governments is the way forward to conserve species at risk such as the Greater Sage Grouse , ensure resilient local communities, and build a sustainable economy.” Read for the full article here.

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Thank you!
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Thank you!

[caption id="attachment_16443" align="alignleft" width="150"]Eleanor Fast Eleanor Fast
Executive Director[/caption] As the end of 2015 approaches, I’d like to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who supported Nature Canada this year. I have been overwhelmed with the enthusiasm and generosity of people who support Nature Canada – it inspires me every day. And together we have achieved a lot this year! For example, you raising your voices for the Greater Sage Grouse and its habitat contributed to this summer’s announcement that its habitat near Govenlock, Saskatchewan will be turned over to Environment Canada (we will continue to pressure for the creation of an NWA). Your signing of our petition on Monarch butterflies spurred the announcement by our former Environment Minister and her colleagues in US and Mexico on trilateral action on Monarch conservation. Our NatureHood program expanded this year to provide over 3000 children and their families opportunities to explore and celebrate their nearby nature. And, showing the importance of long-term efforts, our decades-long push for the creation of Qausuittuq National Park on Bathurst Island to protect Peary Caribou, Muskoxen, Polar Bear, Walrus, Narwhal, Beluga Whales, Snowy Owls, and King Eider finally met with success when it was established as Canada’s 45th national park this summer. [caption id="attachment_24174" align="alignright" width="300"]Image of a mother Polar Bear with cubs A mother Polar Bear with her cubs[/caption] Then, last week, I was thrilled when Nature Canada was named one of Canada’s top 25 charities for 2015. Our transparency, financial reporting, and our effective use of donor funds to achieve our goals are particularly recognized by this, and I hope will remind you of what you already know – that every penny you donate to Nature Canada is treasured and used efficiently and carefully to protect and conserve nature. I am looking forward to the holidays and some relaxing days, long walks and good food (and hopefully some skiing, if the snow comes!) with my family. And then I am so excited about what 2016 will bring! We have a lot of work to do in continuing to press for the real protection of species under the Species at Risk Act, we will be asking you to raise your voices to protect crucial habitats across the country, and stay tuned for a brand new campaign we’ll be launching in the spring to Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives. I wish you and your loved ones wonderful holidays. Thank you so much for your support of Nature Canada. Email Signup

Trudeau Government should Protect Grasslands
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Trudeau Government should Protect Grasslands

[caption id="attachment_16447" align="alignleft" width="150"]Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and Legal Counsel[/caption] Prime Minister Trudeau has a great opportunity to protect more of Canada’s grasslands, which are our most imperilled ecosystem. The former Harper government shut down the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) and was in the process of transferring one million hectares of PFRA grasslands to the provinces without any plan to protect habitat for threatened species such as Greater Sage Grouse, Burrowing Owl, Swift Fox and Ferruginous Hawk. [caption id="attachment_23228" align="alignright" width="260"]Swift Fox by Cliff Wallis Swift Fox by Cliff Wallis[/caption] Nature Canada, Nature Saskatchewan and Alberta Wilderness Association are calling on the new government to put a pause on these transfers until a such a plan is in place. [button link="http://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1909&ea.campaign.id=44681" size="medium" target="_self" icon="" color="dark green" lightbox="false"]Sign our petition today to help us put a pause on the transfer of grasslands![/button] Read more in this Leader Post article, as well as this Yorkton article. Email Signup

Nature Groups Seek Federal Pause on Grassland Transfers
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Nature Groups Seek Federal Pause on Grassland Transfers

[one_third][/one_third] [one_third]Nature Saskatchewan[/one_third] [one_third_last]Alberta Wilderness Association[/one_third_last]

For Immediate Release October 29, 2015 (OTTAWA, ON, and REGINA, SK) —The new federal government should announce an immediate pause in transfers of grasslands formerly managed by the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) until a plan is in place to protect their ecological values say Nature Canada, Nature Saskatchewan and Alberta Wilderness Association. “We simply cannot afford to lose more grasslands -- the most imperilled ecosystem in Canada” says Stephen Hazell, Nature Canada’s Director of Conservation. “Saskatchewan grasslands are critical habitat for threatened species such as Greater Sage Grouse, Burrowing Owl, Swift Fox and Ferruginous Hawk as well as providing a carbon sink for greenhouse gas emissions. Transfers of management responsibility of PFRA community pastures to the Saskatchewan government should be halted until Canada and Saskatchewan agree on a legally binding plan to protect the ecological values of these grasslands”. “Given its election commitment to National Wildlife Areas, the new government should move forward quickly on public consultations towards establishing a National Wildlife Area for the 28,000 hectare Govenlock community pasture to protect wildlife and the carbon sink while providing for ongoing cattle ranching” says Jordan Ignatiuk, Nature Saskatchewan’s executive director. “Financial arrangements need to be put in place to ensure protection of species at risk and the carbon sink in those PFRA grasslands already transferred to the province.  Manitoba has moved in this direction on its 24 PFRA community pastures, now it is time for Saskatchewan and Canada to plan how to protect the ecological values of the 62 PFRA community pastures covering 720,000 hectares in our province”. “A federal pause on transfers of PFRA community pastures should be part of a larger plan to conserve native grasslands across the prairies” says Cliff Wallis of Alberta Wilderness Association.  “Canada should support a plan for nature conservation on the community pastures that haven’t yet been transferred, as well as conservation actions by ranchers and nature groups on private lands. These plans should be developed in full consultation with all those concerned about these grasslands and recognize current positive stewardship practices”. -30- About Nature Canada Nature Canada is the oldest national nature conservation charity in Canada. Over the past 75 years, Nature Canada has helped protect over 63 million acres of parks and wildlife areas in Canada and countless species that depend on this habitat. Today, Nature Canada represents a network of more than 45,000 members and supporters and more than 350 nature organizations across the country, with affiliates in every province. Nature Canada focuses on effecting change on issues of national significance including bird conservation,  citizen science initiatives, urban nature initiatives, building a national network of conservation organizations, building a network of volunteers to care for critical natural habitat sites across Canada and being a voice for nature at the federal level. Media contact Stephen Hazell Director of Conservation and General Counsel Cell: 613-724-1908 Email: shazell@naturecanada.ca Jordan Ignatiuk Executive Director, Nature Saskatchewan Cell: 306-551-0152 Email:  jignatiuk@naturesask.ca Cliff Wallis Alberta Wilderness Association Cell: 403 607-1970 Email: deercroft@shaw.ca

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