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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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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back—Scientists propose more species to be listed as at risk
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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back—Scientists propose more species to be listed as at risk

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] On December 4, 2017 following several days of meetings in Ottawa, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) announced its recommendations for changes to listings of 44 wildlife species under the Species at Risk Act. The good news is that COSEWIC now considers that the Peregrine Falcon is no longer at risk of extinction throughout most of Canada thanks to a ban on the pesticide DDT and a captive breeding program. The bad news is COSEWIC recommends that a number of other species be listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern.  For example, COSEWIC recommends an endangered listing for eight of the 24 populations of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River. Two populations are recommended for threatened status and five populations for special concern status. Nine populations were stable or increasing and so were assessed as being Not at Risk. [caption id="attachment_14583" align="alignright" width="200"]Peregrine falcon Peregrine falcon[/caption] Two of three populations of Pacific Grey Whale using Canadian waters are also recommended for endangered status. These represent Grey Whales' last global stronghold. All three groups winter in Mexican waters, but move along the Canadian coast to spend the rest of the year feeding in different regions. A remnant population that summers along the Russian coast, and a second small group that feeds near Vancouver Island and adjacent waters, were both assessed as Endangered. The largest population, which travels along the Pacific coast to Alaska, was assessed as Not at Risk. Other species found to be at some level of risk:

  • Vancouver Lamprey, found in only three Vancouver Island lakes (Threatened)
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl brooksi subspecies, unique to Haida Gwaii forests (Threatened)
  • Quebec Rockcress, which grows only on certain Gaspé Peninsula limestone cliffs (Endangered)
  • Verna's Flower Moth, which is found exclusively in the Canadian prairies (Threatened)
  • Lumpfish, an Atlantic Ocean species fished for its caviar-like eggs (Threatened)
  • Dolphin and Union Caribou in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, which migrate across sea ice affected by climate change and shipping activity (Endangered).
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Liberals And NDP Agree To Speed Up Species At Risk Listings
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Liberals And NDP Agree To Speed Up Species At Risk Listings

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] Congratulations to Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna and BC NDP Member of Parliament Richard Cannings for agreeing to speed up listings of species at risk recommended by COSEWIC scientists. Cannings introduced a private member's bill C-363 that would close a loophole that the Canadian government has used for years to delay or deny protection for species deemed to be at risk. Under the Species at Risk Act, the advice to list a species comes from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), and the Minister has nine months to make a decision—to list or not—after receiving that advice.  Unfortunately, previous governments often did not respect these timelines such as for the listings of Barn and Bank Swallows which were delayed for many years until McKenna acted earlier this year. Bill C-363 proposed to amend the Act to make it clear that the clock starts when the advice is received. At a meeting of COSEWIC this week, Minister McKenna announced that the government would be enacting Mr.Cannings’ proposal in government policy. Nature Canada is delighted that the government and the NDP could work together to protect species at risk.

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Ever Heard of a Baird’s Sparrow?
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Ever Heard of a Baird’s Sparrow?

[caption id="attachment_34104" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Sharlene Amalu Sharlene Amalu, Guest Blogger[/caption] This blog is written by guest blogger Sharlene Amalu.  No, I’m not talking about a certain sea captain and some pearl; I’m talking about the bird Ammodramus bairdii, also known as the Baird’s Sparrow. The Baird’s Sparrow is believed to only have a lifespan of three to six years and is approximately 12cm in length or slightly larger than the size of your palm. Individuals only sing one song out of a possible thirteen songs through its lifespan. They’re tiny birds that really sing! Approximately 60% of the overall Baird’s Sparrow population breeds mostly in the southern regions of the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba while also breeding in the states Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, and sometimes in Minnesota. During the warmer months, from April to late September, the sparrows breed in habitats with mixed grasses or dense grass regions within crops or hay, and nearly shrub-less prairie settings. Dry wetland basins and wet meadows are also used for breeding. From Late September to late March, they live in the south.

These Sparrows Need Some Help

Image of a Baird’s SparrowUnfortunately, the Baird’s Sparrow has been placed under “Special Concern” after a review in 2012 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and the Species at Risk Act (SARA).  Habitat loss and degradation from various activities such as urbanization, road and energy developments, climate change, invasive plants and the conversion of grasslands to crop lands have become issues. The infrastructure associated with energy extraction and renewable energy projects, in particular, contributes greatly to the destruction of habitat. In the Baird’s Sparrow’s breeding range, the number of gas wells nearly tripled in the last 20 years in Canada. These sites have impacted more than 30,000 ha of grassland habitat and have created 65,000 ha of edge habitat. To meet consumer demand, another 9000 ha of grassland habitat is being predicted to be used per year. The Baird's Sparrow is also impacted by adverse agricultural activities such as irrigation, pesticides use, and livestock grazing has disturbed natural drought cycles, fires, and changed grassland growth patterns from uniform and intensive grazing. Fragmentation has also made parasitism from cowbirds a problem.

What’s Being Done?

Currently, 30% of native grasslands in Saskatchewan are under some form of protection by government and non-government organizations, while in Alberta, just over half of the lands are owned by the Federal and Provincial government. However, management is an issue as these protections don’t stop energy extractions from occurring unless in a National Park or the Suffield National Wildlife Area (Suffield NWA). In the United States, the US Conservation Reserve Program does help protect areas but doesn’t allow grazing to happen, affecting grassland growth. In 2016, the organization Partners in Flight created an action plan to help with the conservation of land birds. You can read the full article about the action plan click here and can click here to learn more about the 2016 Conservation Action Plan for Landbirds if interested. Want to learn more about this species? Check out our Know Our Species page!
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5 Things You Didn’t Know about the Buff-breasted Sandpiper
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5 Things You Didn’t Know about the Buff-breasted Sandpiper

[caption id="attachment_34104" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Sharlene Amalu Sharlene Amalu, Guest Blogger[/caption] This is written by guest blogger Sharlene Amalu. This is the Buff-breasted Sandpiper, also known as the Tryngites subrufivollis. It’s a small shorebird with an average length of only 18-20cm a yellowish-beige body and a brown to black backside and wings. This sandpiper has been listed as special concern in the Species At Risk Act (SARA) and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) also assessed this species as special concern. Here are 5 things you didn’t know about the Buff-Breasted Sandpiper:

  1. The Buff-Breasted Sandpiper lives across Canada. The Buff-Breasted Sandpiper can be found in both the United States. In Canada, they live in all the Northern Territories, Western Canada, Ontario, and Quebec. However, they breed in regions located in the Arctic Hemisphere such as eastern Russia, Alaska, the Yukon and Northern Central Canada.
  2. Just like us, they need a vacation from winter. Buff-Breasted Sandpipers are snowbirds, migrating to warmer climates located mainly in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay as early as mid-June to early July while migrating back early February through to late March.
  3. They follow the motto of “one for all, and all for one”. The Buff-Breasted Sandpiper is known to change flight course when they realize one of their flock members is injured, which results in this species being vulnerable to hunting.
  4. Grand gestures are everything when finding a mate. When looking for mate in their Arctic breeding grounds, males form groups and use courtship displays to attract females also known as lek mating displays.
  5. Home is where the heart is. After finding a mate, the females usually lays eggs eggs in a nesting located away from the congregation of males and in a low-lying grassy or mossy area where the eggs hatch mid-July, hence non-breeding females migrate south earlier.
[caption id="attachment_34095" align="alignright" width="378"]"Buff-breasted Sandpiper" by Tim Lenz is licensed under CC BY 2.0 "Buff-breasted Sandpiper" by Tim Lenz is licensed under CC BY 2.0[/caption] Unfortunately, habitat loss has caused some serious problems for their mating season, their migration and their preferred living habitat. In their habitats of the Arctic where mating would likely occur is where mining developments have formed. The amount of garbage that accumulates from those developments also attracts more predators. Although the full impact on breeding is not fully known, it is definitely a concern. Their North and South American habitats for non-breeding are also being developed for newer settlements and farmlands with grazing patterns consuming the short grass habitat that they reside.  Pesticides also cause a range of symptoms from physiological impairment to death while changes in climate have resulted in irregular timing for breeding periods and food availability. What can you do? The Buff-Breasted Sandpiper is listed under Special Concern for COSEWIC and SARA and is protected under Canada’s federal Migratory Birds Convention Act (1994), and provincial/territorial legislation, however, their environment isn’t included. Do your part as an individual to mitigate climate change; make earth-friendly consumer choices to limit your greenhouse gas emissions. Want to learn more about the Buff-breasted Sandpiper? Check out our profile on this bird for more facts and background! 
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New Species added to the Species at Risk Act
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New Species added to the Species at Risk Act

[caption id="attachment_22916" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Samantha Nurse Samantha Nurse, Web and Social Media Coordinator[/caption] Congratulations to the federal government for adding 11 new species to the Species at Risk Act! Last week, the federal government added these new species to the list and they will now receive some protection under the Act. In the next steps forward, the federal government will start to work on recovery planning with provinces, territories, Indigenous communities and stakeholders. Here are the species recently added: [caption id="attachment_31470" align="alignright" width="300"]Image of "Collared Pika (2) - Ochotona collaris" by National Park Service, Alaska Region is licensed under CC BY 2.0. "Collared Pika (2) - Ochotona collaris" by National Park Service, Alaska Region is licensed under CC BY 2.0.[/caption]

  1. Olive Clubtail
  2. Okanagan Efferia
  3. Dune Tachinid Fly
  4. Horned Grebe (Western population)
  5. Buff-breasted Sandpiper
  6. Baird’s Sparrow
  7. Batwing Vinyl Lichen
  8. Crumpled Tarpaper Lichen
  9. Peacock Vinyl Lichen
  10. Collared Pika
  11. Magnum Mantleslug
However, this is only one small step in the protection of species at risk in Canada. There is now a backlog of up to five years of 100 of species scientifically declared to be at risk that has not yet been legally listed under the Species at Risk Act. The species that are waiting to be legally listed include the Barn Swallow, Narwhal, Western Grizzly Bear and the Loggerhead Sea Turtle. How can you help? Write a letter to your local editor with our free template to raise awareness on the importance of these at risk species!
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Get to know our Endangered Species
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Get to know our Endangered Species

[caption id="attachment_22916" align="alignleft" width="150"]Samantha Nurse, Web and Social Media Coordinator Samantha Nurse, Web and Social Media Coordinator[/caption] How much do you know about the species at risk in Canada? Species at risk are species whose members are declining and at risk of extinction. This often happens due to a number of factors like environmental or human-induced changes to their habitats. Once the species are listed on the Federal Species at Risk list, they are under legal protection in hopes to both conserve and recover the species. Currently there are over 300 wild plants and animals protected by the Species at Risk Act (SARA)! There are several profiles of species at risk on our website with the basic "need to know" facts and the various ways in which you can help. Recently, we have just added to 2 more species profiles: Sei Whale and Common Nighthawk. [separator headline="h3" title="Sei Whale"] [caption id="attachment_24861" align="alignright" width="300"]A photo of a Sei Whale mother and her calf A photo of a Sei Whale mother and her calf[/caption] Many people haven’t heard of a Sei Whale before but it is actually the 3rd largest baleen whale in the world! Their average length is about 15 meters which is approximately 50 feet! The Pacific population of this species is listed as Endangered and is found off the coast of British Columbia. The Sei Whale has been impacted through human activity over the years, such as noise pollution and human sourced pollution like contaminated run-off. There are however, many ways in which Canada is working towards protecting the species and many ways that you can help them too! There are volunteer monitoring programs in place, and we have a few tips on just how you can help to protect the Sei Whales. Read more here. [separator headline="h3" title="Common Nighthawk"] [caption id="attachment_24723" align="alignleft" width="300"]Image of a Common NIghthawk Image of a Common NIghthawk[/caption] The Common Nighthawk is listed as Threatened and they are found in Canada during the warmer months. The habitats this species calls home are generally grasslands, sand-dunes, riverbanks and marshes! Why is it at risk? There are two main factors: habitat loss and agricultural development. Due to this, monitoring has concluded that their population has been dropping over the past few years. But, there are ways that you can help this species! Be sure to report any sightings of the Common Nighthawk in our NatureHood App as it helps reveal patterns that can aid local scientists in their work to protect the species. Read more facts and learn other ways in which you can help this species here! Wild plants and animals give humans so much – from food and medicine, to healthy ecosystems and spiritual nourishment. Wild species clean the air and water, nourish the soil, maintain the carbon balance in the atmosphere, remove pollutants and prevent waste accumulation. The benefits, what some call ecosystem services, are essential to human life on this planet and every species plays some kind of essential role in an ecosystem.

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Scientific committee fingers climate change in latest species at risk assessments
Polar bear by Regehr Eric, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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Scientific committee fingers climate change in latest species at risk assessments

Alex MacDonald, click for contact informationAfter an unexpected delay earlier this month, the Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada, or COSEWIC, released its latest assessments of the status of species threatened with extinction in Canada. COSEWIC's assessments provide the scientific basis for the listing of species under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA), and for this reason they are often called "recommendations". The Committee, which is made up of scientists and wildlife experts from academia, the private sector, NGOs and government representatives, assessed the status of 19 species at its late November meeting here in Ottawa. Of the species reviewed, 4 were assessed as Endangered (e.g., Nuttall's Sheep Moth) , 9 as Threatened (e.g., Gray Fox, Louisiana Waterthrush),  and 5 as Special Concern (e.g., Flooded Jellyskin lichen). A British Columbia plant species, Giant Helleborine, was reassessed as Not at Risk. COSEWIC's report includes 'positive' news for 6 species that were reassessed as being in a lower risk category, including the Peary Caribou, found in Canada’s High Arctic, being downlisted from Endangered (assessed in 2004) to Threatened status, and the Lake Erie Watersnake going from Endangered (assessed in 2006) to Special Concern. But downlisting doesn't mean that the threats have disappeared, nor does it rule out the role of citizens in the conservation and stewardship of a species. In fact in some cases it is the very involvement of Canadians, through actions like expanded survey efforts, that sheds light on previously unknown occurrences or populations of a species at risk – thereby helping COSEWIC better understand its status in Canada. Image of a glacierWhile Canada's growing number of species at risk is newsworthy enough, the biggest and most timely news in COSEWIC's recommendations is the "recurring theme" among the species assessed: climate change. And climate change is not only a direct threat to some of these and other species at risk — COSEWIC notes that in some cases it is actually compounding the intensity of threats they already face, such as degrading wetland habitats or allowing destructive invasive species to expand farther northward over time. The delay in COSEWIC's climate change-linked release proved to be heraldic given the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, also known as COP21. Canada has shown ambitious leadership during these climate talks, widely considered to global leaders' last chance to get the planet on a 'reasonable' trajectory with respect to future climate impacts. Indeed, Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna announced during COP21 meetings on Sunday night that Canada would support a goal of just 1.5° C of future global warming coming out of the Paris Agreement. That support sends a strong signal that Canada is taking climate change seriously. This couldn't come at a better time, because it is almost too late. Ladybug on red maple leafI congratulate COSEWIC for using its latest species assessment report to draw attention to climate change*. At very least it importantly provides context and immediate relevance to what could be pessimistically dismissed as the 'routine', semiannual work of COSEWIC. But in the bigger picture this approach demonstrates how the effects of climate change have far-reaching policy and legal implications. On that note Nature Canada and other environmental groups recently issued a joint letter calling on the new federal government to provide better support to COSEWIC in carrying out its scientific responsibilities.  As well, we are asking that the government fill vacancies on COSEWIC’s Species Specialist Subcommittees, and reinstate its former policy of authorizing COSEWIC to recommend new COSEWIC members to the government. Action on these matters would support the renewed federal focus on the role of science in decision making. [caption id="attachment_24207" align="alignleft" width="300"]Peary Caribou standing on the frozen tundra; barren ground caribou; Arctic Peary Caribou, now considered "Threatened" in Canada based on COSEWIC's latest assessment.[/caption] Now that COSEWIC has delivered its species status assessments to Minister McKenna, a 'legal clock' has begun ticking down on an official response: a Response Statement must be published on the SARA Public Registry within 90 days. The Minister's Statement must indicate how she/he will respond to each species' assessment and how consultations with the affected governments and parties will be undertaken for each species; for example, the January 2015 Plains Bison Response Statement is available here. Once this indefinite consultation period has ended for each species, the Minister then presents COSEWIC's assessments, and her/his recommendations regarding them, to Cabinet and the Prime Minister, who then have nine months to decide to:

  1. Add the species to the 'official' list of species at risk in Schedule 1 of the SARA (this triggers legal protections);
  2. Decide not to add the species to the official list; or,
  3. Send a species assessment back to COSEWIC for more information or reconsideration.
You can find the detailed version of COSEWIC's November 2015 Wildlife Species Assessments here, including the rationale for the status assigned to each species. And once again, the Committee's latest press release entitled "Climate Change Matters for Species at Risk" can be found here. I encourage you to have a look at the release, which captures the cautious optimism of what may come out of COP21 Paris on Dec 11th while adding an important reminder that conserving our "species at risk and rich and valuable biodiversity" depends on all of us.
*In the interests of full disclosure, Nature Canada is one of the original NGO partners, including WWF Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Federation, that helped to establish COSEWIC. In recognition of this history, Nature Canada and the other groups have standing "Observer" status at the Committee's meetings. We do not participate in discussions or decision making at the meetings.
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Saved by Popular Demand?
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Saved by Popular Demand?

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and Legal Counsel[/caption] A new day may have dawned for Canada’s species at risk. Nature Canada is very pleased that Prime Minister Trudeau  has directed Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, to “enhance protection of Canada’s endangered species” as a top priority. Implementing the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) is critical to this work. Last week, Nature Canada and seven other nature groups wrote a joint letter to Minister McKenna outlining some of the pressing shortcomings in implementing SARA including:

  • Clearing up the backlog of  scientifically assessed species at risk  not yet declared to be legally at risk
  • Getting caught up in preparing Recovery Strategies for threatened and endangered species
  • Better supporting the work of  COSEWIC, the scientific advisory committee on species at riskImage of Barn Swallow
The previous federal government fell behind badly in legally listing species recommended for at risk status by COSEWIC. The backlog goes back four years, and includes more than 100 species, including Barn and Bank Swallows and the western Grizzly Bear population. Preparing recovery strategies for endangered, threatened and extirpated species at risk—including identification of critical habitat--is another priority. The preparation of recovery strategies needs to be an objective, scientific exercise to identify broad strategies to ensure species’ survival and recovery. You can save endangered and threatened species by encouraging the Minister and the new government to act by Popular Demand!

Here's how you can help today:

Please consider signing Nature Canada’s petition requesting that the Minister immediately list the Barn and Bank Swallows as threatened.

Learn More Here:

To learn more about protecting endangered species, check out these news articles from the Ottawa Citizen: Triage in the wild: Is it time to choose which species live and which die out? Canada, once a global leader in conservation, is among the world’s biggest cheapskates when it comes to spending to save disappearing wildlife. To learn more about biodiversity targets, click here. Email Signup

Why is downgraded protection for BC’s Humpback Whales an extra special concern?
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Why is downgraded protection for BC’s Humpback Whales an extra special concern?

On April 19th the federal government published an order to down-list, or downgrade protection of, the North Pacific Humpback Whale population under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA). The order was published in Canada Gazette Part I, where proposed regulations gestate and briefly undergo consultation before becoming official under Gazette Part II. Until May 17th Canadians are invited to share their comments on this order here. But enough of the Civics lesson, why did this happen and what does it mean? [caption id="attachment_11066" align="alignleft" width="300"]Two North Pacific humpback whales cresting out of the water. Nature Canada, British Columbia Two North Pacific Humpback Whales off the BC coast.[/caption] It all began back in 2011 when Canada’s premier independent scientific advisory body on the state of wildlife, called COSEWIC or the Committee for the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, assessed the available data for the North Pacific population of the Humpback Whale, found along the entire British Columbia coast and into northwest Alaska.  Based largely on an estimated increase of more than 50% in the North Pacific Humpback population over the last 64.5 years, COSEWIC determined that the species’ abundance has improved sufficiently to have its legal status downgraded from “threatened” to “special concern” under SARA. Despite what may appear to be semantics, this change has legal significance in that species that are listed as “threatened” or “endangered” under SARA receive full protection under the general prohibitions of the Act as well as legal protection of their critical habitat. The Act still applies to species of “special concern” of course, but they do not enjoy the same degree of protection as the more ‘at-risk’ species listed. Whatever this change entails, we mustn't overlook the fact that COSEWIC doesn’t make such recommendations lightly. In recommending this down-listing to government, COSEWIC was careful to note that the North Pacific Humpback population is still not in the clear and coupled with the threats it still faces, cannot be considered a “recovered” population that’s free from risk. Therefore, it still warrants the federal government’s attention under SARA, and the science firmly supports that approach. [caption id="attachment_11067" align="alignright" width="375"]North Pacific Humpback Whale (iStock) North Pacific Humpback Whale off the Alaskan coast[/caption] But what about the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline? The Trans Mountain Pipeline? New oil tanker traffic up and down Canada’s west coast? What could these new developments, and the threats they could bring, mean for the North Pacific Humpback Whale? Surely they won’t be beneficial and with reduced protections for this population under SARA, there’s a narrower scope of potential impacts on the species and its habitat to be considered, mitigated or avoided altogether. Some critics say the government’s timing for this Order, whether it’s based on scientific advice or not, is suspect given the proposed mega-projects along the west coast. I would offer this perspective, however: the timing of this order is troubling because it demands that government keep a close eye on a species that’s not yet in the clear, and that may face new threats, all in the midst of significant government downsizing and loss of science capacity. Simply put, you can’t respond to changes in populations that you don’t monitor, and you don’t monitor without people. The timing of this government Order is unfortunate because it signals a loss of scientific and monitoring capacity for the species at the very time when threats to North Pacific Humpback Whales from ship strikes and tanker oil spills are very likely to increase. So that, in my view, is what this seemingly semantic change could mean for North Pacific population of Canada’s Humpback Whales.

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