Ecojustice Blog – Nature Posted on March 22, 2013 (updated: February 17, 2015)

Back to court: Standing up for the Greater sage-grouse

Melissa GorrieLawyer

Today Ecojustice will do what we do best: Go to court. This time we’ll be taking federal environment Minister Peter Kent and Environment Canada to task in an effort to defend our democratic values and Canada’s endangered Greater sage-grouse.

Last year, Ecojustice filed an application in the Federal Court seeking a court order to force Environment Minister Peter Kent to recommend emergency protections for the endangered sage-grouse and the habitat it needs to survive and recover in Canada.

In response, the federal government has claimed that the Environment Minister’s plans for protecting the sage-grouse are part of a “Cabinet decision-making process” and are therefore confidential. Because they are confidential, the federal government argues, the court cannot scrutinize them. This is yet another example of the troubling lack of transparency around the federal government’s decision-making when it comes to environmental protection.

As a result we’re now seeking an order from the Federal Court of Appeal to strike down the Cabinet confidence claim. Ecojustice is representing Alberta Wilderness Association, Wilderness Committee, Nature Saskatchewan and Grasslands Naturalists in this action.

Our argument
The Minister of Environment has a mandatory duty under the Species at Risk Act to protect sage-grouse and cannot use a claim of Cabinet confidence to eliminate the court’s ability to review ministers’ actions to see if they comply with the law.

We will be arguing that the federal government’s action is an attempt to avoid court supervision of federal ministers’ mandatory legal duties, at the expense of Canada’s endangered sage-grouse population.

The plight of the sage-grouse
Canada’s sage-grouse are in trouble. Since 1988, more than 90 per cent of these prairie birds — which once numbered in the thousands and could be found throughout British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan’s sage-brush grasslands — have died off. Fewer than 100 birds are estimated to still remain in Canada.

The plight of Canada’s sage-grouse presents one of the most compelling cases for federal intervention under the Species at Risk Act that Ecojustice has ever seen.

Provincial laws have failed to protect the sage-grouse, causing it to decline precipitously and necessitating emergency intervention by the federal government under the Species at Risk Act.

Meanwhile, industrial activity, particularly oil and gas development, continues to threaten the survival and recovery of the birds, best known for their elaborate courtship dance. Research shows that when confronted with oil and gas development sage-grouse chicks fail to survive, and adults abandon their leks (central courting and breeding grounds) and other habitats crucial to their survival.

If no meaningful actions are taken to protect sage-grouse, scientists say they will disappear from Canada within the next 10 years.

How you can help
We know from experience that going through the courts to protect endangered wildlife can take years and lots of resources. Unfortunately the sage-grouse are critically endangered and don’t have the luxury of time.

We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the impact human disturbance has on ecosystems and the species that inhabit them. It’s time for our leaders to wake up and start using the tools at their disposal to preserve our wilderness and wildlife. And if they fail to act, Ecojustice will be there to hold them to account.

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Thanks to the support of people like you, Ecojustice goes to court to protect what we value most — the air, land and water that sustains all life. Make your gift today and support bold litigation for a brighter environmental future.

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