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Two Marbled Murrelets on water.

Marbled Murrelet © Eric Ellingson, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In progress

Advocating to protect migratory birds across Canada

Advocating for the protection of migratory birds across Canada

March 6, 2023

Ecojustice lawyers, on behalf of Sierra Club BC and the Wilderness Committee, successfully challenged an overly narrow interpretation of the Species at Risk Act by federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault in Federal Court.

Following a petition sent by Ecojustice lawyers demanding that the Minister protect the critical habitat of the Marbled Murrelet, a threatened migratory seabird reliant on old-growth forests in coastal British Columbia, Minister Guilbeault issued a Protection Statement concluding that he was only required to protect the nests, not the rest of the habitat, of at-risk migratory birds like Marbled Murrelet.

On behalf of our clients, Ecojustice lawyers launched a judicial review in April 2022, challenging the Protection Statement. Our clients’ essential bone of contention is that the Minister too narrowly interpreted his duties to protect critical habitat for migratory birds as limited only to nests. Protecting nests alone is far from adequate since birds need far more than nests to survive and recover – they need healthy ecosystems that support their full life cycles. What’s more, for species like Marbled Murrelet, it’s nearly impossible to spot nests when they are hidden high in trees or in thickets, so habitat protection based on identifying individual nests is ineffective.

In a court hearing in November 2023, Chief Justice Crampton agreed with our clients’ position that the Minister’s decision was unreasonable. The Chief Justice set aside the Protection Statement and sent it back to Minister Guilbeault for reconsideration. The Chief Justice concluded that only ensuring the protection of migratory birds’ nests, but not the rest of their critical habitat, was not justified under the law or key facts before the Minister. This victory confirms that the Species at Risk Act requires the Minister to do more to protect the critical habitat of Canada’s at-risk migratory birds.

Despite Canada’s ecological and economic wealth and high governance capacity, the biodiversity crisis continues to intensify across the country. Habitat loss is the main cause of endangerment for more than 95 per cent of species on land including most at-risk migratory bird. Threats to habitat from industrial activity like continued logging of old-growth forests and from climate-change fuelled wildfires and heatwaves, leave endangered species increasingly vulnerable to extinction. Ecojustice is committed to ensure that governments provide meaningful protection of critical habitat to support the recovery of at-risk migratory bird species, including the marbled murrelet.






If we are successful in court, Ecojustice and our clients would help establish that the Minister must protect the critical habitat of at-risk migratory birds beyond protecting their nests. This would help ensure the survival and recovery of the Marbled Murrelet, in addition to many other at-risk migratory bird species.  

This is not the first time Ecojustice on behalf of our clients has challenged the federal Minister for failing to meet his legal duties under the Species at Risk Act to protect the habitat of at-risk species. Our work to protect the Spotted Owl in the B.C. interior has pushed the Minister to protect the old-growth forest habitat of Spotted Owls when B.C. has failed to do so. And, in Atlantic Canada, we’ve challenged the government’s narrow definition of Piping Plover habitat as essentially ‘small patches of beach’, whereas the entire beach is critical for the species to survive and thrive. 

Through this file and other work, Ecojustice is ensuring that elected officials meaningfully protect species and their critical habitats.   

Ecojustice staff

Andhra Azevedo

Sean Nixon 



Sierra Club BC

Wilderness Committee