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Ariel view of the Sunshine coast with the forests, road and beach.

Protecting nests alone is far from adequate since birds need far more than nests to survive and recover – they need healthy ecosystems

In progress

Advocating to protect migratory birds across Canada

Advocating for the protection of migratory birds across Canada

March 6, 2023

Ecojustice, on behalf of Sierra Club BC and the Wilderness Committee, is challenging in court an overly narrow interpretation of the Species at Risk Act by federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault.   

Following a petition sent by Ecojustice 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.  

Our clients’ essential bone of contention is that the Minister has 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 in towering individual trees from the ground, so habitat protection based on identifying individual nests is ineffective.  

This case is a judicial review, which is a court hearing to determine if the decisions of administrative bodies or lawmakers are fair and justified under the law.  

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