Five of Canada’s most respected environmental groups are headed back to federal court to challenge Environment Minister Rona Ambrose’s refusal to protect Canada’s most endangered bird, the Northern spotted owl, under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). The groups have filed an application for a judicial review of the Minister’s decision and are seeking a court order to overturn it.

On August 16, 2006, Canada’s Minister of the Environment, Rona Ambrose announced her refusal to apply SARA to protect the spotted owl, saying she did not believe the bird faced an “imminent” threat to its survival. Government scientists now confirm that only 17 spotted owls remain in British Columbia, the only place in Canada where they are found.

“We’re down to 17 spotted owls. When is the federal government going to act?” commented Dr. Faisal Moola, science director with the David Suzuki Foundation. “We’re running out of time.”

The spotted owl population has plummeted by over 80% in the last 10 years. The main cause is the continued logging of BC’s old forests where the owls and 22 other species at risk live.

“Our legal challenge is about ensuring that the Harper government actually enforces the law rather than paying lip service to it,” said Gwen Barlee, policy director with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. “This government has turned its back on Kyoto – we won’t let them do the same to Canada’s endangered wildlife.”

“Minister Ambrose’s decision to not protect the owl was patently unreasonable and that is why we are going back to court. For us, this case is both about saving the owl and saving the Species at Risk Act,” said Sierra Legal lawyer, Devon Page. “If the Species at Risk Act doesn’t apply to 17 birds, when will it ever apply?”

The federal government has been heavily criticized by conservationists for mishandling SARA since the Act was passed in June 2003. The groups’ court action follows an internal government review released two weeks ago which raised serious concerns with the federal government’s implementation of SARA and noted that politics, rather than science, is determining the application of the Act.

“This lawsuit is about standing up for Canada’s endangered wildlife,” commented Candace Batycki of ForestEthics. “The federal government promised Canadians that our endangered species legislation would be world-class. The time has come to prove it.”

Sierra Legal is representing the David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence, ForestEthics, and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. For more information, contact: