Posted on January 13, 2010 (updated: January 13, 2010)

BC government interfering with endangered species

The Wilderness Committee and Ecojustice, formerly Sierra Legal, today released a confidential government document which reveals British Columbia government political interference with endangered species recovery strategies.

The internal document, provided through a Freedom of Information request, directs BC endangered species recovery teams, which are established to provide expert scientific advice on recovering species at risk, to not identify critical habitat in species’ recovery strategies. The document instructs them instead to say in the recovery strategy that there is insufficient scientific knowledge to identify critical habitat.

The identification and protection of habitat is essential to the recovery of endangered species. Over 80 percent of species at risk in BC are at risk because of the loss and degradation of their habitat, largely as the result of land development, resource extraction and logging.

Under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA), a recovery strategy for a species at risk must be developed in order to plan for the species’ survival and recovery. A key requirement of recovery strategies is that recovery teams must identify critical habitat to the “extent possible”, based on “the best available information”. However, the confidential BC government document directs that “it should be made clear that critical habitat is not being proposed at this time”.

Not surprisingly, critical habitat is not identified for over 90 percent of species with BC-led recovery strategies. The exact wording found in the BC government document is often used to explain this failure to identify critical habitat.

“The BC government document instructs recovery teams to ignore the habitat that endangered wildlife need to breed, forage and raise their young,” said Gwen Barlee, Wilderness Committee Policy Director. “Not a lot surprises me, but this directive is astounding. This is a blueprint for extinction for BC’s endangered species.”

The situation in BC echoes developments in the United States where wildlife regulators are revisiting government decisions on endangered species and critical habitat after allegations of political interference by Bush-appointees.

“We are calling on the federal government to investigate all recovery strategies prepared by BC which fail to identify critical habitat,” said Devon Page, Staff Lawyer with Ecojustice. “If the federal government is serious about protecting species and enforcing its own law, it must not accept BC’s policy of letting politics trump science.”

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