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

Canadian Conservation Groups Take Federal Government to Court over Failure to Protect Endangered Shorebird

A coalition of leading conservation groups today filed a lawsuit against Environment Minister Rona Ambrose for her ministry’s refusal to identify critical habitat in the recovery strategy of an endangered bird, the Piping Plover.

Nature Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, ForestEthics, Environmental Defence and Western Canada Wilderness Committee, represented by Sierra Legal, argue that by neglecting to identify critical habitat in recovery planning documents for the Piping Plover, the federal government is failing to adequately implement the Species at Risk Act.

“Three years after the Species at Risk Act came into force, the federal government is failing to fulfill its duty of care toward our nation’s wildlife,” said Julie Gelfand, President of Nature Canada. “The most important element of the Act – identification and protection of critical habitat – isn’t being implemented. It comes down to a choice between recovery or extinction.”

The lawsuit was filed as opinion leaders from across Canada gather this week for the first Minister’s Round Table under the Species at Risk Act.

“It took Canada’s governments over ten years to pass this law but just three to dismantle it,” said Sierra Legal lawyer Devon Page. “This case is about seeing the law applied the way it was intended – to protect the homes of our endangered plants and animals.”

Loss or degradation of habitat is the single greatest cause of species endangerment in Canada but the Species at Risk Act protects habitat only if it is identified. Though the Piping Plover strategy cites a lack of knowledge as the basis for not identifying critical habitat, the groups say this is false.

“We do not believe a lack of scientific information is the true reason for critical habitat not being identified in recovery strategies,” said Candace Batycki, endangered forest program director at ForestEthics. “In the United States critical habitat for the Piping Plover has been identified using much the same information as exists in Canada. The case of the Piping Plover illustrates a federal government unwilling to enforce the Act, especially where it impacts provincial jurisdiction.”

“Habitat protection, maintenance and restoration is the key to species recovery,” said Rachel Plotkin of the David Suzuki Foundation. “And this cannot occur until the habitat needed for recovery is identified – it’s that simple.”

“There has been a consistent failure to identify the places that endangered animals and plants need to survive,” said Aaron Freeman, policy director with Environmental Defence. “In many cases, this failure can result in losing these species forever.”

“The federal government has a terrible record when it comes to enforcing our Species at Risk Act,” said Gwen Barlee, national policy director with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. “There are over 500 species at risk in Canada awaiting protection, and instead of moving to save them the government is refusing to enforce our endangered species legislation.”

“If critical habitat isn’t identified, landowners and volunteer naturalists cannot access funds they could use to do the right thing and protect the land for species at risk,” said Gelfand.

In addition to the groups formally named on the notice of application, Nature Canada is acting on behalf of the Federation of Alberta Naturalists, the Manitoba Naturalists Society, Ontario Nature, and Nature Quebec.

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