The US Federal Court ruled last Friday that it will grant Canadian environmental groups the right to participate in a lawsuit brought by industry groups. The industry groups are challenging the American government’s decision to protect the Southern Resident Orcas as an endangered species. Represented by Sierra Legal, Western Canada Wilderness Committee and Georgia Strait Alliance will join with their American partners to defend protection of the Southern Resident Orcas – from a uniquely Canadian perspective.
“The Southern Resident Orcas are a transboundary species. Their survival depends on critical habitat on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. Without strong legal protection from both countries, we will condemn these whales to extinction,” said Sierra Legal Staff Lawyer Lara Tessaro.
Listed as an endangered species under the Canadian Species at Risk Act (SARA), the Southern Resident Orcas are at grave risk of extinction throughout the range of their habitat, which stretches from Puget Sound in the south, to Georgia Strait in the north. These orcas face numerous environmental threats, including the loss of salmon prey, toxic contamination, vessel traffic and noise pollution.
“Industry efforts to strip the Southern Residents of endangered species status in the US would undermine Canadian efforts to recover these very same whales,” said Gwen Barlee, Wilderness Committee Policy Director. “We encourage Canada and the United States to advance their efforts to protect the Southern Residents, by designating critical habitat and implementing recovery strategies.”
“These orcas are cherished by Americans and Canadians alike,” said Christianne Wilhelmson, Program Coordinator for the Georgia Strait Alliance. “Yet due to marine pollution, these whales are one of the most toxically contaminated marine mammals in the world. Industry, governments and conservation groups on both sides of the border should be working together to prevent pollution and to protect the orcas.”
Meanwhile, the Canadian Government is finalizing a Recovery Strategy for the Southern Resident Orcas and has committed to publishing it by the end of August 2006.
The Canadian environmental groups will file their written brief with the US Federal Court on August 31, 2006.