Posted on March 21, 2013 (updated: March 21, 2013)

Conservation groups take Environment Minister to court over endangered Sage-grouse

EDMONTON — Conservation groups are taking Environment Minister Peter Kent to Federal Court over his continued failure to protect Canada’s endangered Greater Sage-grouse and fulfill his duties under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

In November, Ecojustice filed a petition demanding Kent use a SARA provision to recommend emergency protection for sage-grouse and the habitat the species needs to survive in Canada. The protections requested included an end to further human disturbance, particularly oil and gas development, in crucial sage-grouse habitat.

The petition, sent on behalf of an international coalition of 12 environmental groups, requested a response from Kent by Jan. 16. None was received.

In response, Ecojustice filed an application in the Federal Court today, seeking a court order to force Kent to issue recommendations for emergency protection.

“Minister Kent’s inaction in the face of the rapid decline of these endangered birds is forcing us to seek court intervention,” said Melissa Gorrie, Ecojustice staff lawyer. “It’s unfortunate that we have to ask the Court to intervene, but the federal government has left us no choice. Sage-grouse need immediate protection or they’ll disappear from Canada.”

The sage-grouse, known for its elaborate courtship dance, was once a common bird on Canada’s Prairies. As a result of habitat destruction, particularly oil and gas development, almost 90 per cent of its Canadian population died off between 1988 and 2006. As few as 13 male birds currently remain in Alberta and at last count, as few as 42 males were left in Saskatchewan.

“If no meaningful actions are taken immediately to protect sage-grouse and the habitat they need to survive, they will go extinct in Canada within the next 10 years,” said Madeline Wilson, conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association.

The sage-grouse are highly sensitive to habitat disturbance. Research shows that, when confronted with oil and gas development, sage-grouse abandon their leks (central courting and breeding grounds) and other habitats that are crucial to their survival.

Provincial laws in Alberta and Saskatchewan don’t adequately protect sage-grouse and their habitat from threats posed by oil, gas and other industrial development, which is why immediate federal action is required.

Ecojustice is representing Alberta Wilderness Association, Wilderness Committee, Nature Saskatchewan and Grasslands Naturalists in this action. Ecojustice is the country’s leading charitable organization dedicated to using the law to defend Canadians’ right to a healthy environment.


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