Posted on October 1, 2012 (updated: October 1, 2012)

Environment Minster’s failure to protect sage-grouse could spark lawsuit

EDMONTON — Inaction by Environment Minster Peter Kent has left conservation groups no choice but to prepare for legal action in a bid to save the few remaining members of Canada’s Greater sage-grouse population.

In November, Ecojustice filed a petition demanding that Minister Kent use a provision in the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) to recommend emergency protection of the endangered sage-grouse and stop further human disturbance — including oil and gas development — in the habitat the birds need to survive.

The petition, sent on behalf of an international coalition of 12 environmental groups, demanded that the Minister respond by Jan. 16.

“The deadline has passed, and we are now seriously considering launching a federal lawsuit to force the Minister to fulfill his mandatory duties under SARA,” said Melissa Gorrie, Ecojustice staff lawyer. “Without meaningful protection of the habitat these birds need to feed, mate and nest, they will go extinct in Canada. By law, the Minister has an obligation to take immediate steps to protect the sage-grouse.”

The iconic bird, known for its elaborate courtship dance, saw almost 90 per cent of its Canadian population die 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. Scientists predict that, in the absence of meaningful protection, the sage-grouse will disappear from Alberta by next year and be completely extinct in Canada within a decade.

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 crucial habitats, which reduces their ability to survive.

Provincial laws are not protecting sage-grouse and their habitat from threats posed by oil, gas and other industrial development, which is why immediate federal action is required.

“We will exhaust our options to ensure that the Minister lives up to his legal obligation to protect the sage-grouse from extinction in Canada,” Gorrie said.

Alberta Wilderness Association, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Wilderness Committee, the Society of Grasslands Naturalists, Lethbridge Naturalists Society, Sierra Club of Canada – Prairie Chapter, Nature Alberta, Nature Saskatchewan, Nature Canada, National Audubon Society – Rockies, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and WildEarth Guardians are signatories to the petition.

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