An independent evaluation released yesterday reveals rampant federal mismanagement in implementing the Species at Risk Act (SARA). The evaluation by private consulting firm Stratos Inc., points out serious deficiencies in all of the key areas evaluated.
The evaluation was released by Environment Canada’s Audit and Evaluation Branch in response to a request from the federal Treasury Board. It concludes that ‘the species at risk programs and activities are not yet on track to ensure that the Act’s objectives and intended outcomes will be realized.
“From figuring out which species to protect, to figuring out how to protect them, this report reveals, at best, governmental bungling, and at worst negligence,” said Gwen Barlee, the Policy Director of the Wilderness Committee. “Canada’s endangered species deserve better.”
The number one cause of species’ decline in Canada is habitat loss. The identification of critical habitat is the primary tool under SARA to enable habitat protection. One of the key findings of the evaluation is that critical habitat was not being identified or legally protected. The evaluation also finds that a significant portion of available resources was either re-allocated to other departmental priorities,allowed to lapse, or extensively re-profiled within SARA programs. This means that money that was allocated for such crucial things as recovery planning and critical habitat identification was misspent.
“Worse yet,” added Rachel Plotkin, Sierra Club of Canada’s Director of Forests and Biodiversity, “an Environment Canada document leaked to Sierra Club outlines current federal policy directives that dilute SARA’s potential even further. The draft policy essentially encourages provinces not to identify critical habitat in recovery strategies and to dilute a science-based process with economic considerations. The Conservative government can’t blame the Liberals for this grim new direction!”
The Stratos evaluation also highlights failed cooperation between the federal government and the provinces to protect Canada’s endangered plants and animals. Because the Species at Risk Act doesn’t automatically require protection of species on provincial lands, provincial governments are left in charge, even though many do not have laws to protect species at-risk and their habitat. The failure to protect species in the provinces has led to lawsuits in British Columbia and Alberta.
“When the federal government passed this legislation, they promised no species would fall through the cracks but many are,” said Sierra Legal lawyer, Devon Page. “As it stands now, we’re back to where we started from before we had national legislation – battling province by province and species by species.”
The federal government has committed to addressing concerns raised by the report, but the leaked policy document reveals that the federal government might, in fact, be tracking in the opposite direction.