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

Federal government must prevent extinction of sage-grouse in Canada

VANCOUVER — An international coalition of environmental groups is calling on the federal environment minister to take Canada’s endangered Greater sage-grouse under his wing with an emergency protection order.

Ecojustice submitted a petition today on behalf of 12 groups demanding that Environment Minister Peter Kent use a provision in the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) to protect Canada’s few remaining sage-grouse, found only in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“The decline of Canada’s sage-grouse is an emergency that demands the federal government’s immediate attention,” said Sean Nixon, Ecojustice staff lawyer. “The recent decline of sage-grouse presents perhaps the most compelling case for federal intervention in the history of SARA. The provinces have done little more than watch as the sage-grouse spirals towards extinction.”

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, sage-grouse will disappear from Alberta by next year and be completely extinct in Canada within a decade.

“If sage-grouse are wiped out in Canada, it will be an entirely avoidable and human-caused disaster,” said Madeline Wilson, conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association. “The provinces’ failure to protect sage-grouse habitat has brought the species to the brink of extinction, and urgent federal action is needed to save these spectacular birds.”

The petition calls for Minister Kent to recommend an emergency order to protect the sage-grouse and stop further human disturbance of the habitat these birds need to survive. Recent scientific research suggests that rapid encroachment of oil and gas development on the areas where sage-grouse spend the winter, breed, nest and raise their young is the leading factor in their extreme population drop.

Alberta and Saskatchewan each have a Wildlife Act and voluntary guidelines for energy development near sage-grouse habitat, but provincial protections are so lax that sage-grouse continue to decline. In addition to demanding federal protection for sage-grouse under SARA, the environmental groups are calling on the oil and gas industry to voluntarily provide sage-grouse with the protection they need.

“We have strong science telling us how and where oil and gas development must be regulated if sage-grouse are to survive in Canada, but the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan and the oil and gas industry are refusing to act on it,” said Dr. Mark Boyce, sage-grouse expert and professor at the University of Alberta. “Unless they change course immediately, sage-grouse will become the first species extirpated because of the oil and gas industry.”

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

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