Vancouver, BC – The Government of Canada has conceded it has been breaking the law by removing critical habitat maps for endangered species it is tasked with protecting. The admission surfaced in a legal argument filed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in a lawsuit concerning the Nooksack dace, an endangered fish found in BC’s Fraser Valley.
“Environmentalists have been fighting this battle for the Nooksack dace for two years but it is not limited to the dace, it is about the hundreds of endangered species listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act that desperately need habitat protection in order to survive and recover,” said Susan Pinkus with Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund).
Today, Ecojustice lawyers begin a four-day hearing in Federal Court on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence, Georgia Strait Alliance and Wilderness Committee. The environmentalists’ lawsuit alleges that DFO violated the Species at Risk Act by removing critical habitat maps from the Nooksack dace recovery strategy. While DFO has now re-inserted the habitat maps into the Nooksack dace recovery strategy, it still refuses to concede that it must always identify the location of critical habitat for all endangered and threatened aquatic species.
“We are in court to make sure that federal government learns to obey its own laws. Unless government starts obeying the law and identifying critical habitat for endangered species, we will be forced to keep going to court to protect them,” said Aaron Freeman of Environmental Defence.
“The DFO has finally included habitat identification in response to lawsuits we have launched on killer whales and Nooksack dace. If we truly want to protect plants and animals from extinction, habitat identification needs to be a part of every recovery plan,” said Rachel Plotkin of the David Suzuki Foundation.
DFO has deprived dozens of species of critical habitat maps, and thus critical habitat protection, throughout the country. In BC, eight species awaiting recovery strategies, and thus potentially affected by DFO’s illegal approach to species recovery: the humpback whale, four populations of white sturgeon, Salish sucker, north Pacific right whale, and shorthead sculpin.
“This lawsuit is about ensuring that these species do not fall through the cracks. Through this case, a minnow may be able to save a whale,” said Christianne Wilhelmson of the Georgia Strait Alliance.
“Hopefully, the Court decision will send a clear message to the federal government that they can’t play politics with endangered species and they must identify critical habitat to the greatest extent possible, so that all species and not just the dace are given legal protection,” said Gwen Barlee of the Wilderness Committee.