Posted on January 13, 2010 (updated: January 13, 2010)

Harper Government Failing Canada’s Species at Risk

The federal government is missing legal deadlines for recovery planning for Canada’s endangered species. On June 5, 2006, the government missed a deadline under Canada’s Species at Risk Act for preparing recovery plans for over 105 endangered species including the critically threatened Northern spotted owl, whooping crane, swift fox and Vancouver Island marmot.

Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) was introduced in 2003 with the objective of recovering and maintaining species at risk. Because over 80% of Canada’s endangered species are at risk due to loss of habitat, recovery under SARA depends on recovery plans being prepared that identify critical habitat – the habitat needed to maintain healthy wildlife and plant populations. But with only six draft recovery plans prepared to date, and only one of those identifying habitat, environmentalists are concerned that the Harper government is washing its hands of Canada’s endangered species.

“The federal government told Canadians that no endangered species would fall between the cracks. But we are seeing that endangered species in Canada are falling into a chasm of political inertia and disorganization,” commented Gwen Barlee, policy director with the Wilderness Committee. “The question to ask is: does the Harper government have the political will to protect Canada’s endangered wildlife?”

The missed deadlines in part stem from provincial governments failing to help prepare recovery plans. Although SARA requires the federal government to file the recovery plans, in many cases the feds are depending on provinces to complete first drafts and the provinces are stalling. British Columbia, for example, has so far failed to provide recovery plans for 18 endangered species, the most of any province.

The refusal to meet the legislated deadlines to file the recovery strategies comes at an embarrassing time for the Harper administration. The government has received growing criticism on its failure to protect the environment, is already facing one lawsuit filed by environmentalists for its reluctance to enforce SARA and is now legally liable for missing the deadlines. But environmentalists have indicated a willingness to wait if concerns regarding critical habitat are met.

“Wildlife cannot recovery if its habitat is not identified and protected,” said Rachel Plotkin, biodiversity director with the Sierra Club. “The initial track record does not bode well for critical habitat identification. If the federal government releases plans that are late and fail to identify critical habitat, they are going to have a lot to answer for.”

“The federal government is in a position yet again to be sued for failing to implement the Species at Risk Act,” said Devon Page, staff lawyer with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. “Our patience with this government is wearing thin but we hope that they are delaying recovery plans to ensure they are done right and include critical habitat. On that basis, we are recommending that, at this time, legal proceedings not be commenced.”

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