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

NAFTA Commission confirms Canadian failure to enforce wildlife law against logging companies

NAFTA’s environmental watchdog, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), today released the results of a comprehensive investigation against Canada for an alleged failure to enforce an important wildlife law. The investigation could find no evidence that the federal government had enforced the Migratory Birds Convention Act (MBCA) against logging companies. Environmental and conservation groups had alleged that this failure leads to the illegal destruction during clearcutting of 45,000 migratory bird nests annually in Ontario’s forests – a figure the report suggests is actually higher.

“This investigation makes it absolutely clear that the federal government has in no way, shape, or form enforced Canadian law against logging companies to protect migratory birds – a law that was borne of a long-standing international treaty,” said Albert Koehl, a lawyer with Sierra Legal, which represents Canadian and U.S. groups that filed the complaint.

The CEC does not make findings of guilt, but provides detailed factual information about allegations against a NAFTA party. The 250-page report notes that Canada was asked to provide information about any enforcement action that it had taken. According to the report: “The Secretariat received no information from Canada indicating that any such action has been taken.” The report also highlights projected habitat declines of up to 35% under Ontario forest management plans for birds covered under regulations to the MBCA.

“It’s clear that we can no longer leave the responsibility for protecting migratory birds to the logging industry,” said Elaine MacDonald, Senior Staff Scientist with Sierra Legal. “The report confirms our concern that migratory bird habitat is being lost to logging at an unsustainable rate.”

The investigation focused on the area in Ontario where logging activities are allowed to take place – an area approximately the size of California. Although the investigation was completed in June 2006, the Canadian government did not approve its release until public pressure on environment minister John Baird. A primary CEC function is to investigate complaints of non-enforcement of environmental laws against Canada, the U.S.A., and Mexico that could lead to a trade advantage at the expense of a country’s environment.

“What steps is Minister Baird taking to enhance Environment Canada’s enforcement capacity?” asked Stephen Hazell, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “Can we expect to see more funding for enforcement in the upcoming budget?”

“We hope that the CEC report will lead the Canadian government to increase its commitment to conserving migratory birds by improving enforcement, monitoring, and protections for Important Bird Areas. Governments, industry, and citizen groups all have a role to play to ensure that our grandkids will enjoy the diversity and number of birds that grace our cities, grasslands, forests, and wetlands,” said Julie Gelfand, President of Nature Canada, co-partner in Canada of Birdlife International. “This report gives us a huge opportunity to work together towards this goal.”

The groups that filed the petition, in February 2002, include: Nature Canada, Sierra Club of Canada, Wildlands League, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), Sierra Club (U.S.), Great Lakes United, Earthroots, and Ontario Nature.

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