Posted on January 18, 2010 (updated: January 18, 2010)

Tiny minnow takes on federal government – Round 2

From the small streams of southern BC, an endangered minnow continues to expose the federal government’s reluctance to protect endangered species. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is now facing a second lawsuit after ignoring its duty to protect critical habitat for the endangered Nooksack Dace under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

Both lawsuits have been filed by Ecojustice, formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund, on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation, Wilderness Committee, and Environmental Defence with support from Georgia Strait Alliance. The outcome of these cases will determine the fate of many endangered and threatened species throughout Canada.

The first lawsuit launched last year by Ecojustice forced DFO to openly acknowledge the location of Nooksack Dace’s critical habitat in its recovery strategy. But the government recently provoked a new lawsuit by deciding that no concrete action will be taken to protect the species’ habitat.

Ecojustice launched the second lawsuit this January, alleging DFO shirked its legal duties in failing to issue an Order protecting the dace’s habitat. Instead, it is relying on existing provisions of the Fisheries Act, which have failed to protect the species so far.

“DFO’s actions clearly show that they are not willing to enforce the laws designed to protect endangered species’ habitat,” said Aaron Freeman, Policy Director of Environmental Defence.

The Species at Risk Act requires that government identify critical habitat based on the best available knowledge. Once critical habitat is identified, government must ensure that it is legally protected.

“The federal government did nothing to protect the dace’s habitat in the past and they continue to do nothing – we aren’t going to stand by and watch this species disappear,” said Gwen Barlee, Policy Director of Wilderness Committee.

With two lawsuits now before the courts, DFO is under intense pressure to explain its apparent inaction. Today, their attempt at secrecy will be challenged in a Federal Court hearing. The Court will determine if DFO can hide its reasons for initially cutting critical habitat out of recovery strategies. DFO was ordered by the Court to disclose the information last fall, but appealed the decision.

The only surviving Nooksack Dace in Canada exist in four streams in BC’s Lower Mainland. Environmentalists hope that both these cases will significantly improve the way government protects and recovers Canada’s endangered species.

“The intent of the Species at Risk Act is being systematically undermined by the federal government,” said Scott Wallace, Sustainable Fisheries Analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation. “These lawsuits will hopefully force the government to obey its own law and give Canada’s endangered species the protection they so desperately need.”

The Federal Court hearing takes place today (January 21) at 9:30 a.m. at 701 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC.

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