Ecojustice Blog – Nature Posted on October 1, 2012 (updated: February 17, 2015)

Taking the feds to court over Canada’s Sage-grouse

Kimberly Shearon headshotKimberly ShearonStaff

In the wake of our landmark killer whale win last week, we’ve turned our focus to another species in dire need of help: Canada’s endangered Sage-grouse.

We filed an application in the Federal Court today, seeking a court order to force Environment Minister Peter Kent to recommend emergency protections for the iconic Prairie bird and the habitat it needs to survive in Canada.

The Minister has left us no choice but to take legal action. Despite our recent prompts to get him to act, the Minister has yet to fulfill his duties under the Species at Risk Act and give the sage-grouse a realistic chance of surviving in Canada.

The plight of Canada’s sage-grouse presents perhaps the most compelling case for federal intervention under SARA that Ecojustice has ever seen.

Between 1988 and 2006, nearly 90 percent of Canada’s sage grouse — which once numbered in the thousands and could be found throughout British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan’s sage-brush grasslands — died off.

The primary cause for this dramatic decline? Human disturbance of sage-grouse habitat.

Industrial activity, particularly oil and gas development, has had a disastrous impact on the sage-grouse. Research shows that when confronted with oil and gas development the sage-grouse abandon their leks (central courting and breeding grounds) and other habitats crucial to their survival.

Today, as few as 13 male birds remain in Alberta, and at last count, as few as 42 males were left in Saskatchewan.

Provincial laws are not protecting these birds, which is why the federal government must intervene now.

In November, we — on behalf of an international coalition of conservation groups — filed a petition urging the Minister to issue emergency protections for the sage-grouse. The Minister had until Jan. 16 to reply, but we never received a response back.

That’s why Ecojustice is taking the Minister to court on behalf of our clients: Alberta Wilderness Association, Wilderness Committee, Nature Saskatchewan and Grasslands Naturalists.

We know that if steps aren’t taken now to protect the sage-grouse and the habitat they rely on, they will be gone from Alberta within a year and extinct in Canada within 10 years.

As we saw with our long-running killer whale case, it can take years and lots of resources to secure a win. Unfortunately the sage-grouse are critically endangered and don’t have the luxury of time, which is why we need your help today.

We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the impact human disturbance has on ecosystems and the species that inhabit them. It’s time for our leaders to wake up and start using the tools at their disposal to preserve our wilderness and wildlife. And if they fail to act, Ecojustice will be there to hold them to account.

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