The Species at Risk Act (SARA) passed through the Senate on December 12, 2002 and received Royal Assent the same day. It was proclaimed into force in the summer of 2003.
Sierra Club Canada worked intensively on the species at risk file for more than a decade, lobbying the government for legislation that ensured the protection of species and their habitat across Canada. To this end, in 1998, Sierra Club Canada was a founding member of a collaborative group, consisting of the Forest Products Association of Canada, the Canadian Nature Federation, the Mining Association of Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Federation, called the Species at Risk Working Group (SARWG).
SARWG worked to develop creative solutions for the protection and recovery of species at risk that reconciled the need for wildlife conservation and the needs of those whose livelihoods depend on natural resources.
Although Sierra Club Canada was pleased to see endangered species legislation finally passed, we feel that the new Act falls far short of truly protecting species at risk and their habitat, outside of federal jurisdiction.
Is Canada's Species At Risk safety net broken?
In February, 2004, Sierra Club Canada was one of five environmental organizations who petitioned the federal government to invoke an Emergency Order for the Spotted Owl--the most endangered bird in Canada. The emergency order is one of several "safety net" clauses in the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) that enable the federal government to step into a province and protect an endangered species and its habitat when the province is failing to do so. In the interval since the petition was received by Environment Canada, logging continues in Spotted Owl habitat. The question now needs to be asked: is the Species At Risk safety net broken?
The emergency order is a provision to enable the protection of habitat for species that face imminent threats to their survival or recovery--which is clearly the case for the spotted owl--according to government researchers, there are only 23 owls accounted for at present. The federal government replied to the petitioners (Sierra Club Canada, ForestEthics, Western Canada Wilderness Committee, the Sierra Legal Defence Fund and the David Suzuki Foundation) that they were waiting to see what the government of British Columbia would do to protect the Owl, and that if effective action was not SOON taken by the provincial government, they would step in.
Yet while we have waited for the federal government to fulfill their commitment to protect species at risk in Canada, the provincial government of British Columbia has continued to allow logging in Spotted Owl habitat. The BC government made a feel-good announcement in October 2004 about putting more money into recovery planning, but more studies are not going to save this bird: the protection of its dwindling habitat is necessary for recovery, and talking while logging is contributing to the owl's demise.
The petitioners hand delivered a letter to then Environment Minister Stéphane Dion the at the end of September 2004, urging him to act on behalf of the Owl. Another letter was sent to the Minister in July 2005 (see below) but remained unanswered.
Almost two years after Sierra Club of Canada and others submitted the petition, a response finally arrived (see below). The response includes a statement from the Minister that the owl 'does not currently face imminent threats to its survival' and thus does not warrant assistance from the federal government. This blatant disregard for science reflects the lack of political will for the federal government to intervene in provincial jurisdiction. The Minsiter's decision and the province's lack of effective habitat protection likely doom the spotted owl to extinction in Canada.
- Read Minister Ambrose's response to the petition here.
- Click here to read the text of the July 2005 letter to the Environment Minister
- Click here to read the joint press release in response to British Columbia's endangered species funding announcement
- Click here to read an open letter to the Minister of Environment, Stéphane Dion.
- Read the archives of the Species at Risk Working Group input into the Species at Risk Act
- Read the brief to the Senate on the Sierra Club's Position on Bill C5
- Read the Species at Risk Act or Access the Registery on the federal government's website.
- View the Sierra Legal Defence's Citizen's Guide to the Act
Endangered Species Campaign page