Studies show over 50 per cent of wildlife species across Canada are experiencing population declines. How can this be happening if we have a federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) that is supposed to protect them?
The truth is, although this law has the potential, it relies too much on political will. Past and present federal governments have used vague wording and loopholes in the act to avoid following and enforcing their own law.
In addition, SARA only applies to a small portion of the landscape — the law offers no automatic protection for species at risk unless they’re aquatic wildlife or they reside on federal land. This means unless a species at risk is located in a national park, the ocean, a military base, a post office or an airport, they receive zero protection from the act. This also means provincial governments and industry leaders also ignore the act. Since SARA only applies automatically to federal land, it’s imperative that provincial and territorial governments step up with laws that protect species at risk on non-federal land.
We work broadly to strengthen SARA and hold the federal government accountable when they fail to follow their own law. We also work specifically to defend individual species and their habitat and challenge destructive projects that would destroy habitat.
The endangered greater sage-grouse is an example of this. Once prolific in Canada, sage-grouse now occupy only about seven per cent of their historical range and in 2012 had suffered a 98 per cent decline. Threats to their population include habitat loss and degradation, climate change, industrial disturbance and predation. In 2012, we went to court to protect the endangered greater sage-grouse and won. An emergency order was established and the sage-grouse population rebounded! In 2016, the male bird population grew by an astounding 150 per cent in Alberta and 233 per cent in Saskatchewan. This is proof SARA can be effective — it just needs to be enforced.
We have spent decades defending the iconic grizzly bears and their habitat. Grizzly bears historically ranged from Alaska down to Mexico and as far east as Manitoba. Only 200 years ago as many as 6,000 bears roamed the lands now known as Alberta, with their historical range from Alaska down to Mexico and as far east as Manitoba. That number now stands at below 600. In BC, grizzly bear numbers are estimated to be between 6,000 – 17,000, this non-precise population number reflective of low government funding for research and inventory. With years of your support and action, Alberta and BC finally took the steps of banning the sport hunting of grizzly bears, however neither government has offered them enough protection from habitat loss or support for recovery efforts.
Wild salmon are also in trouble. Although there are 31 salmon populations assessed as at risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), zero of them have been listed under SARA. As they are an aquatic species, this would mean all of the at risk salmon populations receive automatic protection from the law. If that happened it would be much more challenging for harmful projects that impact salmon to be approved, such as open net fish farms, industrial tankers, and projects that destroy salmon habitat.
And the list goes on. From migratory birds like marbled murrelet to iconic killer whales and majestic boreal caribou, we will continue to ensure SARA is enforced and at-risk species survive and thrive.
For more information on the good and the bad of the federal Species at Risk Act read our publication Lonely Landscape.
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A stroll in the wild heightens your senses. You may find yourself unearthing lost feelings of connection to the land that have been suppressed for over 12,000 years. Wildlife helps close the gap between modern societies and the ecosystems we’ve come to dominate and disconnect from. As species disappear, we lose this connection. Being in the forest may no longer present the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of caribou or a fox and its kits. It’s devastating but that’s where we’re headed.