Historic win for Spotted Owl

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The Wilderness Committee, represented by environmental law charity Ecojustice, is celebrating a historic and critical win for the Spotted Owl and all at-risk species. On June 7, Honourable Justice Roy ruled that federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault’s eight-month delay before recommending an emergency order for the Spotted Owl violated the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).

In January 2023, Minister Guilbeault determined the Spotted Owl faced imminent threats to its recovery primarily due to logging throughout its critical habitat. Under SARA, the Minister was then required to act urgently and recommend an emergency order to Cabinet to protect the Spotted Owl’s old-growth habitat from this logging. Instead, the Minister waited eight months before finally recommending that Cabinet take the emergency action required. Lawyers for the Wilderness Committee argued this delay was unlawful under SARA.

“The Minister’s delay was dead wrong. We knew that. And the court agreed,” said Wilderness Committee Protected Areas Campaigner Joe Foy. “With only three spotted owls left in the wild, the Minister had an obligation to sound the alarm to cabinet and not wait around eight months to do that.”

In his ruling, Justice Roy concurred. “I find it difficult to fathom how a period of more than eight months could be reasonable once the opinion has been formed that there exist imminent threats to the species’ survival or recovery. Either the threats are imminent or not. Either the threats concern the survival or recovery of the species or they do not. Once the opinion that the threats are about to happen, the Act says that the recommendation must be made. There is [an] emergency. The opinion triggers the action that must be taken.”

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