Ottawa – Today marks the five-year anniversary of the day the federal Species At Risk Act (SARA) was brought into force, and the trigger date to begin the parliamentary review of the law. Yet there is little cause for celebration.
There are currently 423 species listed under the Act; a number that keeps growing every year. The primary cause of species decline is habitat loss and degradation.

The SARA has provisions to identify and protect ‘critical habitat’—the habitat that species need to survive and recover. Habitat maintenance and restoration is the lynchpin of recovery. But progress on habitat identification, the first step, has been marred by delays, lack of political will and a chronic failure to incorporate the best available science. These criticisms have been voiced not only by the environmental community, but by an independent review commissioned by Environment Canada itself and by the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development in the Auditor General’s office.
 
“There are many ingredients for the successful implementation of the Act,” said Keith Ferguson of EcoJustice. “But the key thing is for government to follow the law.”
 
At present, 151 recovery strategies are delayed past their legal deadline. The March 2008 Auditor General report calculated that out of the recovery strategies that have been released, 93% do not identify critical habitat, despite a legal mandate to do so to the extent possible. Environmental groups have taken the government to court twice for failure to identify critical habitat; both legal challenges resulted in the government re-releasing the recovery strategies with critical habitat identification.

“Looking back over the five-year history of this Act, it is clear that SARA has not lived up to its promise,” said Aaron Freeman of Environmental Defence. “Here’s hoping year six involves less bureaucratic stonewalling and fewer lawsuits,” he added.

“Parliament took 3 different bills and 6 years to pass SARA. The intent of Parliament was to create a law that will protect our endangered animals and plants, as well as the places they need to survive,” said Sarah Wren of Nature Canada. “It has become clear that bureaucrats and ministers have ignored this intent.”
 
“There is a possible flickering light on the tip of a birthday candle,” said Rachel Plotkin of the David Suzuki Foundation, “and that is the fact the government made a commitment to using the best available science to identify the critical habitat for boreal woodland caribou. The science has not yet been incorporated into a draft recovery strategy, but we are optimistic,” she added.

A five-year review of the Act is slated to begin in June, but will likely begin in the fall, under a Parliamentary Committee.
 
For more information, contact:
Sarah Wren, Conservation Biologist, Nature Canada, (613) 562-3447 x 300
Rachel Plotkin, Biodiversity Policy Analyst, David Suzuki Foundation, (613) 796-7999
Keith Ferguson, Staff Lawyer, EcoJustice, (604) 685-5618, x 287
Aaron Freeman, Policy Director, Environmental Defence, (613) 564-0007
 
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