THE BLOG

We Need To Do More To Ensure Canada's Wildlife Is Protected

09/10/2014 08:11 EDT | Updated 11/10/2014 05:59 EST
Just a Prairie Boy/Flickr
This past weekend, March 12-14 to precise, I spent time in Edmonton, Alberta. This is where you will find <a href="http://www.royalalbertamuseum.ca/pma.htm" rel="nofollow">The Royal Alberta Museum.</a> I have wanted to attend the provincial museum for years. Although there is much to see, and cannot be seen all in one day, I was not disappointed with my short visit. These photos are from the Wild Alberta Gallery. A close and enriched view of Alberta's biodiversity. Each species is presented in a diorama giving a view of the species environment. There is research information presented in print form. Each diorama has an audio component too of natural sounds that you experience as you stand in front of it (no headphones required). It was my observance that many wouldn't stay for more than a few minutes, which was a shame. There was a lot of detail presented and the audio was very soothing. The images above was taken without a flash (flash photography is prohibited). In some cases I touched-up the contrast. I was amazed at how close the image I took reflected what I saw with just my eye.

According to Environment Canada, there are more than 525 plant and animal species -- including the woodland caribou, greater sage-grouse, and piping plover -- at risk of disappearing from the country.

The good news is that we have a powerful tool at our disposal to protect these wildlife creatures and help their populations survive and recover: the Species at Risk Act (SARA), Canada's national endangered species law.

Passed in 2002, the law is intended to prevent at-risk wildlife from becoming extinct or extirpated (ceasing to exist in Canada) and provide for their recovery, largely by requiring the timely identification and protection of their critical habitat (the habitat a species needs to survive and recover).

The bad news? Slow implementation of the law, exacerbated by chronic underfunding of the law's key policy mechanisms, means we aren't doing nearly enough to make sure that the law works the way it was intended to.

A modest proposal

So how do we right the ship and get Canada's efforts to protect its at-risk wildlife back on track?

We can start by increasing funding for implementing SARA, to the tune of $200 million over five years. This investment will allow us to do two critical things: address the backlog of recovery strategies and action plans, and encourage public stewardship of at-risk wildlife and their habitats.

At $40 million per year (compared to $687 million for each proposed F-35 stealth fighter) that's an investment worth making, because protecting species invariably means protecting the natural ecosystems that we all depend on.

Delays, delays, delays

SARA can only begin to protect endangered wildlife and their habitats after the federal government has prepared a recovery strategy for them. However, numerous reports -- including Ecojustice's own research -- have chronicled the lengthy delays that Canada's endangered wildlife face before they see any kind of meaningful protection.

More than 160 at-risk species are still waiting for their recovery strategies to be developed. Many of these are more than five years overdue. For wildlife teetering on the brink of total collapse, these delays can mean the difference between recovery and extinction.

Earlier this year, Ecojustice lawyers went to Federal Court in a bid to force the federal government to produce recovery strategies for four at-risk species living along Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker route. The case was ultimately successful, and the ensuring judgment rebuked the federal government for chronic, unlawful delays in producing recovery strategies for Canada's vulnerable wildlife.

Justice Anne L. Mactavish wrote in her judgment:

It is ... apparent that the delay encountered in these four cases are just the tip of the iceberg. There is clearly an enormous systemic problem within the relevant Ministries, given the respondents' acknowledgement that there remain some 167 species at risk for which recovery strategies have not yet been developed.

Part of this "systemic problem" is underfunding. Quite simply, Environment Canada doesn't have the resources it needs to do the job it's supposed to do. Recent funding cuts of 20 per cent at have only made problems worse.

On the ground

SARA also contains a number of tools, including conservation agreements and permits, to encourage participation and buy-ins from people, businesses, and sectors that are active within an at-risk species' habitat.

These tools can be used to promote the protection of species and their critical habitats and are an important aspect of SARA that has been entirely underutilized -- and underfunded -- to date.

Without these tools, SARA will be hard-pressed to be truly effective on the ground.

We need to act now

Loss of habitat is the key cause of decline for more than 80 per cent of Canada's at-risk wildlife. And with a slew of major industrial projects on the table -- mining in Ontario's Ring of Fire, Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, and Labrador's massive Muskrat Falls hydro dam -- this threat is more present than ever.

We need federal leadership to ensure that Canada's at-risk wildlife can survive and recover. We already have the tools we need -- now we require a meaningful financial investment to turn a strong law on paper into strong on-the-ground protection.

This piece was written by Pierre Sadik, Ecojustice's manager of legislative affairs. Ecojustice is one of Canada's leading charities using the law to protect and restore Canada's environment. Learn more at ecojustice.ca.

EARLIER ON HUFFPOST:

B.C. Wildlife Photos By Pam Mullins Photography