09/20/2013 04:39 EDT | Updated 11/20/2013 05:12 EST

Kent says he did make a decision on protecting endangered sage grouse

OTTAWA - Former environment minister Peter Kent is setting the record straight on an issue that pecked away at him while he was in the portfolio.

Kent was pursued in Federal Court by environmental critics who wanted the government to enforce the Species at Risk Act and protect the severely endangered sage grouse.

Part of that lawsuit revolved around getting Kent to reveal whether or not he had made a decision. In August, a Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the government couldn't refuse to provide certain information with a blanket claim of cabinet confidentiality.

Kent, now a backbench MP, says that he did make a decision last spring on what to do about the rare bird.

However, he won't go into the specifics of what he recommended to cabinet, or what cabinet ultimately decided — although that seems clear now.

Earlier this week, current minister Leona Aglukkaq issued an emergency protection order for the sage grouse, whose population has declined to less than 150 birds in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

"I took a decision that went to cabinet, and when that was dealt with, the department had to develop a strategy that was appropriate for the decision," Kent said in an interview.

"But it's a great decision, and it's historic, and it's highly innovative. The folks at Environment Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Service, deserve a lot of credit for dealing with, it's been on the boil for more than a decade."

The emergency order would impose obligatory restrictions to protect the sage grouse and its habitat on provincial and federal crown lands in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The restrictions would not apply to activities on private land, or on grazing on provincial or federal crown lands.