01/08/2014 16:55 EST | Updated 03/10/2014 05:59 EDT

Failure to protect endangered species lands feds in court

Environmental groups are in federal court in Vancouver today trying to force the federal government to abide by its own Species At Risk Act.

Ecojustice is arguing on behalf of five other groups — including the David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace Canada, Sierra Club B.C., Wilderness Committee and Wildsight — that Ottawa has failed to prepare timely recovery strategies for endangered wildlife threatened by proposed resource development projects, including the Northern Gateway pipeline.

The act recognizes the Pacific humpback whales, Nechako white sturgeons, marbled murrelets and southern mountain caribou as being at-risk, but the government has delayed the release of recovery plans that are mandated by the law.

The group says the government waited until October 2013 — 4.5 years past its due date — to produce a plan for Pacific humpbacks. The strategy identifies toxic spills and tanker traffic from proposed pipelines and ports as threats to the whales' habitat and survival. But the plan was released too late for the Joint Review Panel to consider before giving cabinet its recommendation to approve the Northern Gateway pipeline in December.

“Chronic delays in producing recovery strategies for Canada’s endangered wildlife are forcing species already struggling to survive to wait even longer for the protection they desperately need,” said Ecojustice executive director Devon Page in a statement released yesterday.

"Not having these recovery strategies in place makes it impossible for regulators to consider the full environmental impact of major projects,” said Page.

Ecojustice says the government has released its overdue plans for the white sturgeon and marbled murrelet in recent weeks — the latter just 24 hours before today's hearing. However, recovery strategies are still needed for an additional 160 at-risk species, including the southern mountain caribou.