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Failure to Protect: Grading Canada's Species at Risk Laws - Key findings

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Failure to Protect: Grading Canada’'s Species at Risk Laws - Key findings

In our recent report, Failure to Protect: Grading Canada’s Species at Risk Laws, Ecojustice took a closer look at Canada’s endangered species legislation to evaluate the strength of existing laws and how well they are working. 

Here is a summary of our top findings:  

1) The federal government has failed to fully implement SARA, which is one of Canada’s most important endangered species laws and has the potential to help more than 500 species survive and recover.  

  • Federal government’s weak grade (C-) is result of its chronic, unlawful delays in producing recovery strategies, identifying critical habitats and protecting those habitats from harm.  
  • The federal government has delayed completion of recovery strategies for 188 at-risk species; in many cases, these delays stretch years past the mandatory deadlines set out in SARA. Currently, 87 recovery strategies are more than five years overdue. 
  • SARA has all the necessary tools to help species survive and recover; the real problem is that the federal government has, to date, failed follow its own law. 

2) Across the board, the provinces and territories are doing a poor job of protecting at-risk species.   

  • Provinces like B.C. and Alberta, which do not have any dedicated species at risk legislation, failed outright while other provinces lost marks for failing to strengthen weak laws and implement on-the-ground protections.  
  • The end result is a patchwork of weak, inconsistent laws that do not have the jurisdiction to adequately protect species whose natural ranges stretch across borders (ex. boreal woodland caribou). 
  • Even governments that once set the bar for strong species laws — like Ontario — have fallen behind. In some cases, governments (Government of Canada, Ontario) are making moves to weaken existing laws, clearing the way for major industrial projects that will irreparably alter the forests and rivers endangered animals and plants need to survive. 

3) The current conditions represent an opportunity for the federal government to provide leadership on the issue of protecting species at risk. 

  • The federal government can lead by example, starting with fulfilling its responsibilities under SARA, namely its duty to produce recovery strategies that clearly identify the critical habitat it must to protect to help endangered species survive and recover. 
  • Species protection cannot be left to the provinces and territories because they do not have the necessary tools to recover a species on their own. 
  • Without a national plan and strong federal legislation to coordinate conservation efforts, species with populations distributed across more than one province or territory will continue to fall through the cracks. 

Recommendations
Saving Canada’s wildlife doesn’t have to be complicated. There are four cornerstones of strong species legislation that can give vulnerable species a reasonable chance at surviving and recovering: 

  • Identify species that need help. 
  • Don’t kill them.
  • Give them a home. 
  • Help them recover. 

We also need good implementation of these laws. This is especially important in protecting the habitat that species need to survive and recover. Loss of habitat and degradation, much of it caused by human activity, is the key cause of decline for more than 80 per cent of Canada’s species at risk. 

Finally, we need strong federal oversight. When the provinces and territories fail to provide adequate legal protection of Canada’s at-risk species, the federal government must be willing and able to step in – even on provincial lands – to safeguard at-risk species and the habitat they need.

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