The greater sage-grouse, once widespread across the Prairies and the interior of British Columbia, has been on the federal endangered species list since 1998. Oil and gas developments have threatened the Prairie bird, known for its spectacular mating dance. Researchers say it may disappear from Alberta within six years if its habitat is not better protected. The sage-grouse now survives in only a few remote areas in the southeastern corner of Alberta and southwestern corner of Saskatchewan. At the time the case was heard, in the summer of 2009, the population of sage grouse had plummeted an alarming 20 per cent since 2008.
Ecojustice lawyers represented Alberta Wilderness Association, Federation of Alberta Naturalists, Grasslands Naturalists, Nature Saskatchewan and Wilderness Committee in the case alleging that the federal Minister of the Environment acted unlawfully when he refused to identify the sage-grouse’s critical habitat as part of a recovery plan under the federal Species at Risk Act.
In July 2009, the Federal Court ruled in our clients’ favour and found that the decision to ignore the critical habitat of greater sage-grouse in the official recovery plan was unreasonable under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. The Minister was ordered to redraft the recovery strategy to include at least some of the bird’s critical habitat.
Why was Ecojustice involved?
Loss of habitat is the main threat to approximately 84 per cent of Canada’s species at risk. The longer we wait to identify and protect their critical habitat, the less chance they have of surviving, let alone recovering. Government failure to address habitat protection undermines one of the Species at Risk Act’s main purposes: the protection and recovery of Canada’s endangered and threatened species.
What does this victory mean?
The decision in this case ended years of government inaction and pressured government officials to identify the sage-grouse’s critical habitat and take steps to protect it from harm. This ruling was the first decisive victory for endangered species since the federal government enacted the Species at Risk Act in 2002. It also affirms the ability of public-interest groups to force the government to obey its own laws.
Keith Ferguson, lawyer
Devon Page, lawyer
Susan Pinkus, senior scientist