For Immediate Release
Jan 18, 2010

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BC’s refusal to protect endangered species prompts Auditor General complaint


The Province of British Columbia is breaking federal laws and wasting taxpayers’ dollars by tossing out the research of its own scientists and failing to protect valuable endangered species and their habitats. This squandering of public resources is documented in internal government records according to a complaint submitted to the BC Auditor General.

Acting on behalf of the Wilderness Committee, the Environmental Law Centre and Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) filed a submission Tuesday (November 25) with the BC Auditor General requesting an investigation of the provincial government’s failure to identify and protect the critical habitat of endangered species as required by the federal Species at Risk Act.

An agreement between BC and Canada obligates both levels of government to jointly implement key provisions of the federal government’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) — and to prepare recovery strategies for at-risk species that identify critical habitat “to the extent possible, based on the best available information.”

“In fact, it’s doing just the opposite,” says Tim Thielmann of the UVic Environmental Law Centre.  “Internal government documents show that BC officials have actually ripped out the mapping data that pin-points critical habitat in recovery strategies.”

The submission includes British Columbia government documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests that reveal the provincial government doesn’t identify critical habitat even when the exact location of such habitat is known down to the square centimetre.

BC has over 1600 species at risk, and is one of only two provinces in Canada with no provincial endangered species legislation.  Over 85 per cent of endangered species in BC are at risk because of the loss and degradation of their habitat.

“Since most Species at Risk Act protective measures only apply after critical habitat is designated, the refusal to identify this habitat transforms the Act into a paper tiger and leaves species out in the cold,” added Susan Pinkus, staff scientist at Ecojustice.

The province’s refusal to identify habitat jeopardizes some of BC’s most endangered species such as northern spotted owl, grizzly bear, mountain caribou, American badger, northern goshawk, coastal tailed frog, monarch butterfly, wolverine and Vancouver Island marmot.

“There are about 90 Vancouver Island marmots alive in the wild.  Scientists know precisely where their burrows and habitat are but the BC government chose to put politics ahead of science, and refused to identify the marmot’s habitat,” said Gwen Barlee, policy director with the Wilderness Committee.

The Request urges the Auditor General to investigate whether BC’s failure to identify critical habitat and protect endangered species is a breach of its statutory duty to manage public resources “economically, efficiently, and effectively.”

A PDF version of the ELC’s Request to the Auditor General is available at: www.elc.uvic.ca. For more information please contact:

Calvin Sandborn, Legal Director, Environmental Law Clinic, (250) 472-5248
Tim Thielmann, Articled Student, Environmental Law Clinic, (250) 853-3194
Gwen Barlee, Policy Director, Wilderness Committee, (604) 683-8220 or 604-202-0322
Susan Pinkus, Staff Scientist, Ecojustice, (604) 685-5618 ext: 289 or 604-537-6407 (cell)

The following organizations provided letters of support for the Request:

West Coast Environmental Law
David Suzuki Foundation
Sierra Club of BC
Dogwood Initiative
Georgia Strait Alliance