EDMONTON – Conservation groups welcome the federal government’s announcement that it intends to introduce an emergency protection order for Canada’s endangered Greater sage-grouse, but they also caution that the devil will be in the details.
“It’s a move in the right direction, but it’s unfortunate that it took a series of legal challenges to force the federal government into living up to its mandate under the Species at Risk Act,” said Melissa Gorrie, staff lawyer at Ecojustice. “We have yet to see when — or even if — the emergency order will be implemented and whether it will provide real, meaningful protection for these prairie birds and their critical habitat.”
The federal government’s announcement does not detail when the emergency order will be implemented, nor does it include specific language around one of the key threats to the sage-grouse’s recovery and survival: oil and gas development in its critical habitat. Scientists say that without immediate on-the-ground protections, the endangered prairie bird — known for its quirky mating dance — will disappear from Canada within the next decade.
Today’s news is the latest development in long-running efforts to protect the sage-grouse, the plight of which represents perhaps the most compelling case for federal intervention under the Species at Risk Act. The announcement came minutes before Ecojustice lawyers — acting on behalf of Alberta Wilderness Association, Wilderness Committee, Nature Saskatchewan and Grasslands Naturalists — were scheduled to meet with federal lawyers and a case management judge.
Last month, in response to an action filed by the conservation groups, the Federal Court of Appeal struck down the federal government’s cabinet confidence claim and ordered it to make public the Minster of Environment’s decision on whether to recommend emergency protections for the sage-grouse.