Photo: Habitat protection

No matter if you are fish or lichen, bug or slug, bird or human — everyone needs a good home. But for many, a good home is hard to find — or hard to keep — in the face of urban sprawl, development and industrial resource-extraction pressures. Habitat loss and degradation are the primary causes of decline for 84 per cent of species at risk in Canada.

When a species is listed, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) requires that the habitat crucial for its survival and recovery (called critical habitat) be identified in a Recovery Strategy. For most species, recovery is only possible if critical habitat is identified and protected, maintained or restored. Yet the majority of Recovery Strategies do not identify and map critical habitat as required by SARA (Section 41).

For the SARA to live up to its intended purpose, decision-makers must follow the rules and procedures outlined within the Act. Canada's natural legacy depends on it.

To date, the David Suzuki Foundation has gone to bat for a number of species at risk, challenging the government to use the best available science to identify their habitat when it is possible to do so. These species include (but are not limited to): the boreal woodland caribou, piping plover, nooksack dace, right whale, monarch butterfly and spotted owl. Often, our efforts are met with success. We will continue to act on behalf of species at risk by monitoring Recovery Strategies and the extent to which they identify critical habitat and the government's work to protect habitat once identified.

Nooksack Dace

The nooksack dace is a tiny endangered fish that lives in four streams in British Columbia's Fraser Valley.

Maps of its critical habitat were included in several draft Recovery Strategies, but subsequently removed for the final Recovery Strategy, which was released in July 2007.

In August 2007, the David Suzuki Foundation joined three other environmental organizations to legally challenge the Minister's decision to not identify critical habitat for the dace. The Minister responded by issuing a revised Recovery Strategy in 2008 that included the dace's critical habitat. Government then tried to have the case dismissed, arguing it was moot. The environmental organizations responded that the Minister's failure to identify critical habitat was systemic and not confined to the dace, and therefore the case should be heard to the end. The Federal Court refused to dismiss the case as moot.

In September 2009, the Federal Court ruled that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans had acted contrary to law by failing to identify any critical habitat for the nooksack dace in its original final Recovery Strategy. In other words: we won! The Court's decision was not appealed.

Read the David Suzuki Foundation's press release on the dace victory.

Read the final Nooksack Dace revised Recovery Strategy.

Piping Plover

The piping plover is a sparrow-sized bird identified as endangered more than 20 years ago. In October 2006, its Recovery Strategy was released with no identification of critical habitat. Yet the Federal government had a complete census for breeding piping plovers in Canada and the U.S. (meaning the location of every nesting bird was known), and the U.S. had identified critical habitat under their laws using that data.

Left with no options after comments on the draft Recovery Strategy were ignored, the David Suzuki Foundation joined with partner environmental organizations in 2006 to file legal action against the federal government for failure to effectively implement the Act.

In response, the Government released an addendum to the Recovery Strategy in July 2007 which included an identification of piping plover critical habitat. As a result, the environmental groups discontinued the court case.

Read the addendum to the Piping Plover Recovery Strategy.

Monarch Butterfly

Like it does for many Canadian's, the monarch butterfly holds a special place in the hearts of DSF staff working to protect species at risk.

In September, 2007, the David Suzuki Foundation raised the issue that milkweed was being ploughed in the capital city along the Ottawa river. Five months later, the National Capital Commission, in response to the concern, wrote to the Foundation with news that it decided to modify its mowing standards to leave a broader stretch of uncut meadow near the Ottawa River.

The Foundation has also commented on the draft management plan for the monarch.

Right Whale

The David Suzuki Foundation serves as a watchdog for many species, ensuring that the best science is used to identify the habitat that they need to survive and recover. Over the years, the Foundation has written numerous comments on draft Recovery Strategies. Often, our comments are ignored, which can lead to the Foundation pursuing legal recourse to afford habitat identification and protection. But every once and a while, we feel that they are actually heeded: such was the case when the final Recovery Strategy for the right whale was amended from the draft to reflect comments made by the Foundation.

Read the press release in response to the right whale final Recovery Strategy.

Read about the story in the media.

Read the right whale final Recovery Strategy.

Spotted Owl

The highly endangered spotted owl, which is sliding closer and closer to losing its home in B.C. — the most recent survey estimated nine remaining owls — is a heart-breaking example of how the Species At Risk Act's safety net is broken. The northern spotted owl lives in Canada only in old-growth forests located in B.C.'s southwest mainland. The primary reason for its decline is the destruction of its habitat from logging.

In 2005, environmental groups, including the David Suzuki Foundation, frustrated with the province's failures to protect the habitat for the owl (which is believed historically to have numbered 500 pairs in the province), requested that the Minister of Environment recommend an emergency order for spotted owl protection. This request was a test of the SARA's so-called 'safety net' functions, wherein the federal government has the option to step in if a province is failing to adequately protect a species and its habitat.

Sadly, the Minister failed to grant an emergency order, ruling that the owl did not face immediate threats to its survival. David Suzuki Foundation and its partner environmental organizations had to drop our case, as the enforcement of the safety net is discretionary. The owl has since been declared all but extirpated (locally extinct) in the wild by scientists.

In order to promote valuation that takes into account the ecological values of the spotted owl's habitat, the Foundation released a report in 2009 that presents key findings of a detailed economic study of the forests they inhabit. The study, led by Duncan Knowler, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University's School of Resource and Environmental Management, looks at the economics of protecting old-growth forests inhabited or known to have been home to the spotted owl.

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