Photo: Protecting species that need it

Grizzly Bear. (Credit: Eric Bégin via Flickr.)

The David Suzuki Foundation Report Left off the List profiles eight species that have been recommended for listing by its scientific body, but not added to the Species At Risk Act (SARA) list, including: Peary caribou, western Wolverine, northwestern grizzly bear, porbeagle shark, several populations of beluga whale, polar bear and Atlantic salmon.

A recent study in the journal Conservation Biology found that since 2003, 21 species determined to be at risk by the independent scientific Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) have been denied listing under the Act, while nine have been referred back for further study.

Why? Because the Federal Minister of Environment can recommend to cabinet not to list a species if social political or economic impacts are predicted.

COSEWIC makes recommendations about the status of species to the Minister of the Environment, who in turn makes listing recommendations to the Cabinet. But the Minister has disregarded COSEWIC's scientific advice on many occasions. And there appears to be a pattern to the decisions.

Northern animals and marine fish species are identified in both Left Off the List and the article in Conservation Biology as species that are regularly denied listing.

For the northern species, many were denied listing in order for further consultations with communities in Nunavut. Yet these have been underway for many years, with no transparent end date in sight.

Conservation Biology also found that 93 per cent of non-harvested mammal and fish species were listed, whereas only 17 per cent of all harvested mammal and fish species considered at risk by COSEWIC made it onto the species at risk list.

Left Off the List notes that marine fish were almost always denied listing. The Interior Fraser River Coho population was assessed as endangered in 2002, but was excluded from the legal list in April 2006. It then experienced the lowest returns in history in the summer of 2006.

Imperilled species such as the Peary caribou — which is threatened by climate change and was assessed by COSEWIC as endangered — are teetering on the brink of survival and cannot afford to wait.

As of March 2010, none of the species profiled in Left off the List have yet been listed.

The David Suzuki Foundation recommends that listing should be based on science, and that consultation processes should have publicly available timelines that hold government accountable to take action that will recover species.

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