Photo: Using the courts to protect species at risk

(Credit: Tin Can Forest)

By Theresa Beer

Recovery plans are overdue for more than 160 species at risk in Canada, but four fortunate ones are finally getting plans that were supposed to be in place years ago, thanks to a court challenge against the federal government we helped initiate.

In what the judge called "the tip of the iceberg", the court found an enormous systemic problem in the two ministries that protect endangered and threatened wildlife. The environment and fisheries ministers broke the law when they failed to enforce the Species at Risk Act.

While the legal win is good news for Pacific humpback whales, marbled murrelets, Nechako white sturgeon and Southern Mountain caribou, the fate of many other federally recognized endangered and threatened species remains in jeopardy.

The American badger, yellow-breasted chat, northern goshawk, spotted turtle and grey fox are just some of the species that are waiting, some as long as seven years, for their recovery plans. When plans come this late, the impacts on wildlife of large development projects, like the Northern Gateway pipeline, aren't considered.
Recovery strategies work by identifying threats, critical habitat and approaches to help species recover. The recovery strategy for the basking shark, for example, provided the rationale for the recent code of conduct for boaters, eco-tourism operators and commercial and recreational fishers encountering them.

The Species at Risk Act was adopted in 2002 to protect Canadian plants and wildlife. Management plans are now required for 192 species.

Canada's government should follow its own laws and take seriously its commitment to protect our threatened wildlife. The 160-plus species overdue for recovery plans deserve protection without further delay, as well as resources to make their recovery a reality.