Canada Proposes to List 43 More Species at Risk

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, May 16, 2005 (ENS) - Peary caribou live in small herds on Canada's arctic islands. Found nowhere else on Earth, their population has collapsed because they can no longer get through the snow to reach their favorite food - lichens. Global warming is blamed for thaws and icing cycles that trap the lichens under ice. The government of Canada today proposed listing the Peary caribou as endangered on the Species at Risk List.

The white beluga whales in the St. Lawrence Estuary are in decline. Habitat alteration by dams on rivers draining into the St. Lawrence River; finite food sources; noise disturbance from human activity, global warming and environmental contamination. St. Lawrence belugas have higher levels of lead and mercury in their blood than other arctic whales. Today, the Canadian government proposed listing the St. Lawrence belugas as threatened on the Species at Risk List.

Environment Minister Stéphane Dionand Fisheries Minister Geoff Regan today announced their recommendation to add 43 new terrestrial and aquatic species to the species listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

More mammals are recommended for listing as species of special concern - the spotted bat, the Pacific Ocean population of harbor porpoises, the Stellar sea lion, the Eastern North Pacific population of grey whales, and the Dolphin and Union population of barren-ground caribou, also found on Canada's arctic islands.

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Smaller and lighter than barren-ground caribou, Peary caribou of Canada's arctic islands are victims of global warming. Conservationists warn that Canadian caribou of all species are at risk. (Photo courtesy Canada Science and Technology Museum)
“The government of Canada is committed to conserving Canada’s wildlife and biodiversity,” said Dion. “Protecting our natural heritage will help lead to a healthier environment. A healthier environment translates into healthier citizens and benefits our long-term economic well-being.”

The new species recommendations for SARA are based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and on consultations with governments, landowners, conservationists, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the Canadian public.

Dion said is he is not recommending that the Plains bison be listed as a species at at this time because of the inability to genetically distinguish wild and domestic Plains bison and the potential economic implications for the Canadian bison industry.

“The decision to propose that the Plains bison not be added to SARA was taken after serious consideration and the evaluation of information received from COSEWIC, consultations with the affected provincial governments, the bison industry and others,” Dion said.

“However, Canada will continue to be a leader in the recovery and conservation of the Plains bison," said Dion. "For instance, Elk Island National Park has recently shipped 50 Plains bison to Old Man on His Back Heritage and Conservation Area in southern Saskatchewan."

"In addition, after a century of absence, Plains bison will be re-introduced to Grassland National Park this fall to help conserve this species and to restore the natural biodiversity in this ecosystem,” he said.

In the meantime, the government of Canada is working with provincial governments, the bison industry and other stakeholders to develop an approach for the recovery of wild Plains bison. Going forward, further consultations will be undertaken and a number of issues will be addressed in advance of the possible listing of the Plains bison.

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Beluga whales in the St. Lawrence estuary are at risk from industrialization and chemical contamination. (Photo courtesy U.S. Navy)
“We are recommending that seven aquatic species, be listed under SARA,” said Fisheries Minister Regan. “In many cases, we are already collaborating with stakeholders to conserve these species and will continue these important efforts.”

The federal government says under the Act, recovery strategies and action plans are developed for species listed as threatened or endangered, while management plans are prepared for species of special concern.

Recovery strategies would be implemented for newly recommended species such as the loggerhead shrike, a raptorial songbird that has declined more than 80 percent over the past 35 years. These declines have been linked to loss of native prairie and pastureland habitats and pesticide residues.

Environmentalists say that simply listing species under the Species at Risk Act does not really protect them.

Gwen Barlee, policy director with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee in Vancouver says the Species at Risk Act is weak. "It's really a great pretender when it comes to wildlife protection," she said.

One of the problems with the SARA list is that many of the federally listed species fall under provincial jurisdiction, so it is up to the provinces to protect them. Protection is discretionary and requires pollitical will, which in British Columbia appears to be nonexistent, Barlee said.

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Northern spotted owls, like this one photographed south of the border, are losing their habitat to logging. (Photo courtesy USGS)
The northern spotted owl, dependent on old growth forests for its habitat, is one of the most endangered birds in Canada, but it receives no protection, although it is on the SARA list as endangered.

The northern spotted owl was designated as federally endangered in 1986, before the Species at Risk Act took effect in June of 2003. The owl's status as endangered was confirmed in 2000, according to COSEWIC.

Barlee says there are now only eight nesting pairs of northern spotted owls in British Columbia, down from 100 pairs just 12 years ago.

The government of British Columbia is supposed to protect the owl, but says Barlee, "the province is actually the largest logger of owl habitat through its BC timber sales program. You even have the Forest Practices Board, the government's own adviser saying there is a systemic failure in BC to protect endangered species, and that in BC endangered species are falling between the cracks."

The Western Canada Wilderness Committee has asked the federal government to step in to protect the last few owls, a request that has not been answered.

Barlee says that although the British Columbia government recently amended the Wildlife Act it was an exercise in "smoke and mirrors." The government failed to list any species under the amended law, she says.

While citizens in the United States can sue governments to obtain enforcement of existing laws, Canadian citizens cannot.

"What we've seen so far," said Barlee of the Species At Risk Act, "is pretty words, but not a lot of action on the ground."

To date, 306 species are listed under SARA and the government of Canada says these are subject to recovery plans and management strategies prepared in cooperation with affected provinces, territories, Aboriginal organizations, landowners and other affected parties.

Under the Act, stewardship is the first response to habitat protection, the federal ministers said today. They point to hundreds of stewardship projects underway across Canada, many of them funded by the Habitat Stewardship Program.

The Species at Risk Act with status listings for Canadian animals and plants is found at: http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/default_e.cfm