Court challenge launched over Species at Risk inaction

Wildsight takes federal government to court over long over-due recovery strategies to address the Species at Risk Act.

Wildsight has announced it will take the federal government to court over its failure to meet its legal obligations under the Species at Risk Act.

“We strongly believe the government must act for species, and believe that the court challenge is the best means to get action as the government’s failure is longstanding,” said John Bergenske, executive director of Wildsight. “We sincerely hope that this will spur action.”

The lawsuit states that 188 recovery plans for species are well overdue, and as many as 87 are more than five years over their due date.

“The Species at Risk Act (SARA) requires that recovery strategies for endangered and threatened species be created within certain timeframes, to ensure timely action towards their recovery,” Bergenske said.

Wildsight has partnered with the Sierra Club BC, the David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace and the Wilderness Committee to bring the issue to the courts. The groups have selected four species – Southern mountain caribou, the Pacific humpback whale, the Nechako sturgeon and marbled murrelet –  to base the lawsuit on. Those species were selected due to their potential endangerment from the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline.

“Southern mountain caribou were chosen as it is one of the key species at risk that the federal government has failed to implement a recovery program for,” Bergenske said. “The province has taken its own actions, but their program does not include all the herds within the federal govt’s Southern mountain caribou populations.”

Bergenske said recovery strategies form a plan for a species at risk that includes habitat protection and actions.

“An important first step is mapping and designation of critical habitat,” he said. “The province has acted upon this locally, but within its own constraints.”

For the caribou, the species has been on the list for a strategy for over five years, and Bergenske said it’s been far too long for action to go undone.

“The requirement for a recovery strategy was a legislated requirement and has been overdue for over five years,” he said.

The proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline would travel through significant wildlife habitat, and its risks far out way its benefits according to Wildsight.

“The Northern Gateway Pipeline could seriously impact habitat critical for mountain caribou survival. Loss of habitat, particularly fragmentation and road building that changes predator use and pushes caribou into poorer habitat threatens herds long term survival,” Bergenske said.

For Wildsight, the time is now for these recovery strategies to be conducted, and the group hopes the lawsuit will encourage the federal government to get on with it.

“Environmental groups, including Wildsight, have repeatedly requested action on species at risk and the federal government has refused to execute recovery strategies – even several that we are told by government staff are completed and ready to be acted upon,” Bergenske said. “It appears the only way to get government to obey its own laws is a legal challenge of their failure to act.”

Bergenske said the court challenge isn’t an attempt to drag the process through the courts, but instead a message for the government to do what they are legally required to do.

“We sincerely hope that this will spur action. The government has the opportunity to bring forward recovery strategies and no longer be in violation of the law,” he said. “The intent is not a drawn out legal case, but legal pressure for enforcement of the law.”

So long as the recovery strategies remain undone, Bergenske said the number of species requiring them continues to be added to.

“The list of species that do not have recovery strategies within the legal time frames grows as the government fails to act.”

The four species listed in the lawsuit are by no means the only species in need of protection under the Species at Risk Act. Bergenske said others include the boreal caribou, northern goshawk, olive-sided flycatcher and the common nighthawk.

“All but the boreal caribou can be found at some season in the Kootenays,” he said.

Two subspecies of badger have been on the list for a recovery plan for as long as six years. the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline passes through ranges for four Southern mountain caribou herds and could disturb them further through infrastructure construction related to the pipeline.

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