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What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)

The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of species that receive protection under SARA. This Schedule 1 list is commonly referred to as the ‘SARA list’.  The existing SARA list contains the 233 species the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) had assessed and found to be at risk at the time of the reintroduction of SARA to the House of Commons on October 9th, 2002.

The degree of risk is categorized according to the terms Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern. A species is assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as Extirpated when it is no longer found in the wild in Canada but still exists elsewhere. It is Endangered if it is facing imminent extirpation or extinction. An assessment of Threatened means that the species is likely to become Endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction. COSEWIC assesses a species as Special Concern if it may become a Threatened or Endangered Species because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.

The Species at Risk Act (SARA) was created to ensure the survival of wildlife species and the protection of our natural heritage. It requires Canada to provide for the recovery of species at risk due to human activity, and to manage species of Special Concern to make sure they do not become Endangered or Threatened.  It provides for the protection not only of species, but also of their residences and critical habitat once identified.

Environment Canada is responsible for implementing SARA as a whole, but Fisheries and Oceans Canada has responsibility for aquatic species at risk.  No single organisation or entity can be responsible on its own for ensuring the survival of species.  The federal, provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal peoples, wildlife management boards, non-governmental organisations, landowners, resource users and individuals across Canada must all work together.  The Act was designed to encourage such cooperation.

The following section discusses some key issues related to SARA.  More about the Act can be found at the Species at Risk website: http://www.speciesatrisk.gc.ca

The Role of COSEWIC

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is the body designated to assess the status of wildlife species in Canada.  Based on the information found in a status report, COSEWIC classifies the species as being Extinct, Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened, of Special Concern, Data Deficient, or Not at Risk (the glossary at the end of this document explains these categories).  COSEWIC’s Species Specialist Subcommittees (SSC) provide expertise on particular groups of plants and animals and make recommendations as to the appropriate status designation of a species to the entire Committee.

Members of COSEWIC do not formally represent the agency, group, or region from which they are drawn.  They are appointed on the basis of their expertise, and will, to the best of their ability, provide independent and impartial scientific advice and recommendations.

COSEWIC along with the SSC’s assesses the biological status of a species using the best available information.  It reviews research, considers community and Aboriginal traditional knowledge, and applies strict assessment criteria based on those developed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  COSEWIC sends its assessment of the species to the Minister of the Environment to initiate the legal listing process.

More information about COSEWIC can be found on its website: http://www.cosewic.gc.ca

Legal Listing – What does this mean?

Once a species is recognized as being “at risk” by COSEWIC, the first step in ensuring its safety is to undertake a legal listing process for the species. A species is not protected under SARA unless it is legally listed.

When COSEWIC releases their report, the federal government will have nine months to do one of the following:

a)    Accept the assessment and add the species to the List;

b)    Decide not to add the species to the List; or

c)    Refer the current assessment back to COSEWIC for further information or consideration.

The decision on whether to add the species to the list takes into account the COSEWIC assessment and other factors such as potential social and economic impacts of the listing. If the government takes no action, the species will be legally listed as assessed by COSEWIC.

When species are assessed through the normal regulatory process, a Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS) is required. In preparing the RIAS, the federal government must consult about the species with affected stakeholders and undertake a socio-economic analysis on impacts to stakeholders should the species be added to the legal list.