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The Species At Risk
1. The Species at Risk Act
A large variety of wildlife species inhabit Canadian lands and waters. Unfortunately some of them are in danger of disappearing. The Canadian government has therefore seriously committed to protecting them, particularly by adopting the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in June 2003, as part of its Endangered Wildlife Species Protection Strategy.
This Act provides a legal framework for adopting measures, throughout Canada, that will ensure the survival of wild animal and plant species and protect our natural heritage. This Act also establishes the criteria being used to determine which species must rapidly become the focus of recovery measures, and the methods to implement recovery in order to protect them. Finally, this Act establishes guidelines for cooperation between governments, organizations and individuals, and provides sanctions for offenders.
Environment Canada is responsible for the overall implementation of SARA. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has the responsibility for aquatic species at risk, except for individuals located on territories managed by Parks Canada (national parks, national historical sites, national marine conservation areas, and other protected heritage sites).
Since no single organization or entity can, on its own, take on the responsibility of ensuring the survival of a species, the effectiveness of the new Act will depend on everyone’s goodwill to ensure the survival of all species at risk. With this in mind, SARA requires, at several steps throughout the process, that the federal government consult provincial and territorial governments, First Nations, landowners, resource users, and the general public.
This workbook was developed to assist Fisheries and Oceans Canada with consulting with stakeholders about adding the Beluga Whale (St.Lawrence population) to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk in Appendix 1 of SARA. This list contains the species which are protected under the Act. They are species which have been reviewed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), and for which a species at risk status was given. COSEWIC designated the St.Lawrence population of Beluga Whales as Threatened in May 2004. The reader will find more details in the following sections regarding the addition of wild species, in particular Beluga Whales, to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk and its legal consequences.
1.1 The role of COSEWIC
The mandate of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is to assess wild animal and plant species present in Canada and assign a designation to each based on their status. The Committee is comprised of specialists working in various relevant fields such as biology, ecology and traditional native knowledge. Members of COSEWIC come from different areas, such as governments, universities, aboriginal organizations, and non-governmental organizations. They are appointed according to their expertise, and must provide independent, impartial and scientific advice and recommendations in accordance with the mission of COSEWIC.
COSEWIC assesses the biological status of wildlife species by using the best scientific and traditional knowledge available. It reviews research and takes into account aboriginal community and traditional knowledge. In its species assessment, COSEWIC uses rigorous assessment criteria based on those developed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Occasionally, COSEWIC will consider the situation of other ecologically significant units such as sub-species or populations.
The first step in assessing the status of a wildlife species is to request a status report, which will then be reviewed by peers and approved by a sub-committee of experts on the species. During a meeting of COSEWIC members (once or twice a year), the status report is examined, and discussions are held in order to determine whether the species is at risk, and if necessary, to provide a status designation.
The statuses provided, which represent risk level categories, are as follows:
- "extinct" species "
- any species that no longer exists
- "extirpated" species"
- any species that no longer exists in the wild in Canada, but exists elsewhere
- "endangered" species"
- any species facing imminent extirpation or extinction
- "threatened" species"
- any species likely to become endangered if limiting factors affecting it are not reversed
- "special concern" species"
- any species raising concerns because of characteristics that make it particularly sensitive to human activity or to certain natural phenomena
- "not at risk" species"
- any species examined and considered not at risk under the current conditions
- "data deficient" species"
- any species examined for which available data are not sufficient to establish its status.
COSEWIC submits its species assessment to the Minister of the Environment, who, in collaboration with the other competent ministers if necessary, initiates the process of adding the species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk.
For more information, please visit the COSEWIC Web site at the following address:
1.2 Wildlife species listing process
Once COSEWIC has determined that a wildlife species is “at risk”, the first step to ensure its protection is to add it to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Otherwise, it will not benefit from SARA protection. When COSEWIC submits its assessment to the Minister of the Environment, the Minister must produce a recommendation and present it to the Governor in Council (GIC). Within nine months of receiving the COSEWIC assessment (from the Minister of the Environment), GIC must react to the report and recommendation in one of the following ways:
a) accept the assessment and add the species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk;
b) decide not to add the species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk;
c) refer the matter back to COSEWIC for further information or consideration.
After nine months, if the Governor in Council has not taken any decision, the Minister of the Environment must add the species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk, according to the COSEWIC assessment.
The Governor in Council’s decision will initially consider the opinion of COSEWIC, which is based on the biological situation of the species. However, in order to make an informed decision, the Government of Canada must assess other factors such as the social and economic impacts that could occur from adding a species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. This consultation is an opportunity for concerned Canadians to express their point of view and voice their concerns on this subject.
Once a species is listed as “extirpated”, “endangered” or “threatened”, several processes are triggered. Initially, a series of prohibitions are implemented to protect the individuals, their residence and eventually their critical habitat. If not already available, a recovery strategy and an action plan must then be developed. In the case of “special concern” species, a management plan must be developed but automatic prohibitions are not required.
Under the terms of SARA, Fisheries and Oceans Canada must ensure the protection of all aquatic species at risk. When a species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk with an “extirpated”, “endangered” or “threatened” status, prohibitions are automatically applied. The Act prohibits the killing, harming, harassing, capturing or taking of any individual belonging to that species. It also prohibits people from possessing, collecting, buying, selling or trading individuals of a species at risk. As well, the Act prohibits the damage or destruction of the residence or any part of the species’ critical habitat, as defined within a recovery strategy or an action plan.
It should be noted that these prohibitions, which have come into effect June 1st 2004, do not apply to “special concern” species. For aquatic species, exceptions to these restrictions may be authorized by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, as long as the survival or recovery of the species is not jeopardized. The Minister may conclude agreements or issue licences only if he considers that the activity concerning a listed species 1) represents scientific research related to the conservation of the species, 2) is beneficial to the species or increases its chances of survival, or 3) only affects this species in an incidental way. Furthermore, the competent minister must be of the opinion that a) all reasonable alternatives have been considered and the best approach adopted, b) all feasible measures will be taken to minimize impacts and c) the activity will not jeopardize the survival or recovery of the species.
1.4 Recovery planning and management plan
The goal of the recovery process for “extirpated”, “endangered” or “threatened” species is to reduce the causes of decline for that species by putting emphasis on stewardship and public awareness among others. First, a recovery strategy is prepared. It contains recovery objectives and strategies that are developed according to the threats the species is facing. Thereafter, an action plan is developed, which details the actions flowing from the recovery strategy.
The recovery of a species requires planning and teamwork. The competent Minister must gather the people, organizations and jurisdictions who share an interest in the species (i.e. federal government ministers, provincial or territorial governments in charge of the territory where the species is located, wildlife resource management boards, First Nations organizations, landowners and other people likely to be interested in the recovery of the species). These people will be consulted during development of the recovery strategy. Planning for recovery is a continuous process; the competent minister must report on the implementation of the recovery strategy and on the progress made towards meeting its objectives every 5 years.
Furthermore, a recovery strategy and an action plan must identify to the extent possible the species’ critical habitat, as well as activities that are likely to affect or destroy it. When the knowledge available on this habitat is inadequate, the strategy will have to establish a research schedule in order to fill the gaps. Once the critical habitat has been identified and described in a recovery strategy or action plan, it becomes illegal to destroy it.
In the case of a “special concern” species, a management plan is developed which must include measures for the conservation of the species and its habitat. Management plans are developed in collaboration with qualified provincial or territorial ministers, federal ministers, wildlife resource management boards, and any other relevant person or organization.
Once the recovery strategies, action plans, or management plans are developed, they are published on the Public Registry (see section 1.5). Anyone can make comments to the appropriate Minister in writing concerning the recovery strategy, the action plan, or the management plan for a listed animal or plant species. The general public has 60 days, after publication of the strategy or the plans in the Registry, to inform the Minister of their position.
1.5 Public Registry
The SARA Public Registry, available on the Internet, is a complete source of information on topics covered by the Act and which offers access to public records concerning the administration of SARA. It is a key instrument in allowing the government to respect its commitment to support public contribution in the environmental decision making process.
The Registry includes various documents, such as regulations, orders, agreements, guidelines, standards and codes of practice. Furthermore, it contains status reports, recovery strategies, action plans, as well as management plans. The Public Registry can be found at the following address:
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