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Species at Risk Act - Legal Listing Consultation Workbook, Striped bass, St-Lawrence Estuary Population

The Species at Risk Act (SARA)

A large variety of wildlife species inhabit Canadian lands and waters. Unfortunately, several of them are in danger and some of them may even disappear. 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. This Act also establishes guidelines for cooperation between governments, organizations and individuals, and provides sanctions for offenders.

Environment Canada is responsible for the overall implementation of SARA. However, 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.

The consultation objective of the current workbook is about adding the striped bass (St. Lawrence Estuary population) to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk presented in Appendix 1 of the SARA. This list contains all the species that have been assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), and benefit from SARA’s protection. COSEWIC designated this striped bass population as an “extirpated” species in November 2004. The reader will find more details in the following sections regarding the addition of wildlife species, in particular striped bass, to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk and its legal consequences.

1.1. The role of the COSEWIC

The mandate of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is to assess the status of wild animal and plant species present in Canada and assign them a designation. The Committee is comprised of specialists working in various relevant fields such as biology, ecology and traditional native knowledge. The members of COSEWIC come from different circles, 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 community and aboriginal traditional knowledge. In its species assessment, COSEWIC uses rigorous assessment criteria based on those developed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

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 the annual meeting of COSEWIC members, 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 exist 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;
  • “Of special concern” species: any species raising concerns because of characteristics that make it particularly sensitive to human activity or to certain natural phenomena.

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:

http://www.cosewic.gc.ca

1.2. Adding to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk

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 Minster of the Environment), the GIC must react to the report and recommendation in one of the following ways:

  1. accept the assessment and add the species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk;
  2. decide not to add the species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk;
  3. return the assessment to COSEWIC for further information or consideration.

After nine months, if the Governor in Council has not make any decision, the Minister of the Environment will have to add the species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk, as recommended by COSEWIC.

The Governor in Council’s decision will initially be based on the advice of COSEWIC, which is based on the biological status 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 issue.

Once a species is listed as extirpated, endangered or threatened, two processes are triggered. Initially, a series of prohibitions are adopted to protect the species, and in order to begin its recovery, a recovery strategy and an action plan are developed. In the case of the species of special concern, no immediate prohibition applies, but a management plan must be developed.

1.3. Protection

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. Finally, 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 restrictions do not apply to species of special concern.

For aquatic species, exceptions to these restrictions may be authorized by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (or Parks Canada for individuals located on territories managed by them), as long as the survival or recovery of the species is not jeopardized. The competent Minister for the Species at Risk Act 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) if it 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 limit the causes of decline for that species by putting emphasis on stewardship and public awareness, among other things. First, a recovery strategy is prepared containing recovery objectives and strategies that are developed according to the threats on the species. 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 government bodies that share an interest in the species (federal, provincial or territorial government ministers where the species is found, wildlife resource management boards, First Nations organizations, landowners, and other people or organizations likely to be interested in the recovery of the species), and consult with them during the development of the recovery strategy, which is a continuous process. The competent Minister must also prepare a report on the implementation of the recovery strategy and on the progress made towards meeting its objectives every 5 years.

The recovery strategy and action plan must also indicate as well as possible the critical habitat of the species as well as activities that might potentially destroy it. The strategy must include a schedule of the researches to be undertaken in case of a lack of knowledge. Once the critical habitat has been identified in a recovery strategy or an action plan, the competent Minister must make sure there are legal tools to protect this critical habitat.

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 competent 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 competent 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:

http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca