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Adding a Species or population to the SARA list


The Species at Risk Act (SARA) was proclaimed on June 5, 2003, by the Government of Canada. SARA provides a framework for actions across Canada to promote the survival of wildlife species and the protection of our natural heritage. It sets out how to decide which species are a priority for action and what to do to protect a species. It identifies ways governments, organizations and individuals can work together, and it establishes penalties for failures to obey the law.

Two federal Ministers are responsible for the administration of SARA. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is the competent Minister for aquatic species. The Minister of the Environment is the competent Minister for all other species at risk, including those found in national parks, national historic sites and other protected heritage areas. The Minister of the Environment is also responsible for the overall administration of the Act.

The Act protects the plants and animals included on a list within SARA (Schedule 1).  Schedule 1 is also referred to as the List of Wildlife Species at Risk and will be referred to as the SARA List in the rest of this workbook. Species are put on the SARA List as a result of the work of the scientists and conservationists who are members of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). They conduct scientific assessments of the status of species. Community and Aboriginal traditional knowledge are also included in species assessments when available. The Government then decides which species are added to the SARA List as such action could have economic or social implications.

233 species were included on the SARA List of the Act when Parliament passed SARA in December 2002. COSEWIC had already assessed these species as “at risk” using new updated assessment criteria and current information. When the Act came into force in June 2003, these species were on the initial SARA List.

Since then, COSEWIC has identified more species that are at risk. The Minister of Environment is now considering recommending those species for addition to the SARA List. As part of that process, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is currently carrying out public consultations on the narwhals and two populations of bowhead whales that live in the eastern Arctic. The purpose of this consultation workbook is to invite Canadians to let us know whether these populations should be added to the SARA List.


 The Species at Risk Act

The Species at Risk Act strengthens the Government of Canada’s ability to protect Canadian plants and animals in danger of becoming extinct. This protection applies only to species which are included on the SARA List. Adding a species to the SARA List requires a two-step process. The first step is identifying a species at risk and the second step is the listing of that species.

Identifying a species at risk

 COSEWIC is an independent group whose mandate is to assess the status of plants and animals in Canada and identify those at risk. The committee is made up of biologists, ecologists, geneticists and individuals with Aboriginal traditional knowledge who are experts on wildlife species at risk. Members come from many areas, including government, universities, Aboriginal organizations and non-government agencies.

COSEWIC assesses the biological status of a species using the best available information on the biological status of the species. It reviews research, considers community and Aboriginal traditional knowledge, and applies strict assessment criteria. COSEWIC meets once a year to assess the biological status of species. Species that COSEWIC considers to be “at risk” are designated to one of the following categories:

Extinct –A wildlife species that no longer exists.

 Extirpated – A wildlife species that is no longer found in the wild in Canada but may be found elsewhere.

Endangered – A wildlife species facing imminent extirpation or extinction.

Threatened – A wildlife species likely to become Endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors threatening it.

Special Concern – A wildlife species that may become a Threatened or Endangered species because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.

 Listing a species at risk

 The process of listing a species begins when COSEWIC submits its assessment to the Minister of the Environment. Upon receiving the assessment the Minister has 90 days to issue a Response Statement on how he or she intends to respond to the assessment and, to the extent possible, provide time lines for action. The Minister then forwards the species assessment to Governor in Council (GIC)[1], along with his or her recommendation on whether GIC should…

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

b) Not add the species to the SARA List; or,

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

GIC has nine months after receiving the COSEWIC assessment to decide whether the species should be added to the SARA List. If a decision has not been made within that time period, the Minister of the Environment will add the species to the SARA List.

What does it mean when a species or population is added to the SARA List?

The amount of protection the SARA provides depends on the assessed category. It is an offence to kill, harm, harass, possess, collect, buy, sell or trade an individual of an Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species. It is also illegal under the Act to damage or destroy the residences of Endangered and Threatened species, or for Extirpated species if a recovery strategy has recommended the introduction of the species into the wild in Canada. These prohibitions do not apply to species of Special Concern. SARA protects all listed birds covered under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, all listed aquatic species and all listed species on federal lands. The provinces and territories are responsible for making sure that all listed Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species that are located outside federal lands receive adequate protection. However, if that protection is not given, the federal government can intervene, using “safety-net” provisions of SARA, but only after consulting with the province or territory concerned and carrying out public consultations.

The ministers of the Environment and of Fisheries and Oceans can, under special circumstances, make exceptions to SARA. For example, they can issue a permit that would allow a qualified scientist to carry out a research project that benefits a listed species or is required to enhance its chances of survival in the wild.  Exceptions can only be made if all reasonable alternatives have been considered and if the Minister can be assured that the survival or recovery of the species will not be jeopardized.

 Recovery strategies and action plans for Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species

If a wildlife species is added to the SARA List as an Extirpated, Endangered or Threatened species, the competent Minister must prepare a strategy for its recovery.  Recovery Strategies must be completed and made available on the SARA Public Registry, for public review, within one year for newly listed Endangered species and within two years for Threatened and Extirpated species. The Recovery Strategy addresses known threats to the species, identifies critical habitat to the extent possible and gaps in knowledge. It also sets a recovery goal. The Recovery Strategy is followed up with one or more Action Plans that identify ways to reduce threats to the species and protect its critical habitat, as well as other measures to be taken to implement the Recovery Strategy.

The Recovery Strategy and Actions Plans are prepared in cooperation and consultation with Wildlife Management Boards, Aboriginal communities that are directly affected by the Recovery Strategy, and jurisdictions such as provincial or territorial governments who are responsible for the management of the species. Landowners and others who are directly affected will also be consulted.

Management plans for Species of Special Concern

 If a wildlife species is listed as a species of Special Concern, the responsible Minister must prepare a Management Plan. It must be posted on the SARA Public Registry within three years of the species being added to the SARA List. The Management Plan identifies conservation measures aimed at protecting the species and its habitat. A

Management Plan is prepared in cooperation with groups directly affected by the plans, including Wildlife Management Boards and Aboriginal organizations. To the extent possible, landowners, land users and others who may be directly affected by the plans will also be consulted.

Public Consultation

 Why are we having these consultations?

Before the Minister of the Environment makes a recommendation to GIC about whether to add a species to the SARA List, he or she will consider the balance between the social and economic benefits and costs associated with adding the species to the SARA List and the potential consequences for the species and Canadians of not adding it. The Government will meet with wildlife management boards, Aboriginal groups or organizations and other members of the public who have either a direct interest in the species under consideration or wish to comment on the issue. This includes – but is not limited to – landowners, land users, non-government environmental organizations, industries and industry groups. This consultation workbook is another way in which you can let us know what you think.

Comments received from Canadians will be carefully reviewed, evaluated and documented in a Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS). The RIAS is an important part of the federal government’s regulatory process. In addition, a draft Order (an instrument that serves notice of a decision taken by the executive arm of government) proposing to add the species to the SARA List is prepared. This draft Order along with the RIAS will be published in the Canada Gazette Part I for a period of time to allow Canadians another opportunity to comment. The Minister of the Environment will take into consideration all received comments before recommending to the GIC whether to add the species to the SARA List or not. The GIC’s decision will be published in the Canada Gazette Part II and made available on the SARA Public Registry.

Invitation to submit comments

Consultations concerning adding species to the SARA List are part of the Government’s commitment to encourage public participation in programs designed to protect Canadian plants and animals and their habitat. Narwhals and two populations of bowhead whales (Hudson Bay-Foxe Basin and Davis Strait-Baffin Bay populations) have been recently reassessed by COSEWIC as species at risk and are being considered for addition to the SARA List. We welcome your comments about whether these narwhal and bowhead whale populations should be added to the SARA List.

A questionnaire has been provided near the end of this workbook. Please fill it out and mail your answers and comments to

Central & Arctic Region SARA Coordinator
Freshwater Institute
Fisheries & Oceans Canada
501 University Avenue
Winnipeg MB    R3T 2N6



The deadline for submission of comments is March 31, 2006.

Sara Public Registry

The SARA Public Registry, available on the Internet, is a complete source of information on topics covered by the Act and offers access to public records concerning the administration of SARA. It is a key instrument that allows the government to respect its commitment to support public contribution in the environmental decision-making process. The Public Registry can be found at the following address:


[1] Governor in Council is the Governor General of Canada acting on the advice of the Queen’s Privy Council of Canada (i.e. Cabinet).