An environmental group is declaring victory following a federal government decision to increase its oversight of habitat for threatened species on provincial land.
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society will withdraw legal action against Ottawa after federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna made the promise, society director Eric Hebert-Daly said Tuesday.
“We’ve settled out of court. We feel this is a very good result.”
In April 2017, the group filed a request for a judicial review into what it said was Ms. McKenna’s failure to follow the federal Species At Risk Act.
That law obliges the federal government to file periodic reports on how well the provinces are preserving critical habitat of threatened species on provincial Crown land.
The request pointed out that the report on caribou was 4 1/2 years late.
It was finally released last week. It found significant gaps in provincial protections and also concluded that provincial regulatory bodies weren’t being required to follow the Species At Risk Act.
Environment Canada will be preparing similar reports for 150 different species where critical habitat has been identified on provincial land. The reports are expected by June 2019.
“We are committed to fulfilling our responsibilities under the Species at Risk Act and we will work closely with partners to track efforts to protect habitat and promote the recovery of species at risk,” Ms. McKenna said in a release.
Jonathan Wilkinson, Ms. McKenna’s parliamentary secretary, said the reports will be prepared for categories, not individual species.
“We will do those reports every six months on mammals, on birds ... on categories. It will be fairly manageable for the department to do it.”
The scrutiny will be closer – with reports for every species – in areas of high biodiversity that are facing threats, Mr. Wilkinson said. A list of those areas is to be developed together with the provinces.
Mr. Wilkinson said he’s aware the federal move could be seen as an intrusion into provincial jurisdiction. Money set aside in the last budget for environmental initiatives should help lubricate any friction, he said.
“One of the major tools we’ve been given is the funding that was included for nature in the budget,” he said. “If biodiversity is important to the federal government, they can’t just be waving a stick at the provinces.”
Mr. Hebert-Daly said the federal move means the act will be fully implemented. He said the federal reviews will let the provinces know where they have to step up conservation efforts.
“It gives them ample warning,” he said.
“They get time to see where the gaps are. They get time to identify how to fix those gaps. It allows time for discussion and dialogue to go forward.”
Also last week, Ms. McKenna issued an imminent threat finding for 10 caribou herds in British Columbia and Alberta. That finding is a preliminary step before the federal cabinet is able to order conservation actions.
Mr. Hebert-Daly said the habitat reports are not necessarily part of that.
“There are going to be times when the minister has to step in and do [emergency protection orders].
“[But] these reports are not that. They’re intended to be the ways in which jurisdictions across the country are able to work together to find solutions.”