Facilitating the protection and restoration of endangered species and ecological communities on BC’s South Coast

Endangered Times – Fall/Winter 2017-18: 'SEARious' Science

Critical habitat designation for Canadian listed species: Slow, biased, and incomplete. Sarah C. Bird, Karen E. Hodges. Environmental Science & Policy 71 (2017) 1–8

Published this spring in the journal Environmental Science & Policy, the paper takes a critical look at the process by which species of conservation concern in Canada move from being assessed to proposed for federal listing under SARA and, if applicable how, if or when critical habitat is defined. One of the co-authors, Dr. Karen E. Hodges is no stranger to the SARA designation and listing process. She is an associate professor of conservation biology at the University of British Columbia Okanagan with “long-standing interests in forest wildlife and how they react to habitat loss and fragmentation. She is also interested in how scientific research informs conservation policy and decision-making, including species listings and Critical Habitat designations”.

The abstract states: “Although endangered species legislation can be a powerful tool for protecting species, such laws are only as good as their implementation. Under the Canadian Species at Risk Act, Critical Habitat is designated in a Recovery Strategy as the habitat required for the recovery or survival of a listed species. We examined the finalized Recovery Strategies for 234 species and we found poor implementation of Critical Habitat designation for Canadian species. Most listed species (62.9%) lack Critical Habitat; only 11.8% have full Critical Habitat. Many species with Critical habitat obtained it years later than the statutory requirements. Designation is biased taxonomically, by major habitat type, and by lead agency. These results echo findings from the US Endangered Species Act, despite differences between the laws in when designation is supposed to occur. Additional funding and expertise would likely help reduce these delays. We also strongly encourage designation even in the face of incomplete information because of the significant negative consequences that can result from failure to protect the habitat of species at risk of extinction”.

In the paper the authors reflect on the process by which critical habitat (the habitat needed to ensure the long-term survival and recovery of a species designated as Threatened or Endangered under SARA) is designated for species at risk in Canada. Reflecting on the significant lag in designation and listing of species since SARA was enacted in 2002 (never mind the inertia in defining critical habitat), the authors found that “habitat threats are pervasive but that critical habitat implementation is still poor, leaving many species with delayed or no habitat protection.”

While the authors found that some successes in forcing the federal government to act on its commitments were achieved after non-government interests took the federal government to court in 2014, the speed at which the backlog is being addressed (and subsequently recovery strategies being proposed for consultation and finalization) is still woefully slow. The ripple effect of capacity issues in expertise and funding within the government service remain, even with the change in government in 2017 and “the majority of species are not being afforded the protections the law is required to offer to them.”

The authors conclude by advocating for “using decision-making frameworks to proceed despite knowledge gaps, thus echoing what SARA itself mandates. We see this cultural shift in agency practice as essential if we are to prevent extinctions. The present implementation seriously under-protects species, and shifting to precautionary and rapid protection of habitat is likely to be more effective at conservation than is the current failure to follow the law.”

The full paper can be obtained from the authors via ResearchGate or by contacting the authors direct at:

sarahcbird@gmail.com or karen.hodges@ubc.ca

Media: UBC prof suggests species at risk in Canada are not fully protected

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