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Species at Risk Act not being followed: Study

A new study from UBC’s Okanagan campus has found that in many cases, Canada isn’t following federal legislation requiring the protection of threatened or endangered species and could be placing them further at risk of extinction.

Canadian endangered species legislation requires developing a Recovery Strategy for every species listed as threatened or endangered to help their recovery and protect them from harmful human activities. These strategies are supposed to identify habitats critical to the species’ survival.

“The legislation is crystal clear,” says the study’s co-author Karen Hodges, associate professor of biology at UBC Okanagan. “Once a species is listed as endangered or threatened, we have specific timelines to develop a Recovery Strategy that identifies the critical habitat for that species.”

But Hodges says that habitat protection work just isn’t happening, or it happens years later than the required timelines. Hodges and her co-author Sarah Bird, who undertook this research while an undergraduate student in the UBC Okanagan biology program, found that of the 391 species under the protection of the Canadian Species at Risk Act (SARA), only 11.8 per cent had critical habitats fully identified, while more than 60 per cent had no critical habitat designation at all.

Hodges and Bird arrived at their conclusion after analyzing all SARA-listed species and their recovery strategies dating up to August 2015. They also studied lawsuits involving the Species at Risk Act since its adoption in 2002, several of which challenge these failures to designate critical habitat.

“Habitat loss is a primary cause of species loss,” adds Hodges. “Current implementation of SARA is sorely lagging and simply isn’t providing the majority of species the protection the law requires. Without using these legal tools to the fullest extent possible, we run the very real risk of losing some of these species forever.”

The study was published in Environmental Science & Policy with funding support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

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