Act to save species at risk

We are ignoring scientists at our own peril.

We are ignoring scientists at our own peril.

And it’s time the federal government started paying attention.

Several environmental groups have formed a chorus to denounce the federal government for shrugging off the voices of experts when it comes to the earth science. The result, the say, are natural calamities that include inviting extinction for a number of wildlife species.

The once-abundant Atlantic cod schools that gave birth to East Coast fishing settlements, for example, are on the brink of extinction.

In Alberta, the woodland caribou is fighting a losing battle to sustain its numbers. And the sage grouse, whose courting ritual dances are a marvel of nature, is dancing its way to extinction.

The federal government remains inexcusably obtuse to the plight of these three species, despite scientific evidence that extinction is a dire possibility — all in the name of accommodating industry.

In a recent report by the Royal Society of Canada, representing some of Canada’s most distinguished scientists, takes the federal fisheries minister to task for his handling of the cod industry.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield is acting fully within his power according to legislation written in 1868, when the Fisheries Act was born. Climate change and over-fishing weren’t concerns then and the federal government assumed full control of fisheries management. “At that time, ministers were, in effect like czars,” said Jeffery Hutchings, a marine conservationist at Dalhousie University and chairman of the Royal Society of Canada.

Today, 20 years after the Atlantic cod fishery collapsed, nothing has changed. Ashfield allows cod fishing at his discretion — refusing to listen to science, say his critics. “Now we find cod and some other species in a position where they are headed for extirpation,” said Hutchings, noting that cod stocks are now only one-10th their former size.

In Alberta, court action is seen as a last resort to save the woodland caribou and sage grouse. Environmental lawyers are telling the Federal Court that Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent is failing in his duties by law to comply with the Species At Risk Act. The legislation obliges immediate protection of a species in danger of extinction. And the Federal Court is being urged to get involved.

Despite a court order in July asking Kent to justify his inaction to protect the woodland caribou, the minister failed to act. He concluded that the caribou weren’t under imminent danger.

But scientists insist that the caribou faces extinction in large parts of their range, especially in Alberta’s oilsands region.

In Southern Alberta, where Federal Court action is being urged to save the sage grouse, scientists are losing hope.

“Both provincial and federal governments have failed to respond to the impending crisis,” said Madeline Wilson, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association. “Sage-grouse populations have reached such extreme lows that without urgent and drastic measures, the question is not if the sage grouse will be extirpated from Canada, but when.”

Last November, the group Ecojustice filed a legal petition, on behalf of the wilderness association and 11 other national and international environmental groups, asking Kent to take immediate measures under the Species at Risk Act to prevent “the imminent extinction of the sage grouse.”

No action was taken, despite studies last year that showed only 13 male sage grouse were recorded on traditional mating grounds in Southern Alberta.

Sage groups populations have suffered as the result of habitat fragmentation caused by oil and gas development, among other things.

“Without meaningful protection of the habitat these birds need to feed, mate and nest, they will go extinct in Canada,” said Ecojustice staff lawyer Melissa Gorrie. “By law (under the Species at Risk Act), the minister has an obligation to take immediate steps to protect the sage grouse.”

It’s not reasonable to shut down longstanding industry to protect species, but some compromises can be reached. At very least, some prudent planning for future development should be on the books now. To do any less, and ignore the science, means ever more irreparable damage to the natural world.

Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.

Just Posted

UPDATED: Economy and health care expected to be hot election topics

Premier Rachel Notley makes announcement on Tuesday morning

Cruel and sadistic: Central Alberta dog rescuers believe there are dog fighting rings in province

With the increased number of stolen dogs, some central Alberta rescuers are… Continue reading

Red Deer hospital expansion recognized in throne speech

Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta calls for more details

Mixed Nuts revue presented Saturday to kick off first Carole Forhan Theatrical Scholarship

Broadway songs, comedy skits are part of the Red Deer Players production

Opinion: Let’s be heard ‘loud and clear’ during provincial election campaign

By David Marsden During the banquet for Sunday’s Boston Bruins alumni game,… Continue reading

Documentary on Colten Boushie case to open Toronto’s Hot Docs festival

TORONTO — A film examining the case of a young Indigenous man… Continue reading

Want to help bees? Plant flowering herbs

Herbs are among the most useful plants in nature. They can tantalize… Continue reading

UN: Gene editing for human reproduction is ‘irresponsible’

GENEVA — A panel convened by the World Health Organization said it… Continue reading

Photos: Three moose spotted in Red Deer Tuesday

Three moose were spotted in Red Deer Tuesday morning. Red Deer resident… Continue reading

Andreescu rockets to No. 24 in WTA Tour rankings after Indian Wells title

Canada’s Bianca Andreescu has rocketed to No. 24 in the WTA Tour… Continue reading

Canadian figure skaters looking to reach new heights at world championships

Nam Nguyen, Alaine Chartrand and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro all have… Continue reading

Man linked to largest art heist in history freed from prison

HARTFORD, Conn. — A reputed Connecticut mobster who federal authorities believe is… Continue reading

Most Read