Species at Risk Act – Backgrounder

The Species at Risk Act (SARA) was first introduced into the House of Commons in February of 2001. The new Act is the result of numerous cross-Canada consultations and built on the policy of previous legislative proposals over a nine-year period.

The overall goal of the Species at Risk Act is to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct or lost from the wild, and to help in the recovery of species that are at risk as a result of human activities. The Act builds on existing laws and programs, such as the Fisheries Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, the National Parks Act, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, as well as provincial and territorial legislation and programs.

The protection of wildlife is a shared responsibility among provinces, territories and the Government of Canada. The Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, agreed to in 1996, commits the federal government and the provinces and territories to establish complementary legislation and programs to protect Canada’s species at risk.

Highlights of the Species at Risk Act:

  • The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is established by legislation for the first time. Operating at arm’s length from governments, COSEWIC will continue to assess and classify wildlife species using the best available scientific, community and aboriginal traditional knowledge. In the quarter century since its work began, COSEWIC has assessed close to 600 species, and built an enviable record for its scientific integrity and independence.
  • COSEWIC assessments will be published in the SARA public registry. SARA requires that the Minister of the Environment publish a response within 90 days, and the Governor-in-Council has nine months to make a decision on whether to add the species to the legal list. This listing process acknowledges that adding species to the legal list could have potential serious economic and social implications for Canadians.
  • As soon as a species is added to the legal list, a number of binding provisions take effect, such as automatic prohibitions against killing or harming aquatic species, migratory bird species and all species on federal lands, and against destruction of their residences.
  • Mandatory recovery strategies, and management plans will be required within specific time periods for all species listed as extirpated, endangered, threatened or of special concern.
  • In addition, the Minister of the Environment must recommend an emergency order to protect a listed species or its habitat if he or she believes that a species faces imminent threats to its survival or recovery.
  • Upon proclamation, 233 species will be included on Schedule 1, the list of wildlife species at risk – all of the species that COSEWIC had assessed to the end of 2001 with the new criteria. Since then, and as the legislative process to enact SARA has continued, COSEWIC has continued its job of assessing species. Species assessed by COSEWIC as being at risk after 2001 will be addressed expeditiously once the Act is proclaimed through the transparent and inclusive process contained in SARA.
  • To the extent possible, recovery strategies, action plans and management plans must be prepared in cooperation with affected provinces, territories, aboriginal organizations, landowners and other affected parties.
  • Stewardship is an essential part of the cooperative process that brings together landowners, conservationists, governments and other partners to protect species and habitat. Under the Act, stewardship is the first response to critical habitat protection. Hundreds of stewardship projects are already underway across Canada, many of them funded by the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk, administered by Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Parks Canada Agency. The Government of Canada committed $45 million to the Habitat Stewardship Program over 5 years. For more info on this program: www.cws-scf.ec.gc.ca
  • If the cooperative approach under the Act fails, SARA ensures there is the necessary power for the Government of Canada to protect critical habitat of species at risk.
  • SARA contains provisions for compensation should it become necessary to apply the critical habitat prohibitions. When these prohibitions are used, people will be able to apply for compensation for losses suffered as a result of an extraordinary impact. The federal government is developing general compensation regulations that will set out the procedures for making an application for compensation. Claims will be addressed on a case-by-case basis. In this way, the Government of Canada will build practical experience in implementing the stewardship and recovery provisions of the Species at Risk Act, and in dealing with questions of compensation before developing more comprehensive regulations.
  • SARA recognizes that the role of Aboriginal peoples in the conservation of wildlife is essential. The Act mandates the establishment of a National Aboriginal Council on Species at Risk to advise the Minister on the administration of the Act, and to provided advice to the federal, provincial, territorial Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council. For further information please visit www.ec.gc.ca/media_e.htm