CPAWS National takes federal Minister to court over Boreal Caribou Habitat Protection

April 20, 2017

–Montreal, QC

Today, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) filed a lawsuit against the federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change. 

“One requirement of the federal Species at Risk Act is that once critical habitat for a species has been identified, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change has 180 days to identify whether and where any portion of that habitat remains unprotected in Canada. At that point, and every 6 months until protection is achieved, the Minister must report on the steps being taken to protect that critical habitat,” explains Frédéric Paquin, the lawyer representing CPAWS in court.

The requirement applies to all species, but CPAWS is focusing on boreal woodland caribou. Boreal caribou’s critical habitat extends from Labrador to the Yukon, across 9 provinces and territories, on both federal and non-federal lands.

“Boreal woodland caribou’s critical habitat was identified and publicly posted in October of 2012. Much of the habitat is on non-federal lands. Though we know that much of the boreal caribou critical habitat remains unprotected more than 4 years later, there have been no reports describing what is being done to address any protection gaps,” adds Alain Branchaud, Executive Director of CPAWS Quebec.

CPAWS has been tracking the steps being taken across Canada at the provincial and territorial level to protect boreal caribou habitat since 2013, and remains unimpressed with the speed at which most jurisdictions have advanced.

“There have been glimmers of action, such as in Saskatchewan where the government appears to be taking their job to protect critical habitat seriously, but we believe that most of the critical habitat in Canada is still largely available for industrial development. Meanwhile, boreal caribou’s habitat, the boreal forest, is getting more fragmented, which has been shown to directly lead to their population decline across the country,” says Éric Hébert-Daly, CPAWS’ National Executive Director.

CPAWS insists that this lawsuit is really about implementing the federal Species at Risk Act in a more transparent and accountable manner to avoid going to more draconian measures often associated with the Act, such as critical habitat safety net protection measure.
“There may be places where urgent action to protect habitat is needed,” says Alain, “but in general we think that there is real value in taking a step-wise approach before such decisions are taken. By identifying unprotected habitat, and making it clear what steps are being taken, all governments and stakeholders can more proactively participate in the process of getting those lands protected and get recognition for the actions they are taking. It will also show where there are governments not taking action, which may help identify those places where more help is needed to get the job done.”

“Protecting Boreal woodland caribou habitat is highly beneficial for multiple reasons. By protecting their critical habitat, we are also protecting the habitat needed for many other species that help keep our boreal forests healthy, including the billions of birds that use the boreal as a nursery. When our boreal forests are healthy, Canadians also thrive. Clean air and water, flood mitigation and carbon storage are just a few of the priceless services that this ecosystem provides,” adds Éric.   

CPAWS hope that there will be a quick resolution to the case. “We need to get on with implementation. That is what this lawsuit is about,” says Alain.

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The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is Canada’s only nationwide charity dedicated solely to the protection of our public land and water, and ensuring our parks are managed to protect the nature within them. In the past 50+ years, we’ve played a lead role in protecting over half a million square kilometres – an area bigger than the entire Yukon Territory! Our vision is to protect at least half of our public land and water so that future generations can experience Canada’s irreplaceable wilderness.

About Frédéric Paquin
Frédéric Paquin is a law professor at the College of Valleyfield, Quebec. He has previously worked as a lawyer at the Department of Justice Canada, and has worked with Quebec environmental groups on a case pertaining to the Western Chorus Frog.

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