Investigation into BC’s Refusal to Protect Endangered Species Habitat

November 26, 2008

Victoria, BC – Acting on behalf of the Wilderness Committee, the Environmental Law Centre (ELC) has asked the BC Auditor General to investigate the provincial government’s failure to identify and protect the critical habitat of endangered species as required by the Species at Risk Act.

Citing documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests, the ELC and Ecojustice argued that the provincial government is refusing to identify critical habitat — even when the exact location of such habitat is known down to the square centimetre.  This deliberate failure to identify habitat appears to breach both federal law and federal-provincial agreements.

British Columbia has over 1600 species at risk, and is one of only two provinces in Canada with no endangered species legislation.  Over 85 percent of endangered species in BC are at risk because of the loss and degradation of their habitat.

An agreement between BC and Canada obligates both levels of government to jointly implement key provisions of Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) — and to prepare recovery strategies for at-risk species within the province.  SARA requires that recovery strategies identify critical habitat “to the extent possible, based on the best available information.”

“In fact, it appears to be doing just the opposite,” says Tim Thielmann of the UVic Environmental Law Centre.  “Internal government documents show that BC officials have actually gone in and removed the mapping data that pin-points critical habitat in recovery strategies.  There appears to be a general policy to not identify critical habitat.”

“Since most Species at Risk Act protective measures only apply after critical habitat is designated, the refusal to identify this habitat transforms the Act into a paper tiger and leaves species out in the cold,” added Susan Pinkus, staff scientist at Ecojustice.

The province’s refusal to identify habitat jeopardizes some of BC’s most endangered species, including the Vancouver Island marmot.

“There are fewer than 70 Vancouver Island marmots alive in the wild.  Scientists know precisely where their burrows and habitat are. But the BC government refused to identify the marmot’s habitat. This is a failure to properly steward a public resource, which is why we are making this complaint to the Auditor General,” said Gwen Barlee, policy director with the Wilderness Committee.

The Request documents the invaluable services endangered species and habitat provide – including their economic contribution to tourism, recreation, economic development, water purification, carbon sequestration, natural pollination, medicine, and ecological stabilization.

The Request urges the Auditor General to investigate whether BC’s failure to identify critical habitat and protect endangered species is a breach of its statutory duty to manage public resources “economically, efficiently, and effectively.”

The Request to the Auditor General was accompanied by letters of support drafted by several of BC’s most prominent environmental organizations, including:

David Suzuki Foundation West Coast Environmental Law Association Sierra Club, BC Dogwood Initiative Georgia Strait Alliance

Read the Submission to the Auditor General