Vancouver — Environmental groups are taking the federal government to court over its continued failure to meet its legal responsibilities under the Species at Risk Act.
The groups argue that a number of industrial projects, including the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker route, are putting threatened and endangered wildlife at risk. The case will be heard by the Federal Court in Vancouver January 8 and 9.
“The federal government’s chronic delays in producing recovery strategies for Canada’s endangered wildlife are forcing species already struggling to survive to wait even longer for the protection they desperately need,” said Devon Page, Ecojustice executive director. “Worse, not having these recovery strategies in place makes it impossible for regulators to consider the full environmental impact of major projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline.”
The lawsuit challenges the federal government’s multi-year delays in producing recovery strategies for four species: the Pacific Humpback Whale, Nechako White Sturgeon, Marbled Murrelet and Southern Mountain Caribou. The habitat for all four species would be impacted by the construction and operation of the Northern Gateway pipeline, among other proposed developments.
By delaying the recovery strategies, and therefore delaying identification of the critical habitat it must then protect, the federal government is making it easier for projects like Northern Gateway pipeline to speed through regulatory review without a full understanding of their long-term impacts on these wildlife species and their habitat.
The government delayed its final recovery strategy for the Pacific Humpback Whale until this past October, more than four and a half years past its due date, and far too late to be considered by the Joint Review Panel (JRP), which recommended in December that Cabinet approve Northern Gateway.
That recovery strategy identifies toxic spills and vessel traffic as two threats to the humpbacks’ survival and recovery. The recovery strategy also shows how the whales’ critical habitat overlaps significantly with the proposed tanker route for the Northern Gateway pipeline — all pertinent information that should have been considered during the review hearings.
“This recovery strategy clearly demonstrates that Northern Gateway would have a significant impact on humpback whales and their habitat, yet by the time this science was released it was too late for it to be considered by the JRP, which calls into question the credibility of the review process,” said Caitlyn Vernon, campaigns director with Sierra Club BC.
More than 160 other at-risk species — including the Southern Mountain Caribou, another species that will be impacted by Northern Gateway — still await the release of their recovery strategies.