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The new Canadian administration plans to finally implement the Species at Risk Act, having been reintroduced and given a first reading in the House of Commons, after twice being killed off by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien calling general elections. The bill would create a legislative base for the scientific body that assesses the status of species at risk in Canada, known as COSEWIC. It would prohibit the killing of endangered or threatened species and the destruction of their residences, and it would provide the authority to prohibit the destruction of the critical habitat of a listed wildlife species anywhere in Canada. The listing of a species at risk would lead to automatic recovery planning and action plans.

The bill would provide emergency authority to protect species in imminent danger, including emergency authority to prohibit the destruction of the critical habitat of such species. Funding and incentives for stewardship and conservation action would be available, and the bill would enable the payment of compensation where it was determined to be necessary.

However scientists working to save endangered species and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) have criticised the draft Species at Risk Act for inadequacy and says that it must be made stronger. COSEWIC recently released the details of its latest assessment of species which are endangered or threatened in Canada, which now total 380, an increase of 149 species since 1992, when Canada signed the Convention on Biological Diversity. Canada was the first industrial nation to endorse and ratify the Convention, requiring nations to develop legislation to protect threatened species, but before now has not implemented any such federal laws protecting endangered species, although four of the 13 provinces and territories have such legislation. In stark contrast, the US introduced its Endangered Species Act in 1973 and has seen more than half of its listed species recover or cease to decline.

For nearly 80% of Canadian endangered or threatened species, habitat degradation or destruction is the primary threat to their existence. “Protection of habitat is critical to save endangered species,” Dr. Bill Freedman, Professor and Chair of the Department of Biology at Dalhousie University, said. “And no compassionate society or ecologically sustainable economy can afford to not protect their biodiversity.”

“The Copper Redhorse’s critical habitat is not protected by Quebec’s Threatened and Vulnerable Species Act,” Alain Branchaud, a specialist in the fish said, at a conference of scientists organised by IFAW to express concerns about the legislation. “Lack of mandatory habitat protection within the new federal legislation will only lead to more similarly toothless protection for this important species.”

The scientists also expressed concerns that the Bill allows the federal Cabinet to pick and choose which species are given endangered status. “The listing of endangered species should be a scientific decision, not a political whim,” said Heather Koopman, who has done extensive research on the Bay of Fundy’s Harbour Porpoise population. “This is the very foundation of an effective Species at Risk Act.”

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