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Report and Summary of Proceedings: Minister's 2008 Round Table

Second Minister's Roundtable on species at Risk. December 16, 2008. Ottawa, Ontario

Minister's 2008 Round Table on the Species at Risk Act: Summary Report

December 16, 2008

Meeting Overview

The Species at Risk Act (SARA) requires that the federal Minister of the Environment convene a roundtable of persons interested in matters respecting the protection of wildlife species at risk in Canada to advise the Minister on those matters. The second SARA roundtable was held in Ottawa on December 16, 2008 and discussions focused on implementation of the Act to provide the Minister with information that would assist in continuing to improve the implementation of the Act as well as inform him in advance of the 5-year review of the Act. The roundtable discussion involved a subset of stakeholders with an interest in the Species at Risk Act including representatives from: territorial governments; the environmental non-government community; industry groups; and Aboriginal groups.

Highlights of the discussion and ensuing recommendations are provided below and are organized according to the various steps in the process of the species at risk program. Throughout the discussion, Aboriginal engagement was an overarching theme that emerged.

Species Assessment and the Role of COSEWIC

Species assessment is a key part of the SARA process. Through this step, the status of species in Canada is assessed as extirpated, endangered, threatened, of special concern, or not at risk. The inclusion of Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK) in the COSEWIC assessment process and its consideration along side western research science was seen as an illustration of the opportunities for aboriginal involvement in the SARA. It was also noted that there is a need to consider ATK with western science when determining priorities for species' assessments. Given that ATK may be considered at many steps in the SARA process, and not just for assessment, concern was expressed that this could result in multiple collections of ATK and be burdensome to knowledge holders.

The discussion also highlighted that the involvement of federal government scientists on COSEWIC could potentially detract from COSEWIC's operation as an arms-length organization. Several participants commented that increased transparency in the COSEWIC process (for example, by making publicly available the draft reports that are considered by COSEWIC in making their assessments) would help to ensure that the best available information was being used in the assessment process.

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Listing and Legal Protection

The federal government's role in species protection begins when the Governor in Council (GIC), upon the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, adds a species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk set out in Schedule 1 of SARA. Once a species is listed under Schedule 1 of SARA the protection powers of SARA can be applied. In discussions on the listing process and the ensuing legal protection afforded to certain species listed under the SARA, some roundtable participants re-enforced that socio-economic cost-benefit analysis information should be considered prior to the listing decision. The importance of evaluating "trade-offs" in the socio-economic analysis was also noted. For example, if a given activity were to result in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (to the benefit of many species) this should be weighed against the negative impacts of the activity on a single species. It was also noted that the impact of listing could be better communicated to affected organizations and communities.

Recovery Planning and Implementation

When a species is added to Schedule 1 of the Act, recovery planning as required under the Act begins and implementation then follows. Recovery planning and implementation were discussed in an integrated manner at the Roundtable. Roundtable participants discussed the fact that there remains a significant backlog of species for which recovery strategies are required, given the large number of species listed when the Act was proclaimed in 2003. It was further noted that implementation of recovery action plans tends to focus on the protection of critical habitat which can result in less focus on the importance of other types of threats to species. Participants stressed that the government should use the full range of options under SARA to accomplish recovery goals, such as stewardship agreements. Roundtable participants noted a need to clarify some of the key terms used in the Act including residence and critical habitat. Other implementation challenges noted included a perceived overlap between the SARA and provincial/territorial legislation and the need to improve cooperation with provincial tools and action and also with federal statutes (e.g., the Migratory Bird Convention Act). Finally, it was noted that the detailed and time-consuming recovery planning process required under SARA may not be appropriate for all species and can lead to a reduction of effort on those species requiring more attention.

Monitoring and Evaluation

In discussing the challenges of monitoring and evaluating implementation of the Act it was noted that the true measure of successfully implementing the Act is the recovery of species at risk, yet evaluating this can take a very long time. In particular, it was noted that key to recovering species is identifying habitat requirements and determining appropriate conservation actions. This work is a significant effort given both a large number of species and the significant amount of effort required to both undertake the necessary planning and to facilitate the collaboration required to identify and secure habitats and address other threats. It was noted that the key to effective monitoring and evaluation is the development and use of indicators for how well species are doing in the longer term.

Aboriginal Issues under SARA

Throughout the discussion, roundtable participants discussed engagement of Aboriginal people in various aspects of the SARA and associated programs. It was noted that consideration needs to be given to enhancing opportunities to engage Aboriginal peoples in a meaningful way, given the important implications of the SARA for Aboriginal communities. Barriers to engagement were noted including lack of resources to support involvement of Aboriginal peoples and the lack of processes or mechanisms in place to enable proper engagement. Roundtable participants also raised the issue of whether subsistence hunting by Aboriginal peoples could be allowed under s. 32 (general prohibitions against killing, harming, etc). Amongst participants there was a general consensus that Aboriginal subsistence hunting could be allowed.

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Specific Recommendations

The roundtable resulted in the following recommendations:

  1. The Minister release the scientific review for the identification of critical habitat for the Woodland Caribou, Boreal Population.
  2. Environment Canada gather Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge and consult with Aboriginal peoples on the critical habitat needs for the Woodland Caribou, Boreal Population.
  3. The Species at Risk Act should be amended to provide electricity facilities that pre-date the legislation with an exemption from the prohibitions in section 32,33 and 58, provided those facilities have either applied for an agreement or permit under section 73 or are engaged in recovery planning under the Act.
  4. Paragraph 73(3) (a) the Act should be amended to allow it to be applied to existing facilities to allow for permitting. This would mean that SARA permits would be allowed for existing facilities when all reasonable alternatives to the activity that would reduce the impact on the species have been considered and the best solution has been adopted.
  5. Subsection 73 (9), which defines the maximum terms for SARA permits and agreements should be amended so that the term of a permit is related to the particular context for a given species at risk, rather than being held to a predetermined maximum term.
  6. A regulation should be made to specify how permit renewals can be obtained in an efficient manner.
  7. The definition of "residence" be amended to recognize that it only applies to aquatic species once the competent Minister has identified, described or defined the aquatic species residence and has published this in the Public Registry. Alternatively, a new sub-section can be added to section 33 noting that it does not apply to the residence of an aquatic species unless the residence for the species has been identified geographically and published in the public registry.
  8. Environment Canada should publish clear policy guidelines on how to apply the definitions of habitat and critical habitat in a consistent manner. In particular, the Government should define critical habitat as that habitat which is so rare or important that the loss of it would impair the ability of the species to recover to its stated recovery goals.
  9. A regulation should be made under section 41 (4) of the Act to require the Minister to provide explanation for the designation of a habitat as a critical habitat, including an explanation of how the critical habitat was identified and why this critical habitat is necessary for the survival or recovery of the species.
  10. Subsection 27 (2) of the Act should be amended to require that the Minister consider the socio-economic costs and benefits associated with listing the species before the listing decision is made.
  11. Subsection 41 (1) of the Act should be amended to require that the recovery strategy include an evaluation of the socioeconomic costs and benefits associated with the recovery strategy.
  12. A list be prepared of authorizations under other regulatory regimes that would satisfy the permitting requirements found in section 74 or section 78 of SARA including authorizations under the Fisheries Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and provincial legislation. This list of authorizations under other regulatory regimes should be defined in non-binding policy guidelines or in a regulation under SARA.

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Ministerial Response

With the Parliamentary 5 Year Review now assigned to the House Committee of Environment and Sustainable Development, amendments to the Act would only be considered by the Government once the Committee has completed its work and made recommendations. To propose recommendations before the Committee has completed its work could be seen to preempt the work of the Committee.

With respect to Woodland Caribou, Boreal Population, the scientific review for the identification of critical habitat was released April 9, 2009. Planning is now underway to collect the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge and conduct the necessary western science studies that will be necessary for the development of the recovery strategy. The proposed recovery strategy will be posted on the SARA Registry when this information has been considered and incorporated into the strategy.

With respect to permitting, the department will work to outline an effective process for applications for permits and their renewal. While it is not possible to be exempted from permitting requirements under the current legislation, the department will work to explain in guidance material the factors that are considered when determining whether or not a permit can be issued in accordance with the criteria set out in the Act. As part of this process, the departments will also consider if regulations for permit renewals are required. Any guidance material or regulation that outlines a process for a permit renewal would clarify what is considered in issuing a permit but would not guarantee the renewal of the permit.

As work on the SARA policies and other guidance proceeds, the departments will continue to clarify what is considered to be a residence, habitat and critical habitat under SARA. Further guidance would also explain what the department considers in identifying critical habitat.

With respect to socio-economic costs, the three responsible federal departments are already assessing these factors and they are considered in the decision-making process to add a species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Further, it is a requirement of the government that every regulation include an assessment of costs and benefits and these are published with regulatory proposals in Part 1 of the Canada Gazette. In making its decision, the Governor in Council always considers these costs. The department will continue to work with advisory bodies on the tools used for this assessment in an effort to improve their robustness. The recovery strategy is a document that integrates science, Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge and community knowledge in setting recovery goals and objectives. Socio-economic analysis will be considered as recovery action plans are developed in concert with interested parties.

With respect to authorizations or permits issued under other legislation, the three responsible federal departments are committed to clarifying the factors that would be considered when determining whether a permit or authorization under another piece of federal legislation or provincial/territorial regimes can be considered to have the same effect as a SARA permit. At this stage in the implementation of the legislation, a list of equivalent authorizations would not be developed. Given that from one species to another the factors that can threaten the species or its critical habitat may vary, each permit will need to be considered separately to determine if it meets the criteria of having the same effect as a SARA permit.

Annex – List of Meeting Participants

Attendees:

Ellen AdelbergA/Executive DirectorCanadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS)
Catherine CobdenVP EnvironmentForest Products Association of Canada (FPAC)
Kevin DanielsVice ChiefCongress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP)
Stewart ElgieAssociate ProfessorUniversity of Ottawa
Pierre GuimondPresident & CEOCanadian Electricity Association (CEA)
Hon. Daniel ShewchukMinister of EnvironmentGovernment of Nunavut
Mary SimonPresidentInuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK)


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