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Canada's laws too weak to protect its endangered species

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It's that great Canadian time of year: the beginning of the camping season. In the thousands, we head to the Great Outdoors hoping to catch a glimpse of nature and its critters!

For the endangered Jefferson Salamander and Western Sage Grouse, it's just like any other day -- avoiding predators, finding enough food and hoping to survive. They can't do any more than that, so their survival is up to us.

Are we willing to leave them a little room on the planet or must we take it all away? Sadly, that's the question facing Canada's 300 endangered and 400 threatened species. Every day is critical. Every day they inch closer to extinction.

Forty years ago when I pinned on my first "Save the Whales" button and bought my first Greenpeace t-shirt, I thought it was just a matter of awareness. If only enough people knew what was happening we could end the slaughter. Oh the naivety...

We did ultimately succeed in raising awareness and establishing in the minds of most humans a sense of responsibility for the other creatures we share the planet with. We even succeeded in passing laws in Canada and elsewhere to protect endangered species.

It took a long time to do it but we eventually "won" and Canada's "Species at Risk Act" was born. Almost ten years old, the sad reality is that it never was strong enough to do the job.

Ontario's Endangered Species Act (even younger) was also weak and never fully implemented. Unfortunately, the government seems to have forgotten what most Canadians still hold dear, and to make matters worse both (albeit weak) laws are now under attack.

Pandering to industry

Last year the energy industry told the federal government to change the Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Act, and Species at Risk Act (SARA). Snapping to attention, the Harper government dutifully followed orders on the first three with the draconian and undemocratic omnibus legislation. Regarding, SARA, however, 19,000 comments on the government's "Kill Wolves to save Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan" gave them pause and drafted changes to SARA were held back. The question, of course, is for how long? Rumours flying around Ottawa are hinting that the time may be now.

We know Peter Kent has taken the issue of the endangered Western Prairie Grouse and SARA to Cabinet. We don't know whether he asked for permission to:

1. Protect the Grouse (as SARA legally requires); or

2. Gut the Act in omnibus-esque fashion to avoid legal requirements to protect habitat.

We're worried it's the latter.

Meanwhile, Ontario's new premier Kathleen Wynne -- who is constantly talking about "listening and cooperating" -- is neither listening nor cooperating on the topic of protecting endangered species. In fact, Premier Wynne's Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) wants out of the species protection business altogether. MNR is proposing getting back to its "core" business: facilitating mining, forestry and other development. Period.

Changes currently being proposed by MNR would make an already weak Ontario Endangered Species Act totally useless. It would be a death sentence. So much for the 200 endangered/threatened species in Ontario that the Act originally aimed to protect.

What's especially worrying is the fact that Conservative opposition leader Tim Hudak backs Premier Wynne's MNR. So this week Sierra Club Canada is joining with other environmental organizations to demand protection for endangered species.

As usual, we have an important task for you (three, actually).

Take action!

Take 30 seconds and send a letter to the Prime Minister, Kathleen Wynne and Tim Hudak;

1. Please take a moment to view, like and share our YouTube video; and

2. Buy a download ($15) of our new e-Book on Canada's Endangered Species!

We are very excited about the final item -- our new Endangered Species of Canada e-Book. I'm very proud of the work our interns have done and grateful to the nearly 200 photographers who donated their work. Please note that it's incomplete -- only half of Canada's endangered species are currently listed, but we will ultimately include all 300 endangered species and provide the final version to you free-of-charge to you upon completion. Consider it a Beta version!

If you have any feedback on the e-Book (or photos you'd like to share) please let us know! We love hearing from you.

This blog entry originally appeared on the Sierra Club of Canada's website.

Photo: flickr/ndomer73

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