Together my colleagues and I are going to speak to you about the implementation of the Species At Risk Act, or SARA, as we tend to call it. We'll give you a fairly high-level overview of the act and the progress to date.
SARA is premised on the view that it is in our interest to protect species at risk. Canada's biodiversity is essential to the health and well-being of Canadians and our economy. For example, 13.6% of Canada's GDP depends on healthy ecosystems through forests, agriculture, and the oceans. Healthy ecosystems perform a number of functions, including carbon sequestration, clean air and water, disease and pest control, pollination of food crops, recreation, and spiritual benefits. Biodiversity provides the bank of genetic material essential to innovation in many economic sectors, such as agriculture, forestry, and the pharmaceutical industry.
While we may intuitively understand the value of biodiversity, in the past 250 years, only about 15% of the planet's estimated biological diversity has been described in any meaningful way. Of the more than 70,000 species found in Canada, there are only slightly more than 7,700 species that we meaningfully track. Of these, over 70% can be considered secure in their status. SARA focuses on the species facing risk of extinction. Threats of species include the loss of habitat, over-exploitation, pollution, and the impacts of climate change. For some ecosystems, the loss of ecological integrity and habitat has been significant over the past 100 years: on the order of 70% for native prairie wetlands; more than 99% of prairie tall grass; and over 80% for the native Carolinian forest.
The Species at Risk Act explicitly recognizes that the responsibility for conservation of wildlife in Canada is a shared responsibility. It is not something that the federal government can accomplish on its own. The accord for the protection of species at risk was agreed to by the federal government and provinces and territories in 1996. The goal of the accord is to prevent species in Canada from becoming extinct as a consequence of human activity. The accord committed each jurisdiction to use its own laws and regulations to protect species at risk. For the federal government, this applied to migratory birds, aquatic species, and species on federal lands. SARA is the key legislation for the federal government to implement the accord.
SARA was put in place to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct or being extirpated, which means no longer existing in the wild in Canada, and to support their recovery. It addresses all wildlife in Canada, ranging from large mammals, to fish, to insects, to plants. It legislates the requirements for assessment, protection, and the recovery of species at risk in Canada. Prior to SARA, most of this work had been carried out under non-statutory programs. SARA is prescriptive in the many ways of how these functions are carried out. It sets out timelines for actions. It also requires consultations at most key decision points.
Under SARA the accountability is shared with the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Minister of the Environment, who is also responsible at this point for Parks Canada. The Minister of the Environment is responsible for the overall implementation of the act, for terrestrial species on federal lands, and, as the minister of Parks Canada, for all species within the lands and waters under the jurisdiction of Parks Canada. They're responsible for making recommendations to the Governor in Council and for all migratory birds under the Migratory Birds Convention Act. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for implementing the act for all aquatic species outside of national parks and for providing the Minister of the Environment with listing recommendations on aquatic species.
SARA formally requires or enables several governance and advisory bodies. It formalizes the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, or COSEWIC, which is the independent body of experts created in 1978 that makes the assessments on the status of species. It formalizes the role of the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council, which is comprised of federal, provincial, and territorial ministers responsible for wildlife. This is co-chaired by the federal Minister of the Environment.
It has created the National Aboriginal Council on Species at Risk, or NACOSAR, which has six members appointed by the Minister of the Environment. It also allows for the Species at Risk Advisory Committee, SARAC, which has about 25 members from industry and resource sectors, academia, and environmental organizations. It meets with officials a few times per year.
Based on experience working on species under SARA and provincial and territorial legislation, the ministers of the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council signed a national framework in 2007. It followed up on the 1996 accord and set out common principles, objectives, and overarching approaches for species at risk conservation to guide federal, provincial, and territorial programs and policies. It set out a cycle of five interrelated components that are formalized in SARA, which I will now describe briefly.
SARA separates the process for conducting scientific assessments on the status of wildlife species from the decision on whether or not to list the species under the act. The independent assessments are handled by COSEWIC, the independent body of experts appointed by the minister. Species can be classified as special concern, threatened, endangered, extirpated, extinct, data deficient, or not at risk. COSEWIC has assessed at total of 775 species; 551 of them have been determined to be at risk in Canada, and 13 have been assessed as extinct.
The decision whether or not to list a species under the act is reserved for the Governor in Council. It is made on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment after consultation. For aquatic species, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans provides the recommendation to the ministers of environment. SARA sets out the timelines for the listing process. It is also important to point out that the listing decisions are subject to the cabinet directive on streamlining regulation, which requires a description of the socio-economic impacts of the decision. This is because listing is done by an order and evokes immediate protection and prohibitions. There are now 425 species listed under the act, nearly double the number at the time of proclamation.
For endangered and threatened species, SARA sets out the requirements and timelines for recovery strategies and action plans, including the identification of critical habitat. For species of special concern, management plans are required. When SARA became law, 233 species were listed on schedule 1 of the act. Recovery strategies were required by June 2007 for 190 species listed as threatened, endangered, or extirpated. Management plans were required by June 2008 for 43 species listed as special concern.
This has presented a significant challenge to the department. Recovery strategies for 106 species are now completed, and strategies for an additional 172 species are well under way. The pace is picking up. We continue to learn how to use ecosystem and multi-species recovery approaches. There are now more than 20 of these in place.
A great deal has been accomplished through voluntary stewardship actions by Canadians to care for species and habitat. There are several federal stewardship funding programs to incent this action. The habitat stewardship program is the key federal funding program aimed at encouraging Canadians to protect key habitat for species at risk, especially critical habitat on non-federal lands. Since 2000 it has funded 1,400 projects at a cost of $82 million, and leveraged an additional $203 million in investment. The national areas conservation program is also making important contributions to recovery. Actions can also be taken under other federal legislation, including the Fisheries Act and the Oceans Act.
The final part of the conservation cycle is monitoring and evaluation to determine the effectiveness of protection and recovery measures and to make adjustments as necessary. The ultimate goal is to delist species that have recovered.
I'll now turn to Pardeep.