Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon. I'm here representing Environment Canada. As was noted, my two colleagues are with me from Fisheries and Oceans and Parks Canada. Together, the three departments work to implement the Species at Risk Act.
I'll provide the opening presentation and, together, my colleagues and I will do our best to answer your questions.
My opening comments will provide a fairly high-level background on the act as a refresher to the committee and also will provide an overview of the draft SARA policy suite that has been made publicly available since the officials last appeared before the committee.
Let me provide a bit of context for the Species at Risk Act, or SARA. A number of acts, federal, provincial, and territorial, seek to conserve and sustain wildlife. Earlier acts, such as the Migratory Birds Convention Act, focused on encouraging action that would keep common species common. However, it was recognized that the preventative approach was not enough and that a formal emergency room for wildlife was needed to complement the mosaic of laws. Accordingly, in 2003 SARA was promulgated, focusing on wildlife at risk.
Turning to slide 4 in our deck, we can see that 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. Almost 14% of Canada's GDP depends on healthy ecosystems: forestry, agriculture, fisheries, and recreation.
Healthy ecosystems also provide services that aren't formally reflected in our national accounts, including carbon sequestration, clean air and water, disease and pest control, pollination of food crops, and aesthetic and other spiritual benefits. Ecosystems that provide these benefits require diverse, viable populations of species, and these species require habitat. The loss and fragmentation of habitat is the leading cause of species at risk.
Species found at the edge of their ranges, like many Canadian species at risk, may harbour important genetic adaptations, potentially contributing to the bank of genetic material essential to innovation in key economic sectors such as agriculture, forestry, and the pharmaceutical industry. The presence of species at risk can also provide us with an early warning that the ecosystem is out of balance. It is in our interest to protect species at risk.
SARA, as slide 5 indicates, was put in place to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct or being extirpated and to support their recovery. It addresses all wildlife in Canada, ranging from large mammals to fish, insects, plants, and other species. SARA establishes a process for conducting scientific assessments of the population status of species and a mechanism for listing species. SARA also includes provision for the protection of individuals of listed wildlife species, their residences, and critical habitat.
SARA is prescriptive in many ways about how these purposes are to be met. It sets out timelines for actions under the act and requires consultation at most key decision points.
I'll turn to slide 6. Species do not recognize jurisdictional boundaries, so cooperation is crucial to the conservation and protection of species at risk. SARA explicitly recognizes the shared responsibility for conservation and wildlife in Canada. It is not something 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. SARA is the key legislation for the federal government to implement the accord.
Under SARA, accountability is shared by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Minister of the Environment, who is also the minister responsible for Parks Canada. The Minister of the Environment is responsible for overall implementation of the act, for terrestrial species on federal lands, and for making recommendations to the GIC, and, as the minister responsible for parks, is also responsible for all species, terrestrial and aquatic, found in parks.
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for implementing the act for all aquatic species outside national parks and for providing the Minister of the Environment with listing recommendations for aquatic species. Provinces and territories are key partners and are responsible for terrestrial species on provincial crown and private lands. Given the shared responsibility for species at risk in Canada, we have a number of governance, advisory, and supporting structures.
I won't go through the slide on page 7, other than to note that it was presented at a previous appearance by officials and illustrates the framework under which provinces, territories, and we ourselves operate. We have taken this “SARA cycle”, as we call it, as the framework for the draft policy suite that I'll be speaking to next.
Let's turn to slide 8. Given the complexity of SARA, commitments were made early on to develop policies that would explain the federal government's understanding of the act and its obligations. Work started early after promulgation of SARA, but in light of the key role provinces and territories play regarding species at risk in Canada, policy development was suspended while the national framework just mentioned was developed.
Once the framework was complete, officials from Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, Parks Canada, and the Department of Justice, and extensive engagement with provinces, territories, and other stakeholders as well, informed the development of draft policies. These draft policies were published in December 2009. We're currently finalizing the policy suite.
I will now step through each of the chapters of the policy suite, starting with page 9.
Chapter 1 focuses on assessment. Assessment is conducted by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, or COSEWIC. COSEWIC is independent and is comprised of members from federal, provincial, and territorial governments, academia, aboriginal organizations, non-government organizations, and the private sector. COSEWIC assessments are based on quantitative criteria and draw on scientific knowledge, aboriginal traditional knowledge, and community knowledge.
I should highlight that COSEWIC assesses the status of wildlife in Canada, not globally, as is the case under American legislation. It is important to note that socio-economic considerations are not factored into COSEWIC's assessments and that COSEWIC's priorities are established by the committee and not by government.
Turning to slide 10, the second chapter of the policy suite describes the listing process and the protections that flow from listing under SARA. The next slide, which I won't go through, provides the listing steps as laid out in the policy.
One of the key points in this chapter relates to the nine-month SARA timeline for listing. The policy clearly states that the clock starts upon the receipt of the assessment by the Governor in Council, and not upon COSEWIC's delivery of the assessment to the Minister of the Environment. The policies also articulate that federal acts, such as fisheries acts, the Canada National Parks Act, and others will be used in addition to SARA as appropriate.
The chapter also clarifies the Government of Canada's interpretation of effective protection; that is, the protection that provinces and territories afford those species at risk for which they are accountable, i.e., not migratory birds, not aquatic species, but other species found on non-federal lands.
I would like to add a couple of points with regard to listing. First of all, listing is done through a regulatory process and, as such, is subject to the government policy on regulation, specifically the cabinet directive on streamlining regulation. One of the requirements of this directive is to include a regulatory impact assessment statement. Within it, you must consider socio-economic implications of the proposed regulatory change. In the case of SARA, it is at the listing point rather than at the assessment point that socio-economic factors come into play.
I'll turn to slide 12. This is the chapter that focuses on recovery planning and articulates that there is a two-step process for extirpated, endangered, and threatened species. We have to prepare a recovery strategy as well as an action plan, whereas for species of special concern we must only prepare management plans. Recovery strategies and action plans can...
I'm being told that I have one minute. I'm not quite sure where to go.
I think what would be important to flag here is that within recovery strategies we must identify critical habitat to the extent possible. This is a key consideration for the development of this document. The identification of critical habitat must specify both the location and the features that make it so important for species at risk.
The purpose of identifying critical habitat is to ensure that it is protected from human activities that would result in its destruction. As such, the amount, quality, and locations of habitat are derived from the stated population and distribution objective, but not from consideration of socio-economic factors. This is a key point that we remind many of our stakeholders about.
I will skip over slide 13 in the interests of time, other than to flag that over the five years--almost six years now--that SARA has been in force, we've developed a lot of understanding about what makes a good document. As such, we have recently updated our guidance to provide documents that are far more streamlined and practical.